The Ignorance Pandemic

While we come to grips with the devastations being wrought by Covid-19, there is another pandemic that threatens our collective well-being.

Specifically, the pandemic of ignorance. And this is not just about some uneducated, uninformed people who spout drivel from not having access to the right data and expert advice available today. Rather, this is willful ignorance of people who can look at the same news, reports and medical experts and come away with almost orthogonal points of view.

Take for example a friend who shall remain nameless but who believes this is much ado about nothing, based on the opinion of one Wolfgang Wodarg, who claims that this is a conspiracy of sorts, and not based on real science. Latching on to and clinging to such theories is beguilingly seductive at times like this, when there seems little hope in sight. And while I’m all for you finding hope wherever you can in times of distress, turning to charlatans for advice that makes you behave in socially irresponsible ways, is not only poor judgement but can be deleterious to those around you. None of us is an island in this epidemiological sea, the actions of each affect outcomes for many others.

And others will insist that we just don’t have enough data to be sure about the dire scenarios being predicted around us. We will quibble about whether the death rate is closer to the flu (0.1%) or to SARS (15%), how much testing has actually been done, and whether we’re over-reacting prematurely. To them I quote a former Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt, “Anything said in advance of a pandemic seems alarmist. After a pandemic begins, anything one has said or done is inadequate.” So no, we don’t have complete information yet, but we have enough distinguishable patterns from China, Italy, Spain to make some decisions with. If nothing else, we can scarcely argue about how overwhelmed their hospital systems have gotten because of the pandemic. Or about the morbid triaging protocols being implemented that will have doctors making decisions on whom to let die in the hallway because no ventilators are available. Or about bodies piling up and relatives unable to accompany them to funerals. These are real stories, not made up to needlessly promote fear amongst us. They say you’re condemned to repeat history if you forget it. The US seems poised to relive Italy’s recent horror because many of us seem determined to ignore its lessons.

I can be seen as polemical at times, but this is one argument I would love to be wrong about. I’m equal parts concerned about the public health crisis and the economic plague looming ahead, with perhaps just a little bias toward solving the health challenge first.

Since we can’t really bring the dead back to life.

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