Biology has Rules, Even if we Choose to Ignore Them
I remember my seventh grade biology class well, especially the day that Mr. Herzing taught us about viruses. “The virus is the borderline of life,” he said.
Viruses are simply self-replicating chemistry. They are a hint of genetic material encased in a molecular shield designed to penetrate host cells and then commandeer its biochemical machinery to make more of itself. They have no metabolism, they don’t eat, rest or mate with other viruses. They are truly the borderline of life, arguably more on the not-alive side of the border.
Through sheer chance viruses can gain the ability to jump from species to species, to cause human infection, and to ignite a familiar spectrum of symptoms.
Viruses are just self-replicating chemistry that uses us to perpetuate itself and perhaps make itself better at exploiting us.
Who is responsible for COVID19 casualties? You can’t blame the virus. It is just doing what viruses do.
In the absence of a vaccine or known therapeutics to derail its spread, we can only limit its propagation by reshaping our behaviors.
“The virus does not create the pandemic. People create the pandemic.” — Dr. Ilaria Capua, Virologist
Therefore the blame lies 100% with us. Our behaviors alone facilitate or arrest the spread of the virus. Our decisions can lead to death, illness, and potentially long-term disability, or can stymie infection rates. We can make personal and policy decisions to protect others, protect ourselves, and shield the most vulnerable in society. Or we can choose to pretend that viruses are not real and live business as usual. It is on us.
In the USA there is no consensus in the willingness to stop the spread. This reality is evidenced by the recent trends. States with strong lockdowns and delayed return to business-as-usual exhibit lower infection rates. States ignoring guidance from the NIH and CDC are experiencing increasing infection rates, returning to levels not seen since March, and threatening exponential increases. We did the experiment, and the results are coming in.
On the personal level, a huge number of Americans choose to believe the virus is a joke, a deranged political strategy to oust a sitting president. They frolic in public places and elect to not use of masks or other strategies to protect others. Social distance, group size limits — all to curtail personal freedom, part of the grand conspiracy.
Others view the virus as nature presents it to us, as a highly communicable infectious agent that travels by airborne aerosols or lasting on fomites. These folks use masks, wash hands frequently, distance from others, stay home, and avoid dense social events.
Politicians have made choices. Conservative (precautionary, not politically) choices have declared hard lockdowns, enforcing distancing and requirement of face coverings. Others openly mock precaution, declare personal protection unnecessary by their words or actions, and encourage massive gatherings.
Large gatherings in recent protests, no matter how righteous in motivation, brought large, loud crowds together, many shunning the protections of facial coverings or physical distancing. This too raises risk, and unfortunately has the potential to disproportionately affect minority communities.
The bottom line is this. The virus will do what a virus does. Our decisions dictate its magnitude, duration and impact. One mindset recognizes how biology works, how pandemics happen, and the modes of transmission. The other mindset is plays into the virus’ plan, denying the virus is a threat. Someone call Dunning and Kruger.
Willful ignorance of science is not an excuse. The world’s best experts have provided guidance, guidance that clearly snuffed infection rates back when it was carefully employed.
The virus is just being a virus. Can social responsibility and science win over recalcitrance and motivated apathy?
Don’t count on it.