Monday, July 19, 2021

Masks and Vaccines and Paradigms, Oh My!

Last summer, I wrote about how we knew very little about the science of covid, so little that people who grew up learning that science is black and white…..were struggling with the continual changes in information.  It’s been a year, and because we can’t seem to adjust to the changes, this little bugger is still having such a huge influence in our lives:

  •  Masks.  I’ve been following the Johns Hopkins state tracker, and what has fascinated me, with all the fighting over masks and lockdowns, that the graphs tracking infections for every state do not reflect those battles.  Everyone spiked in November, from California to Texas to Florida, despite dramatic differences in philosophy and policy.  My hypothesis?  People were meeting in each other’s homes and not wearing masks, even those who were ardent about mask wearing in public.  There seemed to be a rationalization that private homes, friend “pods,” and smaller gatherings were “safer” than restaurants and grocery stores, but given the number of super-spreader events that started with small, private groups, that wasn’t true.  Unfortunately, it is a hypothesis that is difficult to test, so we may never know the truth.
Keeping my friend Katie (and other party guests, hi Steve) safe by masking up.
  • Vaccines.  While the mask data is mushy, the vaccine data is not.  As the more contagious Delta Variant gains hold in the US, there is a clear correlation between low vaccination rates and high infection rates.  I mean, when the infection rates are low in Chicago and spiking in rural Missouri, it’s plainly clear that vaccination is working.  Unfortunately, it’s hard to convince people who have not seen a single serious illness, whose lives have appeared to be disrupted for nothing, to take the risk of a new vaccine, and neither honey nor vinegar is persuading them to get vaccinated.
  • Paradigms.    The paradigms are still shifting all over the place.  So much of what we thought we knew last July, from the origin of the illness to what needed to be shut down, has changed, and we are still a very long way, probably years, of knowing what the truth about covid will be.  However, instead of riding the wave of paradigm shifts and adjusting to the changes, we’re doubling down in our insistence of being “right,” arguing and condescending instead of being patient and empathic.  I have news for you:  You are not right.  I am not right.  While we know more than we did a year ago, we are not at the point where anyone, even the scientists, are “right.” 

Just like the Cowardly Lion being afraid of lions and tigers and bears, we are allowing our fear to guide us.  Fear of the illness.  Fear of the vaccines.  Fear of financial ruin.  Fear of loss.  Fear of being wrong.  Fear of being attacked for our beliefs.  A fear that is closing our minds at a time when we need them more open than ever.

Last year, I asked you to treat each other with kindness and gentleness, but we need more than that now.  We need to be able to critically think, question what we’re being told, look through multiple sources of information.  We need to be okay with being wrong, and we need to stop judging others, even if they are 384 paradigm shifts behind.

Because we need more people to get vaccinated, so we don’t end up in some strange viral version of Survivor, where our bodies are the island and covid is the contestant….

The semester I fell in love with Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, I also read Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.  25 or so years later, we are seeing the two interact in real life, as the covid virus continues to mutate to ensure its survival.  The only way covid—or any virus—survives is to be able to infect hosts, and as immunity builds, it’s not a surprise that we keep hearing that each new variant is more contagious than its predecessors.   When a virus has trouble finding amenable host bodies, it has to mutate to make it easier to replicate—and infect—once it finds someone not immune to it.  Covid understands that its survival requires paradigm shifts.

Our survival requires paradigm shifts as well.  We need to be open to the changes, as well as being kind as so many people are still struggling with more changes in science than they can handle.  I mean, anyone who refuses to adapt to the current paradigm has a higher chance of getting sick at this point, so why be mean?  Covid will be nasty enough.  Maybe not this variant, but one that is much, much worse.

Doing my part to reduce mutations!

Please be well.  Be safe.  And for goodness sake, be kind.  I really don’t want to have to write a 2022 version.