I’m still struggling to adapt to the “new normal” out here in Vermont. We’re well past the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, and it’s becoming more apparent that our society and community have been fundamentally changed. I’m trying to remember that there are both good and bad changes that will come out of this, and that much is still to be determined. Also, to be grateful for my friends and family and community, and for people’s amazing ability to carry on and find a way to get things done no matter what.
I’m not really sure where we’re at in the fight. I stopped reading the news a while ago, in an effort to focus more on my life and the things that I can actually change or do. My impression is that we’re stuck in limbo. At first we had a cause: “Flatten the Curve!”. Now that hospitals are virtually empty, I’m not so sure what our motto is. “Make it Last!”, “Try Not to Touch Anybody”, or “Social Distancing 4 Life!” come to mind. On the other hand, I think lots of people are just plain tired of the whole thing: “I’m over it!” might be more fitting. I can’t quite get to this state, because even out here in Vermont, where we surely would’ve had absolutely no idea that there was a pandemic were it not for the news, things have changed. I’m not happy about the changes. I don’t like the feeling that the goalposts are being moved on us, seemingly to maintain a perpetual state of fear and social distancing.
I recently had a conversation with my good friend Gabe, who’s working hard out in Scotland to support refugees through the pandemic. He’s upset at all the people who are questioning public health authorities right now, believing that the way forward is through a unified response, and not through everybody forming their own opinions about what’s going on or how best to deal with the pandemic. He didn’t come out and say it—bless him—but I can tell that he thinks my questions and doubts are a part of the problem. While I haven’t broken protocol, thrown secret parties, or tried to get super close to people, I’m definitely still not “on board” with this virus. Why not? Am I just being contrary? Is this like in middle school when I made fun of Jack Johnson’s music just because it was popular?
To find out, I asked myself the following question: what would it take for me to get “on board” with Coronavirus. By “on board”, I mean to believe that this virus is a threat so serious as to warrant completely changing our society, and that our governments and public health authorities are truly acting in the best interest of the common man.
Thus far, what hasn’t worked for me are the messages from our public health officials. Whether because they’ve been inconsistent, or because they strike me as strange or silly or contradictory, they simply haven’t done the job of getting me on board. So what would get me on board?
The answer has become clear to me: a scientific experiment. Science is the best messenger because it is unbiased and irrefutable. That’s why we all love it so much! Science gives us an authority that is not religious or dogmatic or political—it is reasonable and logical.
Okay, so here’s what you do: take a mouse with COVID and put it in a chamber with some mice that don’t have COVID, and see if any of the other mice get COVID. Obviously, I’m lacking some scientific jargon here, but you get the idea. This seems reasonable, right? Am I being unreasonable to ask for this sort of demonstration?
Unfortunately, this has not yet been done, and in reading about other viruses, I’m beginning to suspect that it won’t be. An experiment like this requires a couple of preliminary steps:
1. Isolate the virus from an infected host
2. Grow the virus in a pure culture, transfer it to a healthy host, and demonstrate that the healthy host gets sick.
In fact, there are a number of other requirements that should be satisfied to prove that a microbe causes a disease, as laid out in Koch’s Postulates, but honestly I’d be willing to listen if you could just do these two—that is, demonstrate that the virus causes the disease. After that, we could move on to the contagion experiment with the mice.
Perhaps you’re thinking: surely this has been done already! Please, don’t call me Shirley, and no, it apparently hasn’t. The experiments currently referenced as isolating the SARS-CoV2 virus fail to satisfy any of Koch’s postulates. They simply extract a segment of RNA from a sample from a single sick individual and show that it’s something we’ve never seen before, and show that it’s very similar to the original SARS (which itself was never properly isolated or demonstrated to cause disease), and call it “the virus”. From here we move on to an RNA test, and from there all of the numbers and all of the madness that has ensued in the past few weeks.
Am I missing something? If there are experiments that demonstrate a causal link between virus and disease, why haven’t we seen them? I think it would be tremendously helpful to have Dr. Fauci take us through an experiment like this. C’mon, Doc! Get up there and run us through a powerpoint! Show us some slides of viral particles, infected lungs, and blue-faced hypoxic dying mice! While you’re at it, why not hook up a few mice to tiny ventilators or even administer that famous drug that our president claims can help! Instead of just saying all sorts of contradictory things about how contagious it is, how deadly it is, how we don’t need to wear masks or how we all should be wearing masks, and all the while causing thousands of people to furrow their brows and wonder if they’re being lied to, just get up there and run us through a couple of experiments! This is what I need, I think, to get “on board”.
In the early 1900s, scientists worked hard to prove that polio was an infectious disease through a number of just such experiments. They made cocktails of diseased spinal tissue from paralyzed children and injected it into the stomachs and brains of monkeys. Some of the monkeys got sick, and some of them were paralyzed. Then they took the brain tissue of the paralyzed monkeys, made a cocktail from that, and injected it in the brains of other monkeys. Believe it or not, some of those monkeys also got paralyzed. Poor monkeys! This supposedly showed that the polio virus causes paralysis.
Of course, they never proved that one monkey could pass it to another (maybe they were able to train it to hold a syringe, but had trouble teaching it how to restrain another monkey and drill a hole in its skull), but at least they tried!
Where are the monkeys now? C’mon guys, at least try and show that this thing is contagious!! I’d rather not sacrifice the lives of thousands of monkeys, but if so many of us have doubts about the severity of COVID’s threat, surely a few mouse lives would be worth sacrificing!
Apparently, a hundred years ago, the public and/or scientific community required some sort of effort to be made to demonstrate the link between a microbe and a disease. Now? Not so much. Apparently, all we need is to be told that there’s a deadly new virus out there, and we believe it. We won’t ask questions or demand proof because we don’t want to be shunned by society. Instead, we’ll either argue about how dangerous it is (guilty), whether it came from a lab or arose naturally (guilty), or maybe do nothing at all and just hope for the best. In an effort to provide services to our fellow human beings, we’ll bend over backwards to wear masks, arrange complex new pain-in-the-ass protocols to avoid touching anything and completely change the way we do just about everything.
I think we skipped a step!
To be clear: I’m not saying that there is no virus, or that people aren’t dying. I also don’t at all enjoy feeling like a wild and crazy unscientific jerk who cares more about being able to watch sports again than saving lives (but seriously, I’m running out of glory-day FC Barcelona matches to watch). I would love to be able to join together with my fellow man and fight a common foe, but I’m not convinced that this novel coronavirus is that common foe. What if there’s something else that’s getting all these people sick that we’re missing completely? Now that we’re a few months in, I think it’s time to take a quick look back at the beginning and try to determine if this virus is actually causing this disease. Unfortunately—or perhaps fortuitously—this will most certainly involve questioning the authorities that are insisting that it does.
I don’t think people are simply being obtuse in questioning COVID. I don’t think they really care more about their personal freedom than the lives of our vulnerable population—I know that I don’t. I think people are legitimately struggling to reconcile the “cure” with the “disease”.
Before labeling people “unscientific”, let’s first take a good look at the “science” we’re supposed to believe. Are there pictures of this virus from an electron microscope? Hint: The cartoon ball with the red spikes is not such an image. Can we put it in an animal host and watch them develop an infection? Does the infection lead to death, and, if so, how often? Do we have a gold standard against which to compare the PCR surrogate test? Science shouldn’t require a salesman, and it shouldn’t change from day to day or from scientist to scientist. It shouldn’t be political, and it shouldn’t require belief.
I’d love to just carry on with my quiet little life out here in Vermont—I really would. But I watch our postman spend all day in a hot, stuffy office wearing a tight-fitting mask and gloves, and I notice how people don’t even consider hugging one another any more, and I see state agencies (like the Department of Child Nutrition for which my wife works) stretching to incredible lengths to continue services, like lunch ladies making shelf-stable or individually-packaged meals for 8 hours a day in mask and gloves, at 6ft-apart workstations, without the joy of seeing children enjoy their food, and I get angry. I don’t believe for a second that these measures are saving lives, or that healthy people and children need to wear masks and forever fear that they might be spreading a deadly virus. To be convinced otherwise, I need more than assurances from health organizations that are rife with conflicts of interest and built to continually find, promote, and cure the next virus.
I’m not questioning science; I’m asking for better science.