Editorial: Know thine enemy

COVID-19 is insidious. Be aware of what does and doesn’t protect you.

Hailee Schievelbein

Hailee Schievelbein

Daily Editorial Board

Our nationally dismal response to the novel coronavirus pandemic has been the cherry on top of the Trump administration’s tenure to date. The administration and certain states in the Union have been testing the limits of Murphy’s Law with their pandemic responses, or lack thereof. And as we all know, Murphy is winning. As a nation undergoing a pandemic, we’re showing a tendency not to be able to think more than a few weeks in advance. But, unfortunately, no one’s wishful thinking changes reality. There are a few things that everyone should generally know about the pandemic just to keep everyone with maybe a toe on the ground of reality.

Acting like the virus doesn’t exist or that it doesn’t matter makes it all much more fatal, because it’s a domino effect. When we pretend that the virus doesn’t merit these highly disruptive precautions, then we carry on as if life is normal, which makes us spread the virus faster and to more people, which gives it exponentially more chances to mutate, which makes it both harder to vaccinate against and, in its own right, a stronger virus. 

It might be important to concur with some communities that the changes to our daily lives are, indeed, inconvenient and annoying. It is disruptive that we can’t have parties or barhop or have normal school and work. It’s disruptive that masks are now a regular part of life. But, we love our first-world problems because we’re lucky to be in this world. By vilifying this astoundingly easy measure, we keep pouring gasoline on the fire in our own house.

Masks may sound unbelievable. It feels like finding out that even though we built a spaceship to fly to the moon, the actual only way to get there is to take the stairs. That’s crazy — something as untechnical as stairs can get us to this cosmic thing? Well, turns out the moon, or a full pandemic recovery, are heaven, and Led Zeppelin was right. Masks actually do stop the particles that we send flying through the air when we talk, and the virus that rides them. We’re Minnesotans, so we should know exactly how far our breath goes when we breathe because we watch it outside from late October to mid-April. 

Some more general knowledge that everyone should know is that antibody tests are often highly unreliable, and even if we do have those antibodies in our systems, they may recede within three months. About 40% of coronavirus cases are asymptomatic, so plenty of us are in the dark about what we have now or had before. This truly is a James Bond villain of a virus. Too bad the President is nothing like James Bond. (Though they both have property in Scotland, Daniel Craig wouldn’t use his staff to wheedle the British Open onto his, much less during the onslaught of the action of the catastrophe du jour.) 

Antibody tests aren’t a silver bullet, and the window of time in which they can convey any useful information is slim. An antibody test sounds useful to tell whether you’ve had it, therefore you theoretically won’t contract it again. However, some antibody tests work best 2-3 weeks after the onset of the virus and stop conveying useful information around 5 weeks later. And, there is no reason to believe that the presence of antibodies protects us from reinfection of the virus. The World Health Organization has found no evidence to support the presumption of immunity after contracting the virus the first time. 

Contracting the virus must be even easier to do if we keep spreading the virus and letting it mutate. Even if you catch COVID-19 once and recover, then antibodies that may or may not continue to reside in your system may not protect you from a new strain of the virus; so you can catch it again, and the risks are all the higher since you have been compromised before.

We also see debilitating effects across the country in people who have survived the virus but now have to live with the lifelong consequences. Those people are just as important as the people who get it and move on like it was a slight cold. This novel coronavirus is unpredictable and inconsistent — it’s a wild card, and thankfully, there is one real method to stop it in real time. But, sadly, our Macho, Macho Men think masks are weakness. (We are sure the Village People themselves would not.)

We continue to be a laughingstock to the rest of the world. There are too many reasons to list, but not least is our rampant abuse of the WHO in the midst of the greatest health crisis in the last hundred years. We don’t need to be like this. We can think critically. We should save our own lives.