I watched Outbreak. I watched Contagion. Still, I don’t feel qualified to speak to the significance of the pandemic. I hear what far more knowledgeable people are saying, from Dr. Anthony Fauci to a plethora of docs in the trenches, and I accept that their studies were deeper than the two movies I watched.
Yet, there is a niggling question that lingers in the back of my head. If this pandemic began sometimes between last December and January, it has a death rate of 1% and its growth is exponential rather than linear, why have there not been more deaths worldwide? As of this moment, the number of deaths is 14,756.* That’s nothing to sneeze at and every death matters, but it’s not in the hundreds of thousands, the millions.
There are a variety of factors, from false or inadequate reporting to medical intervention, that could explain some of the rhetorical shortfall, but not all of it. It may very well be that the curve has taken longer than anticipated and will, in short order, reach that point of a million deaths, but given the way exponential increases work, we should have been there already. We aren’t.
While some of us sit home, trying to collect our deepest or wittiest thoughts to save us from tedium, there are others outside doing the work that needs to get done. The most obvious, the health care workers, are rightly extolled as heroes. The less obvious are hidden from sight. The toilet paper doesn’t appear on supermarket shelves by magic. Someone makes it, transports it, loads and unloads it, puts it on shelves for us to snarf up at our will. Food too. Plus the other miscellaneous earthly goods that we don’t really need but would make our sheltering in place less unpleasant.
Are these people, these invisible workers who keep the underground economy moving, risking their lives for minimum wage? Or at least not a salary worthy of risking their lives? There aren’t enough N95 masks (whether in existence or available in storage awaiting FDA inspectors to finish their coffee breaks, according to whom you believe) for hospitals, so it’s not as if guys in warehouses are likely wearing PPE for their safety.
The panoply of people necessary to make this happen is really quite astounding, in ways we rarely consider because it’s not our job to figure out all the folks needed to make a supply chain happen. Truckers can’t truck if there is no place to get gas and eat along the highway. Who’s manning the slushie machine at Exit 132?
To be perfectly frank, I harbor fears of infection when I venture out of the house, when a family member goes to the market and even when the mail arrives (thank you, Joe, the mail
manperson). Granted, as a person of a certain age, I’m supposedly at higher risk than you young folks, though that didn’t do 44-year-old one-time blawger David Lat much good (I’m pulling for you, pal).
But where do I come off feeling justified in my concerns while there are millions of other people out there doing the heavy lifting that allows me to stay home and not starve to death, freeze to death, or be bored to death? Most of us don’t think of the people along the supply chain, from producing the food and goods we still need, still enjoy, to survive who are doing their jobs so we can cower in fear of infection at home. Without them, however, we would be staring at a very different world today.
There has to be some measure of accommodation between the continuation of our economy and our self-protection from COVID-19. Where that line gets drawn, or if it’s a line at all, requires someone smarter than me, as I struggle to understand why the good people who will get up today and go to work so that the rest of us can remain home, some in confusion at to how this will play out, others in quiet panic, do it. Maybe they need the money, even though they aren’t paid their worth under the circumstances. Maybe they realize that society can’t exist without them doing their jobs. Maybe they aren’t as afraid as others.
Whatever motivates those of you who will go out today and do a job that needs doing, and without which your friends, neighbors and thousands of random people who don’t know you exist will have nothing to eat, I thank you. I don’t know your names. Nobody will build a statue of you. You may end up infected by corona virus. You may even die. I don’t know how you do it, or why you do it, but I thank you for doing it.
And if they can do it, why can’t I? It may kill me, but we all have to go sometime. Not that I’m in a rush, but I’m no more special than they are, and society will no more miss me when I’m gone.
*Unless you’re a physician in the trenches or an actual Ph.D. in epidemiology, keep your opinions to yourself. No one wants to hear you regurgitate which news channel’s talking heads you believe is telling the TRUTH!!!