COVID Meets Culture

Can a virus be sexist? Racist? What sort of idiot would even ask such questions in the midst of a pandemic? The questions might not be timely in the sense that we have bigger issues, such as survival, to address at the moment, but having run through the first 10,000 coronavirus issues and run out of otherwise useful things to discuss, it was only natural that the culture war would find its moment to shine.

With more and more people working from home, it is likely that many families will find themselves in a situation where both parents are trying to work from the kitchen table while also attempting to home-school the children.

This, on top of the regular household chores as well as cooking and cleaning can feel like an extra load for many parents at this time. The likelihood is though that despite both parents now being at home, much of the “domestic” work will still land squarely on the shoulders of the women of the house. So much like the 1950s housewife, women will not only be expected to make exciting meals, keep the house clean and tidy and the children entertained – but she’ll also have to do all this while working from home.

There is no data to suggest this is happening, or to suggest, if it is, that it’s any different than the home life was before coronavirus, but imaginations are fertile and if someone with a grievance is given the opportunity, their complaints get to be aired.

But there is an actual, factual, complaint to be aired, that far more men will die than women. Is the virus anti-male?

Higher rates of tobacco consumption, a reluctance to seek proper and timely medical care and even lower rates of hand-washing absolutely do play a role in who will be hit hardest.

But what is being overlooked in these explanations is that the disproportionate toll coronavirus is taking on men isn’t an anomaly. Rather, it may be a timely and high-profile demonstration of what up until recently has been an underappreciated scientific fact: When it comes to survival, men are the weaker sex.

The argument is grounded in science, that women having double X chromosomes provides an advantage in surviving COVID-19, although the argument isn’t proven by the personal anecdote skirting the minefield of biological reality.

The sun was finally out after a very long winter and a wet spring. I promised my wife, Emma, some quiet time, just the two of us: just her, an XX female and me, an XY male.

But what about race? The first question could be whether coronavirus is racist, which gives rise to the complaint by Ibram Xendi that while some are fighting to get their hands on masks and ventilators, they aren’t engaged in the more critical endeavor of determining racial disparate impact.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s information site does not offer racial data. Neither does the Johns Hopkins University database used by CNN, The New York Times’ count, nor the COVID Tracking Project. Few states, municipalities, or private labs are releasing their data by race.

Who cares about how many are infected, how many have died, when we don’t know what race they are?

What we are seeing in Illinois could be happening nationwide—we just don’t know. On Friday, Democratic lawmakers, led by Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Ayanna Pressley, called out the Trump administration for the lack of racial data. “Any attempt to contain COVID-19 in the United States will have to address its potential spread in low-income communities of color, first and foremost to protect the lives of people in those communities, but also to slow the spread of the virus in the country as a whole,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.

Does the virus seek out low-income communities of color to infect? That’s not the problem, Charles Blow explains.

We may be waiting for a racial time bomb to explode with this disease.

Forget the people dying now. Worry instead about what might be. The problem is comorbidities, diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.

“African-American patients are more likely than white patients to have diabetes. The risk of diabetes is 77 percent higher among African-Americans than among non-Hispanic white Americans. The rates of diagnosis of diabetes in non-Hispanic African-Americans is 18.7 percent compared to 7.1 percent.”

One doesn’t “catch” diabetes, of course, but now isn’t the time to mention lifestyle choices giving rise to factors that will give rise to poor outcomes.

People like to say “we’re all in this together,” but black people have every right to respond, “but will we all emerge from it together?”

Blow has a point, though perhaps not the one he thinks he’s making. Will people, regardless of sex or race, have access to medical care? Will they be treated the same in triage should the hard choices of whom to save and whom to let go have to be made? Will they adhere to the precautions to stay at home, to wear masks, to wash their hands, to do what they can to prevent the spread of coronavirus?

At a time when society is facing a life-or-death crisis, one would hope that the foremost concern is saving lives. Not men’s lives. Not black lives. All lives. If ever there was a time when we would do well to return to the basics, to scientific facts and sound medical process, this would seem to be it.

As poorly as governments, at various levels, have handled this threat to public health and safety, at least there has been no demand that resources be allocated by sex and race. Can we keep it that way and return to the culture wars after the threat has abated? Let as many of us as possible live to fight another day.

12 thoughts on “COVID Meets Culture

  1. Denverite

    The law of derp* — the amount of derp increases logarithmically relative to the strength of the recent event/crisis that provokes it this time.

    From Noah Smith’s definition of derp in 2013.

    “But here’s the thing: When those people keep broadcasting their priors to the world again and again after every new piece of evidence comes out, it gets very annoying. … That is unhelpful and uninformative, since they’re just restating their priors over and over. Thus, it is annoying. Guys, we know what you think already.
    English has no word for “the constant, repetitive reiteration of strong priors”. Yet it is a well- known phenomenon in the world of punditry, debate, and public affairs. On Twitter, we call it “derp”.
    So “derp” is a unique and useful English word. Let’s keep using it.
    (Also, the verb associated with “derp” is “herp”. It describes the action of coughing a large sticky mass of derp onto the internet in front of you. For example, to use it in a sentence: “That twerp just herped a flerp of derp!” A “flerp” is a unit I made up. It is the amount of derp that can be herped by one twerp. See?)”

    [Ed. Note: Link deleted per rules.]

  2. delurking

    The medical community is basically consistent on this. They intend to use the same procedure here as they use in other areas where they are always resource-constrained, like organ transplants. Donor organs are basically distributed in order of Quality-Adjusted Life Years saved, so younger people get them before older people, generally-healthier people get them before generally-less-healthy people, and people without disabilities get them before people with disabilities. So it will go with ventilators and oxygen, if it gets that bad (and that is looking probable).

    People who know that they or their loved-ones are not near the front of the line don’t like the QALY metric, understandably. They make what arguments they have available to them.

      1. delurking

        Exactly. Many people (probably most) fail to be ruthlessly rational when their lives are on the chopping block.
        To wit (from the NPR story on disability advocacy groups’ complaints about triage):
        “Civil rights law you have to stick to,” Ne’eman says, “even when that imposes a cost—in time, resources and yes, sometimes even lives.
        Ne’eman, who also founded the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, worries of a repeat in this country of what’s happening in Italy–where ventilators go to young people, over older ones.
        He and Smith think there are fairer ways. The ventilator could go to the first person who needs it. Others have suggested a lottery system.”

        There are areas where we do trade lives for other important things, like liberty and equality. No one rational claims that stop-and-frisk saved exactly zero lives, just that the lives saved weren’t worth the cost to both liberty and equal treatment. It is a bad analogy, but people whose lives are on the line are likely to grasp at it. Convincing them otherwise requires subtle trolley-problem discussions they are not interested in.

        1. SHG Post author

          Oh, you thought my reply was an invitation for more extraneous discussion, nothing withstanding my posts specifically addressing triage and the trolley problem.

      1. Guitardave

        I had the thought that maybe, in the harsh light reflected off the recently honed sickle blade of Mr. Reaper, they might use that shovel to pry their heads out of their asses. But i guess their sphincters have the same properties as a black holes event horizon.

  3. B. McLeod

    I knew there was something I didn’t like about this pandemic, and now I see that it was the virus’s sinister intent to get rid of black people while impregnating women and stealing their shoes. Damn it. I missed all of that in my Peeps diorama.

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