Friday, March 20, 2020

Flying Blind

While the current coronavirus infection disease 2019 outbreak of acute respiratory infections is a problem, I'm not sure that it is the biggest problem that we're having here in the United States. Rather, the problem is the overall inability to understand how big the problem is. A lot of the measures put in place to slow the spread of the disease, along with the idea that slowing the spread is all we can, are predicated on an assumption that when any two people get together, that one of them is infected and the other is not. (Because if both of them are either infected or not infected, then contact between them can't spread the virus.) But while it makes sense to assume that any given person one encounters is both infected and not (one could call this Schrödinger's Infection) when there is no available information to guide the choice, once that information is available (at it generally is in South Korea), such imposed distancing and isolation make a lot less sense.

But at this point, it's not clear that this is being communicated. Granted, I don't spend much time following the news recently. A lot of what people are talking about seems to do a better job of frightening people than informing them. For instance, I don't mind radio reporters asking one another about "how they're doing." But if this is simply going to result in a chorus of people saying "I'm scared and don't know what to do," it's unsurprising that this would transmit itself to the audience. Also, headlines that do nothing other than proclaim how unready we are aren't helpful. They may prompt a click, but they also prompt anxiety.

But overall, it seems that once the initial finger-pointing over the lack of testing availability subsided, the topic was dropped. And so there seems to be an understanding that testing may never become widespread. I'm not sure that this was a good note to end that part of the discussion on. Improved access to information is going to be important; remaining in the dark forever is a recipe for disaster.

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