When I was in the eighth grade our class was provided a weekly, Young Catholic Messenger. It contained articles that were written to appeal to young students. The bag page was dedicated to jokes which, of course, was the first thing we turned to when we got our copy.
One Friday’s handout contained an article that I recalled just recently. The article was about air pollution. Now, to the kids who lived on Leland Avenue and the area around Blessed Sacrament Schoo, we knew all about air pollution.
Many of the apartment buildings and our own school depended on the burning of coal to provide heat and hot water for the residents. When these coal-fired furnaces were in full operating mode large black plumes could be wafting from their stacks into our world.
The article made a prediction that in the future we would have to wear hazmat suits when we went outside our homes. Well, they didn’t actually refer to them as hazmat suits. More likely, we would be dressed in space suits like the astronauts who were sent out of earth’s atmosphere.
The point was, and what I remember most about that article, that it wouldn’t be safe to breathe the air.
Now, fifty-seven years after I read that alarming article, we have reached that point where it is unsafe to breathe the air.
As COVID has rampaged through America, infecting over three million citizens (generally believed a gross undercount), and killed over one hundred and thirty thousand, we are urged by our public health officials to wear a surgical mask when we venture outside our homes.
A pollution crisis of a different sort envisioned in 1963.
With all the horrific accounts as to what happened in New York in the early days of our COVID experience, you would think the rest of the country would have learned its lesson. Many didn’t.
Where NY closed down for months, putting people out of work, forcing businesses to go out of business, keeping schools closed, the curve representing the spread of the disease gradually flattened and went down. Now N,Y is starting to reopen. Slowly.
Other states thought it was a NY problem, a NY disease. While the numbers in NY were exploding, these states were hardly affected at all. But the virus was not done when NY turned the tide.
No longer a NY or blue state problem, COVID invaded the south and the west. Not coincidentally, these states, with the exception of California, are run by Republican governors who kowtow to the president. When the president chided blue states for remaining closed and actually supported protestors who stormed the state legislature in Michigan, these red-state governors opened their businesses and, not surprisingly, to public health officers, the disease is now ravaging these states.
Politicizing a pandemic is not good public health practice. Where the president has used his bully pulpit to castigate those who would dare to get into the way of his economy, he has done nothing to earn him the honor of being the self-proclaimed War-Time President.
He has seen the enemy and retreated to the White House bunker.
Wearing a mask has been deemed unpatriotic to many. Nevertheless, many more are heeding the call to protect themselves and others by the simple act of wearing a surgical mask when we go outside and to maintaining social distancing in and outside.
It should be apparent that all of us, Democrats, Republicans, and Independents want to return to our normal lives. We want to see our families in person and not only on a computer screen. We want to go to our favorite restaurants and to go to a movie or a Broadway Play. We want to travel. No specific political agenda precludes these desires.
We won’t get there by being crazy.
We won’t get there by fighting science and medicine.
We have spent the last thirty or more years arguing about pollution and climate change all because of the regulatory affect regulations curtailing pollution and carbon emissions have on corporate America.
The greatest achievements we have had in my lifetime have been a result of science, technology, and medicine.
The Salk vaccine preventing polio. The tremendous advances in treating cancers. Sending astronauts to the moon. Opening the world of computers to us all and our children.
Why then are so many people willing to forsake what scientists and doctors are telling us?
When I was told I had leukemia twenty years ago, I wasn’t happy. I didn’t argue with my oncologist that he was wrong, that I feel fine, that I would ignore his advice.
I went through all the tests and treatments he prescribed because I respected his expertise. It was a sacrifice on my part to succumb to the onerous chemo treatments. It caused hardship for my family. It made working difficult.
But it would have been absolutely insane for me to go to a doctor who I had reason to trust and ignore his diagnosis and advice.
Why are so many willing to ignore the advice of knowledgeable people who have studied pandemics and have made it their life’s calling to prevent and fight them?
Wear the mask.
Stay away from large crowds.
Listen to the doctors.
You wouldn’t take your car to a mechanic and argue that you didn’t need new brakes.
Or maybe you would?
Alber Einstein, a fair scientist himself, once said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. ”
While we rely on our scientists and doctors to develop a cure or a vaccine or at least a viable treatment for COVID, let us also rely on the wisdom they have already provided.
Opening up the south and west too soon has shown that nothing was learned from the NY experience.
Continuing to adhere to this policy is insane.