Thoughts on COVID-19

These are crazy times, right? We haven’t had a do a wide-scale quarantine like this since the 1918 Flu. It’s good this sort of thing doesn’t happen more than once every 100 years or so. At least we can learn from the past. Looking at the 1918 Flu, we know social distancing does slow the spread of the disease and saves lives. It might need to last months, but that’s better than ending it early. The most important take-away is we’ve been through this before, we can go through it again. Plus, we have much better medical technology now than we did then, so it likely won’t be as bad as 1918.

It’s disappointing that so many leaders in our country, including the President, are talking about ending social distancing early in order to help the economy. I realize unemployment and poverty can lead to death, but it seems like they’re valuing profit over lives. This whole approach is misguided though. We’re not choosing between the economy and human lives, because the economy will get even worse if we stop social distancing. During the 1918 Flu, cities that implemented social distancing did better economically (not to mention saving more lives) than cities which didn’t. The correct way to frame this question is: Do we want to save lives and the economy with social distancing, or do we want to destroy both lives and the economy by not doing it?

As if COVID-19 wasn’t enough, Salt Lake City had its biggest earthquake on record on March 18th and we’re still having aftershocks. I don’t think anyone died as a result, but my wife knows someone who had to leave their house due to structural damage. The only damage at our house was a big piece of art that fell from the wall. As far as I can remember, this is the first earthquake I’ve actually felt, but I was more annoyed by it than frightened. At first, I just thought a big truck was driving by, and as it continued, I felt like the earthquake was shaking our house just to be a jerk.

It didn’t help that earlier that morning I got what I thought was an alert on my phone warning of a blizzard in Utah that turned out to be just an ad. If it’s illegal to shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater, how can it be legal to push deceptive ads like this onto people’s phones? We’re panicking enough already without nonsense like this:

Utah Tornado Warning

Some people are predicting this quarantine will cause either a baby boom, a spike in the divorce rate, or both. Domestic violence is certainly on the rise which makes sense since everybody in general is more stressed out than before.

Gun purchases are on the rise as well. It’s understandable for people to want to buy a gun in uncertain times such as these to protect themselves and their families, however it’s important to look at the data. For one thing, a bad economy doesn’t actually cause crime to increase. The 1920’s had a great economy, but also had high crime, while the crime rate was actually low during the Great Depression. So you shouldn’t panic-buy a gun out of fear that crime will increase.

Statistically speaking, if you own a gun, it’s twice as likely it will be stolen than used in self-defense. Also, two-thirds of all gun deaths are suicide. During these trying times, suicide might increase, and if you have a gun in the house, you’re more likely to commit suicide than if you don’t. (People who try to commit suicide with a gun have an 85 percent chance of dying while people who try to commit suicide without a gun only have a 3 percent chance of dying.)

Guns are far more likely to kill a member of your family (either through accidental shooting, domestic violence, or suicide) than they are to defend your family (guns are used defensively in less than 0.5 percent of criminal incidents). While owning a gun can make you feel like you’re safer, you’re actually putting yourself and your family in more danger. The decision to purchase a gun should not be made lightly. Don’t panic-buy. Be sure to carefully consider all of the facts first.

I don’t want to end this post on a downer, so let’s try to look at the bright side of all this. One good thing about the quarantine is that with everybody driving around less often, there’s a lot less air pollution. (Surprisingly, more lives may end up being saved by the decrease in air pollution than are lost due to COVID-19.) I’ve been going on walks with my family more often. It may be my imagination, but my neighbors seem nicer. Perhaps it helps to have a common enemy. Many industries are having tough times, but some industries are booming. Grocery stores and delivery services are hiring a lot more workers to keep up with demand.

Some of us have been getting around to things we’ve been procrastinating like cleaning the house and writing more (although those of us with young children are actually writing less). Spending more time with family is a good thing even if we’re all going stir-crazy. Having to clear our social calendars has forced us to slow down so it’s reduced stress in one way, even if stress has increased in other ways.

Also it makes you appreciate modern technology. Can you imagine going through social distancing without phones, internet, video games, and TV? Even though we’re physically distant, we’re still more connected than the people who had to live through the 1918 Flu. Being without schools, churches, restaurants, gyms, concerts, art shows, parties, etc. will make us appreciate those things more when we finally get back to normal. It might seem a long way off, but this will end eventually.

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