You should be hearing this from Donald Trump, not from me

I heard a useful analogy this morning that I found very effective for me. Imagine you are offered an M&M from a bowl containing 100. Your host says you may have one and only one, but cautions you that three of them, distributed at random in the M&M population, are deadly poison and will kill you. I suppose if you are like most people you would decline the offer entirely.

I find that analogy far more compelling than the dry statistic that 3.4% of cases of COVID-19 are lethal. It lends the whole coronavirus question a tangible practicality that is intuitively useful and particularly motivating. If you also find it useful then please do use it.

Yet there’s a heuristic going about that sounded brilliant at first and was originally offered by a doctor, I believe, that in practical application I found to be all but unusable. I’m referring to the notion that the best way to keep yourself safe from infection is to behave as though you already have it and are trying to keep others safe from you.

I applied that notion when my wife and I went shopping this morning and it didn’t work for several reasons. First, I worried about touching my nose after touching the trolly (shopping cart) handle, a thing that wouldn’t have bothered me in the least had I already been infected by COVID-19. Second, when the cashier gave me my receipt with a hand that had (no doubt) already that morning handled thousands of products teeming with the germs of hundreds of people, it wouldn’t have caused me any concerns at all were I COVID-19 positive. As it was, it concerned me a great deal. Third, worrying about walking through the airspace polluted with the coughs and sneezes of other people again would not have concerned me were I COVID-19 positive.

I understand why people want to spread these untested spurious bits of advice about like, well, like viruses. They want to be thought of as mavens, experts, heroes. But there’s too much at stake and we need to be wise and thoughtful above all else. There’s much bad information out there that needs to be sanitized with a healthy wash of google from sources we can trust, like the WHO, CDC and WebMD.

For example, there is no coronavirus self test, and anyone sending you unsolicited messages needs to be educated accordingly. They would know this if they’d bothered to spend fifteen seconds on google first, but in their headlong rush to be the bringer of useful information they themselves forgot to apply that all-important informational disinfectant.

This morning (Monday) my wife and I set out to lay in supplies for what we are convinced is the coming quarantine, or should be. We brought hand sanitizer with us (pre-pandemic, that we already owned) and agreed between us that we would avoid touching our own faces until we were back at the car and had accordingly sanitized our hands. We were also hyper-alert against coming into physical contact with others and tried as best we could to occupy our own airspace.

We picked Monday morning at 9am for our shop because it’s traditionally a very slow time for the local superstore. Needless to say the car park was packed end to end and the store heaving with humanity. Many shelves were empty or partially denuded of the obvious products like toilet paper, hand sanitizer, pasta and bread, and some not so obvious products like ice cream. As I’d recently made the transition from vegetarian to vegan for reasons unrelated to the pandemic, that which was available to me was limited but largely overlooked by the locusts, thank goodness. My wife, who is neither vegan nor vegetarian, had no trouble getting most of what she needed either. All in all it was a successful shopping trip.

I was surprised how easy it was not to touch my face in the course of the experience. Once or twice I was able to satisfy an itchy nose with the sleeve of my sweatshirt near my elbow. Otherwise I was fine. The danger lies, no doubt, in as much as these experiences become more routine and precautions become increasingly perfunctory, diligence will decline and we will be more prone to error. That’s why we have agreed between us, my wife and I, to always think while we are out and try always to remain frostily alert to danger.

That was our small experience and I hope you found it useful, such as it was. I’m sorry this has to come from me at all and not from our governments who are charged to protect us. But both our governments are run by conservatives whose advice is too often dangerously insane, inconsistent and unsympathetic. But I think we are smarter than they are and, not only will we defeat this odious outbreak, I think we will also ultimately defeat these execrable governments. Until then, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, be safe.

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