I read an article today from a doctor in Omaha in regard to the COVID-19 outbreak. In his article he made the following statement:
In the USA, we have three pathways for COVID-19:
- The country views this challenge like WWI and WWII, and almost everyone does the right things, and we will be harmed, but okay.
- Many people do the right things, and many don’t, and we will have the same struggles that Italy is enduring.
- People blow this disease off as no big deal, and our health care system (and life as we know it) will be crippled.
These statements from his article really started me thinking. I’ve been trying to find a way to explain how important self isolation and social distancing is to people. Especially to those who are informed enough to see that influenza has killed “more” people, but not informed enough to understand that it isn’t just the number of deaths, but rather the statistical percentage of deaths to confirmed diagnosis that has made this novel virus a worldwide pandemic. This simple statement from this physician put an opportunity for explanation into my mind. So, I decided to write it down.
In the spirit of social cooperation, I am going to try and explain the COVID-19 requests for social distancing through a loose historical comparison using the London Blitz during World War II.
Some background –
The Blitz was a German bombing campaign against the United Kingdom in 1940 and 1941. The Germans conducted mass air attacks and from the 7th of September 1940, London was systematically bombed by the Luftwaffe for 56 of the following 57 days and nights. The Luftwaffe gradually decreased daylight operations in favour of night attacks to evade attack by the RAF, and the Blitz became a night bombing campaign after October 1940. This led to a blackout requirement for London and the surrounding area. Blackout regulations required that all windows and doors should be covered at night to prevent the escape of any glimmer of light that might aid enemy aircraft. External lights such as street lights were switched off, or dimmed and shielded to deflect light downward. Blackouts proved one of the more unpleasant aspects of the war, disrupting many civilian activities and causing widespread grumbling and lower morale.
While I know that explaining an entire portion of WWII in a short paragraph is inadequate and not complete, I just wanted to be sure we were all on the same page before I begin my comparison.
Imagine living during that terror. Imagine knowing that bombers were flying overhead each and every night and the only protection you were able to provide to your family was blacking out the windows so the pilots were unaware there were buildings in the area. That psychological terror would be extreme, and for some it may even induce a feeling of being out of control of their lives which would cause extreme actions and panicked behavior. Not unlike what is happening today.
Now, if you can indulge me for a moment, imagine speaking with your neighbors before the bombings had really begun in your community, and having a person who does one of these things contributing to your conversation:
- “There’s no reason to panic, back in 19XX’s we had far more casualties from far more extreme bombings. More people died and no one made a fuss and told us to black out our windows then.”
- “This is all a government conspiracy and they are trying to control us. They say we aren’t being taken over by the communists/socialists/etc but we if we follow these ridiculous rules that’s exactly what’s happening”
- “This blackout rule is ridiculous, I am NOT going to abide by their demands. There’s nothing to fear, and my family will not be covering our windows in our building. The chances of the German’s taking out our one little building is slim to none, so I am not going to do what they say is critical because I don’t believe that it really is.” I will make sure my family is at home before their curfew, but we did that before the bombings so we aren’t making any changes to our lives.”
These are all mirrors of comments surrounding the virus restrictions that I tried- and maybe not effectively – to translate into the terms of WWII. Imagine your family lives in the same apartment building that the folks in #3 do. What does their refusal to cover their windows mean for your family? What does it do for the likelihood that your building will not statistically be targeted? It changes everything.
The concept of social cooperation is working together, inconveniencing ourselves in an effort to protect and support the greater good. We seem to have lost that ideal. Or perhaps it’s not lost, it just isn’t translating well to a non-human enemy in many folks’ minds. I’m not sure. Because these restrictions being placed on us are not any different than the blackout restrictions during WWII.
WWII – If a bomb was dropped then, some people might die. Some people might be injured severely. Others may only have a small injury that heals quickly, and still others may have escaped physically unscathed.
COVID -19 – Some people in our area might die. Some people might become severely ill and have lifelong consequences from contracting the virus. Others might become ill for a short period of time and have no long term consequences, and still others may not acquire the virus at all.
But, for the neighbor who refused to blackout their windows – they think they are making a point, taking a stand, doing what they can to fight the powers that be. However, what’s really happening is that they are not only putting themselves at risk, but they are also putting many other families who live not only in their building but within their neighborhood and beyond at risk. Imagine how they would feel knowing that the light in their window led the bombers to their neighborhood, but they were not the ones who were injured or killed. Is their decision worth that consequence? Is their stubbornness worth the lives of someone they don’t know? I think most humans would say NO! Yet, that’s what I continue to see.
Oftentimes, people are unwilling to work toward the greater good, so hard pressed to prove their idea as correct, or that their government is incorrect, or that people are “overreacting” to an event that isn’t necessary, or trying to “prove” they are not panicking that they are subjecting their friends, neighbors, community, and strangers to the possibility of disaster. Sometimes, people have lived through even harder times, seen more death or destruction, and are trying to offer a glimmer of hope by pointing those scenarios out to others, but though they mean well it doesn’t help solve the crisis at hand.
I believe in the tenacity of the human spirit, but even more than that, I believe in the capability of the human brain. I know that once we know what enemy we are facing that there will be every effort put forth to find a way to beat that enemy. So in quick succession I believe there will be rapid diagnostic testing created, treatment for symptoms designed, and even a cure for the disease brought forth in short order. This will not be a long term situation. It is, however, a necessary one. The protection of the whole requires the inconvenience of the individual in an effort to slow the enemy down so the human brain and spirit can prevail and create what is needed to keep us safe.
My request – can you please just try to be a part of the solution, and strive for wellness, rather than becoming the light shining in the darkness allowing the enemy to spot your window and drop the bomb? Could we all, even in times that are not filled with chaos, work toward a better society and a more well rounded viewpoint on wellness? I believe we can.