Over the last week or so, Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham have been complaining about the loss of liberty caused by social distancing laws. Many libertarians online are also whining, and the complaints are growing in volume, so it may be time to remind people why the lockdown was, and still is, necessary.
When it comes to pandemics, it is helpful to see things from the microbe’s point of view and to do that effectively; we should first know what a virus is.
Technically a virus is a piece of genetic code protected by an outer protein shell, but that description plays down its importance. More broadly, it is a parasitic hacking machine that can be active or inert contingent on its position in or outside a host. Its purpose is to invade a living cell, hijack its reproductive equipment, and turn it into a virus-making factory. The enslaved host manufactures copies of its attacker, and these new viruses find other cells to hijack and repeat the process. Many microbes destroy such cells by bursting through their membranes when plentiful enough, causing sickness or death in their human hosts. The ancient modus operandi is ruthlessly successful.
Though tiny, these ominous structures are more numerous than stars in our universe. The oceans alone contain 10 thousand billion billion billion (10 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000), which is ten million times the total number of stars. Seaspray contains soil-dust and organic materials containing bacteria and viruses. Leaving the ocean surface, they rise into the atmosphere where they are blown long distances, eventually descending to the ground. Look at a square meter (3.28’ square) in your back yard. Each day between 500 to 700 million viruses will fall onto that patch, mostly from the sea.
Now we know why our grandmothers told us to wash our hands with soap before eating.
Is a virus alive? Only in a primitive sense of the word, so thinking of it as a machine can be more practical. Alternatively, one could describe it as a part of a living thing, as a trigger is a part of a gun. Viruses cannot reproduce on their own, or repair themselves. Without hosts to help them replicate, they will eventually fall apart, and their tiny size makes them vulnerable to the elements. Most will only last a few hours or days, depending on their surroundings. Some, though, like the poliovirus, may survive for years. Most germs do well in moist environments, evaporation often guaranteeing their doom, though others survive longer by clinging to dust and dirt particles.
Many, including coronavirus, have a shell made of lipids, fats, and oils. Soap removes fats and oils, destroying the lipid envelope of the virus, and ethanol is equally destructive as it unravels the coiled proteins inside. It is easy to understand why soap or ethanol-based hand washes obliterate such germs on one’s hands. For other surfaces, bleach, chlorine, hydrogen peroxide and other chemicals extinguish viruses but must be used carefully and according to instructions as they are dangerous. Short-wave ultraviolet light (found in sunlight), also neutralize viruses by damaging their DNA.
Microbes last longer in porous, damp, dark places. The smoother, lighter, cleaner and drier the surface, the better. A stainless steel surface, cleaned with ethanol, in sunlight (or UV light) is not a germ-friendly plane.
Human/Microbe Love Affair
Our problem is that we have evolved side by side with microbes for millions of years in a kind of love affair. Germs adapt according to our habits and become welded to our behavioral traits. They find great opportunities when we hug, kiss, or engage in various sexual acts. Handshakes, pats on the back, preening, haircutting, and massage all help viruses spread. Rock concerts, disco dancing, demonstrating, watching sport, or working out at the gym all help viruses multiply. Traveling together on cruise ships, in jets, buses, trains, or taxis only makes it easier for the minuscule germs to land on our giant bodies.
Some people have a natural dislike of crowds. They probably evolved because so many others, who were more sociable, were struck down by various diseases. During the last century, as vaccines saved millions, people became more physical with each other. Hippies would sleep with anyone. Shaking hands was replaced by hugging in recent years. Those who refused to participate in this custom (like Jerry Seinfeld) risked people’s scorn. Everybody began touching, hugging, kissing, and generally drooling over each other. Jerry had the last laugh.
Viruses thrived with all that touchy-feely togetherness. Remember all those cases of flu we caught during our lives? We can thank our friends who flew or cruised away for holidays each year in third world countries. They brought the world’s viruses back with them. When we met them later and hugged them tightly, we picked up the germs. The worst thing we could do was kiss or hug someone at the airport or ship terminal, returning from an overseas trip.
Alternatively, it would come from the roommate who loved rock concerts. He would dance, bump, shout, and sing beside dozens of sweaty strangers, some of whom were just back from their holidays in the sun. When he coughed some days later, tiny invisible agents of doom entered our bodies to begin their work.
Today we see talking heads like Tucker Carlson grieving over not being allowed to socialize in large groups. The man is missing all the fun. The smallest viruses are only 20 nanometres (0.0000008”) in diameter. Those tiny suckers want Tuckers, and Tuckers want them. Many people are pining to get back to hugging, dancing, kissing, to let their small companions climb aboard their giant star-ship carcasses. Seriously. If a person grew to be 124 miles (200 km) high, the viruses on his body would be the size of dimes. To them, he would be as tall as 523 Empire State Buildings on top of each other, stretching up past the atmosphere and 117 miles (188 km) into space.
Whether one lives in the United States, Canada, Europe, or Britain, social isolation helps prevent deadly little nippers from sabotaging one’s life. Bands may well sing God Save the Queen, but without social isolation, God may not save Her Royal Highness from the Wuhan virus. Even the President of the United States is at risk. If Tucker Carlson had his way, he would have his arms around all his pals and be resistant to boot – a little like having his cake and eating it too.
The trouble is that the virus can spread from Tucker’s friends to others, and from them to Donald Trump, and the last thing good people want is for Trump to depart this earth before his time.
COVID-19 is very easy to catch, and many have caught it without even knowing. Gloveless shoppers pick up supermarket items that have been handled by other gloveless shoppers and then touch their faces. Sure they sterilize their hands as they leave the shop, but the virus is already on their face, making its way inside. A man delivers groceries to your house. He is a symptomless carrier of the disease, and his germs are all over the bags and boxes. You keep your distance from him but carry the bags and boxes inside without gloves. After unpacking the groceries, you scratch your nose a couple of times before washing your hands. Too late. The virus is on your nose, mining its way into skin cells.
You follow social distancing rules all day and then go to check your mail. The letters in your mailbox have COVID-19 on them. Now they are on your hands. Now you scratch the back of your neck – done! Another successful landing.
To protect yourself, you need face masks, disposable vinyl gloves, cans of spray disinfectant (hospital grade), and multipurpose wipes containing disinfectant. These should be stored at home, but keep extra gloves, masks, and wipes in the car. Drive to the shopping center and park. Put your mask on first, followed by your gloves. Wear a face mask and gloves every time you go shopping. Do not touch your face or your phone. Once back at your car, load the groceries and close the trunk. Peel your gloves off and toss them in a trash bin. Open your car door and retrieve a multipurpose disinfectant wipe and wipe your hands, the car door and trunk handles you touched, and the keys you used to unlock the car. If you pocketed the keys after using them, use the same wipe to wipe the inside of your pocket.
Drive home. Put another set of gloves on to bring the groceries into your home. Place the bags on the kitchen floor. Remove all clutter from the kitchen benchtop and draining board, and half fill the sink with warm soapy water. Wash all washable items in the warm soapy water, rinse them, and place them on the draining board to dry. That would include cans, watertight sealed plastic bags, packets, and fruit. For other items in cardboard boxes and paper packets, place them one by one onto the benchtop and spray them lightly with the spray disinfectant. Put them aside to dry. Take out all the empty disposable plastic shopping bags to the trash. Hold onto them with one gloved hand while opening doors and trash can lid with the other un-gloved hand. While out there, throw the last glove in the garbage.
When receiving goods to the doorstep, wait a few minutes for the air to circulate, and then put your gloves on and repeat the above procedure. Spray all boxes, envelopes, and bags delivered, and spray the contents if possible. Discard of packaging the same way you discarded grocery bags above.
Safety glasses are an optional extra, as is lightweight disposable breathable coveralls if you wish to go the whole hog. For me, the safeguards listed are enough, and some think I go too far with them. The truth is that because people do not go through the steps I have outlined, many of them will indeed succumb to COVID-19, and many already have, simply because they keep touching stuff that other people have touched.
When people come to the door, yell at them rather than open the door. “Hello, how can I help you?” Only open if you have to, and wear a mask on those occasions.
Remember, it only takes one person with the virus to contaminate everyone, so the aim is to let all viruses die off by starving them to death for lack of victims.
The more paranoid you are, the more difficult you make the virus’ job, which brings me to the summary:
If you were a coronavirus, imagine how annoyed you would be (if you could reason) with humans in lockdown, practicing social distancing. You would be on your host’s skin, or in their lungs, ready to be exhaled, prepared to land on another victim, but there would be no action in sight. “Howzit goin’ Doug,” you might say to your pathogen friend. “Where are all the giant carcasses today?
“Dunno, Pete,” Doug would reply. “Looks like there’s nobody about, again.”
“But that’s no good, Doug,” you would complain. “We only have a few hours left. If we don’t find a new victim by then, we is history.”
“True, “Doug agrees. “We had a good run with this host.”
“Sure,” you say, “but he’s getting better.”
“True,” Doug agrees. “Let’s hope he hugs someone soon. We need new meat.”
“The mouth is no go again,” you mention.
“Why’s that?” asks Doug.
“Even down at the hands, they say nobody’s getting anything,” you grumble.
“Why not?” asks Doug.
“Gloves. Disinfectant sprays and wipes.”
“Geez, what is it with these humans? After all these millennia, why the changes?”
“They reckon it’s science. Technology. Progress.”
“Give me the medieval days when the church was in charge.”
“Yup. Them were the days alright. No masks. No gloves. They didn’t even know we existed back then.”
“Ha – they thought demons caused disease.”
“Hey Pete,” Doug says.
“What?” you answer.
“You’re not looking so hot. Your DNA is starting to spill out and unwind.”
“So long, Doug. It was nice knowin’ ya. Say goodbye to everyone for me… choke… gasp…”
“Will do, Pete. Peace out man… [sob]”
This video shows you how small Pete and Doug were: