Paul's Internet Landfill/ 2020/ The Second Wave

The Second Wave

Here we are in Code Red. The second wave of the pandemic is well underway, and (as the epidemiologists predicted) it has been significantly worse than the first wave. It shows no sign of abating, and it seems likely that at some point or another we will go back into a full "Code Gray" lockdown. So why am I not panicking? Why does everything feel more-or-less normal?

I am still going to the Farmer's Market. It is crowded and people are not respecting social distancing. But it's December and I want cheap vegetables, so in I go. I frequently feel stressed out by the experience, but I continue going anyways.

Yesterday I went shopping at four different stores. I comparison shopped at some and bought junk food at some. I was not doing that in March. I frequently go to the pizza store or junk food store just because I crave something fattening. I was not doing that before. Each one of these interactions increases the risk of spread.

I have stopped wearing a mask while I am cycling outside. As the weather got colder the condensation from my breath froze to my glasses, so I could not see. Therefore I am putting myself and others at increased risk while riding my bike. I try to justify this by claiming the increased risk is small, but is it so small as to be negligible?

I recently did a service call for somebody who was having technology problems. I went into this person's apartment to fix things. That would have been unthinkable in March.

I think I have lost the sense of panic, and as a result I am behaving recklessly. Furthermore everybody else seems to be doing the same thing. Most of us are wearing masks in stores, but people are visiting friends and having parties and carrying on like this is not such a big deal. We feel we understand this virus and are not afraid of it any more. Meanwhile over 300k people are dead in the USA, and our ICUs are filling up with COVID patients.

I do not understand my cavalier response. I have undiagnosed hypochondria and acute anxiety. From time to time I convince myself that I have caught the virus. My chest feels tight and my throat feels sore. I should be much more careful than I am, but I'm not. Why?

Thanks to Big Pharma, two vaccines (from Pfizer and Moderna) are starting to roll out. They were developed and approved in record time. It looks like we can see an end to this pandemic, and it feels as if it will be soon. Of course, many people are ahead of me to get a vaccine, and to be honest I remain skeptical that the vaccines are as effective and safe as the companies say they are. I have read the Twitter threads from biomedical researchers who say everything is fine and I am just an anti-vaxxer for being skeptical, but given the other ways Big Pharma has manipulated data, they have a long way to go to earn my trust. I debate whether I would take these early vaccines, especially as others are still coming down the pipeline. Probably I would, but I am not sure. I typically do not get the flu vaccine, and I have not gotten it this year (yet), even though the flu is deadly as well. (On the other hand, I got myself vaccinated for HPV out of pocket, so it is not as though I completely mistrust vaccines.)

The first wave of the pandemic directly affected people I know. Some people got the virus and are still dealing with the symptoms to this day. Another person had important surgery delayed because of the pandemic, and now this person's health has suffered as a result. Despite the second wave being larger than the first, it seems less real to me. Some bloggers I read have contracted it, but other than that it does not appear to have affected anybody I know. I think my feelings around the second wave (and my associated anxiety) would change fairly dramatically if several people close to me contracted the disease.

Masks have been turned into a magic talisman. We are hearing much less about staying home and washing our hands, and much more about masking up. Naturally, this has turned into a political wedge issue. This makes me upset, because although I think masks are relevant they are not the critical factor that protects us from the coronavirus. Similarly we treat two metre distancing as a magic talisman, even though two metres does not make much difference when we are together indoors in poorly-ventilated spaces.

Everything is feeling confused. Given the state of our ICUs maybe we should be in full lockdown, but it's Christmas and retailers won't stand for that, so the government is dragging its heels for areas outside the GTA. We are supposed to stay safe but we are also supposed to go support businesses (including restaurants) because they will die without our support. Schools are open so that parents do not murder their darlings, but despite official assurances it is clear that classrooms are an excellent way to spread disease.

As always, a lot of this boils down to trust. Do I trust the pharmaceutical companies, even though they have lots of incentive to lie in order to get first-mover advantage in the market? Do I trust government messaging despite decisions being made for political expediency rather than public safety? Do I trust what random people I have never heard of say on Twitter? Do we even have a clear sense of what high risk vs low risk activities are with respect to this virus? There are calculators like, but trust comes into play here as well. Can we trust the numbers the government is putting out about cases, given their incentives to misrepresent results one way or the other? It is all a blur, so my kneejerk reaction is to trust nobody. That is a bad strategy too.