Few things are as sweet upon the lips or soft upon the ears as the very first, “I told you so” of the day.

Yes, I said that, although it was a number of years ago; and it was aimed at my sister.

This week, we’re starting to see what will eventually be a flood of accounts detailing that the president knew — or was told, anyway — about a potential pandemic months before the general public did (https://www.cnn.com/2020/03/20/politics/us-intelligence-reports-trump-coronavirus/index.html). I was aware that we’d be at-risk in early March, which was when I did my panic-buying. The Senate intelligence committee not only knew about it, they financially benefited from it weeks before anyone else did (https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/congress/aoc-calls-senate-intel-chair-richard-burr-resign-stock-selloff-n1164401). You’re going to hear a lot of “Hindsight is 20–20” type of grumbling from folks who weren’t paying attention to headlines in February. You’re going to hear an awful lot of, “We told you so” from folks who were. From those of us who have lived in Southern California and/or South Florida and have a general disaster-preparedness mind-set (always have a weeks’-worth of medications and food on hand)(and never let your gas tank go under half-full). We’re not doing this just because of smug satisfaction — that’s just a delightful bonus — we’re doing it because you didn’t respond appropriately the first time around, and everyone has the attention-span of a goldfish. If everyone had listened when the experts were speaking, we wouldn’t be approaching the brink of disaster (and, according to several friends who are either ER workers or who know them, we are in a crisis).

Instead, I went out today (after I found a mask in a random nook or cranny)(and, to be honest, I was out of medications, and have literally not been off the property in over a week), and was amazed at what I saw: People carrying on with life as they know it; not even staying six feet away from each other. I don’t think this was an act of maliciousness (though history will judge it that way), I just think it was the horribly-standard human mind-set of “out of sight, out of mind.” Everyone in the US seems hell-bent on assuming that they are the exception to the rule. They can’t get this disease. It can’t affect them. Then Grandma drops dead because someone decided to pack the kids up with her during their “week off” (pro-tip from someone who lived in a mountain town with occasional snow-days: schools lose money during unexpected closures, so they will only shut-down when the risks of lawsuits and public health-code violations outweigh the monetary benefits)(in other words, if your kids aren’t in class right now, you should be huddled in your end of the world bunker), and that brings it home.

One of the better questions I was asked, regarding treatment for cancer is, “Did your biomedical training prepare you for the experience?” Admittedly, there is absolutely nothing that can prepare you for the experience of fighting for your life, but, amongst other things, I didn’t have any illusions about what was happening in my body, or the qualifications of my oncologists. Doctors aren’t less-error-prone than any other group, but, yes, they usually know better than you do what’s happening in your body. That’s why they have prescribing privileges and the general public does not. So, when the Warlocks absolutely forbade me from doing something or told me I absolutely should do something; I followed through like my life depended upon it. My life did depend upon it. I also knew that, in most cancers, by the time there are noticeable signs and symptoms, it’s usually bad news, so I was better off undergoing treatment — horrible and debilitating as it was — immediately, rather than waiting until I got headaches, nausea, etc. To bring all this to current events, America is like me, in that the effects of Covid 19 are not readily-seen by people outside of California and New York. Right now, we have epidemiologists, physicians, and researchers saying that we should stay indoors and not go out. This is like a physician telling you that you need a referral to a surgeon and a radiation oncologist immediately, even though you’re not experiencing acute symptoms. Then we have The Donald verbally attacking reporters who ask him what advice he has for America during this time. This is the equivalent of that one person on Instagram who sends you an unsolicited message about how Vitamin C and medical marijuana totally worked for their uncle. One of these has a harder, much-less-pleasant message than the other (“Sit down, shut up, buckle up, and stay indoors”), and one is a qualified expert. America has, apparently, decided to snort orange juice and send thoughts and prayers, instead of just calling in sick and spending the day in bed (c’mon, people that is what we want to do at any given moment; now we actually have a doctors’ note saying we should).

I got my groceries (the stores are still out of toilet paper)(the next time a GOP congressman talks about “rugged individualism,” reporters should ask him about how all it takes to dismantle capitalism-provided supply-lines is a surge in demand), went back home, washed my hands, wiped down all my groceries (what are the odds someone, somewhere in the freight industry didn’t cough on your orange juice?), washed my hands again, and did not go to the gym. I didn’t do this because I’m terribly frightened of this disease — although everyone should be, since about 20% of cases require hospitalization (in the US, that’s the cost of a new car)(for everyone out there who immediately says, “I have health insurance,” let me point out that copays can still bankrupt you, and hospitals do throw people out on the street when insurance refuses to pay). In more-relatable terms, imagine a raffle bowl with five tickets. One of them will cost you a few grand if you draw it. There is no reward in this raffle, only less-severe consequences. If you’re asking yourself, “Why would anyone even stick their hand into that jar?” well, at the moment, if you go out, that is, effectively what you’re doing. Be safe, stay indoors, just watch TV. It’s exactly what you wanted to do, anyway, before experts told that you should do it.

Written by

Science journalist, cancer survivor, biomedical consultant, the “Wednesday Addams of travel writers.”

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