Wearing Big-Kid Britches in the Pandemic

(AP Photo/David Goldman)

Social media has been abuzz lately with debate over whether and how to open state economies in the midst of this Chinese plague. A friendly associate made a comment in discussing risk factors:

Obesity – a voluntary condition for the vast majority of people – and the associated issues such as heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, etc. play a huge role in answering the question “will Covid-19 kill me”. I am not very sympathetic.

He’s right. The obese and nursing/rest homes seem to be the two risk groups who comprise the vast majority of the Wuhan Flu’s carnage. The two groups need to be addressed separately. The elder care centers need to be suitably protected and quarantined. As for those of us who are obese …

I’m one of those obese people. I’ve struggled with my weight my entire life. Part of the issue is a willpower struggle, and part is an engineered environment (there’s more than one reason I oppose corn and sugar subsidies). I am at much higher risk to die once I’m exposed to this plague (as we will all be, eventually). Maybe it’s fair, maybe it isn’t. But I wipe my own nose and ass, and wear big-boy pants. I stopped expecting “fairness” from life long ago. Try telling someone raised in Cité Soleil, Haiti that I got a raw deal because I *only* got 4 decades of waking up every morning under a dry roof; having so much potable water that I use it to flush my morning constitutional; until I finally succumbed to the great struggle of *too much* caloric density in my diet. How *unfair* would they rate that?

There’s a lot of evidence of the carnage these lockdowns are imposing, but I’m also seeing some glimpses up close and personal. Chemical dependency relapses are thru the roof. Alcohol consumption is way up. Suicide hotlines are flooded. The UN warns of looming “Biblical famine” as butchers ration meat, farmers spill dairy and plow their vegetables, and canned food volume is giving way to grains in the stores. Remember uStream.tv? It’s the service that basically brought livestreaming to the mainstream as it was adopted during Occupy Wall Street over a decade ago. The creator’s 12-year-old son just killed himself, because he’d become so isolated. This isn’t limited to people who are alone in lockdown. Some people are surrounded by others, and their mental health is deteriorating as they have difficulty finding space to be alone.

“Flatten the curve” was always about making sure PPE consumption was at a low enough rate that all your medical staff didn’t go down with COVID at once, leaving the COVID ward unmanned; and about making sure that the kid with appendicitis didn’t die in the hospital hallway waiting for enough resources to free up to treat him appropriately. It was never about preventing everybody’s exposure to this novel virus for all time — nor should it be. We will all be exposed; it’s about managing the rate of exposure so that no more die than those who absolutely cannot be saved. The flattening — this lockdown — helped with that goal initially, but at a steep cost. The cost was probably worth it for those first 2 weeks. But now the curve is so flat that hospitals are in danger of insolvency for lack of business! The curve is *too* flat, and every extra bit of slack is bought with carnage. A small business family’s financial stability, a retiree’s food security, a nation’s grain imports, a lonely youth’s suicide, a foreman’s heroin relapse, an in-law’s deferred cancer diagnosis. These are the tradeoffs that buy that flattening. Every unnecessary bit of slack these lockdowns buy for the medical system — every extra bit of flattening — is bought with these people’s lives, health & futures.

When I’m exposed, I don’t know if I’ll survive. I’m nervous. My parents are high-risk for other reasons, and I’m terrified for their fates. I am grateful for each extra day we go before that exposure, before learning whether we survive or not. But at what cost? When all is said and done, how many will starve for each day extra these lockdowns bought me? How many families will be destroyed by poverty, addiction, suicide? The lockdowns must end now. They are no longer extending life. They are transferring life, merely extending the lives of some at the cost of others. Tonight, I’ll make the next quarterly payment on my life insurance policy, and maybe skip dinner, opting for a walk instead. I’ll call my parents and wish them well. I’ll be ever so grateful for this extra day that we’ve all had. And I’ll shudder at the steep price that so many have paid, are paying, and will pay to give it to us. I’ll think about the ancient cultures who used human sacrifice in times of natural disaster. And I will be positively terrified at how little we’ve progressed from that. These lockdowns must end. It’s time we all approach this with big-kid pants.