Comment Of The Day: “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/9/2020: Coronavirus Ethics”

SUCH a pretty virus! Yes you ARE! Yes you ARE!

Whether you or not agree with all of Pennagain‘s generally wise advice, these are good things to talk and think about. The smug manner in which we are all being told to just hole up in out homes indefinitely is not really helpful. Civilization has to continue.

I just had two seminars cancelled, a few minutes ago. I expected it, but the ramifications are many and complex, and not just for me.

Here’s Pennagain’s Comment of the Day on “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/9/2020: Coronavirus Ethics”:

The basic information is everywhere and easily available. It is also repeated or presented regularly. Anyone can find it online in the regular (not specially created) medical websites. This is a panic and the rest of us — I assume that includes most readers here — need to sit back, give a think, and wait it out. And, much as I hate to say it, not watching TV (particularly the un-news) will help enormously. [If you don’t understand why you should stop regular, unquestioning watching of television and online “news”, never mind] If you feel secure enough, support your local grocery, gym, restaurant (get take-out) and other small businesses you usually do. You don’t want them to fail; they won’t be back again.

Do not follow some instructions — several of which seem to have been taken from a 1934 public health pamphlet. A few. Do not wash your hands unless you have a reason to. Hand washing is fine after touching something or someone who might have been infected. Luke-warm water, a bit of soap that you usually use. Hand scrubbing is not okay unless you are a surgeon at work. Rub and rinse under luke-warm (never hot) running water. Pat dry. Alcohol-based cleaners are being suggested by otherwise reputable health care sources. Eschew them. They do not protect against viruses and most of all, they dry out your skin, which then develops cracks (including microscropic cracks) that viruses can get into. Panic reaction to AIDS (the mid 80s) caused fast-thinking savvy businesspeople to jump on the hand-“cleaner” bandwagon and the public went along like hypnotized lemmings. Nobody needs them. oh, and nobody ever caught anything from a toilet seat either.

Try not to share your anxiety with your children. Think about having to home-school them! Here’s what you do need to know. Yes, it’s simple. Pass it on:

1) Illness due to COVID-19 infection is generally mild, especially for children and young adults. Older people and people with certain underlying health conditions like heart disease, lung disease and diabetes, for example, may be at greater risk of serious illness. (see #3)

2) Signs and symptoms of infection may appear two to 14 days after exposure (NOTE: as much as two weeks! but not 5 minutes or even the day after) and can include fever, and cough and shortness of breath or difficulty breathing. The latter are also symptoms of acute anxiety.

3) If you have symptoms of the virus call your local health care provider or hospital, and ask how best to be evaluated. Do not go to your health care provider or hospital without calling first.

4) For updates, find a medical website you know and stick with it. If you surf, you will drown.

5) Live as if you know you (and your loved ones) will survive, at least through November 3rd.

38 thoughts on “Comment Of The Day: “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/9/2020: Coronavirus Ethics”

  1. I’m late to the party, but in (one of) my social group we have encouraged each other to prepare for a quarantine and be ready to cut contact with the world for four-to-six weeks. I’ll grant that this group is mostly Red Tribe and we have couple of hardcore preppers there, but we also have an MD and a data scientist working on epidemiology. Just saying “this is the flu, worst case the H1N1 of a few years ago” is shortsighted.

    It is not panic, it is just a reasoned projection of the number of people getting sick and the way this particular infection spreads. The premises we’re starting from:

    – Long incubation time and (reduced) possible contagion during this period
    – None-to-mild symptoms for most infected
    – “Drunk looking under the light” effect; we are not testing most people, only the ones who we suspect are already sick
    – People getting medical attention only when the effects are already apparent, may go for a week with a minor cold-like symptoms before a fever or difficulty breathing kicks in
    – Voluntary quarantine/isolation ineffectiveness, essentially people will not follow instructions to stay away from others unless it is somehow enforced

    Four weeks ago we encouraged each other to prepare for it. I did. Get at least a month of groceries and other staples so you can stay home and avoid contact with others if needed. It helps to protect yourself and your families, but most importantly it reduces the speed at which the infection spreads (assuming a good chunk of the community adopts these measures).

    This last point is key: aggressive preventive measures slow down the rate of infection.

    This is the one thing that we, as a community, can do to mitigate the effects of a pandemic. When a disease is 10 times as deadly as the flu, it’s something we can deal with without panicking; but the assumption is that medical attention is available to those requiring it. If the infected population grows too fast, even such low high-risk/mortality numbers (as a fraction of the total) can overwhelm the healthcare system if the absolute numbers are large enough. If we can keep the peak figures of people requiring medical attention below the capacity of the system, we’ll be good. If we can’t, then that 1%-2% percent mortality rate suddenly becomes larger because the old number assumed the availability of medical infrastructure. Even if we all get sick, if we do it slowly, fewer people will die. As my control engineering professor used to say: “linear models look nice, but remember that in the real world linear systems rarely exist”; if we surpass the capacity of the system nonlinearity will eat us for lunch and have our parents for dinner.

    You should note that four weeks ago the media was playing the “it’s not the plague, don’t do anything” tune – and they were mostly wrong. The fact that they are playing “the sky is falling” today – wrongly – does not make them what they previously said right. We could be Italy, it’s not a farfetched scenario.

    In summary: it is bad, but not catastrophic. Aggressive quarantine measures will slow down the spread. We want to slow down the spread because too many patients too fast will overwhelm the healthcare system and lead to a higher mortality rate. The prudent thing to do now is too take aggressive measures and hope this goes down in history as a nothingburger (like the Y2K bug, remember that?) because we took the right actions on time.

  2. so….payroll tax cut or nah?

    In seriousness, great post. I hope Trump makes some of these points when he gives his address tonight.

  3. “Ten times deadlier than the flu with certain populations, i.e the elderly, those with compromised immune systems, cardiac problems, etc.” Probably a good time to stay away from gatherings with more than 100 people. Buying some extra groceries might be a good idea especially non perishables and water. Having a mother who survived the Great Influenza as a baby as well as my maternal grandmother probably makes me more optimistic than many.

    • Re: buying extra groceries

      The idea to avoid contagion at this point is to reduce contact with the outside world. If you can’t have a month of staples, get a week, but a week of *everything*. You want to do your grocery run on a weekday evening when it’s empty, and do any other shopping you need to on that same trip. Wash your hands (even take a shower) as soon as you return. Disinfect any touchable surfaces before you bring in the stuff inside. This is the “extra cautious” approach, but even if you just limit it to reducing your outings to one or two a week it helps protect both your household and the community.

      The cabin fever part is tough to deal with though.

      • I can help but cringe whenever I see people mocking the “rubes” for stocking up on toilet paper.

        Officials say to be prepared to stay indoors for up to two weeks, including food and water.

        What about, to put it delicately, the other end?

        They mock people for clearing the toilet paper shelves. Yet, a supermarket has 16 aisles: 12 for food, 1 for general merchandise, 2 for seasonal merchandise, and 1 for paper goods. Of course the single toilet paper aisle will be emptied if everyone is stocking up for two weeks on short notice!

        I feel were are being gaslit.

        People on Facebook scold others to trust the media to give sound advise, not your wingnut idols on Facebook; then they mock them for stocking up as advised.

        We keep getting told to follow common sense measures to stay safe – then the NBA cancels its season to much applause. We are told college education is essential, and we must spend countless millions building beautiful campuses; then they get shutdown on moment’s notice.

        In 50 years when the Tropic of Cancer is realigned to match the Mason-Dixon line, and tropical diseases are spreading everywhere, will college campuses be beautiful ghost towns as college student study in their parents basements while the professor lectures from a CDC bunker?

        Optimistically, the extreme measures taken appear to be monkey-see monkey-do. Europe enacted extreme measures, China enacted extreme measures, so the various states feel we must enact extreme measures. Then Donald Trump enacts extreme measures, and is ridiculed.

        Pessimistically, I cannot help but wonder if this is a test of how far the population can be pushed under “emergency conditions”. If climate change is a fraction of wildest predictions thrown around, then the new normal will be Novel Coronaviruses 2031, 2045, 2072, etc; Novel Influenzas 2032, 2046, 2073, etc; Novel E. Colis 2033, 2047, 2074, etc, etc, and so forth.

        Extreme measures might contain some, but certainly not all novel diseases. Yet as a society, we are going to need to find a balance between civil rights and the new potential normal. Handing over blind trust to our CDC superiors is not a viable option.

  4. Another key takeaway: while Corona Virus may get bad…all media reporting on Corona Virus is done with one purpose in mind not to inform the citizens but to hurt Trump’s reelection odds.

      • It really isn’t. Anyone who hasn’t willingly wrapped themselves in a shroud of obtuseness has seen this for 4 years now.

        I’m glad this is your first response to me, it’s let me know early to waste no time reading your comments.

          • “Nothing occurs at random, but everything for a reason and by necessity.”

            I glanced over the article. It is *next-to-impossible* to find any source of information — which really means to get fair interpretation — to help sort out perceptions about what is going on around us. So, I would modify what you have said about ‘obtuseness’ a bit:

            ob·tuse (ŏb-to͞os′, -tyo͞os′, əb-)
            adj. ob·tus·er, ob·tus·est
            a. Lacking quickness of perception or intellect.
            b. Characterized by a lack of intelligence or sensitivity: an obtuse remark.
            c. Not distinctly felt: an obtuse pain.
            a. Not sharp, pointed, or acute in form; blunt.
            b. Having an obtuse angle: an obtuse triangle.
            c. Botany Having a blunt or rounded tip: an obtuse leaf.
            [Middle English, from Old French, from Latin obtūsus, past participle of obtundere, to blunt; see obtund.]

            It is not so much that it comes in different *forms* but rather in different degrees of intensity. As Jack has often said — it is a central axiom of his philosophical position — ‘bias makes us stupid’.

            When we are forced by a surrounding current — the social hysteria surrounding us — to take some arbitrary, binary, tendentious position, it often happens that we fall into error. But there is hardly a person out there who does not seem to have fallen into the errors of bias.

            I know this is all terribly pretentious (I am trying to perfect it as an art-form!) but I have been rereading Greek Tragic plays and it occurs to me that Our Present is a tragedy-in-motion. They say that in tragedy there is the ‘moment of recognition’ when the protagonist who was not able to *see* comes to face his or her blindness and then *sees*. The awakening, the recognition, is the whole dramatic purpose.

            My sense is that our present offers a situation very much like this. I mean: blind people, blind population, obscured understanding, lack of comprehension, lack of the analytical skills to be able to analyze the present and to interpret it: and all this within the context of *mediated reality*: the media-systems that mediate perception, that make horrifyingly self-interested choices, that certainly lie to us: the whole charade of *appearance* that they are *responsible journalists* and should be paid attention to.

            This is the Tragic Situation in which we now are living. It is *lack of recognition*. Lack of recognition always indicates lack of self-knowledge.

            “You do not know the limits of your strength. You do not know what you do. You do not know who you are” says the god to Pentheus [in The Bacchae].

            If one really is concerned about hubris, then America right now is in a tragic situation that has a backdrop of genuine hubris. Hubris in the full Greek sense. (Hello my beloved Mrs. Klein).

            But then there is another, even stranger element: That there has now occurred a ‘natural intervention’ that no one could have expected: a contagion that has spread over the whole world. That originated out of China no less. Will we see this as Providential? or as merely mechanical and *thoughtless*? What is (to me) very interesting is the Greek notion of necessity:


            “Necessity is the idea that everything that has ever happened and ever will happen is necessary, and can not be otherwise. Necessity is often opposed to chance and contingency. In a necessary world there is no chance. Everything that happens is necessitated.

            “The great atomist Leucippus stated the first dogma of determinism, an absolute necessity.
            “Nothing occurs at random, but everything for a reason and by necessity.”

            “But we must distinguish between this claim of physical necessity and the simpler logical necessity of formal systems.”

        • You are mixing categories. Obviously, a faction of the Establishment uses any event as a tool to channel hatred & contempt at President Trump in hope of unseating him.

          But not “all media reporting on Corona Virus is done with one purpose in mind not to inform the citizens but to hurt Trump’s reelection odds”.

          I’m glad this is your first response to me, it’s let me know early to waste no time reading your comments.

          I am just now working on a 3-part essay on Humble Talent’s recent references to *Doritos* as a segue to a larger Cycle of Posts on the relation between American mental diet and culture-wide ‘American banality’.

          Wherever this goes, to a Civil War or the Second Coming, let’s keep passing the Doritos and let’s keep the conversation open!

  5. It’s a short monologue in Assisan’s Apprentice by Roblin Hobb, everyone seems to have a bit of poetry or song or Shakespeare to go with handwashing.

    “Fitz fixes feists fits. Fat suffices. It’s a message, I believe. A calling for a significant act. As you are the only one I know who endures being called Fitz, I believe it’s for you. As for what it means, how should I know? I’m a fool, not an interpreter of dreams. Good day.”

      • With the virus going around everyone’s going to have fewer social obligations–as an introvert, I’ve been waiting for this moment all my life–tell me what you like in a story and I’ll give you a reading list.

        I’ve already set former commenter Chris to reading a book that Charles Stross described as Lesbian necromancers explore a ruined gothic castle in space, Gideon the Ninth, for you though…

        Assassin’s Apprentice and the rest of the Farseer trilogy might not be bad. Or perhaps something of the Hornblower in space genre? And there’s A Memory Called Empire, very popular this year, a cousin emailed me and demanded I read it right away. It’s something of a cross between The Goblin Emperor and Ancillary Justice.

        What’ll it be Jack? Space Wars? Paladins? Court intrigue? Shapeshifters? Steam-powered airships? Murderbot?

        • Jack, you should do an open forum where commentators mention their current reads. I think that’d be pretty interesting.

          I recently finished Admiral James Stavridis’s “Sea Power: The History and Geopolitics of the World’s Oceans”

          Currently working on “Neptune’s Inferno” by James Hornfischer

        • Here’s a vote for space opera!

          I’m down with a cold and just started a series by David Drake. It appears to be yet another modern riff on Horatio Hornblower.

          • Here’s a vote for space opera!

            The Eurovision in space Cat Valente book? It made me feel like Tim Curry was yelling in my ear while setting off glitter bombs.

            I’m down with a cold and just started a series by David Drake. It appears to be yet another modern riff on Horatio Hornblower.

            Does he have something new? The RCN books are a riff on Jack Aubrey. You can try J A Sutherland’s Alex Carew books, they’re quite Hornblowerish, if a little bit on the YA side.

            • No, I meant the RCN books. I just started reading them, so perhaps I misjudged. Aubrey and Hornblower are so similar in form that first impressions can go either way. I haven’t gotten to the first battle sequences yet, so when I do, I’ll be able to judge if I agree with you or not.

              And thanks for the recommendation, I’ll look into that.

              And to your first point, yes, I’ve come across a few interesting ones that didn’t quite come off. I’ve been reading one series by Jay Alan that I’ve been trying to like, but have not totally succeeded.

              It’s less space opera and more military fiction, and the plot, while full of action, is just not that interesting, and his characters are just not well-developed enough for me. Plus, the battle sequences plod interminably.

  6. I am so relieved to see EA commenters go to the heart of the matter. Yes, now is the time to talk about (for instance) reading. If we must stay out of the way of other people and stock up on peanut butter and canned soup, make a stop at the library and whisk a few books off the shelves. You don’t have to touch anyone during the process and you can always wear gloves to handle the machines. Meanwhile, I’ll stick with the most reliable medical advice I could find in the coolest heads I know and leave you (safely, I project) with one caveat: Do not trust any information source that uses emotional language

    and this, in the words of Daniel J. Levitin’s A Field Guide to Lies: Critical Thinking in the Information Age*

    In statistics, the word “significant” means that the results passed mathematical tests such as t-tests, chi-square tests, regression, and principal components analysis (there are hundreds). Statistical significance tests quantify how easily pure chance can explain the results. With a very large number of observations, even small differences that are trivial in magnitude can be beyond what our models of change and randomness can explain. These tests don’t know what’s noteworthy and what’s not—that’s a human judgment.

    *My recommendation for reading matter number one.

  7. Thanks more than usual for the COTD space, Jack.

    And a word on following Valkygrrl into her outer spaces, which you could do worse than: As far as “fat suffices,” my response was to reject the phrase as it made me think of Inuits subsisting on blubber, so I chose another quote from the same book: “Not being able to think of a reply is not the same thing as accepting another’s words.”

  8. As an ER and family MD in Canada, I write to counter some of the advice around handwashing.

    Alcohol-based sanitisers ARE effective against COVID-19, if they have over 60% alcohol content. As Pennagain reports, any number of health websites, including the CDC*1 and Public Health England*2, will advise as much. Sanitisers inactivate many infectious agents; coronavirus, as an enveloped virus, IS susceptible.

    Generally speaking, alcohol-based sanitisers are LESS damaging to the hands than soap and water. They obviate the step of drying, which requires your cleaned hands to either 1) be abraded against a dry (and possibly, heaven forfend, SHARED) object or 2) be cooked under a blow drier. Sanitisers, like many soaps, have moisturisers.

    Hand sanitiser has other obvious benefits, like being readily available outdoors and not splashing/aerosolising potentially infective particles. This is why for routine infection control, health professionals (in Canada, at least)*3 are advised to use hand sanitisers instead of soap and water, unless the hands are visibly soiled.

    For households, soap and water is still first-line because it has other advantages: washing away all kinds of germs and chemicals, not needing to fiddle with and soil a bottle/bag/purse (hospitals have wall dispensers), etc.

    Stay healthy!


    • You are partly correct about alcohol sanitizers today. As the WHO says “Many [of the alcohol-based sanitizers] contain skin softeners which help prevent drying”, but not necessarily to the point of being superior to hand drying. What the studies leave out (or the reports do), is that there are ways of drying – patting and absorbing rather than scrubbing hard with abrasive towels or scraping the skin – that still leave soap and water washing superior. There are several sites that disagree with you – at least to the point of saying that alchohol-based sanitizers are a last resort – but this one explains the argument simply*:

      “The first thing that’s happening is that you’re physically removing things from your hands. At the same time, for certain agents, the soap will actually be busting open that agent, breaking it apart.

      Coronaviruses, like this year’s version that has left 100,000 worldwide infected with COVID-19, are encased in a lipid envelope — basically, a layer of fat. Soap can break that fat apart and make the virus unable to infect you.

      The second thing soap does is mechanical. It makes skin slippery so that with enough rubbing, we can pry germs off and rinse them away.

      So, yes, alcohol wipes — in the absence of other sanitizers or as a last resort.

      *and never use technical jargon when clear common language will do.

  9. The smug manner in which we are all being told to just hole up in out homes indefinitely is not really helpful. Civilization has to continue.

    This has been the main challenge for a lot of us small business owners right now. How to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 while maintaining continued client services/purchases. Because I have health conditions that could be severely triggered by a virus like this, the balance of retaining client contact while staying healthy has been a newer challenge.

    For updates, find a medical website you know and stick with it. If you surf, you will drown

    The problem is having the time to find a site I “can trust” as just about every site and resource contradicts its previous advice or “findings” practically every hour. If anyone has a suggestion for such a site I’d love to hear it because in the last two weeks this is what I’ve heard from news and medical sites:

    -The virus lives on surfaces for five days or nine days or nine hours or three hours or not at all.
    -Only 1-2% of the population will have severe illness or 10% or 20% or now 30%.
    -Use antibacterial gel or don’t use it because it’s ineffective or use it but make sure it’s 60% alcohol or 70% alcohol or only use non-antibacterial soap.
    -It takes an hour of close contact in an enclosed space to get COVID-19 or you can’t catch it in close contact or you need to be one foot away or three feet or now six feet.
    -Get supplies for two weeks or don’t worry about it or get supplies for a month or one week.
    -Limit your contact and wear a mask or don’t wear a mask or only wear certain masks or masks don’t work or some masks you can’t wear if you have asthma.
    -Go outside or don’t go outside or go outside but not around people.

    All the while most of us are trying to maintain businesses, jobs, kids/family members, keeping our homes disinfected, and apparently go to Chinese restaurants so as not to appear as racists. This is why in a recent post here about a pregnant woman whose baby (or clump of cells depending on your view) died from going without medical supervision, I voted that the medical industry has some blame. It’s not just the news that tells us different things but the experts themselves constantly change up advice and precautions. This leaves many who need to work and be safer to think for ourselves and do our best while living our lives.

    My wife works at a place a lot of tourists go. She’s pretty sure a co-worker had Corona virus. The worker wanted to get tested but couldn’t and just came back after being gone a week. Though her employer is aware and more and more staff are calling out, the company is business as usual. Should they shut down or stay open? Not to mention this business is basically a petri dish as staff share computers and phones (including a housekeeper who wears gloves to dig into garbage receptacles, removes trash by hand, then uses the same gloved hand to open doors).

    So my advice for busy people who care but also need to carry on is:
    Prepare for the worst, pray for the best, stay clean and don’t forget to rest.

    • “The worker wanted to get tested but couldn’t and just came back after being gone a week.”

      I worry that when the story of this shit show is eventually told, this problem will be at the epicenter of the whole affair. People felt sick, couldn’t get tested, and went back out into the world and continued to unknowingly spread the disease. The fact that we still can’t test anyone who wants to be tested is a joke. The administration needs to be holding daily press conferences stating how many were tested today and what projections are for test availability into the next several days and weeks.

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