Wear a mask and blame the virus
On Wednesday I testified publicly to the MN House Committee on the pandemic. My remarks ended with five pieces of advice for the public.
How should we deal with news and confusion and family decision-making?
We feel like we’re told one thing one day, the opposite the next. No masks, wear masks. This medicine works, actually it doesn’t. The virus spreads on surfaces versus it spreads through the air.
People are getting information from pre-prints, observational studies, medical journal articles, opinion pieces, increasingly double blind trials and challenge trials. It’s difficult for the public to know the difference. And gives ripe opportunity for some to cherry pick data.
All the changing information makes people confused, or even, distrustful. Here’s my message. The messy process. This is how it is supposed to work.
We want our clinicians, our political leaders and certainly our scientists to respond to new data. To learn. Normally we don’t witness science while it’s in the lab, the trial and error, the two steps forward-one step back.
Lose faith in experts? Witnessing the discovery process should give us faith in experts. We don’t want these heroes to be infallible and stubborn but adaptable, learning, hypothesizing. We have to operate even with gaps in our knowledge. That means sometimes wrong.
But there are false prophets. Those who will use real experts’ mistakes as proof of their own expertise. Bottom line is any critic can find something to confirm any narrative.
So my first piece of advice of the five:
- Select your two to three reliable sources and do a family sit down every two weeks and discuss new learnings and how this bears on decisions you make as things evolve. Like for school, camp, social situations, etc. How to find your best sources? People who say “we don’t know” a lot, people who give the source for their data and the type of study, people who acknowledge their biases and experience. Even then they will be wrong on occasion, and to keep your trust they should acknowledge it.
- If you live anywhere where people are required to work, wear a mask when you’re out — for them and for you. If you can socially distance from loved ones, it doesn’t mean they can. Your state should require masks. The country should. But if they don’t, be a good neighbor. (A related note: They will talk about you when you leave the store if you don’t, and we all hate to be talked about.) Also, I know some have nowhere to put your excess aggression you used to spend yelling at your kid’s coach or your TV but giving the finger to someone in a mask, or threatening a public health official won’t make you feel good inside. Don’t do it.
- Decide which sacrifice you prefer to make. No one ever told us we could have everything we want. Feel like going to a bar? Don’t complain when you have to home school your triplets. Want to have a house party? Well, maybe the economy will be slower to start and hiring will be slowed. A pandemic is a bad thing. So it means we can’t all have everything we want exactly when we want it. Many people are making huge sacrifices they didn’t ask for. Spraying disinfectant every time you touch a door handle wasn’t their childhood dream. Many who live in tips aren’t. They live on commissions but they’re dutifully staying home. Proud people are going to food banks. Doctors and nurses didn’t ask to be soldiers, and neither did teachers. Don’t view it as a deprivation but a sacrifice for those who don’t have a choice.
- There has never been a better time to be a nice person. There are a lot of lonely people. A lot of anxious people. I have called a few friends and relatives and told them I love them. Not all of them hung up on me. I don’t know why it’s been so hard for me to do my whole life. But this pandemic has made me realize that time and relationships are all that matter. And I’m blessed to have a lot of both.
- Finally, if you need to blame someone, the only real bad guy is the virus. Yes, it’s easy to find fault with a given decision of a governor or Congress or China or the WHO or the CDC. And many have done themselves no favors. And look, call me a hypocrite for my comments on the president. I gave him a chance. I don’t think he tried and failed. If he did, he would have some respect. I don’t think he cares enough, and he’s put us in harm’s way. So I hold him accountable publicly. But hypocrite or not, we have to stop blaming each other. If you want to blame someone, blame the virus, and recognize most of us are doing the best we can in a hard situation. Give each other a break. Except Tom Cotton. He’s an ass.
It’s a tough time. No question. I rely on other people to get through this, and my greatest hope they can rely on me. Once it’s over I want no regrets. Those were my closing comments. If you didn’t find them helpful, know that the rest of my presentation was brilliant.