Last week I was wittering on about having a number of dice that represent our chances of getting cancer — or indeed any illness, including Covid-19. The more dice, the more frequent the throws, the higher the chances of throwing the fateful number of sixes.
Just as one can choose to keep the number of those dice down, one is usually trying to manipulate the odds in life, in all sorts of areas. Skilled backgammon players will play apparently risky moves, as they try to place pieces such that few of the possible throws will benefit their opponent, and a wider range of the following throws will be to their advantage (giving the less experienced the uncanny but erroneous feeling that Lady Luck is not at all fond of them); likewise, we can take steps to minimise the chances of getting or spreading an infection, while keeping the levels of annoyance or inconvenience as low as we can.
In the case of our friend the coronavirus, we apply things we know, we check various sources about the latest scientific knowledge, and we make our moves based on that and what our fellow players (other people) are doing.
[Note that the conspiracy nutter’s do your research, sheeple! is not the same thing; that means, watch some fruitcake’s video ranting for an hour or more, with a few cherry-picked fact thrown in, but don’t then check alternative sources or actual scientific papers that might refute it.]
Firstly, load up the fact that it is a virus that first takes hold in the ACE receptors of the nasal passages, that it is carried in droplets, even aerosol sized, that we can pick it up off surfaces, some of which it lives on for a few days, etc etc, and that the larger the initial viral load, the worse we are likely to get hit. And of course that the older or sicker we are, the more likely it is that the outcome will be bad — though remembering we still know too little about the long term effects on those who seem for now to be unaffected or to recover fully. This all tells us what sort of quantities the covid dice come in and where to find them. So now we can take steps to tweak those odds.
Given the experience and outcomes in communities like, say, the Japanese, who wear masks habitually (and have done, especially in times of flu or other contagions, since the devastation of the 1919 pandemic), as well as the evidence and research regarding droplet and aerosol spread, it seems undeniable that wearing a mask, even a simple double-cloth one, will reduce my chances of catching it should it be in the air around me, will at least reduce the load I take in at any given time, and more importantly will reduce considerably the chances of me spreading it should I be infected but symptomless. And wearing a mask is no big deal, surely. It’s nicer not having to bother, of course it is, but once you get used to it, even a speccy-four-eyes like me can almost forget it’s there. On the other hand, in not-too-crowded places out in the open, it may not be worth the effort. Especially in windy places like Scotland.
Given our knowledge of the structure of viri, particularly that fragile fatty coating (and being aware that they start dying off as soon as they get out into the big bad world), it also seems obvious that making sure I wash my hands with lashings of soap when I get home and before I touch anything else, will reduce the number of the little bastards I bring into the flat. Again, a minor inconvenience, and one even a slob like me realises would be correct practice anyway. With many of life’s little nasties, particularly bacteria, I’m one of those who thinks you gotta meet a few to beat a few. But when the contagion could lead to much nastitude (two people of my acquaintance have died of Covid-19, both a little younger than me), and we still don’t know whether survivors will have lasting immunity, I think I’d like to chuck as many of those wee dice away as I can, if all it takes is a wash.
In the early days, I confess, I was wary of masking. And, for the same reasons, I still think there should be a caveat, with that and with washing. Just sticking your hands under a tap (faucet) and rubbing them together with a bit of soap would not be acceptable for a surgeon, nor should it be for us. Similarly, putting a mask over nose and mouth, only to fiddle with it incessantly, causing the possibly virus-laden fingers to come into even more contact with eyes, mouth and nose than usual, could cause more harm than good (to that extent at least, Trump is not totally wrong). So if we really want to reduce the odds, to beat Grim Reaper Bookmakers Inc, rather than playing into their hands by giving ourselves a false feeling of security (like my Dad’s old ‘law of averages’), we gotta do the thorough wash, fingernails and all, and learn to be mindful of not touching faces and how we wear and handle them there masks.
But we don’t need to get paranoid or neurotic about it. People in the media pointing out the simple fact that we have a highly virulent and potentially deadly thing going round aren’t scare-mongering, any more than road safety people are when they point out that being hit by a speeding vehicle can be very unpleasant. I’m not terrified into being careful about how I cross the street, I just like to keep those odds low by looking and all that shit.
[Incidentally it bugs me when people say you’re more likely to be killed crossing the street than … The statistics for folks being run over, include all the drunks, the nutters, the runners-for-buses and so on; the actual odds of a careful pedestrian being knocked down, much less killed, are far lower — not zero, I grant you, but not all that high. OK, moan over]
Another idea, no doubt put out there by the forces of nastiness, is folks saying, If masks stop it, why the washing thing? And if washing stops it, why do we need masks? Well, the gambler’s approach answers that, for those who might just be taken in by it. And some do seem to be, even letting it be used as an argument to ‘prove’ that the whole thing is a hoax; well, I think Ralph and David will be glad to hear that they aren’t actually dead, and maybe all the millions of people, like my paramedic and doctor friends, who have been keeping up the pretence, would be relieved to stand down. But if you think of masks, washing, distancing and all the rest as simply ways to keep the odds down to whatever level is comfortable for you, it makes sense that all measures have a contribution to make. I mean, why do we need brakes, seat belts and airbags, if each of them prevents traffic injury? Proves that nobody really gets killed on the road. Which is nice to know.
Now, I am aware that I am in a privileged position, albeit in a higher risk age-group. I have few friends, no partner, no offspring and what there is of my family live quite a way off, South of the Border, down Nottingham way. More importantly, I am not just a miserable old git, but a retired miserable old git; no job to worry about, a just-about-managing state pension and rent relief; so all this means none of the stresses of furlough, job loss or going to an office full of coughing party animals on crowded public transport (normally I actually miss travelling on the London Underground — less so these days). I do sympathise with more ‘normal’ folk, very much, but to me, that just makes it even more important to keep those dice down.
A final comment about odds. The whole thing can be kinda paradoxical. Until recently at least, here in Scotland and in other currently less blighted countries, the odds that anyone I pass in the street or in the supermarket actually has the virus secreted about their person is extremely low. And if we go about our lives assuming this to be the case, not bothering or being assiduous with distancing, masking and washing etc, it could quite rapidly (see earlier blogs and any number of antisocial media posts on exponential maths) escalate until everybody has it. But if we assume that everybody has it, it will continue to be the case that hardly anybody does. Maybe it’s grasping that simple but contradictory fact that most people have trouble with. And that could be chucking dice at us, hand over feckin’ fist.
Stay healthy, people — if ye can.