Without naming names, I made an observation on Saturday night, based on the social choices of a shocking number of the people I follow on Instagram -- many of whom are young and healthy. Despite increased calls for social distancing as the United States grapples with a rapidly increasing avalanche of confirmed cases of Coronavirus -- with many more to come -- numerous anecdotal reports indicated that many nightlife hotspots were packed with people partying and drinking, as if nothing were happening. I was taken aback:
Honestly blown away by the number of people I follow posting Instagram stories of themselves out at crowded bars and restaurants with ironic tags about social distancing or quarantines.— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) March 15, 2020
Let's consider the unfolding debacle in Italy as an urgent cautionary tale, relayed by an Italian journalist:
Until last week, the Italian public health care system had the capacity to care for everyone. Our country has universal health care, so patients aren’t turned away from hospitals here. But in a matter of days, the system was being felled by a virus that I, and many other Italians, had failed to take seriously...So here’s my warning for the United States: It didn’t have to come to this. We of course couldn’t stop the emergence of a previously unknown and deadly virus. But we could have mitigated the situation we are now in, in which people who could have been saved are dying. I, and too many others, could have taken a simple yet morally loaded action: We could have stayed home. What has happened in Italy shows that less-than-urgent appeals to the public by the government to slightly change habits regarding social interactions aren’t enough when the terrible outcomes they are designed to prevent are not yet apparent; when they become evident, it’s generally too late to act.
I and many other Italians just didn’t see the need to change our routines for a threat we could not see. Italy has now been in lockdown since March 9; it took weeks after the virus first appeared here to realize that severe measures were absolutely necessary. According to several data scientists, Italy is about 10 days ahead of Spain, Germany, and France in the epidemic progression, and 13 to 16 days ahead of the United Kingdom and the United States. That means those countries have the opportunity to take measures that today may look excessive and disproportionate, yet from the future, where I am now, are perfectly rational in order to avoid a health care system collapse.
Here's Newt Gingrich issuing similar warnings from Rome. it's going to get significantly worse here in the coming days. Indeed, a major contributing factor to Italy's lethal mess was the population's cavalier attitude in the earliest days of the crisis:
“They cited irresponsible behavior by many citizens, who despite the earlier warnings not to gather in large numbers, headed to beaches or ski resorts, and hung out together in town squares, especially after the closure of schools.” https://t.co/crTv8hmwCZ— Yashar Ali ?? (@yashar) March 15, 2020
Incredible Tale of Two Countries in today's @WSJ.— Bruce Mehlman (@bpmehlman) March 14, 2020
South Koreans listened to their government's warnings & ramped up testing rapidly. Italians often ignored their government's warnings & are paying a heavy price.https://t.co/jD05qNM7gP pic.twitter.com/3FFkmU8WiD
South Korea and Italy offer two bookends of how a country can tackle the coronavirus. Their divergent experiences hold urgent lessons for the U.S. and other democracies where the pandemic is at an earlier stage. Seoul, accepting the illness had arrived, kept its borders open and aggressively tracked down the infected using data and extensive tests. Rome, after escalating attempts to reduce travel and social interactions, quarantined the whole country, while only screening people once they had shown symptoms. The countries have two of the biggest coronavirus outbreaks outside China. But South Korea’s known infections are now stabilizing at around 8,000, whereas Italy’s are rising relentlessly past 17,000. South Korea has 67 deaths as of Friday. Italy’s death toll was a far higher 1,266 by late Friday, because the virus has hit its large and vulnerable elderly population and overwhelmed hospitals in some areas.
A few points: By far, the most vulnerable populations are the elderly and people with underlying health conditions. Even if younger people don't believe they're likely to interact with these populations, the virus is so contagious that passing it along by breathing on shared surfaces, especially in public places, can be a risk. Visualize the spread of the disease here (seriously, watch and share), and read this story about how one single person refusing to comply with guidelines ended up infecting approximately 1,000 other people. Many young, healthy people who contract Coronavirus are either asymptomatic or have mild symptoms. But they can easily yet unwittingly spread the disease to peers or others, who could then in turn pass it along to expanding circles of people. This is profoundly serious:
Here’s something that’s absolutely terrifying: a comparison of the age distributions of Covid-19 cases in Italy, where they are only testing people who show symptoms, and S. Korea, which has broad testing. A whole lot of 20-29yos out there who feel just fine but are v contagious. pic.twitter.com/BU96h3VKUc— Mark Byrne (@markwby) March 14, 2020
And because it would seem that many young people aren't terribly worried about potentially doing grave harm to other people, it seems necessary to emphasize that it's not just old or sick people who are in jeopardy. Examples:
“Holy Name’s 11 positives are all males — and all between the ages of 28 and 48.” https://t.co/2IPDtX2J2Q— Noah Rothman (@NoahCRothman) March 15, 2020
A friend of mine got #coronavirus. He is younger than me. Played sports in college. Served in the military. As young and healthy as you could be. This is how his wife describes the illness. This is a public health crisis. No one is immune. pic.twitter.com/8dYU61PJMT— Tommy Vietor (@TVietor08) March 15, 2020
"I would like to see a dramatic diminution of the personal interaction we see in restaurants and in bars," Dr. Fauci says about the coronavirus. Young people are not immune: "There are going to be people who are young who are going to wind up getting seriously ill" #CNNSOTU pic.twitter.com/iF5J2gccta— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) March 15, 2020
Even if one can't be bothered to consider the implications for others, perhaps younger people can be convinced that their immediate families, or even their own lives, could be imperiled. That might alter behavior. I'll leave you with two practical pieces of advice -- one about how to approach virtually all social interactions during this time period, and the other about how to help restaurants stay afloat in this environment:
Keeping it simple. In public, treat every single person as if they have the flu. Act as though you might have it yourself. By doing this, coronavirus spread will decrease. The problem is, isolation is against human nature. But we must try our hardest. Italy is showing us why.— Dr. James Phillips, MD (@DrPhillipsMD) March 15, 2020
PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PASS THIS ON. pic.twitter.com/l1CUErE8yf— Rich Antoniello (@richantoniello) March 14, 2020
And please bear this in mind as temporary regulations get more and more severe:
A friend once described this as “the paradox of prevention” - if the bad thing never happens, no one is recognized as having taken the right precautions to prevent it. It happened with Y2K; there are millions of people who think it was a hoax and not worth the preventive measures https://t.co/qwcH6aUHXh— Maybe: Fred Benenson (@fredbenenson) March 13, 2020