What if I’d never been born? Would the world have been a better place or a worse one? Worse, for sure. In fact doesn’t It’s a Wonderful Life make that abundantly clear? But what if Hitler had been killed in WWI? Better, right? What if he hadn’t been born? Better yet? But what if I hadn’t survived that car accident back in 2007? What if …?
We can play these what-if games till the cows come home, but the bottom line is this: whereas no one is fungible, neither is anyone indispensable. If Covid gets me, as it very well might, there’ll be some other would-be Socrates to corrupt the youth of my city. My wife, my son, my dog, and God – in no particular order – will all just shrug and move on, because other than on there’s nowhere else to move.
So what’s at stake is none of the above. What’s at stake, and all that’s at stake – and this applies to every one of us – is whether what I’m going to start today hangs on whether I expect to be around tomorrow to finish it. In other words, living every day as if it was your last is the very worst way to live your life. Unless – and this is the operative unless – it is, or at least it’s approaching, the last day of your life. Well, let’s see if it is.
There are approximately 380 million people living in the United States and Canada. If every one of those 380 million people were tested, something in the neighbourhood of 5%, – let’s call it 20 million – would test positive for either having Covid 19 or having had had it. That’s today. But we couldn’t – and even if we could we wouldn’t – isolate that many people, even if we knew who they were, and even if we wanted to. So that percentage, and that number, is going to continue to rise until either
- contrary to what I’ve just said, we will be willing and able to identify and isolate enough infected people that the virus will be killed off by the immune systems of those it has infected, or else
- we reach what is touted as ‘herd immunity’ – which is just a euphemism for there being no one left to be infected – or else
- we find and distribute a vaccine that will produce an ‘artificial’ herd immunity, by which is meant there being no one left who can be infected.
Until now the virus has been killing about 3% of those it’s infected. That is, of the 10 million known infections, it’s killed about 300,000. So given the other 10 million infections extant but yet to be so identified, and even if the virus decided to shut its transmissions down tonight, we can expect another 300,000 deaths over the next few months.
No, 300,000 might be a bit high, because we’ve been on a steep learning curve as to how to treat the infection, and so the kill ratio is being reduced to, say, only 2% from here on. So we’re looking at a best case final tally of about a half million deaths if all goes as it won’t.
That’s bad, but at least it’s selectively bad. Most of those deaths will be people my age or older. People who’ve already had their lives, are largely past their productive years, and in the absence of Covid would be hitting younger taxpayers with their disproportionately high end-of-life medical bills in any event. So as viruses go, Covid 19 is being pretty socially considerate, wouldn’t you say?
As I say, that’s the dream case. But in the real world the virus has shown no intention of shutting down its transmissibility. And nor have we. So either we’re looking at about six or seven million deaths before the thing tires itself out via natural herd immunity, or we find and distribute a safe and effective vaccine, and do it with all possible dispatch.
These are the two prognoses for the continent, but what’s the continent to me? I’m not one of several million people, and neither are you. I’m uniquely me. And you’re uniquely you. Neither of us needs to ask whether several million people should or should not start today what can only be completed tomorrow. I only need to ask that of myself. And you of yourself. What are the chances I’ll end up with unfinished business? What are the chances you will?
One way to think of what we’re facing is that there’s a serial killer on the prowl, but he won’t invade your private space provided you don’t invade any public one. That’s different from heart disease or cancer, because heart disease and cancer don’t respect your private space. In fact they specialize in home invasion. But Covid 19 is a sniper. He can only try to pick you off if he catches you trying to get to or from the local 7/11. It’s: How long can you go without milk or cigarettes? It’s Sarajevo.