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Selfishness in the face of the coronavirus

My father’s favorite saying is that “Mankind’s greatest sin is selfishness.”

When I drove home from the hospital late on the night of St. Patrick’s Day, I was baffled to see all the people crowded into bars on Bank Street and then in Groton. Was it that people didn’t care about spreading the coronavirus? Was it ignorance? My wife goes for a walk in Noank each afternoon and sees these 20-something young men playing basketball, sweaty and hand-checking each day on the basketball court. Late last week, upset by all the deaths in Italy, she told them they shouldn’t be there. They defended themselves, saying they were using hand sanitizer. “You are being selfish,” she shouted.

The stupidity of people is staggering. You would think that hoarders of hand sanitizer and toilet paper would use a little enlightened self-interest and recognize that it’s probably just as important for everyone else they meet to have clean hands and butts as it is for themselves to have clean hands and butts. The college-educated have come home, but education aside, they go out and congregate and party together and spread their germs.

The idiocy of people with no regard for social distancing or for how they are spreading the COVID-19 infection is not likely to hurt the people behaving badly, but rather it is more likely to kill their parents and grandparents.

Let’s say that the coronavirus has the same case fatality as the flu (although it is probably a lot worse). What’s different is that half the population is vaccinated against the flu and most of the rest has seen the flu virus in other years in some form, so when the flu hits, it doesn’t hit the whole population so hard.

In contrast, we are all virgins to the coronavirus, so that when it hits our community, we have no immunity. In addition, coronavirus is more contagious than the flu. We know from Wuhan, China, and from Italy that in cases of clinical infection of coronavirus, 15% of patients need a regular hospital bed and 5% are so sick that they need to breathe on a ventilator.

In a very possible scenario, if 1,000 people in New London get infected at one time, that would mean that 50 people would need to be on a ventilator at once. Lawrence + Memorial Hospital, however, only has 20 critical care beds, and normally most of these are being used by other illnesses.

My Italian colleagues are handling this situation by rationing the ventilator to the 50-year-old teacher but giving a morphine drip to the 70-year-old. I do not ever want to have to make that kind of decision, but I fear it might be coming.

We now know that asymptomatic people are responsible for spreading the virus more than we previously thought, which means that “healthy” people, especially young “healthy” people home from college, are potentially lethal weapons. Now it is a time for dramatic selflessness and locking ourselves away.

I don’t like writing this kind of article. I prefer writing articles that make people laugh and aren’t so preachy, but I worry that we haven’t understood the scale of the problem of the coronavirus to our community, and I pray it is not too late to shut this virus down.



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