Jerome Christenson: Keeping the dogs from barking

Jerome Christenson: Keeping the dogs from barking

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Jerome Christenson

Winona Daily News Deputy Editor Jerome Christenson

At a glance, it didn’t look like much of a crisis. In fact, it looked like anything but.

There we were. Schools closed. Bars closed. Everybody all social distanced and acutely sniffle-aware and the clinic was all but deserted.

While folks fought shopping cart traffic jams in every grocery store in town, the place that one would think to be the epicenter of a public health crisis was all but a ghost town. Aside from the surgical masks worn by every volunteer and anyone drawing a paycheck, it could have been any unusually quiet Thursday afternoon in internal medicine.

If this is a pandemic, where are all the sick people? For heaven’s sake, what’s all the fuss about?

Good question, but before we go any farther, let’s keep in mind that when it comes to medicine and public health the only thing better than curing sick people is keeping people from getting sick in the first place.

That’s what this couch potato mandate is intended to do. We’re dealing with a highly communicable disease here and if there’s one thing hermits don’t worry about it’s communicable disease. Why? They don’t communicate much.

So, for the meantime we’re all being told to make like hermits — hum a few bars of “I’m Henry the Eighth, I am …” if it lifts your spirits, binge on Netflix and know that by staying put you’re doing a good thing.

And let’s hope that down the road a few weeks we all can be grumbling to one another about how the government screwed that up … all that fuss, then nothing happened. Where were all the sick people?

Let’s hope we hear that, ’cuz when we hear that kind of griping, it means we’re doing something right. With more than 600 COVID-19 deaths a day, it’s not something you’re likely to hear anywhere in Italy.

Still, it’s not an easy thing to wrap the mind around.

By and large, when we do something differently, we expect to see something change … and if things stay the same, we take it as evidence that whatever it was we’d done wasn’t worth doing.

So if the corner bar is closed, the kids are home from school, we’re on temporary layoff and folks aren’t dropping dead in the street, it’s awful easy to think all we’d been doing hadn’t made a bit of difference … because at the end of it, life was about the same.

Sherlock Holmes would disagree. Asked what was the key to solving a particular case, Holmes pointed to “the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.” Incredulous, his questioner protested that “The dog did nothing in the night-time.” “That was the curious incident,” Holmes replied.

Epidemiologists project that ultimately up to 8 out of 10 of us will be infected with the coronavirus and, if nothing is done to slow its spread, as in Italy, severe cases will quickly overwhelm our medical facilities and leave more than 2 million Americans dead.

That would be the dog barking in the night.

It’s a simple matter of numbers. If 3% of cases require hospital care, 100 cases in our community would mean three additional hospital patients — no big deal, we can handle that. If the spread of the disease is kept under control, the dog won’t bark.

And some folks will wonder what all the fuss was about.

But had we gone about business as usual, 100 cases quickly become 200, then 400, then 1,000 … and people who should have lived begin to die.

Prevention comes at a price, a high price. But businesses and bank accounts can recover. Death is permanent.

Let’s do what we need to to keep the dogs quiet.

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