In the early stages of the Covid-19 outbreak, I couldn't help but laugh at the fatalism and hysteria that the outbreak caused. We had rationing, lines at gun stores and harsh “I told you so” glances from germophobes. There is another side to this coin, however, which also wades in fallacious reasoning. It is that of the denialist. This is the person you see yelling about rights in a grocery store when they are asked to put on a mask. This individual used a pandemic situation to question their civil liberties. But , as we all know, the argument is really superfluous. This individual is a denialist, a person who denies the danger that the virus represents. Similar to the fallacious reasoning of overly cautious, the denialist adopts the narrative that the virus is relatively harmless or that the outcomes of infection post little risk to the vast majority of people. While there may indeed be evidence that fatalities aren’t prevalent with those who become infected, the deniaist stops any further analysis and instead adopts a policy of supporting the denialist narrative: that the pandemic is a overreaction. By adopting this narrative, the denialist essentially puts blinders on to any other information that may support useful health practices that can stop the spread of the virus. The narrative supports their chosen ignorance, as their logic is now based on the virus being a non-issue. Support of a non-issue is just more information to ignore as premise of danger has rationalized away. As a result, we have news videos of maskless shoppers, large parties and denialist policy makers – all pushing to end the charade of the virus and get back to normal life.
The denialist, however, has missed other ethical and scientific reasons for complying with social distancing recommendations. The truly unique aspect of COVID-19 is the ease of infection. While it’s true that many don’t die from being infected, the rapid spread of the virus can potentially expose those with a higher risk of fatality – those with compromised immune systems or other health risk factors. In essence, the denialist risks spreading the virus to those who could be at risk (possibly themselves) because they perceive the risk as being near non-existent. Yet, hospital ICU units around the country are over run with COVID-19 patients. The denialist, to this point, accepts this outcome as that tny percentage of people who did have a predisposition.
A conversation I had with a denialist family member was centered around these thoughts. It occurred to me that I had to make a counter narrative to make my point. The narrative had to be based around something contextual, something that stops making this an abstract argument and starts humanizing the situation. So here it goes:
“ Lets just say, for a moment, that you are at the store without your mask on. By chance, you happen to pick up the virus. Maybe you inhaled it, maybe you just touched a surface and rubbed your nose or eyes. Somehow, you got infect. And lucky you – you happen to be one of those people is asymptomatic. You go about your day either not experiencing symptoms or having such a slight reaction to the infection that you don’t realize your illness. For you life is fine. “
“But you aren’t sitting at home watching TV, are you? You are an active person, and you aren’t going to let some damned overhyped pandemic curb your socialization. You go to church, you go to your AA meetings, you visit family and even go out for a bite to eat. And although you are asymptomatic, you shed the virus still. You breath it out. You sweat it out. The virus leaves your body, hoping to hitch a ride alongside any potential host nearby. Your friends, your family, all whom share your presence.”
“Unfortuantley, your family does have some compromised immune systems. Your wife, she has a compromised immune system. Your sister is obese and is a prime candidate for a ventilator. And of course there is me, who suffers from an immune disorder. Lets just say that just one of us gets infected. Pick one, it doesn’t matter. That person, unfortunately, isn’t as lucky as you. They are going to get the flu-like symptoms. They may even take a trip to the emergency room once they start struggling to breathe. Perhaps they don’t die, Perhaps they survive this infection and move on. The point being here that they wouldn't be in that situation had there not have been better precautions by you.”
The point of this sort of narrative is not to invoke fear or irrational thought, but to illustrate a pragmatic understanding of how the virus works in real life. We are all social creatures, and our actions in this pandemic can have negative and unintended consequences due to the nature of this virus. Casual interaction can be grounds for presymptomatic or asymptomatic transmission for the virus. And those whom we interact with could be the people who match the profile for getting seriously sick form it. If you are reading this, and have people in your life who live in the denialist mindset, be sure to lean on the ethical implications – form your own narrative if necessary. The purpose is not to instill fear, rather its to pragmatically deal with the virus until such a time in which medical science as developed a decent vaccine. Until that time arrives, we all have to deal with the inconvenience of social distancing – and recognize that the policies that stem from it aren’t an attack on civil liberties but a reflection of social conscience. Most don’t enjoy the new reality, we just except it until we have a viable cure. It’s not the first time that society had to grapple with a global pandemic, and it likely won’ be the last.. Unfortunately our own selfish nature undermines the gained experiences of prior generations that had to undergo the same tribulations.