Sunday, April 5, 2020


As always, there is much to be learned from scholarly books; certainly, the information well-researched books impart is better than that which emanates from media outlets, whose primary goal is high ratings.

And this: Good nonfiction book journalists are more objective than professionals in political and scientific spheres, influenced as they are by their own agendas, special interests, and prejudices.

These gems are mined from John M. Barry's superb book, first published in 2004.

* Pandemics, such as this one, last 6-8 weeks in any given community.

* They end abruptly: cases drop suddenly to next to nothing.

* The virus weakens as time passes and becomes less lethal; communities struck later in the pandemic have lower mortality rates.

* "The only way to avoid it is to completely isolate oneself from society for the 6 to 10 weeks it takes an outbreak to burn through the community, including not accepting deliveries." Barry calls this "infeasible."

* "Layering several interventions--most of them different kinds of social distancing--would at least stretch out the length of an outbreak in a local community, easing the strain on the health care system."

* "One tool of no use is widespread quarantine. An unpublished 1918 study of army camps demonstrates this. There was no difference in mortality or morbidity between camps implementing quarantine and those that didn't."

* "Closing borders would be of no benefit either. Models show that a 90 percent-effective border closing would delay the disease by only a few days, at most a week, and a 99 percent-effective shutting of borders would delay it at most a month."

* "This doesn't leave much for an individual to do other than mundane tasks such as washing one's hands. The SARS outbreak is illustrative: most of the dead were health care workers, and it's strongly suspected most of them infected themselves by failing to strictly follow safety protocols."

* "Surgical masks are next to useless except in very limited circumstances" (someone already infected). "N95 masks need to be properly fitted and properly worn. This is harder than it sounds. A study of professionals wearing N95s found that more than 60 percent did not wear them properly. For the general public they do not make sense."

* "The biggest problem lies in the relationship between governments and the truth."

* "Whether a politician saw an advantage and knowingly  did something at best unproductive or whether he or she acted out of incompetence or fear, the human factor, the political leadership factor, is the weakness in any plan, in every plan."

* "So the final lesson of 1918, a simple one yet most difficult to execute, is that those who occupy positions of authority must lesson the panic that can alienate all within a society. Civilization cannot survive that."