For serious-minded students of biology the concepts of natural selection and adaptation, are fascinating discoveries. Once comprehended in their fullest, these notions are a vital key to many life mysteries. When plants and animals are subjected to changing conditions in their environments, changes must occur in the organism to find a new fit with the situation.
Sometimes these changes are minor, demanding little adjustment. At other times the change is so stressful organisms cannot acclimatize and whole species may perish. Most sixth graders, captivated by the age of dinosaurs, can describe their demise 66 million years ago. But some species will be successful in adapting, despite great stresses; and so we have avian survivors from that vast tumult that saw 75% of animal life go extinct.
These ideas have been a preoccupation for me in the months we’ve all had to cope with the COVID-19. I’ve been wary. My “pod” is only five people. I go out very little. I take the vitamins my good Veterans Affairs doctor recommends and follow Dr. Anthony Fauci’s advice to the letter. And I think a lot about my loved ones and my own mortality. Survival and adaptation are good notions to think on in these fraught times.
In this spirit one of my pod members and me did a little survey the other day, watching people enter our local Valero station, the busiest venue in our corner of the county. We watched for about an hour and noted that only 10% of our fellow citizens, and nary a clerk, had donned a mask. People are pretty good about distancing I’ve noticed — but masks?
Lots of research has accumulated about how useful they are mitigating disease spread. All the big box stores require them now. If you go in a store in Miami unmasked you can be fined $50. In Springfield, Missouri, a hair salon was studied by health officials who discovered that 140 clients were spared infection because two unknowingly infected barbers were masked. Apparently they work.
If I had asked some of my unmasked neighbors if they’d like the economy to return to normal, I’m pretty sure all would say yes. If I further inquired what we’d need to do to get there, I’ll bet most would say “contain and kill off the virus.” And most would surely understand the sequence of “test, trace, isolate and treat” as key to success. Other countries have done it. Why can’t we? We’ve passed 4 million cases and are nearing 150,000 deaths in the U.S. It’s perfectly obvious that when states disobey Fauci, cases spike. Some states are clearly losing ground and most, including Michigan, are now requiring masks.
For some the issue is political. These citizens talk about liberty and individual rights. My question to my unmasked neighbors is this: If it makes sense that you cannot endanger your fellows by driving drunk, why shouldn’t your “rights” be similarly constrained when it comes to disease spread? Both instances could cause death. Public health is about all of us. If we don’t adapt everything will get worse. Do you care about your family and neighbors or not? Just asking.