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Coronavirus Update

A tale of two cities. (Natl. Academy of Sciences)

By David Yamaguchi, The North American Post

RESTAURANT CLOSURE, DAY 5 (Fri., Mar. 20).  At this point, the best I can do for readers is to summarize the COVID-19 “Big Picture.”

A tale of two cities. (Natl. Academy of Sciences)
1. Curves that matter.

Two phrases we hear daily now are “flattening the curve” and “social distancing.” These concepts are not theoretical. They come from the real experiences of two cities—Philadelphia and St. Louis—during the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic (right). Philadelphia continued to hold public events such as an end-of-WWI parade; St. Louis clamped down. Today, to not overwhelm our hospitals, we want to be St. Louis. (Quartz magazine, Mar. 11).

Here, note the time frame: 2-3 months. It seems to me that it could well be longer this time because the Spanish flu was deadly scary to even the most mobile members of society: its youth. Soldiers in their prime died in droves. By contrast, COVID-19 is mainly preying on seniors.    

2. To go out is to roll the dice.

(New York Times, Mar. 11). The roll applies to us individually, and to all the elders in our lives we may unintentionally carry the virus to (grandparents, parents, neighbors). Asymptomatic transmission is real, so we have to act as if we—and the people we meet—are infected. We maintain physical distance.

3. Our odds on dying after COVID-19 infection are: age 50+, 1%; 60+ 5%; 70+, 10%; 80+, 18%.

These data come from China (Vox.com, Mar. 12). They are imperfect in that Chinese smoke more than we do, and thus may be more lung-compromised (2043 cigarettes per person per year in China, compared to 1017 in the US). Nonetheless, the Chinese data are all we have, so they will have to do. For completeness, smoking rates in other countries in the news of late include S. Korea (1667), Japan (1583), Spain (1499), Italy (1493), and United Kingdom (828; Wikipedia).

4. Many youths remain cavalier.

See the street interviews with young Japanese in Tokyo, where COVID-19 was first detected on Jan. 16, days before the first case in Washington State (Jan. 21). (YouTube: AsianBoss, How the Japanese are dealing with the coronavirus, Mar. 10).

Comparable examples of college kids partying on the Florida beaches have also made the news of late (videos at The Hill, Mar. 18).

This is perhaps inescapable. Thus, you may want to especially distance yourself from them.

5. Youth are not invulnerable.

See the video message to the world from young Italians, speaking to themselves of two weeks ago. One teenager: “There are currently kids our age who are intubated and in intensive care (Atlantic magazine, Mar. 16)

6. The expected duration of this pandemic is unknown.

Little comes up here on a Google search, which is scary. The range of estimates seems to be a few months to 18 months.

7. The Issei who came before us saw far worse.

The Spanish flu killed 1441 in Seattle, over 5000 in Washington, and 50-100 million worldwide (HistoryLink.org). If they could get through that, we can survive COVID-19.

“Violent Spanish Flu”

“Japanese in Yakima died in rapid succession from ‘Spanish flu.’ I don’t know whether the doctor lacked confidence in his ability or whether he himself was afraid he would come down with the flu, but anyway, he didn’t treat the patients wholeheartedly at all. There was no doctor of any sort in Wapato, and only one in Toppenish. During this epidemic, Gihei Ariyasu from Okayama Prefecture was once thought to be dead, so we sent his body to the mortician and they put him in a coffin. A short while later, someone went there to call, and the lid of the coffin opened and Mr. Ariyasu, who was supposed to be dead, said, “Moshimoshi; Koko wa doko de arimasu ka? (“Hello! Where am I?”) The person standing by listening to it was so terrified that he couldn’t find his legs, and he crawled out of the room. (Yoshiko Ueda, Spokane;” in Ito, Kazue, 1973, “Issei”)

8. This is how Native Americans felt. 

Historically, Northwest Native Americans withstood 90 years of repeated epidemics during 1770-1860—of smallpox, flu, and measles—brought by ship-based explorers and settlers. Native mortality rates for smallpox likely exceeded 30 percent (historylink.org).

9. Pandemics are a mind-over-matter thing.

If we all do the right thing, we could be done with the coronavirus in a few months. The problem is that as humans, somehow, we can’t manage to do the right thing. We are social creatures. Thus, it is more a psychological problem than a clinical one, according to Steven Taylor, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. Taylor published a prescient book on the topic in Dec. 2019. See his Voices column in The Independent (Mar. 10).

10. “This is bigger than any of us.”

This Seattle Times bold-print headline gets it right (Mar. 17).

11. How can we best use the time at home?

Since my last column, I have been inspired by YouTube lounge pianist, Sangah Noona. She plays and sings; in other videos, she explains what she is doing beneath the surface—her chord progressions, the lounge business, etc. I can’t imagine someone like her moping her lost gigs at home. To see if she works for you, listen to her “Fly me to the moon.” 

What is something that you have always wanted to do, but daily life has prevented you from doing it? This is the time for that project.

12. Three inspiring examples.

(a) Gordon Hirabayashi.

Today, his name is well known. Yet early in WWII, he began his quest in a solo jail cell. To complete it, he would spend 18 months in federal detention.

(b) A childhood friend.

On Mar. 11, I was surprised to receive a call from a friend, who was supposed to be away on vacation. But reading the news, he feared for his elderly father, whom he had placed in a local nursing home for the 10-day duration of his trip. My friend cut his trip short, came back, and brought his father home.

(c) Another friend, relating a discussion with her adult-children.

“In this family, we have always said, ‘family first.’ But we have never had to define it more deeply than that until now. It means, putting the well-being of all members of our family ahead of our individual needs.”

13. A cure for coronavirus?

Not to be outdone, I must share the partial cure for COVID-19 I have found that seems to work. Like many, Monday, Mar. 16, was a day I set out of my door, in partial dread, to do an essential errand.

I happened to pass a Dick’s Hamburgers. Instead of ignoring its siren call, as I usually do, I stopped to order a chocolate milkshake. It made me feel just a little bit better.

“Ganbatte,” until we meet again. Persevere.

“P.S. Notes added in proof.  5. A New Orleans hospital respiratory therapist describes his COVID-19 patients: “I have patients in their early 40s… who look relatively healthy with a minimal health history, and they are completely wiped out, like they’ve been hit by a truck… Patients will be on minimal support, on a little bit of oxygen, and then all of a sudden, they go into complete respiratory arrest, shut down and can’t breathe at all” (ProPublica, Mar. 21).

14. New websites:

Strategy: covidactnow.org

Test kits: scanpublichealth.org

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David Yamaguchi is a third-generation Japanese American [Sansei]. He has written for the Post since 2006, at first as a volunteer, later as a paid freelancer. He joined the paper's staff in May 2020, when he began learning how articles flow from Word files through layout to social media.