I have spent my whole life preparing for COVID-19. Here is what I have learned.

Between modern virology and the history of the Black Plague, I have some thoughts to offer from a life spent preparing for “the big” pandemic.

“Nothing in our lives has prepared us for this moment,” a leader at my job said yesterday on a staff call. For most people, that’s true.

Me, speaking at an international congress about the deadly emerging Nipah virus in 2012.

Understanding Epidemics

Epidemics are not the usual crisis. I remember 9/11, 3/11, Katrina, the Indian Ocean Tsunami, and many other disasters that have happened in my time. Even the global financial crisis of 2008. None of these are similar to the epidemics that snowball into a pandemic.

None of the beautiful things in this photo care about COVID-19; they will outlast it. Photo by Brian Garcia on Unsplash

What NOT to Do

During the Black Death, people did a lot of things that didn’t help. Massive religious processions to convince God to end this time of judgment may have made people feel better, but they also put people in close enough proximity to spread the disease.

Don’t Run

Fleeing to the hills from affected areas resulted in spread of the infection to the hills. Trying untested cures was dangerous too; especially in a world before evidence-based medicine.

Yeah, not this. Via Wikimedia commons.

Don’t Turn to Superstition

During the Black Death, people thought that God was punishing them. They began to believe all kinds of things, like the notion that torturing themselves via hair shirts, self-flagellation, and other means would convince God to spare them.

A flagellant procession; notice they are NOT practicing good social distancing. Via Wikimedia commons.

What TO Do

We’ve all had a crash course in social distancing in the past few weeks; you can read my article about it, too, but to be quite honest things have moved so quickly that this information is now out of date. Which is why I’m not linking to my own work, and thus breaking some sort of unwritten rule about self-promotion.

Listen to public officials

In 1374, the plague returned to Milan. This was a Milan that had seen plague before and knew what it could do. Almost immediately, the lord of Milan, Bernabo Visconti, decreed the following:

Bernabo Visconti, or at least what one engraver in 1845 thought he looked like. Via Wikimedia commons.

Lay low

It doesn’t hurt, though, to keep the recommendations of public officials and then add additional restrictions of your own. What’s being publicly ordered is the bare minimum; you can do more on a personal level.

Petrarch, a wizard. Via Wikimedia commons.

Virologist, author, damn fool. Also found at www.johnskylar.com and www.betterworlds.org. Opinions my own, impressions yours.

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