By John Rolfe / Red Hook, NY
Not to unduly unnerve you, but the pandemic was custom-made for a paranoid society like America’s.
I don’t mean it was cooked up in a lab as part of sinister scheme of world domination. It’s just that in ordinary times, we’re absolutely terrified of germs. We steep ourselves in antibacterial soaps and antibiotics. We fret about every possible malady and resort to screenings and drastic preemptive procedures at the slightest hint of one. We stew about gluten in our food. (I bet most people don’t even know what gluten is. I don’t.)
I grew up in an era when making mud pies (and occasionally eating them on a dare) was good for your immune system. Use it or lose it was the received wisdom. Now we bubble wrap kids against all bugs and bruises, consigning them to a virtual world indoors and a strictly supervised one outside.
Part of the problem is that we are simply more aware than we’ve ever been of every possible damned thing that can go wrong in this world. Such is life in the Information-Disinformation Age, when anyone can say anything and have it embraced as gospel truth, especially when it’s what we want to believe.
It doesn’t help that America is also a Petri dish of political paranoia. Democrats are blood-drinking Satanists who feast on children; Bill Gates and George Soros control the weather; paid actors are staging traumatic events from Sandy Hook to the Capitol; voter fraud determines every election; communists lurk under every bed; microchips are in vaccines. You don’t need proof or even credible evidence of any of this. Just keep saying it and we’re good to go.
The prevailing mindset is that nothing is safe, absolutely no one can be trusted and absolutely everyone is lying to you to further their agenda. It’s enough to make you flee the planet screaming.
Into this funhouse came Covid-19 and its seemingly endless variants. Naturally, its origin is a matter of fierce dispute. Never mind that it is probably just another case of an illness jumping from animals to humans, as such bugs have done since we started living in close quarters with critters thousands of years ago.
Masks have been used for centuries during pandemics, but we still have to fight over their effectiveness. I don’t get the insistence that mask and vaccine mandates are merely efforts to control us. Why? Just so people in power can make us do it? Are they really sitting there chuckling at the sight of us running around with patches of cloth on our scowling mugs? Maybe, I guess.
But why go to the trouble of putting tracking chips in vaccines when we are already being tracked by cameras in public places, not to mention our own phones, Internet browsers, GPS devices, credit card purchases, and financial transactions?
I do understand distrust of vaccines. Corporations have long been lying to us about dangerous things like opioids and tobacco for the sake of profit. And anyone can commission a study by “experts” that shows jumping out of a plane without a parachute has health benefits. How many studies have you seen proclaiming eggs or apples are good for you, only be followed by others that say eggs or apples will kill you? Is it any wonder climate change is so hotly contested?
And now, to add to all this fun, we have reports of humans giving Covid to animals, making it possible for the virus to mutate and be given back to us in a new variant.
Apparently the estimated 30 million deer cavorting about this great land of ours present a virtually uncontrollable breeding pool for the virus. “The sheer possibility that these things are happening and it’s unknown makes this very unsettling,” Suresh Kuchipudi, a virologist at Pennsylvania State University, told NBC News. “We could be caught by surprise with a completely different variant.”
Gee, thanks. Another thing for your worry list.
Even the humble hamster is a looming threat, according to Medpagetoday.com–(“Can We Catch COVID From Our Pets?”)
“The hamster happens to encode an ACE2 that looks a lot like the human ACE2, and so the virus essentially chose the ability to infect hamsters by its evolution,” Benjamin tenOever of NYU Langone Health's Departments of Microbiology and Medicine told Medpagetoday. “So even though we most often use mice or rats for our small animal models, hamsters have always been incredibly susceptible to all the variants and they show disease that very much looks like COVID-19 in humans.”
In case that doesn’t make you view your furry little friends with alarm, tenOever also mentions this ominous, heartrending possibility:
“You know, I have two little girls at home and they have friends that have hamsters, and I have warned their parents. Not that I'm worried that the hamsters are going to contribute to any new dynamics in the pandemic, but more than that, should they get a SARS-CoV-2 infection, if they give it to their hamsters, there's a good possibility that their hamsters will die.”
And lest you worry only about Sammy the Hammy’s demise, chew on this statement:
“Now, the question of whether or not we should be concerned about it coming back and infecting us, like the situation in Hong Kong, where they're concerned about pets — that's a more real possibility in that people do socialize in very close contact with their pets.”
Yes, he’s saying there’s a chance you could give the virus to your pet or your pet could reciprocate simply because you closely interact — rather intimately in some cases, such as when your pooch licks your face or your cat sleeps on your head at night.
And even though tenOever says a strain evolving in the wild is “not necessarily” guaranteed to come back to humans, I suspect that there are likely muttonheads out there who will kill wild animals and get rid of their pets.
Personally, I’ve been living with my cat Doodle for 18 years and as far as I know all she’s ever gotten from me is cat food, cheese and daily rubs of her chin. She’s never given them back. There are also lots of deer where I live. Fortunately, they seem intent on keeping their distance, so I doubt any Covid-infected people will be getting close enough to breathe on them or invite them into their homes.
Unfortunately, calm rationality and common sense are the first victims in a nation of paranoid people in bubbles. Blessedly, one truth remains undisputed: Something will get us in the end. We’re all eventually going to keel over no matter what we do.
I never thought I’d find that fact comforting, but it’s kind of liberating now that I think about it.
John Rolfe is a former senior editor for Sports Illustrated for Kids, a longtime columnist for the Poughkeepsie Journal/USA Today Network, and author of The Goose in the Bathroom: Stirring Tales of Family Life. His school bus drivin’ blog “Hellions, Mayhem and Brake Failure” is parked on his website Celestialchuckle.com (https://celestialchuckle.com) with the meter running.