Don Rogers: Is it the science we’re following?
The woman drives past wearing her designer mask. I wonder at that, sealed in her SUV with both hands on the wheel, six squared the distance to the next human being other than me passing the other way.
A young man with blond scraggle for a beard and a dirty ball cap, sweaty from some outside job and a long night in a crowded bar, barfs on a step outside. Way too crowded, considering current guidelines. Pent up.
A friend emails me back. What’s going on? Paper still printing? Haven’t left the house in months. Why? Because he can. Seems like the prudent thing.
But everything’s opening up now. Metropolitan folk weary of sheltering steal off to Lake Tahoe even as local officials and billboards on the highways up shout, No!
Demonstrators outside Grass Valley’s city hall protest that lifting the lockdown isn’t going fast enough. Something about liberties, businesses derailed, congregations done with Zoom sermons. The celebrity speaker, a congressman, puts on his mask among dozens done with that, too.
Whether the president and vice president wear theirs has grown newsworthy. The headlines ring with a righteous tone the progressive crowd might otherwise consider shaming.
I pack a mask, an N95 my registered nurse wife plucked from a free bin in Santa Barbara during the giant wildfire in 2017, the one I drove her past on 101, realizing she’d never seen up close what was just another day at work for me back when we met. At night especially, she found it apocalyptic, while I mansplained, basking in warm nostalgia and the orange glow, air tangy even with the windows up, and she broke down for me how tiny particles in the smoke do real damage: Wear your mask.
My mask is ready for when I need it in public, the grocery store mainly. I’m trying to follow the science. This can be confusing. The public health go-to, the Centers for Disease Control, has evolved in guidance. Or flip-flopped, if you prefer.
At first the CDC discouraged wearing masks, since the main effect for the wearer would be to spread germs with fingers on the face, adjusting, and no one wears them right anyway. That and the coarseness of most thread provides no real boundary to the invisible pestilence, hardly a barrier to a cough or a loud voice either way.
N95s and other types were rare then. For a couple of weeks I thought about turning mine in.
But then the guidance changed. Larger droplets could be contained with a mask, it was decided. That’s something. And people in dense Honk Kong all wear masks. They have few cases despite not fully locking down. Therefore …
n n n
Follow the science. But who is doing this? The science is not clear, not yet. In doubt, then, follow the hypothesis, and that’s what we have been doing. Sort of.
Mostly, though, we’ve been hand over heart for the sake of our community, for our children and for our seniors, for doing the right thing, for following the science while arguing sometimes bitterly over what that right thing is, exactly. What does the science actually say?
The rally of close-packed, flag-waving protesters who make a show of not bothering with masks finds its roots in science.
The hot glare on a Nevada City sidewalk for any dolt not wearing one is rooted in science.
Letters and social media postings and phone calls tell on neighbors judged not distant enough or how ridiculous locking down like this was in the first place. All bank on their certainty about the science.
But science is no more than a falsifiable course of study and speculation, and so by definition tenuous, unstable at first. Mask off, mask on. Only as empirical evidence gradually cements can findings become a genuine cornerstone, for shifting mask guidelines as well as a vaccine requiring time to properly develop.
The facts eventually will emerge, the full shape of the disease become plain. Until then? We’re left to indicators, hints, a foghorn amid bewildering wafts of information mixed with rumor and ideas that sound right today but later may prove false.
The kid vomits, overconfident in his knowledge the disease targets the old. If this were a different pandemic, one like in 1918 that culled the young, he might not be so cocky.
The flag-waving demonstrators holler, knowing the arc of the disease has bent nowhere near the early frightening models, comprehending only half the lesson.
The lady in the car may have someone with health issues at home or care for an aging parent. She’s doing it for them, not her, doing her level best to follow the most careful course according to the science.
There are no known cases in our county, haven’t been for weeks now, even with testing ramping up. Well, good. So far so good. That undoubtably will change as the pace of opening picks up.
What does following the science mean? Increasingly, this depends on one’s political leanings, a sort of scripture of its own, which is to say we don’t listen very well. But then, we never did. Turns out, science has a little something to say about that, too.
Don Rogers is the publisher of the Sierra Sun and The Union, based in Grass Valley. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-477-4299.
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