Full Disk Earth - Apollo 17, 1972
Full Disk Earth - Apollo 17, 1972

The majority of people who are infected with the virus SARS-CoV-2 do not develop severe cases of COVID-191. However, some people develop a cytokine storm, and their own immune system may start to work against them. The response of many world governments to COVID-19 has been to restrict travel, close non-essential businesses, restrict gatherings, close parks and inform their citizens to distance themselves from one another when possible. Leaders want to slow down the spread of the virus, in order to not overload hospital systems. Yet, these policies are also slowing this massive machine; this infrastructure that has evolved to support several billion human beings. Our society, though composed of people and not cells, also has an immune response. Our societal immune system can bring us together to survive the darkest of times against untenable odds, but it also has the power to overreact, give itself to mass hysteria, and ultimately rip our people apart in an attempt to save it.

On March 22nd, President Trump tweeted, in all caps, that we could not let the cure be worse than the problem itself2. The tweet is often represented as a statement about how the US president is out of touch with the reality of our situation. Yet, leaving personal opinions about Trump aside, the statement by itself does have very strong implications.

Many want to simplify it to a formula: Lives > Economy. However due to the outbreak in Europe, there could be a shortage of food because the seasonal workers who are normally hired for the harvest, are staying in their home regions. Large amounts of crops are now going bad before they can be harvested3. Riots have recently started in Wuhan, the origin of the outbreak in China, as the government is reducing lock downs while still imposing travel restrictions4. Markets continue to fluctuate, hitting records lows, while the aviation industry continues to run fewer flights with mostly empty planes5. Throughout the world, unemployment rates are skyrocketing with America reaching a record breaking 3.28 million people, 1% of the country’s population, filing for unemployment6.

Some of these things are not serious. Governments can issue orders to freeze rent, freeze mortgages, provide a record breaking $2 trillion stimulus packages, and create interest free loans for businesses to payroll employees. But when it comes to not being able to harvest crops and ensure the security of the food supply, the economy in those situations does equivocate to lives. If the supply for fuel, food, medicine or basic necessitates should ever become scares, we may face malnutrition, famine or worse.

The COVID-19 crisis has shown a tremendous amount of human spirit. Communities have banded together to help those who have lost their jobs and provide support for people in need. There are many hackers and tinkers who have 3D printed face masks7, parts to adapt snorkeling gear for use with hospital oxygen supplies8, and many small put potentially important tools. Most of us realize we are all in the same boat and simply want to be on the other side of the crisis looking back at it.

Yet, it is also apparent that governments around the world have acted strongly, taking unprecedented measures. In America, the right to assemble has effectively been suppressed in many cities throughout the nation. Rights in American are not absolute, as Abraham Lincoln suspended Habeas Corpus in 18639 during the civil war. Whether such swift actions are necessary, or an overreaction, may not be known for months to come. Like our own biological immune system, humanity has reacted as a unified organism, in a way we never could before.

Our vast communication networks allow for interconnected alliances between developed nations, their medical experts and their leaders. This communication does come at a cost. The state finance minister of Germany was recently found dead in an apparent suicide, possibly brought on from his increased worry and stress over the current situation10. The speed of information may be helping us make better decisions, but not without also increasing the spread of incomplete information and panic.

Slowing down the planet is a societal immune response. When our body fights disease, it has evolved to remove damaged and unhealthy cells. For a long time, the great civilizations of humanity would be devastated by plagues, sickening and killing indiscriminately. Modern viral epidemics may be the ultimate test of humanity, to act calmly, and hold to our shared belief in equality, as a light we hold against the cold, unyielding universe, to provide the best possible care for everyone.

There are two COVID-19 diseases. The first is caused by SARS-CoV-2, and can cause someone’s immune system to react to the virus in a way that ultimately causes their body to work against itself. The other is the vast response by the people on our planet. Even plans that that could be well intentioned and thought out, may ultimately cause havoc, increase human suffering and costs lives. Let us hope that the response by individuals, local leaders, and world leaders is not only adequate, but balances all the possible options, and rises above the inclination to panic.

  1. Most Coronavirus Cases Are Mild. That’s Good and Bad News. 27 Feb 2020. Wang. New York Times. 

  2. WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF. Mar 22, 2020. Trump. Twitter. 

  3. From Spain to Germany, Farmers Warn of Fresh Food Shortages. 26 March 2020. Durisin, Gualtieri, Migliaccio. Bloomberg. 

  4. China’s coronavirus epicentre Wuhan lifts lockdown travel restrictions for first time in two months. 28 March 2020. Howard. Daily Mail. 

  5. The New Travel Document: Photograph of an Empty Plane. 26 March 2020. Weed. Hiltner New York Times. 

  6. Record Rise in Unemployment Claims Halts Historic Run of Job Growth. 26 March 2020. Morath, Hilsenrath, Chaney. The Wall Street Journal. 

  7. NanoHack, an open-source 3D printed mask against COVID-19. 19 March 2020. Carlota V. 3Dnatives. 

  8. EASY COVID 19. Retrieved 29 March 2020. 

  9. PRESIDENT’S PROCLAMATION.; The Habeas Corpus Suspended Throughout the United States in Certain Specified Cases. 16 Sept 1863. President Lincoln. The New York Times. 

  10. German state finance minister Thomas Schäfer found dead. 29 March 2020. Rahan. MSN News.