I wrote my first column on covid on March 26 of 2020. This column was followed by 12 columns in a row on the subject. Covid was sweeping the world and it was all anybody wanted to talk about.
The stock market crashed. The world came to a halt. Lockdowns were instituted. Church ceased. Restaurants closed. We sat scared and isolated in our homes. Many people believed the apocalypse was at hand.
During this period I fanatically and obsessively learned everything I could learn about viruses and the viral world. Not to pretend to be a doctor, but to be a good journalist. A journalist is supposed to be conversant on the big issues of the day and write from an objective, big-picture perspective. That was my goal and I threw myself into it.
Since that time, I have rarely written about covid. After those 12 articles, I felt like I had written all that could be written on the subject.
Now, almost two years later, covid is back in the news again. It’s the main topic of conversation. Infections are at an all-time high.
I went back and reviewed my articles from two years ago to see what I got right and what I got wrong. I mostly got it right. Much of it is still applicable today.
In my first column on March 12, 2020 I wrote: “If you live long enough, you come to expect such panics. I remember as a first grader doing nuclear attack drills. We were told to get under our desks and cover our necks with our hands. I was only six, but I knew the better strategy in that situation would be to simply kiss a part of my anatomy goodbye.”
I quoted President Calvin Coolidge who was criticized for being lazy. His response: The less I do, the better it is for the country. Coolidge said, “Four-fifths of all our troubles would disappear if we would only sit down and keep still.”
In my column of March 19, 2020, I advised sick people to stay home, encouraged people to practice good hygiene and told people not to panic. I wrote, “Viruses mutate rapidly. Viruses that kill their hosts don’t do so well. Over time, this new coronavirus will mutate into something far less lethal. This will be a wakeup call to develop a plan to fast-track vaccines and other anti-viral treatments. You can bet our medical community will acquire a huge amount of expertise as this epidemic unfolds.”
I wrote, “Because this is a new strain of coronavirus, there are unknowns. The medical community is being very cautious. That’s their job. Our job is to be sensible and not panic. Let’s practice appropriate hygiene and social distancing measures until we get more data. Then let’s all get back to living our lives.”
On March 26, 2021 my innate optimism misguided me. I wrote, “Look for deaths to begin stabilizing the first week of April.” They did. Unfortunately, that was just the first of several waves. I wrote, “Everybody living is going to die. There is no life without death. You cannot live if you are huddled in fear of death. We need to start mentally preparing ourselves to get back to our normal lives in a few weeks. Keep calm and carry on.” I predicted that the shutdown would cause its own mortalities with increased deaths from suicide, crime, stress and people being too afraid to go to the hospital for treatments of common diseases.
On April 4, 2020 I wrote about Farr’s law: This means the number of cases starts out small, incrementally picking up pace, then slowing down as it reaches a peak, before sloping down at a roughly symmetrical rate to how it approached the peak, eventually dying down to the point where there are still a few cases.”
The main covid wave did indeed end up matching Farr’s Law, as did the successive waves. What was unusual was the number of independent waves that ebbed and flowed over two years as the virus mutated. These multiple waves could have been caused by more advanced modern testing and analysis or perhaps because covid was an artificial man-made virus.
I wrote, “If the virus is spread rapidly by asymptomatic individuals, then there are probably millions more people that got infected but never got sick. If that’s the case, the mortality rate of COVID-19 may end up being something akin to a bad flu virus . . . We still must keep the economy going and get food on the table. Every other generation has faced some sort of major health scare and the world survived.”
On April 9 I complained that the lockdowns were extending weeks past the original target and this was a mistake. I wrote, “Would that have happened if we did nothing? Like all great issues, we will never know the answer to that. Some will say we dodged a bullet through a heroic national effort. Others will say we completely overreacted. In any case, after April, we have to get back to normal. If we haven’t contained it by then, it’s not containable. How do you contain a virus that causes no symptoms in half the people it infects?”
I concluded the column with the words: “Years from now, somebody’s going to catch a cold. ‘You okay, honey?’ the spouse will ask. ‘I’m fine dear. It’s just a mild case of COVID-19.’”
Other columns talked about the importance of our own immune systems and staying healthy: Avoid stress, eat right, get enough sleep. I talked about the human virome, that every human body has 30 trillion viruses in it at any point in time, including thirty percent of all known viral pathogens.
I wrote extensively about the need for vaccines combined with herd immunity to overcome this crisis. I argued that no amount of sheltering in place could stop the virus. I encouraged everyone to get the mumps, measles and rubella (MMR) vaccine as a stop gap (which turned out to be good advice.)
I said preventing hospital overcapacity was the primary goal. When the vaccines came out, I urged everyone to get it, although I did warn of unforeseen consequences of such a breakthrough vaccine.
My predictions of total deaths was about half what it’s ended up, but still better than the pessimistic expert forecasts during the early months. The final tally will take years to fully determine. For every two covid deaths there has been one extra non-covid death. We are trying to understand all the factors driving the undeniable excess mortality of the last two years.
The overwhelming theme of my columns was to calm down, trust God and your immune system, carry on and persevere. This too will pass.
That advice was good two years ago and it’s still good today.