Letter to the Editor

Re: What About This? by Wayne William Cipriano.

Mr. Cipriano owned up to being “wrong” about Covid-19 when he failed to take it seriously. Many of us failed to take the outbreak seriously when it began. He made the point that whether we take the threat seriously or consider Covid-19 as little more than the flu, we should practice common hygiene. He is correct. The problem is that common hygiene has long been in disfavor. A few examples follow. 

Hand Washing: When this writer was in grade school, the teacher lined us up prior to lunch and watched carefully to assure that every student used soap, washed well, rinsed properly and dried properly. Those who tried to hurry or skip steps were sent to the end of the line to try again. Our school never had a flu epidemic. Fast forward to the twenty-first century when this writer taught in a high  school of four thousand students. The cafeteria had no hand-washing facility. Yep.
Four thousand students ate there and no one could wash hands before or after eating. That school has a flu epidemic every year. 

Pets: Not many years ago, finding a cat or a dog indoors was rare. My mom told me, “Animals spread disease.” That belief fell into oblivion and now we see children eating from the same dish as the dog and letting Fido lick their mouths. We see people feeding morsels to Pudgey and then eating with those same dog-licked fingers. We are now being told that Covid-19 has been “discovered” in cats and dogs. But we still relish the belief that no animal disease can be transmitted to humans. Except rabies. And Bubonic plague. And bird flu. And swine flu. And Tularemia. Plus, Anthrax, Brucellosis, Crueutzfield-Jacob (mad cow) Hantavirus, Leptospirosis (bacteria shed by pets), Ebola and a long list of other that cannot be pronounced or spelled. And those are just the maladies that transmit directly from animals to humans. If a vectoring agent such as mosquitoes or ticks is included , the list of animal-human diseases is impossibly long. Maybe Mom was right in her old-fashioned hygienic phobia; maybe animals do spread disease. Maybe we should reconsider the idea that animal diseases “can’t” transmit to humans. 

Sunshine: A couple of generations ago, Mom was constantly telling the kids to “Go outside and get some sun.” Today, pop culture says, “Sunlight has UV rays. UV causes cancer. Cancer will kill you.” So, if one goes outdoors, the popular wisdom says we should use sunscreen. Oh-h-h my. Where to start. UV rays kill bacteria and viruses. Hospitals once used special UV-emitting lights to aid with disinfection. Hot tubs use UV treatment to kill pathogens in the water. (Don’t ask “Recycled from where?”) The hygienic value of sunlight has been known for centuries but has been dismissed as something dangerous in today’s world. Kids of yesterday were riding bikes and skipping rope. Kids of today (and adults) play on the internet. Maybe our health would rejoice if we spent hours outdoors every day. A side note: Covid-19 is at its worst where people go from apartment to subway to office and back home for days with no exposure to sunlight. Coincidence?

Health Education: Fifty years ago, schools included health education as part of physical education classes. Now, kids sit in the bleachers and yap. A mandatory class at this writer’s university was Health 101. Four and one-half months of training in basic hygiene; from proper tooth-brushing to first aid to how to take a proper bath. And, the vital importance of hand-washing, especially after using the restroom. We learned the differences between viral and bacterial infection; how they are transmitted and how to prevent transmission. We learned to turn away and to cover the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing. We learned how to self-treat a common viral infection. We learned that antibiotics are not effective in treating viruses: “Don’t’ ask the doctor for an antibiotic to cure a cold,” we were admonished. Today, many school and universities have dropped health education. Could hygiene ignorance be contributing to the spread of Covid-19? Absolutely. All schools need to consider re-establishing health education as part of required studies. 

Rules and Courtesy: Seems like the Moms of forty years ago all read the same book, a book filled with dozens of statements of, “Don’t do this,” and “Always do this,”rules. Some examples:

1) Always cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze.

2) Wash your hands

3) Avoid crowds

4) Don’t stand close to people when you are talking.

5) Don’t touch people you don’t know. 

6) Always stay home when you are sick. 

7) Don’t drink from someone else’s cup. (Add: Or share your marijuana joint.)

8) Don’t touch stray animals.

9) And dozens more. Think Mom’s Rulebook would have retarded the Covid-19 spread?

A relevant courtesy issue: Respect authority. Reporters are constantly harassing, questioning and second-guessing local and national leadership. In this “unprecedented” crisis, our leaders may present imperfect plans to fight the virus. Imperfect though it may be, an organized plan is far better than the chaos of unfettered criticism. We need to work together to follow a plan. If the plan proves insufficient, we need to constructively counsel leadership to alter the plan. We need to constantly work together in a constructive manner and we will whip any enemy. Constant, destructive, chaotic dissension will spread the disease. 

Another relevant issue: Read the label on your bottle of hand sanitizer. It says, “Uses: to decrease bacteria on the skin that could cause disease.” Notice that the uses do not include destroying viruses! Covid-19 is a virus, we are told. If hand sanitizer has any value in controlling a viral disease, the manufacturer neglected to mention that use on the label. 

In conclusion, Mr. Cipriano’s change of opinion is understandable. He may change his mind again. Why? Because we get our facts in bits and pieces and clues. Since the beginning the list of unanswered, valid questions has grown longer. When people cannot get the truth  they begin to guess and speculate. Speculation leads to wrong conclusions. Wrong conclusion lead to fear and fear leads to panic. Speculation in the face of a real threat is exceedingly dangerous. Speculation over facts and motives has started wars. 

Probably the most important factor in halting the panic and in defeating the virus is TRUTH! TV news is horrible. The internet, with its rampant rumors and speculation is worse. When people can get a full knowledge of facts, they can make rational decisions. In the case of Covid-19, if people have a foundation of hygienic knowledge coupled with factual knowledge of the disease, they can halt the spread without the need for harsh governmental mandates. This nation has a long way to go in both arenas. 

Sincerely,

Paul Peyton