If Covid-19 taught us anything, it’s that we are incapable of staying away from one another. It turned out to be our fatal flaw. Our dependency on one another was a big part of it, but the myth of independence played just as big a role.
Our Chief Vulnerability
What makes Covid-19 so dangerous is not its case mortality rate, which ranges from about one percent to nine percent depending on which country you’re in. The real problem is the transmission rate. Essentially, a larger number of infections translates to more deaths.
The case of Ebola
In spite of a case mortality rate that ranges from 20 percent to 90 percent, Ebola killed only about 15,000 people. The Covid-19 pandemic has killed almost three million people worldwide because of how contagious it is.
The best defense against contagiousness is physical distance. Our inability to maintain that distance proved to be our biggest weakness.
The Social Distance Challenge
Covid-19 exploited our failure to stay apart, in spite of mandated lockdowns, social distancing guidelines and quarantine protocols. Some of it was due to inadequate government responses. Some of it was due to mixed messaging. Some people simply flouted the rules. But some of it was impossible to avoid.
Jobs That Require Contact
There are plenty of jobs that can’t be done remotely. People need healthcare. People need supplies. People delivering those supplies need transportation. People need food. And where do they get those things? Other people.
The Challenge of Supply
Our supply chain is not just trucks, ships and planes. It’s a network of people. Eventually, those people must come into contact with other people. Warehouse operations. Retail personnel. So on and so forth. Some of those people cross state lines. Others cross international borders. And Covid-19 was always there, lying in wait, unconcerned with our political views and rules.
When Supply is Low, We’re More Exposed
My wife and I have complied with state and federal guidelines. We wear masks when we go out. We limit our exposure as best we can, but it’s not always possible. In the beginning of the pandemic, grocery deliveries were delayed by months. We had no choice but to brave the grocery stores that were teeming with people.
The Myth of Independence
But even when social distancing was possible, many chose not to. Some people don’t want to be told what to do. They want to live their lives however they please. They want to be independent, but unless they’re living off the land and off the grid, they benefit from society and, therefore, are not independent. Whether they know it or not, they’ve entered into a social contract.
For generations the Anishinaabe, a collective group of First Nations people in Canada, have held the cedar tree to be sacred. They use it in teas and medicines. It’s a big part of their culture. They’ve stopped using cedar in their traditions because cadmium, a metal linked to cancer and learning disabilities, has been found in it.
The choices we make here affect people there, and vice versa. We don’t operate in a vacuum.
According to Simon Gregory, an associate professor of medical genetics and codirector of the Duke Epigenetics and Epigenomics Program, our behaviors can change our genetic code:
Environmental factors such as food, drugs, or exposure to toxins can cause epigenetic changes by altering the way molecules bind to DNA or changing the structure of proteins that DNA wraps around.
According to Gregory, these changes can be passed on to your children, meaning that your decisions to eat poorly, abstain from exercise and abuse substances can affect your children’s genetics.
We Are All Connected
We cannot live independently of one another. Our decisions affect others. The decisions others are making right now will affect us later. What is owed will be paid in one form or another, now or later. We either pay as individuals, or we pay as communities.