Partying during a pandemic?

During a meeting a few days ago, a friend of mine brought up to a group that I was involved with the fact that the LGBTQ+ community is treating the social distancing and the coronavirus in the same manner as the college kids in Florida and the folks during mardi gras in New Orleans. I just thought that I would do some research on the Coronavirus and look at some of the statistics.

Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras. February 25, 2020

Bourbon Street March 7, 2020

Just today I got breaking news of the numbers that seemingly go up every day in Oklahoma, hearing about some Cherokee nation tribal members that are infected and a news flash that the country of India has shut down its borders and told its 1.3 billion people to stay home.

When I hear about the coronavirus, I recognized the severity of the situation partly because the new pandemic instantly recalled another health crisis that slammed my community 40 years ago. And I worry that young people who weren’t alive in the early 1980s when the first news reports broke about a mysterious “gay cancer” stalking U.S. cities, weren’t taking the new menace seriously enough. I lived through the AIDS crisis and saw many of my closest friend perish because of not taking it seriously enough. I marched in parades, I performed in drag shows to raise money for the research. The LGBTQ+ community is not taking this seriously enough. During the AIDS crisis, people were still going out and people just thought they were above it all, that they wouldn’t get sick. This coronavirus outbreak could spread even more rapidly.

Some people on social media don’t see the parallels. Some see the coronavirus outbreak distinctly because of the way it’s evidently transmitted, through breathing and touching and not through blood and other bodily fluid transfer. Some of the people that I spoke with online even now acknowledged that they didn’t realize the gravity of the new coronavirus at first, equating it to a really bad form of the regular flu. In the back of my mine I am thinking, what rock have you been living under?

The virus is affecting the LGBTQ community in numerous ways. Organizers have announced that all events related to Oklahoma Pride may be postponed because of the pandemic.

Laurie Marhoefer, an expert on 20th century LGBTQ history and politics at the University of Washington, said the coronavirus could bring back traumatic memories for LGBTQ+ community people who survived the AIDS crisis. For many, those years were marked not only by fear of acquiring a deadly disease but also by anxiety over the vitriol directed at gay people for supposedly practicing a risky and promiscuous “lifestyle” — and rage at the seeming indifference of many politicians to swiftly address the outbreak.

Foreshadowing the current furor over President Trump’s use of the term “Chinese virus,” issues of social stigmatization overshadowed the AIDS crisis. In Cuba, HIV-positive people were quarantined against their will, as were Haitian refugees.

“The parallels are eerie, though, yes, the viruses are very, very different — all the misinformation, all the rumors, the confusion and fear mixed together, not knowing what’s safe and what isn’t, not knowing how much worse this will get, or who might get sick,” Marhoefer said. “The isolation we’re all experiencing now is probably affecting this community in a particularly sharp way, because of this history.”

Mayors’ and governors around the nation have ordered Americans to stay inside. Sports venues, birthdays parties, weddings, all canceled or postponed indefinitely. Even the Rolling Stones tour has been canceled. Basketball, volleyball, in parks, water parks, all canceled.

When will these unprecedented social distancing measures, intended to significantly reduce the uncontrolled rise in the new coronavirus infections, when will they work?

People should stay at home and prepare for the long-haul is what all the professors and doctors of public health are saying. For a while, we will see cases increase every day, one professor explained.

It’s unknown when infections will start to fall, if society would actually follow the social distancing orders. It’s because no one really knows how many people are actually infected. We only know who’s been given a test and the tests that are confirmed positive. In all diseases the public only sees the tip of the iceberg, doctors say, most of the numbers are hidden from the public. The numbers are documented in long and boring reports that are sent to the CDC or the FDA.

New York for example, only instituted the states most restrictive social distancing rules yet, on a Sunday night, 11 days after the World Health Organization finally confirmed that coronavirus was a pandemic. But an uncertain number of people are actually infected and won’t even know it for an average of five days, when the symptoms begin. During this time, they could continue to spread the virus and infect new people. So yes, the number of infections will almost certainly keep going up, even as you stay closeted inside your home.

I am sure you have seen this graph by now. Courtesy of the CDC.

Right now, the aim of social distancing is to make this coronavirus outbreak manageable for doctors, nurses and frontline workers, who are already witnessing the grim and unsettling consequences of a mounting infection. Hospitals can’t manage the deluge of patients and ICU walk-ins, many who can’t breathe, from the relentless respiratory distress that coronavirus results on its host.

Continued and prolonged periods of social distancing will be completely and totally uncomfortable for us, because we are a hyper-social species. But we’re up against a microbe that has easily spread around the globe and will continue spreading if we present ourselves as a more willing host.

Social distancing may seem daunting to American people, said one doctor of sociology, but it’s better to overreact then to lose time because we are underreacting, which would mean more infections than we can handle. From what I can find online, other nations like South Korea and China have been able to dramatically slow their rise of infections by sheltering in place and social distancing. South Korea had almost 9000 total known infections following a rigorous month of nationwide population containment. Meanwhile, New York City alone blew past 44,000 confirmed cases on Sunday, it’s just getting started in the Big Apple.

It has taken several weeks of extreme social distancing by these other countries to curb the infections. It will take longer for the US, a nation that’s generally less compliant about social rules and has repeatedly proven ignorant of the looming coronavirus threat. You can see in Florida this also includes public partying.

With what epidemiologist know today about the outbreak, that someone with coronavirus will infect about 2 to 3 other people before they see symptoms of the virus or know that they have the virus. To contain the virus officials, say that this number needs to fall below one. That’s why social distancing is so critical even if it takes longer than we ever imagined.

So, buckle up, there is no cure or vaccine, there are no medications, yet, to combat this virus. There is, however, social distancing and like the cure for the common cold, it takes time for it to work. It’s a hard thing for people to come to terms with and to adjust to, but we all need to just do it. We are all in this socially distancing together.

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