March 26, 2020

Human Stupidity Can Compound Danger of COVID-19

scientific analysis

We are certainly living in interesting times. Those who make it through the pandemic will undoubtedly have many stories to tell and questions to answer as they seek to help future generations understand what it was like and how to learn from our many mistakes.

I attended an emergency meeting at the university where I work in mid-March, shortly before the administration finally decided to close down. The meeting lasted roughly 90 minutes, and all the administrators in our college were present. The university's expected response to the COVID-19 pandemic was the only topic on the agenda. It was not lost on those of us present that we had been ordered to attend despite the CDC recommendations and that several of us were now packed into a small room with nowhere close to 6 feet between us. In fact, this was a topic of informal discussion as we were waiting for the meeting to begin.

After the meeting was adjourned, we stood up and filed toward the door. I don't think I was the only one feeling demoralized and eager to get home. A woman in front of me, the director of one of the schools in our college, stopped walking in front of the single doorway, effectively blocking our exit for a moment. She introduced herself to a female administrator who was right in front of me and whom she had evidently not previously met. I saw her hand reach out for a handshake. I stopped in my tracks completely dumbfounded by what I was witnessing. Her greeting included a lengthy handshake despite the fact that we had just spent 90 minutes discussing the pandemic and what we needed to do to slow its spread.

I heard someone exclaim, "What the fuck?" It took me only a second to realize that it had been me. No, I told myself, I am not going to feel stupid or apologize to anyone. It was at that moment that the seriousness of this pandemic hit me for the first time. If highly educated people in administrative positions who were well aware of the dangers and responsible for protecting others behaved like this, what hope was there for everyone else? It is easy to point the finger at the college kids who enjoyed their spring break like any other, but they have the excuse of youth and the sense of invulnerability that comes with it. If people like this woman cannot or will not modify their behavior, we are in real trouble.

It is bad enough that we are up against a new virus that appears to be easily transmissible and quite serious, often requiring hospitalization even among younger people who are in good health. It is bad enough that our healthcare system will soon be overwhelmed in many areas. When one adds human stupidity, fear, and selfishness to the mix, our situation becomes far more dire. May science help us all.