When listening to the experts makes sense

Our resident senior scientist weighs in

coronavirus experts

Image: The Norwegian American
Strong measures are required to curb the spread of the global coronavirus pandemic.

John Erik Stacy
The Norwegian American

No doubt about it now, the coronavirus has gone pandemic. The World Health Organization made it official. But all you needed to do was look at the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 map to see that it meets the definition of a pandemic. If you looked at the map the day before the WHO announcement, you could have made the pronouncement yourself. And if you had been following over the last couple of weeks you would see the steady accumulation of hot spots around the world (including the United States) and realized that the numbers are pumping up fast.

On March 10, when I started writing this, the news announced that we had passed the 1,000 cases mark in the United States. As I am writing, the number is now 1,100—100 new cases in one day. The number of confirmed cases in Minnesota went from three yesterday to five, as I write today. Small numbers at present, but think what that means if every infected person infects two more (which is believed to be the case).

Also, consider that Minnesota is not alone. Unfortunately, the map tells us that there are spots more or less evenly distributed across the states. Seattle was probably an early point of entry, but the virus has clearly been imported by several individual travelers and is certainly spreading within the nation at this time.

Is this a disaster? Well, yes, it has already had major consequences to normal human activity in this 21st century global community. Will it get a lot worse? I think Italy is giving some indication of that. Try to remember when you first heard that Italy was hard hit. If I use Google, I see that there were news outlets reporting quarantine in Northern Italy back on Feb. 21. But if I search the ABC website, the first mention I find is March 9. Right now I don’t think most Americans can imagine being in the situation that Italy is in. But I think it is time to start imagining quarantine and travel restriction here at home. Because this is moving fast, and an ostensible overreaction may be exactly what is needed right now.

There is a lesson that most people don’t consider in the fable of the boy who cried wolf. The third time he cried wolf, there was a wolf! The first two times he cried wolf amounted to annoyance. But the lack of response is what led to carnage in the flock.

The boy was not actually at fault for the tragedy. Rather, the jaded adults were asleep at the switch. I hear people talk about Y2K now, comparing the “hype” to that “non-event.” I say, wouldn’t it be great if we had more non-events? How do we know what the preparation for Y2K did? Consider that disasters were, in fact, averted because competent individuals worked from most critical to least in securing military, utility, and financial software to avoid the doom and gloom that could have been. Disasters averted are actually many when things are working right.

I want to end this by stating what you all should know: the great majority of people who get sick from the COVID-19 virus will recover. But a lot of people will die. And a lot of people will get really sick: out for two weeks kind of sick, or even hospitalized before recovering. Remember that there is no vaccine for COVID-19 as yet, so we have no good way to mitigate spread other than good hygiene and isolation. Norway, at time of printing at 1,333 cases, is in full swing to get a grip on this. Let’s be smart and do what the experts tell us to do to blunt the edge of this crisis.


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The opinions expressed by opinion writers featured in “On the Edge” are not necessarily those of The Norwegian American, and our publication of those views is not an endorsement of them. Comments, suggestions, and complaints about the opinions expressed by the paper’s editorials should be directed to the editor.

This article originally appeared in the March 20, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American.

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John Erik Stacy

John Erik Stacy grew up in Wayzata, Minn., and has now returned there after over 30 years divided between Oslo and Seattle. He studied Biology at the University of Oslo and worked there several years leading the DNA laboratory for Systematics and Ecology. He also worked as a senior scientist and team leader for a biotech startup at the Oslo Research Park, where he developed automated systems in antibody discovery. He continues to hold investments and consult for companies at the Research Park and travels frequently to Oslo.