There can’t be enough COVID content

New York Times

There can’t be enough COVID-19 content.

Even if it’s unpleasant, boring, or annoying.

Even if it’s stressful, anxiety-producing, overwhelming, and depressing.

It’s better than more people dying preventable deaths, and that’s exactly the situation we are facing.

In lieu of a responsible and competent federal government to inform the public about COVID-19 and take adequate measures, it’s up to us to do what we can to mitigate the disaster.

And that starts with information: information coming from as many directions as to be unavoidable. Information that forces people to confront a moral choice: whether to continue their lives as usual and sacrifice hundreds of thousands of lives, or to commit to the social distancing that’s necessary for slowing the spread.

Moral, social pressure is not the easiest way to fight a pandemic. Coordinated international systems and responsible governments can structure people’s decisions through adequate health interventions, informational campaigns, and legal orders.

Instead, we have a CDC that wants to cut its own budget for fighting infectious diseases, governors bragging about negligent behavior, administration officials who are creating the worst possible conditions for public health, congressional Republicans and Democrats who seem happy with insufficient symbolic compromises, and, of course, a president who, as usual, is modeling the worst possible behavior.

Individual incompetence, greed, or ill-will aside, the United States has no institutions capable of adequately responding because we don’t believe in adequate, centralized public health systems or political unity. At best, some states, counties, and cities will respond quickly and forcefully to this crisis. Others will respond too late, some probably not at all.

What that all means is the United States could be on track to kill over 1,000,000 of its residents.

Interventions could cut that toll by anywhere up to 90%.

But they are interventions led by formal institutions that don’t seem likely to come in time.

It’s up to the rest of us to try to chip away at the worst estimates.

The good news is that we each have an individual role in the social distancing necessary to slow the spread of the virus: the challenge is that we need others in our communities to start doing it, too. And in most places, people really don’t get it yet.

It is possible that the packed bars, restaurants, events, and workplaces we continue to see are because people are willing to kill their neighbors for the sake of $1 off at happy hour. I think it’s more likely that people haven’t heard or don’t fully understand yet how their continued socializing is enabling mass death.

We, the people of the 2020s, have an array of tools at our disposal to help them, to help our society, while our leaders won’t.

We must produce and share as much content about COVID-19 and social distancing as possible.

To the journalists, writers, musicians, photographers, video producers, artists reading this: you all have powerful means, platforms, and followings for communicating with the public.

To the celebrities with millions of fans: you have millions of opportunities to help break transmission of the virus.

To the communications companies — Google, Facebook, Apple — that mediate our lives: you have a moral responsibility to encourage social distance at every turn.

To you, anyone at all, you have the power to help save lives.

You can create and share posts on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram that encourage friends to create responsible social distance. You can help promote hashtags that help move the message.

You can call and text your family, friends, and acquaintances about staying home — and you can decline invitations to gather and encourage them to cancel their plans.

None of this will be a substitute for the type of immediate, centralized action that would effectively force people in to social distance.

But if we can make the idea unavoidable — one that can’t be tuned out by ignoring the news — then maybe we can help prevent a few unnecessary deaths. If, somehow, we can get masses to act individually with the gravity this moment calls for, then maybe some of our government will follow suit.

It’s unpleasant to think about life and death — and it’s anxiety-producing to wonder how it’s swirling around us.

But, if you’re like me, you might find that directly confronting your role in this moment isn’t scarier: it’s galvanizing.

You have a choice to take social distance — and you have the power to use your social connection to push others to do the same.




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