The Universal Notebook: Superspreader seeks herd immunity

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The young guy behind me at Hannaford the other day was not pleased about having an associate tell him which cash register to go to, so he just got in line right behind me.

“I really hate being told what to do,” he told me. “I’m an adult. I can figure it out for myself.”

I just smiled wanly, but what I should have said, at the risk of being punched in the nose, was, “Well, you couldn’t figure out that you’re supposed to be wearing a face mask, so …”

The complainer was the only person in the store not wearing a mask. From that simple omission, I could pretty much sum the guy up as one of those individuals who combine ignorance and arrogance in equal amounts. They don’t know much and you can’t tell them anything.

We have a president who suffers from this same affliction.

Donald Trump, of course, sets a bad example for everyone about everything everywhere every day. If the guy in line didn’t have a Trump flag flying from his pickup truck or a #F^%& MILLS bumper sticker on it I would be greatly surprised.

Gov. Janet Mills and Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, have been doing a terrific job protecting Maine people, limiting the spread of COVID-19 such that Maine has one of the lowest infection rates in the country and as of Tuesday had just 137 deaths.

Thanks to the total failure of leadership on the part of Trump, on the other hand, the United States leads the world in COVID-19 deaths at 190,000 and counting. Trump’s bad example no doubt contributed to the unsafe behavior at an Aug. 7 wedding in Millinocket that is now responsible for more than 175 COVID-19 cases and seven deaths. The wedding became a superspreader event resulting in outbreaks at the York County Jail in Alfred and a nursing home in Madison. 

Studies of superspreader events, gatherings at which people do not practice social distancing or wear face masks, have shown that as few as 10 percent of the people may be responsible for 80 percent of the virus transmissions. 

The infamous Biogen conference in Boston back in February, for example, was a superspreader event at which 175 attendees may have infected as many as 20,000 people in Boston alone and is now thought to be the origin of 3 percent of the COVID-19 cases in the U.S. 

The annual motorcycle rally in Sturgis, South Dakota, is believed responsible for spreading the virus far and wide. And no doubt the Republican National Convention (Republicans apparently don’t believe in science or viruses) will end up killing people.

Coronavirus Superspreader-in-Chief Trump has now apparently decided to seek herd immunity, replacing the country’s top infectious disease specialist Dr. Anthony Fauci with Fox News analyst Scott Atlas, a face mask skeptic. Rather than battle the virus with science, masks, and social distancing, Trump and Atlas have decided to just let 65 percent of Americans contract the virus, killing perhaps 2.1 million in the process. That’s only a winning election strategy if the dead are all Democrats.  

When you come right down to it, it’s really pretty simple. If you are not wearing a face mask when you’re at public gatherings, you are the problem. That means you, Mr. Trump, as well as most evangelicals, Republicans, and the guy in line at the grocery store.

Edgar Allen Beem has been writing The Universal Notebook weekly since 2003, first for The Forecaster and now for the Phoenix, where he also writes the monthly Art Seen feature.