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  • Glenn Sonnenberg

Musings from the Bunker 4/24/20

Good morning,

I hope everyone’s staying healthy and sane. The above the 1919 Pandemic was in many ways similar to what we’re going through today (thanks, Alan Rothenberg, for supplying this). Masks and physical separation were the order of the day a hundred years ago.



There seems to be a cottage industry of folks trying to minimize the severity of this crisis, using (and sometimes manipulating or misstating) data to support their claims. Arguments include: “this is overblown, it’s a conspiracy, it’s a bunch of scaredy-cats, it’s like a really bad flu, and the damage to the economy outweighs the lives saved.” Often, they look at statistics such as these:

It’s difficult to understand why people are debating the number of deaths, suggesting that this isn’t so bad after all (of course ignoring that the numbers are lower precisely because of the physical distancing occurring). Some would like us to believe that this is all overblown. Some want to cover for the inadequate response of government. Some want to just get business back on line and profitable. But let’s look at these numbers along with a chart like the above for some perspective.

I’m going to ignore the political statement at the top and focus on the annual deaths from various causes that are cited. According to this table, the typical annual influenza death toll extrapolates to the 500,000 range (multiplying each by four); although a recent WHO estimate, reported in the Journal of Public Health, estimates the annual flu death rate at 99,000-200,000.

The above data is as of April 1. Today is April 23, 2014 and in these past three weeks, reported deaths have increased to 188,000+ (over four times the number on April 1), now above the annual flu death rate. And we know this understates the fact, as people dying at home or in areas that aren’t reporting are not being counted as COVID-19-related. Plus countries with some of the least effective public health care systems are still in the earlier stages of infection. All this is to suggest that the coronavirus number is a dynamic number, still rising, with no historical data to project future events. In less than four months we know it already has eclipsed the total from a typical flu season.

To suggest it’s “just another flu” is crazy. We know is that this is much more contagious than the flu. We don’t yet understand the seasonality of this virus or the extent of immunity of those who got it and don’t yet have a vaccine. Plus the numbers undoubtedly will increase as we “open up America.”

The debates on reopening the country to business, how to ramp up testing, and how to deal with repeated flare-ups will be better served if those making these decisions acknowledge the magnitude of the challenge, unmoved by the political implications of their actions. The second wave of the Spanish Flu was more devastating than the first. That should be a warning that, in our rush to “move on with our lives,” we should not forget COVID-19 is a crisis that will require continual attention and perseverance.

Perhaps a better take-away from the above table is not, “why are we doing all this for ‘just another’ virus?” but instead “maybe we should spend more to reduce deaths from starvation and unclean drinking water as well.”



I can’t remember who passed this on, but it’s great advice from ten writers: How to Pass Time in a Pandemic



Here is a really unbelievably funny riff on how Zoom meetings would look like if held in person: It is so creative and so true.

And this comes from Carol Coben, suggesting how crazy some people in isolation can get:

"Actually I've just been talking about this with the microwave and toaster while drinking coffee and we all agreed that things are getting bad. I didn't mention anything to the washing machine as she puts a different spin on everything. Certainly not to the fridge as he is acting cold and distant. In the end the iron straightened me out as she said everything will be fine, no situation is too pressing. The vacuum was very unsympathetic... told me to just suck it up, but the fan was more optimistic and hoped it would all soon blow over! The toilet looked a bit flushed when I asked its opinion and didn’t say anything but the door knob told me to get a grip. The front door said I was unhinged and so the curtains told me to ........yes, you guessed it, pull myself together."



Henry David Thoreau spent a fair bit of time in self-imposed solitude. This article, “Lessons in Constructive Solitude From Thoreau,” offers a review of Thoreau’s nearly two years alone. In a letter, Walden wrote: “The yogi, absorbed in contemplation, contributes in his degree to creation; he breathes a divine perfume, he hears wonderful things. To some extent, and at rare intervals, even I am a yogi.” The complete article:

A final wonderful quote from the denizen of Walden Pond:

“We must first succeed alone, so we may enjoy our success together.”

Have a great day of success and constructive solitude,


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