The Two Worlds of Coronavirus

In one, the threat is imminent; in the other, it’s a hoax.

Posted Sep 02, 2020

Among the many divisions in America (race, gender, age), one that most separates people is beliefs about, and preventive orientation towards, COVID. The disease is a myth for some; for others it is an imminent threat.

There are two types of bases for this division. One is the presence of risk factors — primarily age, race and underlying health. Of those who test positive for coronavirus, overall, 14 percent are hospitalized and 5 percent die. But these risks aren’t distributed evenly. In particular, of those testing positive, .1 percent (one in a thousand) of those age 20-29 die. In New York, where the current positive test rate is less than one percent, this means (all things being equal), a person under 30 in good health stands a 1 in 100,000 chance (.00001) of dying from COVID.

Yet most of us in New York live in constant, wary vigilance of the disease. I have pretty good reason to: 65 percent of those age 70-79 with an underlying condition who test positive end up hospitalized. I’m 74 and have an underlying condition or two. So I really don’t want to contract COVID. (Okay, I’m somewhat less guarded than most people like me. For instance, I take public transportation. Notably, international studies find little risk of COVID transmission on public transport.)

The second dimension of wariness/paranoia/surveillance is ideology. There is a Republican/pro-Trump/red state vs. Democratic/anti-Trump/blue state split in seeing the coronavirus as a threat to be guarded against. (You know the different positions if you pay any attention to political news.)

So this split can be nasty, with one world denying the reality/sanity of the other.

Which brings up a recent interview with Minneapolis Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. Asked on Spotify’s 10 Questions Podcast by Kyle Brandt where he fell on a scale of 1-to-10 regarding masks "if 1 is the person who says, ‘Masks are stupid, you’re all a bunch of lemmings’ and 10 is, ‘I’m not leaving my master bathroom for the next 10 years'?"

Cousins answered:

“I’m not gonna call anybody stupid, for the trouble it would get me in. But I’m about a .000001. . . so my opinion on wearing a mask is really about being respectful to other people. It really has nothing to do with my own personal thoughts.” About the rare chance that he contracted the virus and became seriously ill, Cousins said his feelings were “If I die, I die.”

On the other hand, Cousins opined that face masks did little to prevent the spread of coronavirus.  While this view contradicts that of most medical commentators, including those leading President Trump’s task force on the virus, including Anthony S. Fauci, Deborah L. Birx, and Surgeon General  Jerome Adams, the president has just added Scott W. Atlas, a face-mask skeptic, to the task force.

You can judge on the facts how reasonable Cousins’ answer was. But given how riven the U.S. is on this and many other issues, reactions to his statement were swift and eviscerating.

In fact, Cousins commented on this division in the country — including the Vikings locker room:

"I even think within the building, there's gonna be a dichotomy of people who couldn't care less about the virus, have no concern about it, have never lost a minute of sleep about it. And then you get people on the other side of the spectrum who, every second of every day, they're consumed with fear about it.”

Yes, America can’t even agree on whether coronavirus is an enemy that we all share.