How many degrees of separation are you from COVID-19?
There are different ways to count degrees of separation–the number of relationships one person is away from another.
Generally, everyone is six degrees of separation from any other person. You can reach any person on earth by crossing six social connections. The game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon asks for an actor’s shortest path of costarring roles to reach Kevin Bacon.
There are also degrees of COVID-19 phenomena. They measure how many patients are different degrees of separation from you. In early January, most of the patients were 6 degrees of separation from me. As the pandemic continues, the world is shrinking. When did the degrees of COVID-19 change to 5 for most patients? As the pandemic spreads, that number will get smaller and smaller.
An interesting psychological transition must happen before a disease feels real and threatening. People could be three or four degrees of separation from many COVID-19 patients and not realize it. Cognitively, the number of cases in the US is just a big number without emotional impact. However, knowing your connection to those people might be more visceral.
I’m sure that when people are one or two degrees of separation from COVID-19, the disease will seem to be an obvious threat. The degrees of separation for people who were hospitalized for COVID-19 will be higher, but could be more impactful for people who pooh-pooh the disease’s risks.
I hope that the more macabre statistic, the degrees of COVID-19 deaths will not get low. Leaders must not be heedless because the possibility is real. Decisive action can keep the Degrees of COVID-19 from drifting down further.
How many sick people are 3 or 4 degrees of separation from you is hard to gauge. It’s a crucial fact that is hidden by case counts.
COVID-19 might be a tsunami, but we can always move farther from the shore. Animations that show projections of how my degrees of COVID-19 are changing could be a meaningful display of how close the tsunami is to me.
The COVID-19 pandemic makes me think deeply about my mortality and the mortality of the people I love. Making it to the next birthday seems more of an accomplishment now than last year. I don’t know what will happen between now and December. Who that I know will have become sick? Who will have never recovered? How will I deal with so much grief?
I think about what to do while I’m at home. (I won’t say “stuck at home.” It’s a privilege that I have a home.) Fortunately, I’ve got projects to keep me busy. I can focus on them more intently if I’m not thinking about going out for groceries, planning my next trip to Fort Wayne and looking for the best gas price.
With heavy feelings so infectious, it’s easy to forget the humanity of the people I don’t know. But, it is more important than ever to recognize my neighbor as like me. The one who lives in the next apartment or the stranger who comes to the store at the same time as me. The neighbor that is the “other” I don’t trust. In this crisis, there is no “other” in the eyes the coronavirus. I don’t know their names, who their kids are and whether putting food on the table is a burden. But, they are all facing the same end as me.
Unity in suffering.
It’s more important to me than ever to do small kindnesses for the people I meet. They might be hungry, angry at the people stuck inside with them, lonely for human contact that they’re trying to distance themselves from. I don’t know what they face, but I can be confident that it is hard. I can acknowledge their burden with respect and not add to it.
I’m alone in my house, but I don’t feel lonely. I am busy and can talk to a person or two each day by phone. It is kind for someone to take or return my call. I try to do the same.
The mathematics are against us. Italy is an example of the nations a few days ahead of us that is suffering badly. Others countries that have been taking stronger measures appear to be keeping up. I want to not add to the suffering in my country. Being willing to do whatever I need to is a way to do that.
If the guidance I get is not based in the epidemiology and science, I can be confident that ones providing that guidance don’t value my life or the life of my loved ones. I don’t have time for that.