If anything, for me, this COVID-19 outbreak has been an exercise in empathy.
I don’t really take “days off.” Rain or shine, sick or well, I continue on with my life. The only times I’ve taken sick days from school were when I was literally incapacitated with an inability to balance. I’ve never officially taken a sick day from work ever, in my life. (The latter isn’t quite as impressive as it may seem, because I work from home on a regular basis, so even on days when I’m sick, I can still squeeze a few hours of work in by hobbling over to my computer, or even just by bringing my laptop to bed.)
Over the past few days, I’m learning that that’s not really something to brag about, and it’s not actually really an accomplishment. The purpose of taking sick days isn’t just to take time to yourself to rest, but also to prevent spreading your illness and getting other people sick. Of course, I’ve always known that, but that’s always just been an afterthought to me—something that gets stored away in the back of my mind and not really intentfully considered.
With an academic background in sociology and psychology, at this point I sort of feel a bit silly that I was “immature” enough that I never really fully conceptualized this and applied it to my life until just now, but I guess there’s always that “one thing”—and for me, it happened to be this. I was so caught up on being an unstoppable force moving towards my goals and aspirations that I failed to see the collateral damage I was causing around me.
No, I don’t have COVID-19… or at least I don’t think so. But I’m actually a bit “sick” very often—I usually get sick every time I travel. I’m known among my co-workers as the guy who, upon setting foot in California, gets sick for the first few days. Consistently. Every single time. I also feel unwell shortly after going to large conventions, though I usually recover from that within a day or two. This happens so regularly that, to me, getting “sick” isn’t even a big deal.
And it still isn’t. To me, being sick probably will never be a big deal unless I am literally so sick that I am hospitalized… and even then, it will only be a big deal for the duration which I am hospitalized. Unfortunately, me being sick can be a big deal to everyone else around me.
In the past few days, a few people have accused me of being a killer—and I can’t say they’re completely wrong. I, as an explosively healthy individual, can pick up COVID-19 from somewhere and be a carrier without even realizing, especially because I am so “used to” being sick that I probably won’t even notice. In my path to recovery, I will spew the virus all over the place, potentially infecting those who are nowhere near as healthy as I am, and potentially causing their death.
Earlier today, this concept became even more salient to me as a result of an article on the Washington Post titled “Why outbreaks like coronavirus spread exponentially, and how to ‘flatten the curve.’” In this piece, Graphics Reporter Harry Stevens created four randomized simulations (they change each time you reload the article) for the spread of coronavirus—one each for free-for-all, attempted quarantine, moderate distancing, and extensive distancing. There are samples at the top of the article that show how the “peak” of the infection curve slowly declines based off how many people are staying put—the more distancing there is among people, the less likely it is for COVID-19 to spread.
I don’t know if this was foreshadowing, or an omen, or something else crazy that is supposed to send a clear message to me, but the random simulation I got ended up showing extensive distancing having nearly no sick people at all. This is very different than the “expected” curve, and of course this end result is very rare, but it basically shows just how well-controlled a COVID-19 outbreak would look like in the best case scenario were everyone to stay put.
I have a burning urge to travel right now. My brain is all about efficiency, and with airline and hotel prices at an all-time low, coupled with not many other people getting in my way, this is a perfect chance to get more for less. In fact, I think this is one of maybe a thrice-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get this amount of astronomical value per dollar spent on travel.
But of course, I’ve decided against it. Because me being that one moving sick dot in the simulation passing COVID-19 to ten other people, and by proxy, hundreds more, would not be efficient at all for the rest of humanity.
I literally feel like a child first discovering that the world, in fact, does not revolve around them. I imagine that I should feel humiliated at my selfishness throughout my 20s, but I’m surprisingly not, because I feel like there are a lot of concepts that we as a society know we need to abide by, but have never truly manifested into our lives. I’m glad I’m becoming a better person, and hopefully I’ve inspired you to take a hard, matter-of-fact look at your behavior as well, in case there’s something you can improve on too, just like me.
In the meantime, I’ll be hiding out in my condo.