“I don’t believe in astrology; I’m a Sagittarius and we’re skeptical.”
― Arthur C. Clarke
I’ve lost count of the times someone’s sent me “intelligent, you-should-read-this” coronavirus advice that turned out to be total hooey. Remember the (now debunked) Michigan doctor who told us all to wash our vegetables in bleach? Did you see the guy masquerading as Stanford Hospital board member who claimed holding your breath was an accurate coronavirus test? Now everyone’s talking about the infamous (quickly removed) America’s Frontline Physicians video promoting such discredited “cures” as hydroxychloroquine, zinc, and the antibiotic azithromycin while dismissing masks and quarantines as useless.
One of the “experts” in the video was Dr. Stella Immanuel. Who’s that, you ask?
“Immanuel, a pediatrician and a religious minister, has a history of making bizarre claims about medical topics and issues,” journalist Will Somer noted. “She has often claimed that gynecological problems like cysts and endometriosis are in fact caused by people having sex in their dreams with demons and witches. She alleges alien DNA is currently used in medical treatments, and that scientists are cooking up a vaccine to prevent people from being religious. And, despite appearing in Washington, D.C. to lobby Congress on Monday, she has said that the government is run in part not by humans but by ‘reptilians’ and other aliens.”
OK, that last statement may be true and would certainly explain a lot. Such as why senior White House officials retweeted the America’s Frontline Physicians video, calling it a “must-see.” And yes, I find that deeply worrying.
There’s a lot of crazy misinformation out there. So it’s up to each one of us to use common sense, stay skeptical, and double check our facts against the best scientific evidence we can find.
Take face masks, for instance. Immanuel insists we don’t need them, but I beg to differ — as do the CDC and the World Health Organization. Even the famously unflappable British, who consider it cringeworthy to look ruffled or perturbed in a crisis, have begun requiring shoppers to wear masks.
Until now, I’ve mostly been wearing my face shield, which according to infectious disease specialists offers “about a 96% reduction [in contagion], so it's very, very good.” In the Journal of the American Medical Association, Eli Perencevich, M.D., compared them favorably to masks saying, “We feel face shields are far more effective.” Then two weeks ago my friend Honey alerted me to a news item about a fancy restaurant in Switzerland. “After a coronavirus outbreak where only those wearing plastic visors were infected, the Swiss government has said plastic shields are inadequate protection and should only be worn in combination with a face mask.” Yikes!
Unfortunately, there’s been little (actually, none that I can find) serious scientific study of face shields as protection against coronavirus. Opinions are plentiful and all over the place. For now, I'm favoring cloth masks for everyday outings while I continue my research.
One thing I know for sure: I’m avoiding the MOYOF (mask of your own face) option. Journalist Heather Schwedel bought one for lighthearted entertainment but ended up describing the experience in words like “creepy,” “grotesque,” and “my skin crawled.” Sound like fun? You can commission one on Etsy, the crafts marketplace for under $20.
Etsy vendor Bunny Giuliani told Schwedel, “I took pictures of some of my family and some of my friends and I started printing them on masks and wearing them out to the store. I’d wear my dad’s beard, stuff like that. It was a big hit.” She’s now sold thousands of personalized masks online. Giuliani said employees from a dentist’s office “bought the bottom half of the dentist’s face and they all wore it whenever they were cleaning teeth, to just be funny.” My California dentist, who last Halloween had everyone in his office dress up as characters from the Elton John biopic Rocketman, would probably love to do this. I can only hope and pray nobody turns him on to MOYOFs.
These days masks are all about self-expression, sporting slogans such as “Black Lives Matter,” “Vote,” “Will remove for wine,” or obscenely phrased objections to mask wearing. The small, belligerent minority of aggressive anti-maskers continues to be active on social media. My post Risky and Ridiculous Business: The American Mask War drew some nasty attention from people who called me a dupe, a Nazi, a puppet, and mentally ill. You may not have seen their comments because I took down the ones that crossed the line into actual hate speech.
“What are they going to object to next?” I said to Rich. “Hand washing? Anybody who uses soap is falling for left-wing propaganda?”
Rich laughed. “I have something you need to see,” he said, and sent this to my laptop.
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Meanwhile the press, which finds any juicy story irresistible, continues to give the loonier anti-maskers plenty of attention. Like the guy who walked into a cigar store in in Bethlehem, PA, and when asked to don a mask pulled out a handgun, stole a couple of stogies, and shot at a store clerk. Later he fired an AK-47 at the police. Thank God he’s a terrible shot; as far as I know nobody was hurt. In his defense, his lawyer said he was “not handling the pandemic well.”
Let’s face it, navigating the pandemic is a nightmare. And while most of us are coping better than the cigar store gunman, we all feel overwhelmed at times. I’m one of the most optimistic people on the planet, and even I find myself caught up in dystopian gloom at times.
Growing up in the SF Bay Area, I've seen my city survive Godzilla, aliens, zombies, brain-enhanced apes, cyborgs, a giant octopus, a Bond villain, the Body Snatchers, and of course, killer earthquakes (as in this scene from San Andreas). Unfortunately, with the horror show of the 2020 pandemic, there's no guarantee of a happy Hollywood ending.
But then there are the good days. Like when we really connect with the people we love (even if it’s on Zoom). And when our latest home improvement project turns out to be cheaper and better than we imagined (when does that ever happen?). Drive-in movies are making a comeback; we saw Speed the other night snug in our car. Animal shelters are emptying as people remember how cheering it feels to hug a furry friend. And Tom Cook and Joseph Feeney, who agreed back in 1993 that if either one of them ever won the Powerball jackpot they’d split the money, just divvied up $22 million.
“He called me, and I said, ‘are you jerking my bobber?’” said Feeney, an avid fisherman.
The odds of winning the Powerball jackpot are one in 292 million. Our chances of surviving the coronavirus? Considerably better. The likelihood that we’ll get the ‘reptilians’ and other aliens out of Washington in November? With some hard work, I think we might actually have a shot at it. And no, my friends, I’m not jerking your bobber.
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I'm an American travel writer based in Spain, to which I've just returned after a 16-month absence due to the pandemic.
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