Flatten the Fear?

By Beverly George
ACE Leader

This essay begins with a friend-of-a-friend story.

My friend shared a conversation with me she’d had with one of her friends who declared with confidence and determination that she had decided she was not going to “live in fear” during the pandemic. This fearless over-70 woman further said she thought the number of COVID-19 cases was inflated and, therefore, not reliable. While she didn’t say the pandemic was a “hoax,” she did feel it was overblown in the media, and she was determined to live her life more openly. She even mentioned the recent massive infections on college campuses, noting that she hadn’t read of any students dying yet. I found that to be an extraordinarily low bar for a measuring stick.

This virus, SARS-CoV-2, does not follow any country’s national politics. Sadly, no one can will it away with dogged determination. Anyone deciding not to live in fear and to step headlong into crowds without protection or forethought will expose themselves to the virus, and one day that exposure will come with a viral load large enough to infect her. The infection may or may not manifest itself in the disease COVID-19. The worst outcome? It would be an asymptomatic case, where that person—feeling fine—would silently spread it to others at home, at work, or in their daily routines.

Infection will probably happen if that person does not practice proper mask-wearing, social (physical) distancing, or hand hygiene. Unwittingly spreading it to others demonstrates zero understanding of potential infection they will have opened into their community. Eventually, one of these subsequent infections could result in severe infection, long hospitalization, or even death for innocent people in the community. We all bear responsibility in this crisis, and we cannot shrug it off.

Around Naperville, there are many voices urging us to return to our previous, normal interactions. There is an electronic sign on the east side of Washington Street going south from Ogden Avenue. It flashes two alternating messages: “Flatten the fear” followed by “Save lives and livelihoods.”

This sounds like a Chamber of Commerce message, not a public health message.

Curious about the message, I googled “Flatten the fear.”

The Flatten the Fear (FTF) website shows it’s part of the Job Creators Network Foundation (JCN), a conservative U.S. advocacy group founded by Bernie Marcus, co-founder and former CEO of Home Depot. From their websites, JCN and FTF promote U.S. businesses, big and small, and their firm message is to reopen American business and to downplay the pandemic. JCN received some initial funding from Mercer Family Foundation lead by hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer.

Currently, a brief video by FTF features medical doctors—primarily from states with some of the largest current spikes in COVID-19, namely, Georgia, Missouri, Texas,, North Carolina, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Ohio— urging the reopening of public schools in the interest of enabling children and older students to regain normal footing in the education process. There is no plan and no mention of the role for masking, social distancing, or frequent hand-washing in this reopening.

I looked up each physician on the video, and they appear to have legitimate and reputable professional credentials, but for me, two of them (from North Carolina and Kentucky) sent up red flags. Dr. Gray, from North Carolina, author of The Battle for America’s Soul and founder of Physicians for Reform, is a frequent guest on FOX news. His positions are firmly conservative. Dr. Rutherford, from Kentucky, seemed apolitical on two sites featuring her professional profile, but oddly, she retweets messages from the Texas Public Policy Foundation, an organization whose Twitter messages directly contradict coronavirus case data published on mainline news media, as well as and on the Center for Disease Control and Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security websites. For example, regarding the most current COVID-19 spike in Texas, the Texas Public Policy Foundation tweeted that “the Texas COVID daily growth rate has steadily declined in July,” and Dr. Rutherford retweeted this lie. As for me, I’m sticking with Johns Hopkins and the New York Times for my data.

I want to be very clear. This pandemic is going to crush some businesses and be excruciating for the many workers who cobble together more than one job in the service industries to survive. Businesses are or will be reworking their business models, and they will, in many cases, further reduce their number of employees.

We need to bring case numbers and daily fatalities way, way down before we can resume business as usual. Just this morning, September 14, 2020, Canada announced their daily fatalities were at zero for the first time since last spring. The U.S. had reported 1,200 fatalities on the same day. These numbers are screaming at us.

I was listening to a podcast from Preet Bharara a few weeks ago. He was discussing wearing a mask and doing it for the common good and for the public health. Bharara said anyone has the right to jump off a building, but no one has the right to grab two innocent people to fall with them or the right to injure an innocent pedestrian on the sidewalk below. That would be negligent homicide or manslaughter. Let’s apply that logic to masking up.

Your wearing a mask for the common good is not in opposition to maintaining your First Amendment rights. It is for the general well-being of humanity. Anyone refusing to “live in fear” needs to think about the potential health impact on their community. Wear a mask, practice social distancing, and wash your hands on a regular basis. That’s how to live without fear.

For more information on COVID-19, check out the video from ACE’s September Zoom meeting, COVID-19: The Current State of the Pandemic.

ACE Leader Beverly George also is a member of Indivisible Naperville, the Naperville League of Women Voters, and the Citizens Climate Lobby. She also volunteers with her parish PADS group. A former chemist, George worked in clinical chemistry and hematology research at the Centers for Disease Control for six years and taught chemistry and freshman science at Naperville North High School for 20 years.