- By Ian Bradley
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I’m not sure exactly when it began, or more importantly, when it became an entrenched habit. But, for the last months, I’ve had a regular routine of looking at the daily stats concerning the pandemic. I don’t just rely upon regular news feeds, but I go to my authoritative book-marked sites that provide oodles of stats. What started out as quickly scanned counts of new and existing cases or deaths has been elaborated by adding various denominators such as per 100,000 people or number of people divided by geographical area or population density. Of course, whatever metric of group data one tracks, one’s favorite metric is reified by regular reports of what celebrity or world politician has suddenly tested positive.
Seemingly not content with characterizing my own backyard, I have been drawn into comparisons with other geographical areas; worse, better, improved -the permutations can be endless. Of course, this private trolling are mere blips on the carrier-wave of mainstream media attention directing our attention to the latest hot spots that then reverberate in endless loop private discourse.
It suddenly dawned on me however, that my fascination with Covid stats bore an eerie resemblance to my interests in sports. Could it be that baseball box scores have been simply been supplanted by epidemiology!
In the absence of anything happening in any professional sports other than specialty broadcasting of intrepid individuals attempting to survive with a penknife for 10 days above the Arctic circle, this is all we have. So we get up in the morning and instead of checking to see if the Canadiens might have strung together two consecutive wins to gain a shot at a play-off berth, or if the Raptors can repeat a miracle season without the author of “The Shot,” we’re left with the latest count of new Covid 19 cases.
If so, there are many problems with this scenario. Most importantly, we never seem to be winning!
Occasionally, the Canadiens do win, and the Raptors have a chance. In our new modern sport, corona always seems to be wining- the only question is by what margin. Secondly, with Covid stats, there is no completion, no end of the game. It’s like a grotesque exaggeration of the old days when baseball actually had double-headers, but now with Covid, the same game goes on for months. Humans like closure and chance for the next game’s redemption, what we have is ground hog day. In short, my preoccupying habit has left me and, perhaps others, unsettled.
As a psychologist who has treated countless clients with “bad habits” I knew enough not to go cold turkey or the informational equivalent of turning off the TV and shutting the computer. Instead, I followed a harm-reduction approach where I still focus on Covid but explore what I consider as the more substantive developments- and there are tons.
Let me cite just one area – the scientific- to describe my new focus. For example, my limited knowledge of immunology has been somewhat enhanced by reading about how we might need not put all our hope on a preventative vaccine but instead rely on the memory of our T-cells that might have been stimulated by less noisome forms of the virus that perhaps reached our shores long before the March shut-down. Similarly, I have been fascinated to read about how Gilead’s new drug offering, Remdesivir, tricks the ribosomal transcription of the corona virus by presenting something like a fake nucleotide. Never before imagined ways to create potentially effective Covid antibodies either through the injection of genetic material, mRNA or via cloning them artificially as in Regeneron’s leading drug candidate are additional developments that will have long lasting implication for medicine for years to come. The scientific area is only one of many interesting and potentially emotionally satisfying content areas in which one could read about; the benefits of working remotely, the rise in peer learning through virtual platforms, even the increased commercial activity in home renovation are a sampling of others.
My advice, turn off the moment to moment box scores and educate yourself about the truly life-changing developments that are occurring across the scientific research and the world of work. Hopefully, we can return to reading real box scores in the not too distant future.