A Word in Edgewise: The Squirrel’s Tale: It’s All Still With Us

There are a myriad of topics from which to choose, but in this time of COVID-19, one is pulled into its own orbit. And beyond. Recently, “Oh, no! A plague-infested squirrel in Colorado!” He’s no harbinger of a new pandemic, but the “ping” of a disease of burrowing rodents in deserts of northern New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado, endemic for over a hundred years.

Isolated in groups over broad areas, these infected animals rarely trouble humans, though up to seventeen plague deaths are reported annually. Plague, Yersinia pestis, is continually present at low levels, and can be treated with antibiotics if diagnosed and treated early.

Humans have experienced plague, Yersinia pestis, for centuries, it’s been detected even in late Bronze-age archaeological finds. While they remained ignorant of its source or means of treatment, people had some practical experience of how plague and other lethal diseases would run their course.

COVID-19 is new to humanity, and with all the advancements in science and technology there is still much that is unknown—who is most at risk, how are some infected but asymptomatic, able to infect others? Will survivors have immunity? For how long?

Youngsters seemed to be spared—until they were found not to be, and it was further discovered that they suffer other, different damage from adults. Adults who survive lengthy attachment to ventilators have later exhibited a horrifying array of damages to lungs, heart, brain, even the development of blood clots. Measles has consequences that show up years later, and COVID-19’s future damage won’t be known for years or decades.

The country is faced with damage to the economy, as are individuals suddenly without resources to pay for food and rent. While it is preferable that children be in school with peers—for their educational, social, and psychological well-being—not to mention the breakfast and lunch that many students rely on.

Interviews with medical experts produce pleas for considered, graded responses. Those areas, cities, counties, that have the fewest infections might reopen sooner, with teachers in masks and proper distancing. A state, county, city exhibiting a higher degree of infection, should open with caution, if at all. Pragmatism over politics rather than a pell-mell rush into a single total solution right now. At least one Phase III clinical trial of a COVID-19 vaccine is underway, and keeping on, keeping calm until we see the results may be most effective.

The virus is airborne, recent findings indicating it travels through finer aerosols as well as in droplets, perhaps more broadly and longer lasting. Wear masks when outside or in a public place. Wash hands frequently. Keep a strict social distance from others. These few acts are a courtesy to others, and the life they save may be your own.

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