In the previous post (Where do you get news?) I discussed mainstream media such as the New York Times. But of course many of us get a portion of our news these days from social media.
There is an essay about the COVID-19 pandemic that went viral on social media. It starts out like this:
As an infectious disease epidemiologist, I feel morally obligated to provide information on what we are seeing from a transmission dynamic perspective and how it applies to the social distancing measures.
I first saw this essay on March 24 on the Front Porch Forum social media platform commonly used in Vermont. My family noticed this essay and discussed it.
It’s a thought-provoking essay, but who wrote it? The posting on our local Front Porch Forum did not identify the author. That posting began as follows:
We received this from a friend in Mad River: Front Porch Forum Post in the Mad River Valley on Covid-19 Precautions and Information: “MRV Community: A friend who is a doctor at DHMC shared this from a colleague. I thought it was worth passing along.”
I am pleased to report that the mystery epidemiologist has surfaced! Among other places, this viral essay authored by Jonathan Smith was published by WBUR, a public radio station in Boston, on April 3:
Jonathan Smith originally wrote the piece below as a letter to his local neighborhood of about 50 families. It struck a chord, and his neighbors began sharing it widely within their own networks. Shortly after, and many tens of thousands of email forwards later, it went viral. Smith, a lecturer in epidemiology at Yale University who is currently completing his PhD in epidemiology at Emory University, graciously granted Cog permission to repost the piece. Though it was written a couple of weeks ago, the message remains the same. (And in my own personal experience, it can be a useful tool in reinforcing the importance of social distancing to loved ones who have grown weary of the strict guidelines.) I hope you’ll find it as resonant as we — and millions of others — did. – Frannie
[“Cog” is Cognoscenti, one of WBUR’s programs. “Frannie” is Frannie Carr Toth, the editor/producer of Cognoscenti, as noted at the link.]
I encourage you to read the whole thing. Here’s the link again:
An epidemiologist is a scientist who studies epidemics and pandemics (among other things). Professor Smith explains why social distancing is so important to slow the spread of this disease and limit its toll on our society.
From the essay:
You should perceive your entire family to function as a single individual unit: If one person puts themselves at risk, everyone in the unit is at risk. Seemingly small social chains get large and complex with alarming speed. If your son visits his girlfriend, and you later sneak over for coffee with a neighbor, your neighbor is now connected to the infected office worker that your son’s girlfriend’s mother shook hands with. This sounds silly, it’s not.
It is hard (even for me) to conceptualize how on a population level “one quick little get together” can undermine the entire framework of a public health intervention, but it can. I promise you it can. I promise. I promise. I promise. You can’t cheat it. People are already itching to cheat on the social distancing precautions just a “little” — a short playdate, a quick haircut, or picking up a needless item from the store.
Professor Smith says: don’t do it. Don’t cheat on the social distancing guidelines. You can’t cheat a pandemic.