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Dear Editor,

What protection can we have against COVID-19?

First: do we want to protect ourselves or others?  It might seem obvious that we would protect ourselves. But many people don’t bother to do so – until they realize that getting COVID-19 themselves would endanger their relatives and friends.

Our safety is most affected by what people in our own circle do – but when we’ve done what we can in our circle, consider the next circle out: those people who come in contact with people in our circle.  Looking at that and then the circle outside of that, wouldn’t that cover the whole world?  Yes.  Let’s take a break from contagious diseases for a moment to consider a different example: clean air.  By the time the Iron Curtain fell, western Europe was far ahead of eastern Europe in cutting air pollution.  The first steps yielded big gains for relatively little money.  (We compare that to “low-hanging fruit” that you can reach without a ladder.)  The more steps they took, the more difficult the next step would be.  Air doesn’t stay in the country that polluted it, so western European countries invested in helping eastern Europe clean up the low-hanging fruit of its air pollution, because that cleaned up their own air for less money. Likewise with pandemics: COVID-19 anywhere can eventually come here.

(Which means the small amount the U.S. is investing in the COVAX program is well invested.)

How do we protect ourselves and others?  To the masking and distancing and staying apart, we are now adding another layer: getting vaccinated.  For now, vaccination is just another layer, not a replacement.  All of these work the same way: as if you could command weeds “Don’t make any seeds!” and they wouldn’t pollinate.  Almost as if you’re being attacked by a bear or panther and command “Sit! Stay!” and the animal does.  These all slow the spread.  The difference is proper masking and distancing and vaccination work the best.

We are already gaining on the virus, aren’t we? Yes, the situation in West Virginia and USA is better than it was. But this is precarious because of “variants” – mutating viruses that get past our defenses more readily.

We worry about COVID-19 variants crossing geographic boundaries, as we should.  But they don’t just “come here”.  Any mutation that appeared in England, or Brazil, or South Africa, or New York, can pop up anywhere else, because they all start from the strain recognized in Wuhan in December 2019, which is now everywhere.  It mutates many ways.  (We probably haven’t identified the worst variants yet).  It can only mutate when in replicates, and it has to be in a flesh-and-blood body to do that – so slow the spread!

(Also protect animals that can catch COVID-19, we don’t want the virus mutating in them either. But people first.)

In memory of Carole Jones. She appreciated my writing. I think she would have liked this.

Jim Lowther

Auburn, W.Va.