Saturday, May 30, 2020

The Downsides to Getting Tested

Getting tested for the Corona Virus has few advantages for the individual.

Testing capacity for the Corona Virus is ramping up and they are starting to promote it more.  Here on our island, they are offering free testing at the convention center.  Should we go?  Turns out, there are reasons not to - maybe not good reasons, but reasons.   Testing might be good for society as a whole, but not for the individual.

A friend of mine is a former nurse, and I get a lot of medical insights from them, as well as the latest data and gossip.   They took me to task the other day for forgetting my mask in the Home Depot, so I was a bit surprised to find out they didn't get tested at the free testing clinic offered on the island.

Since there is no vaccine or cure for this virus, getting tested isn't likely to help you much if you are asymptomatic.  Even if there was a vaccine, if you have the virus, it is too little, too late to take it.  If you test positive but are asymptotic (or have mild symptoms) there is really little in the way of treatment they can prescribe, other than cold medicines and chicken soup and stay home.

But if you do test positive, perhaps you can prevent others from getting the virus, by quarantining yourself.  On the other hand, if you are staying six feet away from other people, wearing a mask when going out, washing your hands religiously, not touching surfaces if you can avoid it, and minimizing your outside contacts, you lower the risk of spreading or catching the virus.

In a way, it is like HIV testing.  If you get tested for HIV and come back negative, this doesn't mean you are clear to spend a wild weekend at the local bathhouse.  You still have to practice safe sex, if you want to avoid getting the virus - or transmitting it.  Testing negative can just give you a false sense of security.  Testing positive can give you a false sense of despair.

If you do get tested for the Corona Virus, and test positive, you may become somewhat of a leper. You may be forced to quarantine for 14 days and cannot travel to some other States (is that Constitutional?  Vermont's restrictions require you log in every day for 14 days, even if you don't have the virus!).  In other words, as cruel as it may sound, if you test positive, it really doesn't help you, but it may help the rest of us.

And if you test positive, you may be grilled as to where you have been and who you have seen. There is even talk of tracking people by cell phone, to see where they have been, or to make sure they stay in quarantine.  So from the totally selfish personal point of view, getting tested has a lot of downsides and no upsides.

By the way, this "contact tracing" nonsense was tried back in the days of HIV, and it really didn't work.   People having anonymous sex don't have the names and phone numbers of their contacts, and the threat of contact tracing was enough to prevent people from getting tested in the first place, making it a self-defeating effort.   Again, what turned out to be more effective was to simply assume everyone was infected and act accordingly.  The idea you could break down the population into haves and have-nots turned out to be specious in every regard.   Contact tracing simply didn't work then, and it won't work now.

For example, I was at Home Depot yesterday.  There were over 50 cars in the parking lot, maybe more, and just as many people inside.  During the day, probably hundreds went through there, touching things and whatnot.  Suppose one of those people tested positive for the virus?   How do you track down every single person who was in the store that day?   Maybe by credit card receipts, but that leaves cash customers out.  And do you really have the manpower to do that?   It is highly likely that there was one person in the store who was infected, every single day of the week, all month long, and next month and the month thereafter.   You'd need at a least a dozen "contact tracers" as well as a bank of phones and computers, working non-stop for the next three to four months, just for that one store.

It's just an idiotic idea, but then again, Governor "I sent the patients to live with your Grandma" Cuomo is the one pushing it, and as we have seen, he is full of [good ideas] all the time.  Maybe he can raise taxes even further in New York to pay for all this, or maybe all those unemployed people can become "contact tracers" instead of welfare recipients.  Gee, no wonder the taxes in New York are at least 400% more than they are in other States!   No wonder people are fleeing the State!

Throw in the difficulty of getting tested in some jurisdictions, and you start to see why many people are not bothering to get tested.  If you have to get in your car, drive to the health department, bring a note from your doctor, wait in line, and even pay for the test, then there is little incentive to get tested, as selfish as that may seem.  Funny thing, but people tend to do what is in their own best interests - realize this and you will be less outraged in life.

Testing may not stop the spread of the virus - or not by much.  What we learned from HIV was to assume everyone you meet has it and act accordingly.    If we do the same things with this virus, I suspect that would slow or eventually stop the spread, and in fact, is probably what is causing the gradual decline in new cases and deaths.  People not practicing safe distancing, as we saw this weekend, will probably lead to a spike in new cases and deaths.   But the risk to you of those people "acting stupid" is pretty low, unless you act stupid yourself.

You should expect a spike for another reason as well - increased testing.  Since 90% of the people who get this virus (particularly those under 60) never show any symptoms at all, it is to be expected that there are a whole lot of people who were infected or are infected and don't know it.   Once we ramp-up testing, it will show a huge "spike" in new cases, which doesn't represent, necessarily, a spike in infections, but a spike in detections.

Will this lead to new lockdown restrictions, more stay-at-home orders and quarantines?   Maybe, but then again, maybe not.  I think our "new normal" has already been reached.  People are going out again and going shopping (yesterday in particular!).   But most are being respectful and following the guidelines - wearing masks, staying six feet away from other people, washing their hands, using hand wipes, or wearing gloves.

Will this stop the spread of infection 100%?   No, no it won't, just as "safe sex" wasn't 100% effective in stopping the spread of HIV - but is was a heck of a lot better than doing nothing.  And as we discovered, you can't stop people from having sex, just as you can't stop them from socializing, shopping, working, or just getting out of the house.  The idea of perpetual lockdown just isn't workable.

What will be interesting, in the weeks to come, is whether a reliable antibody test can be developed, and if implemented, see how many people have had this virus already, which I am guessing is a very, very large number.   It would also answer questions about whether antibodies make one immune from further infection.  Some are speculating this is not the case, but offer no reasons why, nor can they point to the legions of re-infected individuals - or even one.  There is a small minority of voices who want to say this virus means the end of mankind as we know it - and provide no basis for this view, other than to spread fear and malaise.  Perhaps they are just Russian trolls - or useful idiots who are reading Russian troll posts and believing them.

There are always those pining for the end of the world - it is a common fantasy, as evidenced by the plethora of books, films, and television shows which have that as their main theme.  If the zombie apocalypse comes, well, I won't have to pay back those student loans!  And won't Mom and Dad be glad I spent countless hours in the basement playing Zombie First-Person Shooter on my Xbox console!  And they said I would never amount to anything!   Who's laughing now?

Of course, the religious types have the same fantasy - their massive credit card debts (caused by tithing 10% of their income to Pastor Cashflo) will all be wiped out when the Rapture comes!   My Jewish neighbors will be so chagrined to see me flying up into the sky to meet Jesus!  I''ll show them - I'll show everyone!   Oddly enough, the most common Christian fantasy about the "end times" is about being "left behind" which makes no sense to me - what's the point of all that praying and tithing, if in the end, you get the shaft?   But then again, people like that never make much sense to begin with.

No, this isn't the end of the world.  It is a virus, and all things considered, not as dangerous as other viruses we have had in the past, such as the Spanish Flu that struck worldwide, a little over 100 years ago.  We survived that, in an era where medicine was far more primitive than it is today.  Somehow, I think we will survive this, too.   Maybe not all of us, but most, and mankind in general.