Everyone’s an Epidemiologist. An Essay by Clare O’Dea

We can’t talk about anything else. So we talk about this. On WhatsApp, on Zoom, on Skype, on the sofa, we debate and evaluate. We watch the numbers climb and we analyse. Compare, contrast, comment. And time moves so slowly.
And oh, Italy.
A French minister drew a diagram on television, pen and paper in studio. Flattening the curve, he said, from The Lancet. Now we are all in this together, flattening the curve.
A Swiss minister uses the English words, social distancing. We quash the reflex to shake hands, to kiss, to hug. We stand back from each other, one metre, then two metres. But we talk and talk and always the same subject – hot spots, droplets, exponential rise, self-isolation, herd immunity.
And oh, Italy. Oh, the humanity.
When will the surge come? Discuss. How many ICU beds are there in the country? I know this one. We need ventilators, more PPE. We need to clap, to connect, make soup for each other. Bake and cook and talk and talk. Wash your hands.
Funny Italian mayors shout at their townsfolk. But it’s not funny. Pictures of patients lying prone. They can breathe better that way. Conversations about death rates, about age groups, about respiratory distress.
And have you seen what Sweden is doing? Knowing numbers off by heart, comparing curves for different countries in charts in the FT, no pay wall now.
And oh, Italy. Poor Italy.
But why Italy? Because they embrace so much? Because they are too old? The generations mixing. Because they love life, and each other? Or is it the China connection?
Who can help us now? The WHO can help us now. Test, test, test. Self-isolation. Wuhan, Hubei province. The wet markets. Things and places we didn’t know before we were epidemiologists. A mysterious new pneumonia, December 31st. Forty-one cases. Then more and more and more. Another world, our world.
I wouldn’t like to be in the UK right now. Have you seen what’s happening in Spain? Intubation, testing kits, field hospitals, asymptomatic. Our new language. Pass the hand sanitiser. Masks and gloves, funny looks. Spitting in the street.
We are fluent in numbers now. This and that per capita, death rates, 80 per cent, 1 per cent, 14 more deaths, 200 new cases, over 70s. Infecting 2.6 people. Patient number 1, 2, 3.
Front line workers, essential workers. Not all heroes wear capes. Stay at home. Seasonal flu, global emergency. Novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2 to you.
Oh Bergamo. Oh Madrid. Oh New York.
Listening to the science. Eating and drinking the science. Phase 2 trials. Cocooning. A vaccine. Bleiben Sie bitte zuhuase. Please stay at home. And talk and talk. And time moves so slowly.


Clare O’Dea is an Irish author and journalist living in Switzerland. She has written two non-fiction books, The Naked Irish: Portrait of a Nation Beyond the Clichés (Red Stag Books, 2019) and The Naked Swiss: A Nation Behind 10 Myths (Bergli Books 2016 & 2018). https://clareodea.com/


1 Comment

  1. Love the writing. Wish the text were darker / more contrast – difficult to read for old eyes.

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