Opinion: Finding Meaning


Knowledge Conquers Fear


By Skip Hellewell

The Beautiful Wife and I, thinking to reduce our novel coronavirus exposure, stayed on in little Midway, Utah. We didn’t consider that influenza viruses do best in the cold, dry mountain air here. Perhaps that is the difference, but we have several cases here while temperate Laguna, a much larger city, doesn’t appear to have any at the moment. We’re following the recommended steps: hand washing, social distancing, home staying, while learning about this new plague.

COVID-19 frightens because of its unknown dimensions, but knowledge conquers fear. Our first lesson came from reading about the cruise ship Princess Diamond, quarantined for about a month off of Japan with 3,711 crew and guests. Though unfortunate for the passengers, their experience became a helpful experiment. How infectious is the virus? Extensive testing found 705 infected; about 19% of the people aboard. How about mortality? Eight died (several passengers remain hospitalized in Japan), all older than 70 years, or 1.1% of those infected. If 80% avoided infection while trapped on a ship, and almost 99% of the infected survived, COVID-19 isn’t as scary as we feared, though any loss of life is a loss to our world.

The next lesson came from the personal inquiry of Dr. Michael Levitt, Stanford biophysicist and Nobel laureate, though not an epidemiologist. Leavitt modeled the global data and found the disease following a bell-shaped curve lasting about two months. It’s encouraging to know the disease can be brought under control. The important fact isn’t the total number of cases, though much reported in the news. What’s important is the time it takes for daily new infections to begin declining after getting established—about a month according to Levitt.

As with Influenza A, there will be future waves of infection. But thanks to the unleashed genius of medical and scientific workers, we’ll learn to manage this better each time it comes around. Hopefully we’ll learn to act more like Singapore and South Korea, than like Italy or Spain.

The Beautiful Wife and I have lots of time here to read, and to write. I was moved by reading about astronauts describing the experience of seeing earth from space. It changes their perception of earth; they become “connected” to the planet as a whole, seeing nations and races as one. Jim Lovell, of Apollo 13 near-death fame, thought that he now knew what heaven looked like, because he was born there—here on Earth. Mike Massimino, who spend 23 days in space on the Huddle repair voyage, used similar words on viewing our planet from space: “This is what heaven must look like… I can’t imagine anything more beautiful than our planet from space… this is a paradise we live in.”

We’re grateful for the heroes fighting on the frontlines against the novel coronavirus; they put their lives at risk to save others. They set an example our nation can emulate. Despite the doom and gloom in the national media, life will go on—though it goes best when we all work, together, here in this paradise we share. There’s meaning in that. 

Skip fell in love with Laguna on a ‘50s surfing trip.  He’s a student of Laguna history and the author of Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach. Email:  [email protected]

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