Public health scholar Dr. Jennifer Nuzzo writes that closing down our schools is not a proven strategy to deter the spread of the scary coronavirus, especially since it looks like children are the least likely to contract it.
Shutting down civic, entertainment and sports ceremonies and rituals might depress people as much as it saves some — and those who are the most at risk, the elderly, attend fewer of those in any case.
But Nuzzo adds an interesting caveat that pertains to our consistent topic: getting ourselves outside and away from closely packed classrooms (and eventually onto the local trails!).
She notes that schools can seat students farther apart when the classroom size permits, and adds, “As the weather warms, classes can be taught outside.”
Santa Barbara-area schools have no excuses regarding the weather, despite some rainouts in early March. As a 45-year classroom teacher, I’m quite aware that it can be more difficult to control the students outside, but it can be accomplished with high energy and captivating lesson plans.
Let me be the first to point the obvious out to you: On the trail, you never have to shake hands! Social distancing is easily achieved by telling all of your hikers to keep 10 feet between and don’t get close, and anyway, there might be rattlesnakes.
Locally, I’ve been out a lot on frontcountry trails lately, and there are more hikers on the move right now, especially families with young children on the weekends. Now, with daylight saving time in effect, we have another segment of time — 5 to 7 p.m. — to get outside with the kids during the week. Take the dog, family friends and church groups.
All you have to do is get started, then with good health the juvenescent energy kicks in, and off you go up the hill into a brief ecstasy of deep time.
Our grandparents heard all about the worst known pandemic in history, the 1918 Spanish flu that reportedly killed up to 50 million humans. It was an earlier version of the 2009 swine flu epidemic, an H1N1 influenza virus.
One key factor in spreading the Spanish flu was World War I, which moved vast bodies of (mostly) men around the world. More than 3 million Commonwealth soldiers and workers aided British soldiers in WWI, including a huge number from India, for example.
A major infestation area was the Army camp at Étaples (France), which had more than 100,000 soldiers moving through it per day. It had poultry farms and a piggery, and the theory is that the mutated virus went to birds to pigs then to humans via the hundreds of thousands of soldiers who spread all over the Earth after the war.
One of the undeniable results of an increasingly “tech” civilization — one supporting nearly 8 billion humans and their vast herds of cattle and pigs — is that things are faster, more fluid and instant yet fragile, and necessarily more frail.
Jaron Lanier pointed that out nine years ago in You Are Not a Gadget. He easily showed that self-driving cars controlled by a complex central algorithm would be better for humanity and the planet in almost every way: less pollution, less wait time on the freeway and fewer accidents.
At the same time, one madman or Artificial Intelligence-gone-rogue can also influence the system at the twisting of a single toggle. In an instant, there would be millions of accidents and incidental mayhem on Highway 101, Interstate 5 and on streets throughout downtown Santa Barbara.
For many of us, the idea that humans have achieved remarkable technological progress means there has been commensurate moral/ethical progress.
Steven Pinker falls into this reasoning. The ugly history of human wars throughout the bloody 20th-century ties to the ridiculous notion that moral and technological “progress” somehow possesses linkage.
Just think of WWI (have you seen the movie 1917 yet?), the Japanese invasion of China in the mid-1930s (read The Rape of Nanking), World War II and the Holocaust, Korea, Vietnam, the first Persian Gulf War, Afghanistan, the 2003 Iraq invasion, etc.
Globalism impacts the entire planet in many distinct ways; let’s just call this whole scenario the Anthropocene: the 8 billion humans, the elaborate transportation and food systems hauling us and our products all over the place, the explosion of screens, and the increasing urbanization that squeezes so many of us together too tightly (have you seen Parasite yet?). So we return to outdoor walking and hiking as a partial antidote to the “quarantine society” developing right in front of us every day.
It is useful to reiterate the obvious at times, and at heart I am a school teacher and trail leader. We must all:
» Wash our hands with soap and water.
» Avoid touching our eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.
» Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
» Stay away from work, school or other people if you become sick with respiratory symptoms such as a fever and a cough.
Yet, we also need optimism and positive recommendations along with admonition: Get out there and hike free, far from quarantine and crowded venues!
Embrace the idea of relative solitude from crowds of others, and remain aware that this also means you aren’t near other folks sneezing and touching rails and knobs that you will also be handling.
As children especially feel the negative aura of a quarantine society, getting them outside and on the trail seems an ideal solution. Parents, find the time and take the children out there today!
» Jennifer Nuzzo, “Closing Schools May Not Help” in The New York Times, March 11, 2020, p. A25. Nuzzo is at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. Jaron Lanier, You Are Not a Gadget (2011). Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature (2011).
— Dan McCaslin is the author of Stone Anchors in Antiquity and has written extensively about the local backcountry. His latest book, Autobiography in the Anthropocene, is available at Lulu.com. He serves as an archaeological site steward for the U.S. Forest Service in the Los Padres National Forest. He welcomes reader ideas for future Noozhawk columns, and can be reached at email@example.com. Click here to read additional columns. The opinions expressed are his own.