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EDITOR’S NOTE: Dennis Schrock’s first-ever Courier column appeared on March 5, 2003, when he wrote about the reality television craze. One year later, on March 4, 2004, “Mr. Schrock’s Neighborhood” debuted, and Dennis wrote weekly columns every week thereafter, using quick analysis and smart insight to comment on our day-to-day affairs, human condition and quest to be our best. Dennis died in a car accident while driving home from Sioux Falls this past Sunday night; he was 71. His family found this, his final column, on his computer Monday morning and sent it to The Courier for publication. It is not finished and includes notes for reference, and is printed as he left it. RIP, Mr. Schrock. It has been an honor and a pleasure. We’ll see you on the other side. – jw

COVID-19: What have we learned?

Corona vs COVID-19

Human ability to deny reality is boundless.

Testing: every school child should have had a test.

If you want to be tested, become a pro basketball player.

No one knows who has it. You do not know if you have it or had it.

Everything is political. If you wear a mask, you are a Democrat.

Fear is still harmful; cautious respect is admirable.

The division of the USA into states is a positive

What is necessary in Connecticut may not make sense in North Dakota.

Toilet paper

• • •

What do we know?

It has been six months since the nation was turned upside down by a viral infection. Yes, only six months. It seems like a year, longer if you are confined to a residential facility. In the beginning, we knew very little about the disease. Every day scientific studies are revealing new facts, both positive and sinister. From a layman’s perspective, what do we appear to know after six months?

• This is not the flu. At the beginning, I heard people grumbling, “The flu kills 20,000 people a year and we don’t shut down businesses or cancel sporting events. No one gets crazy about hand sanitizer.” Now that the COVID-19 death toll has passed 180,000, it should be clear that we are wrestling with a bigger monster.

• If all Americans would get the flu vaccine, wash their hands regularly, use sanitizer and stay home when they were sick, the 20,000 flu deaths could be reduced dramatically. Asians wear masks during the flu season.

• We have all learned a new word. Can you spell “pandemic?”

• Nurses are heroes. Nurses have always been the front line infantry in the health industry. Their courageous service, particularly in major hot spots like New York City, has finally garnered them the level of respect that they deserve.

•  “Social distancing” is the new fashionable meme. It has roughly the same meaning as the old phrase, “I wouldn’t touch it with a 10-foot pole.”

• South Dakota is a good place to live during a pandemic. Except for the Black Hills, we are not a tourist mecca. For country folk, social distancing is a way of life. COVID-19 has finally arrived but it took most of five months. The only negative is that with our natural stubborn, independent prairie spirit, we have trouble following health rules.

• “Shelter in place” is the kinder, gentler way of saying quarantine. Fortunately, except for residents of retirement and nursing homes, no one locally has been confined in their house or apartment for six weeks. The lovely M and I merely had to avoid restaurants and big city stores for several months. Freeman met all our basic needs.

• Imagine “shelter in place” during the 1960s with three TV channels and no computers. “Distance learning” would be by mail and board meetings by telephone. I have grown even fonder of the internet, but am still not ready to wade into the mire of Twitter or Facebook.

• I am an “essential worker.” Aside from the honor, it means that I get to keep my job. It also means that I am daily exposed to a hundred people who may or may not have a virus with the potential to kill me. What an honor.

• The word, mask, does not appear in the Constitution of the United States.

• The spirit of denial is strong in South Dakotans. I regularly meet persons who still believe that COVID-19 is an overhyped version of the flu. (It is not even the same type of virus.) Ask a New York nurse if it is overhyped. Denial is a comfortable way of facing a scary unknown.

• Many people pick their information sources to confirm what they want to believe. That makes denial possible. Personally, I believe that a person with four years of undergraduate study, four years of medical school and seven years of practical residency with additional research in infectious diseases is a more reliable source of medical information than an Internet blogger or politician. In the information age, we will have to do a better job of teaching students how to evaluate sources.

• Toilet paper does not cure COVID-19.

• In the face of the new and unknown, we love to believe a juicy conspiracy theory. Many have been circulating. Have your heard, “The Chinese developed the virus to defeat Donald Trump.” That would mean that China poisoned the whole world, including their own people, to influence a foreign election. What a sloppy plot! Another theory is that they did it to cripple the economy of their best customer. It is a disease! They tend to follow their own random course.

• A brain surgeon can wear a N95 mask for five hours while performing delicate incisions and stitching, but a farmer might pass out if forced to wear a cloth mask for 15 minutes in a store.

• If you want to be tested for the virus, become an NBA player. They get tested daily. The worst fact about this disease is that no one knows who is infected. I really do not know if I have been exposed to or infected by this disease. In some persons, COVID-19 produces no symptoms at all. I may be spreading the disease without knowing it. You have to act as if you have it (thus the mask) as well as assume everyone you meet has it (hence the sanitizer, hand washing and social distancing.)

• Most plans for reopening schools and colleges require students to act in a manner that students never do. By rights, every student should have been tested before they were permitted to attend school. Frequent testing and prompt results is the best way to control the disease. Sadly, that is beyond our nation’s capabilities.

• Republicans are allowed to wear masks.

• How do disease control procedures become a political issue? Science has enough difficulty studying an unknown disease and rapidly changing tactics to meet new information without the burden of politics. The political issue, of course, is government money and how to spend it. In an election year, everything becomes political, even a simple face mask.