Opinion: At wits’ end with pandemic of illogic

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it many illogical side effects, such as panic shopping, but confusing messaging from authorities can also seem illogical. Photo by Wesley Tingey.

The following is a submitted opinion piece in response to recent Kingstonist articles. The views and opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Kingstonist.

“A positive case at a school does not mean the individual was exposed to COVID-19 at the school. They may have been exposed somewhere else in the community or outside of the KFL&A region.”  — Kingstonist article ‘Two new cases of COVID-19 at LDSB schools.’

With respect, this is empty verbiage. Sure. It “does not mean” that. But in absolutely equal measure, it does not *not* mean that. A positive case at Lowes does not mean the individual was exposed at Lowes. They may have been exposed somewhere else in the community, for example at school.

First, we were told that schools could reopen safely with precious few adjustments because young kids could not catch COVID-19 (Insert eyeroll emoji here).

Short of having tested all or most kids (which was done nowhere), nobody was in any position to make any such assertion. Moreover, in the entire known history of viruses, sparing children would have made COVID-19 such a significant rarity as to make it virtually miraculous. Now, after 10 school kids have tested positive in the last week, six of them under nine years old — remember when we were told nine-and-under didn’t need to mask? — we are told that “most cases of COVID-19 are acquired in the home setting.”

LDSB reports two COVID-19 cases at separate schools: ‘No risk to students or staff’

Note, first, that “most” doesn’t mean “all,” but just 50 per cent plus one: That leaves lots of room for COVID acquisition in school settings.

But what I want to know is how anybody anywhere thinks they are in any position to make any such assertion.

There is one, and only one, way to know that any, much less most, cases of a possibly asymptomatic virus found in schools has not been acquired from a school setting: that would be to test everybody in every school setting daily, so that any contamination from outside of school could be immediately detected. This has nowhere at no time been done.

Even if in all 10 cases, contact tracing were consistent with COVID being acquired in the home setting — perhaps all 10 were children of people who attended our Mayor’s ex-church’s services that famously sprang an outbreak last week — that would still be consistent with COVID being acquired within a family from the school. It’s not rocket science: Kid-or-Adult from Family 1 catches COVID at church; contaminates at school Kid-or-Adult from Family 2; Kid-or-Adult from Family 2 contaminates home setting of Family 2 who also went to church, but were not contaminated there. How on earth would you possibly tell that Family 2 was infected from church, or “in the home setting,” or in the community, but not from school?

Absent universal testing, contact tracing starts with a sick person. Since kids are mostly asymptomatic, that sick person is likely an adult. The fact that we contact-trace back to a sick adult, therefore to a family setting, misses the obvious possible contamination of that setting by an asymptomatic child or adult from the school (In fact, one currently sick adult works in a school). The fact that we can’t tell that untested asymptomatic children or adults are spreading a virus in a school, is no evidence that they are not. Only testing everybody in the school daily could allow anybody to conclude that the original home setting contamination had not itself come from a school. Everyone everywhere is sharing air with people who are sharing air with kids in schools.

So the only way it even makes any sense to utter the words: “most cases of COVID-19 are acquired in the home setting” is if kids can somehow manage to catch COVID from adults or kids “in the home setting,” but somehow can neither catch it from, nor spread it to, adults or kids at school. If there is any evidence for this bizarre suggestion, provide it. If it were true, all cases, not most, would be acquired in home settings. If it were true, there would be zero reason for the school closures that occur daily worldwide, and no explanation for the surge in virus most everywhere when schools re-open.

Now, I am tolerating as well as the next person the potential assault on my immune system that the current pandemic imposes on me. Like most, I am taking steps to protect myself. What I am increasingly finding ever the more insufferable is the regular assault on reason that the current epidemic of thoughtless, illogical rationalization is imposing on our minds. How do we protect ourselves against that? A healthy rational mind can only withstand so many comforting contradictions from local “authorities” without losing confidence in them entirely.

I fully appreciate that we don’t know everything, or even very much, about our circumstances. I fully understand that authorities should wish to… What did Trump say? “not cause panic”? But more panic is spread among humans by illogic than by disease.

Better to say you just don’t know than to spout off bullshit (which term I use not for profanity, but technically).

The philosopher Harry Frankfurt distinguishes bullshit from lies this way: while the liar is concerned to communicate something false as if it is true, bullshitters are indifferent to whether what they communicate is true or false or devoid of sense altogether. It is this blithe unconcern that distinguishes bullshit artists; whether as a result they are merely amusing or a serious menace varies from case to case.

In the current circumstances, there is nothing redeemingly amusing about the bullshit claim that “most cases of COVID-19 are acquired in the home setting.”

As if it generates spontaneously from the mushrooms in the cold cellar. (Eyeroll emoji here)

Adèle Mercier is a Canadian philosopher, Associate Professor at Queen’s University, and fellow of LOGOS — Language, Logic and Cognition at the University of Barcelona, Spain. Mercier has previously discussed some of the issues surrounding logic and COVID-19 with Kingstonist.

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