So many unknowns


    WE remain fighting blindfolded, battling an enemy we cannot see, with “secret agents” we cannot identify, needing weapons to fight back but which we have yet to find.

    As we enter the fifth month of a year that has turned out to be far more stressful on body and soul than the last five previous years combined, the Philippines (and the world) can only keep pushing on in the absence of certainties, hoping that a scientist somewhere finds the magic bullet that either cures COVID-19 or immunizes mankind from its onslaught.

    ‘The only thing we know about this fight is that there is so much we do not know. And that, more than anything else, is what makes this struggle a most stressful one.’

    The only thing we know about this fight is that there is so much we do not know. And that, more than anything else, is what makes this struggle a most stressful one.

    Among the very little we know, we know that the enemy enters our body through the nose, throat, eyes or even ears. We can get it from droplets expelled by an infected person, or when we touch an item touched previously by an infected person and somehow transfer the virus from the item through our hand to our eyes or ears or nose or mouth. And this is why, after some debate, we are now all told: wear a mask in public. And wash or disinfect your hands regularly especially before you touch your face.

    But it seems that’s where what we know ends. Everything beyond that is speculation.

    When is a person infectious? Is he infectious before he shows symptoms, while he shows symptoms, or after he stops showing symptoms? If he is positive but symptomatic, is he infectious? Is he more, or less, infectious than someone with symptoms?

    When is someone deemed “recovered” from COVID-19? If he tests negative twice? But why do some test positive on the third attempt? More than being infectious, is a recovered person immune? For how long – for life? For years? For months or just days?

    How much is “viral load” a factor in infection? Does a sneeze spread enough of the virus to infect people within a radius? Does it matter if the location is an open field or a sidewalk rather than a classroom or an elevator or a plane? If everyone in the area is wearing a mask – is the risk of infection lowered? By how much?

    Is the only reason why infection numbers and fatalities from COVID-19 are very high in Western countries because they test far more of their population than we do? Or could it be possible that far less “sanitary” environments have somehow steeled some populations from the virus because their immune systems are more “exercised” or more active, explaining lower numbers in slum areas in many parts of the world?

    What if no vaccine is found in 12 or 18 or even 24 months, given that it took decades to find a vaccine for polio and that there remains no vaccine for HIV? What do we do? Will life as we knew it never return because the future will be more of the masked present?

    These are but a few questions that policy makers – at home, in corporations and in the public sector – must start seeking answers to. They are the questions that will help slowly peel off the blindfold that condemns us to groping in the dark. And maybe, because we now live in the Age of Information and the Age of Social Media, maybe it would be a good exercise to ask these questions and search for their answers as communities rather than as ad hoc committees that guard the products of their research with dear life.

    In this way we not only profit from the power of collective intelligence and creativity, we also ease some of the uncertainty that today envelopes millions and millions of people all over the world, to whom thinking beyond the next month of lockdown has become a luxury.

    There are so many unknowns. Let’s try to find the answers together.