Coronavirus is a national emergency, but let’s not do anything drastic

Email from the president of Harvard University:

I write to follow up on the message you received Wednesday from HUHS Executive Director Giang Nguyen regarding two members of our community who have been tested for Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). One individual received a presumptive positive test and is receiving medical care off campus. We await test results for the second individual. Additionally, a third individual who had close contact with the person who tested positive, is now being tested.

Ensuring the anonymity of these individuals is paramount. If you are aware of their identities, please respect their privacy so that they can focus completely on their health. The last thing they need—or any of us would want for them—is public attention and scrutiny.

So… it is an emergency, but preventing millions of deaths is not as important as keeping the names of the infected anonymous? If we’re in an actual emergency and lives are at stake, wouldn’t it make more sense to abandon the standard procedures and publish the names of the infected so that people who were with them can self-quarantine? Or, if anonymity is actually more important than stopping the spread of coronavirus, should we choose some description softer than “emergency”?

[Follow-up from March 15, after the governor of Massachusetts had declare a State of Emergency, ordered all restaurants and schools closed, etc.: “I write to follow-up on President Bacow’s recent message to the community. While we wait for additional test results, I continue to emphasize that the anonymity of these individuals is paramount. If you know their identities, please respect their privacy so they and their loved ones can focus completely on their health.”]

Similarly, on Friday, March 13, the Boston Public Schools decided to close for six weeks… but not start the closure until the following Tuesday (today, March 17). If the problem is serious enough to require a six-week closure, why open the schools on a single Monday after everyone has had a chance to pick up the virus somewhere over the weekend (if anyone needed to come the school to retrieve an item, that could have been done over a period of days, without gathering everyone together in close quarters for 6+ hours).

8 thoughts on “Coronavirus is a national emergency, but let’s not do anything drastic

  1. It’s interesting how every country is repeating the same mistakes as those that were hit a bit earlier. Nobody wants to learn…

  2. In this time of potential crisis, has anyone stopped to ask the covid-19 virus it’s preferred pronouns? Surely we don’t want a mere pandemic to infect our society virophobic hate-speech and bigotry.

  3. Alan Dershowitz weighs in. He thinks we should start following Tom Hanks’ example even if it means changing laws to do so.

    “Authorizing such involuntary disclosure of medical information might require amending existing laws, but that could be done quickly to help stem the imminent spread of the virus. This may be the best, or least worst, response to an important and very real conundrum in this difficult time.”

    • Change the law to out all the chinkipox victims is pretty funny in light of the many states recently decriminalizing the intentional spreading of AIDS.

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