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State of Mind: Cruising the COVID Information Superhighway

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We are fortunate that the internet has put vast amounts of information at our fingertips. Some of that information is even true. 

Where else could you find details on extremely important topics, such as “50 Famous Actors You Probably Forgot were on Grey’s Anatomy”? I mean, who knew that famous actors such as Bellamy Young, Clea Duvall, Scott Foley, and June Squibb appeared on that show? I didn’t. Or how about the site “Things You Never Knew About the Royal Family’s Unusual Eating Habits”? I’m sure that site was popular right up until Oprah’s recent interview with Harry and Meghan. Thanks to her, we all now know members of the royal family mostly feed on each other.

The internet really came into its own as a resource during the current pandemic. Many websites appeared that were designed to keep you informed about the details of this dreaded disease. You can recognize these websites from headlines such as “You know you have COVID if . . .” or “Sure signs you’ve already had COVID. . .” 

By just clicking “Continue” on these sites you are immediately connected with the knowledge of experts. The signs and symptoms of COVID are described one page at a time, so you can absorb the important details as you click through them at your own pace. After hours of clicking, you almost feel like an expert yourself. Along the way you might also learn you can lease a 2021 GMC Denali for $159 a month or all about the five worst foods for real men.

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You will learn from these sites that fever, fatigue, cough, joint and muscle pain, depression, headache, loss of taste or smell, diarrhea, and “brain fog” may mean you now have, or have already had, COVID-19, as opposed to, say, influenza, where the signs and symptoms include fever, fatigue, cough, joint and muscle pain, depression, headache, loss of taste or smell, diarrhea, and “brain fog.” 

But now the medical experts, along with a guy named Ivan, who lives in his pajamas in a basement apartment in Moscow and controls most of the internet from his laptop, are confronted by a new dilemma — the variants of the original coronavirus.

Merely listing the most obvious signs and symptoms of COVID-19 will no longer suffice. The future in dealing with this pandemic will require more research into extremely subtle signs and symptoms of the variants and more websites explaining how to distinguish the variants from each other. 

Suppose researchers discovered that a person suffering from all the usual signs and symptoms also had a subtle hankering for some tasty roast pangolin? You would know immediately that person is infected with the original coronavirus, which was traced back to a wet market in Wuhan, China, where pangolin was sold. 

As research into the variants continues, at some point in the near future you may see headlines like “You know you have the Brazilian variant of COVID if . . .” and then the website would go on to describe a symptom such as uncontrollable leg twitches brought on by listening to Samba music. And it might tell you that these leg twitches can be controlled by rapidly consuming several caipirinhas, along with information on where to purchase cachaça. Or that an urge to find and wear Carmen Miranda fruit hats is a reliable sign of being infected with the Brazilian variant of SARS-CoV-2 in addition to explaining that bananas are bad for you.

Another website might point out that you may have had the South African variant of COVID if you suddenly develop an affinity for wearing safari clothing. Or you long to own a 1955 Land Rover Series I. You might inadvertently start referring to Zimbabwe as Rhodesia. In rare cases, a person afflicted with the South African variant may develop a strong aversion to anyone who has the U.K. variant of the virus. And because the internet can adapt to your needs and desires, along the way you might learn how you can expand your collection of Ladysmith Black Mambazo albums.

And what about that U.K. variant? A website’s headline might read, “You know you have the U.K. variant of COVID if you start talking like Ringo Starr.” Or if you have a desire to drive on the left side of the road. You may suddenly “Mind the Gap.” And in serious cases you may have a strong desire to recolonize vast areas of the globe. (This probably accounts for the predictions by some experts at the CDC that the U.K. virus will become the dominant variant by the end of 2021.) And if you have the U.K. variant, you will certainly want to keep calm and carry on.

Much more research is needed. I’m sure that people at the CDC and Ivan are working on it right now.