COVID-19 Smoking, Coronavirus change
Photo by Will Dabbs
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This is Part V in our “Front Lines” series with Dr. Will Dabbs. Before reading on about smoking and how it relates to COVID-19, be sure to check out the other parts in the series.

I’ve grown most thoroughly weary of COVID-19. It was novel and weird at the beginning. This disease was undeniably sinister and scary, but that gave it an edgy, exotic flavor. Now I’m just sick to death of it.

COVID-19, Tight Spaces, Smoking, and Change

At the end of the day at work my nose hurts from my mask and my headgear invariably gives me a splitting headache. I used to be able to roll around on the floor with some terrified kid and reliably make a friend. Now I look like some reject from a cheap 1950s sci-fi monster movie. I saw the most adorable little 1-year-old girl today. She took one good look and just screamed. Who can blame her? I’ve glanced in the mirror and given myself a start a time or two as well.

I thought I had seen it enough to get a feel for this thing. SARS-CoV-2 definitely has a personality. The afflicted wandered into the clinic a few at a time. Then everybody stayed home, and the flow dropped off. I thought briefly we might have actually bypassed the cataclysm. Then something weird happened this week.

Taking the Measure of the Monster

This monster really likes enclosed spaces. Everybody I have seen thus far caught it while inside a room or vehicle. Sometimes it was a really big space and the sick person was on the other side, but those who caught it were always cooped up with the beast. However, turns out this thing really, really loves crowds in enclosed spaces.

COVID took off in a local commercial business and got absolutely everybody. Folks who live with folks with no symptoms who work there now have this disease. The ease with which it burned through this one business is simply breathtaking. We undeniably need to get our country back to work. However, we cannot take our fingers from around the throat of this thing or it is still going to have its way with us. Wear your mask, wash your hands, and be careful.

We Americans don’t wait well, but I think this one is going to take a while. When we relax the restrictions and start mingling again some people are going to die. Not meaning to seem cold, but that’s nobody’s fault. It’s a bad disease. Those people are doomed anyway. I may end up being one of them. The only bit we can influence is the density. Spreading the pain out over time helps keep our hospitals alive. It’s a suck deal, but that’s the hand we’re dealt.

Unless You’re Dying to Get Sick With COVID-19, Stop Smoking

Is it floating in the air waiting to surreptitiously creep up your nose or lying in wait on the package of Double-Stuff Oreos you bought when your wife wasn’t looking? The fact that we have so little control is what makes this so frightening. There is, however, one thing that 14 percent of the population can do that will astronomically improve their odds should the ‘Rona come knocking. Will you people please finally quit smoking?

Ready to be shocked? As I type these words Avi Schiffman’s COVID tracker tells me that as of writing this, around the world 174,336 people have succumbed thus far to COVID-19, 44,342 of whom were Americans. In an effort at combatting this planetary menace we have effectively disemboweled the economic productivity of the entire human species. By contrast, in 2019 cigarettes killed some eight million people worldwide. Smoking claimed 480,000 souls in the U.S. alone, and we paid handsomely for the privilege.

I’m 54 years old, fit, and healthy with no medical problems. I saw another 54-year-old at work today who had logged his fifth heart attack. The difference between the two of us is literally 255,500 cigarettes; that’s a pack-a-day smoking addiction over 35 years. If that guy gets COVID-19, he is a dead man walking.

I have heard absolutely everything. I have a crappy job, my spouse is a jerk, I’m anxious about stuff, cigarettes help calm me down. Whatever. You think your life is tougher than mine right now? I deal with my problems without the noxious weed. This is the zombie apocalypse. It’s time to cowboy the heck up and stop buying cigarettes. You really cannot help it if you contract SARS-CoV-2 on a subway or in a bus. However, ain’t nobody gonna make you buy another pack of cigarettes but you. You can’t lose any substantial weight or cure your heart disease in the next week, but you can quit smoking and not get COVID-19 because of it. Don’t be an idiot.

When Everything Changed

You realize we are, right this very moment, living history? This is a transformative event that will be studied for decades to come. Before 9/11 your family met you at the gate in the airport and you went through a metal detector to board an airplane sometimes. After 9/11 we got queued up like barefoot bovines before being subjected to whatever the heck that big radioactive TSA machine actually does. 9/11 changed everything; coronavirus will be the same way.

My wife and I recently took a walk at our idyllic local park. Where in the past as we met someone on the track we would all render a vacuous smile and the obligatory constipated nod, nowadays everybody discreetly steps off the path to offer the government-mandated 6-foot berth. Now it appears we’ve become an entire nation of paranoid lepers drowning underneath a thin patina of sanitizing gel. That transformation occurred sometime in the past three weeks while we weren’t paying close attention. Like that big malevolent TSA machine, I’m not sure what’s done can be readily undone.

It’s going to be a long war. Our enemy is ruthless, relentless, and cunning. He has already killed one out of every 735 citizens of New York City. So quit smoking, keep praying, and stay focused and in the fight. Mankind will likely never shake hands again, but that’ll feel normal a year from now. For the time being, fear the ‘Rona—he’s still one shifty monster.

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