Sure Covid Can Kill You, but Have You Ever Taken a Hot Shower?
You probably know Bob Wachter, a San Fransisco doctor who’s made a reputation by sort of understanding Covid, but not really.
There’s nothing remarkable about Bob.
He gives mediocre advice.
Consider this piece, where he talks about wearing a mask forever even though he routinely takes it off to eat indoors, and even at farmer’s markets if there’s not “enough people… to raise any concerns.” Bob also recently told us he takes his mask off during meetings in “non-crowded rooms.”
Bob acknowledges that protection from vaccines and boosters wears off after 2-3 months, but it doesn’t bother him much.
Well, guess what happened?
Bob got Covid.
Bob got incredibly sick, including night sweats. He passed out from Covid syncope in the shower. He woke up on the floor, bleeding.
Don’t worry, Bob’s future son-in-law (a medical intern) drove him to the hospital, where a CT scan revealed bleeding on his brain plus a cervical (neck) fracture. He spent the night undergoing tests and taking anti-seizure medication. Since Bob is a senior medical professor, he got the best care from the medical center where he works. Honestly, Bob couldn’t have gotten luckier.
Bob talks about all of this in a folksy tone, as if it’s funny. His colleagues are indulging this, because they want everyone to believe Covid is a joke, even though it’s currently collapsing Japan’s hospitals.
Well, I’m not Bob.
If I wind up passing out from Covid, I’m not going to get treated like Bob. I’m going to spend hours in a crowded ER. An overworked, exhausted staff probably won’t check me for any spinal injuries. They’re going to stitch me up as fast as they can, send me home with a bleed on my brain, and charge me $50,000.
Then I’m going to die.
Covid won’t end up anywhere near my death certificate. I’ll go down in history as a dumb wine mom who tripped in the shower.
That’s how privilege works.
That’s what Bob doesn’t understand. He seems to think everyone has access to the same kind of healthcare he got.
Bob’s own words: “I could easily have taken out an eye, been paralyzed from my spine injury, or died of a subdural bleed.” He admits that his hospital admission probably would’ve been counted as “with” rather than “from” Covid—a trick that health bureaucrats have used to fudge case counts.
“I don’t think it’ll change my behavior.”
Bob doesn’t blame Covid, or himself.
He blames the shower.
Bob still doesn’t get it. He could’ve passed out anywhere. The same mind that brought you “it’s safe to eat indoors” now brings you “It’s okay to get Covid, as long as you don’t take a hot shower.”
Maybe you think we shouldn’t go so hard on Bob here. He’s a nice guy. He’s sort of trying to do the right thing, but not very well.
That’s the point.
Bob is the face of moral mediocrity. He’s nice. He does the right thing sometimes, when he thinks it’s necessary. He enjoys all the benefits of pretending to be a decent, intelligent human being.
Here’s the thing.
I’m going to be hard on Bob. He’s not some average dude. He’s the chair of medicine at a major university. He should know better. He should be encouraging better behavior, and he should be leading by example.
It sounds reasonable to wear a mask sometimes.
It’s arrogant and naive to think he can eyeball a restaurant or a supermarket and decide whether or not it’s safe. We already know that roughly half of all viral spread happens without any symptoms. It’s common sense to wear a good-fitting N95 mask in public, all the time. We know that humans don’t do things perfectly, but there’s no reason to start off with a low bar.
It’s the most stubborn form of wishful thinking to believe you can tell what’s safe based on hunches and educated guesses. That’s not how viruses work. It’s not how public health should work, either.
Bob says he has no idea where he got Covid, as if that exonerates him. It doesn’t. Bob has been engaging in risky behavior for months now. He hasn’t been cautious at all. He could’ve gotten Covid from a restaurant. He could’ve gotten it from a store. He could’ve gotten it from a meeting. There’s a very good chance he infected people with Covid before he started feeling sick.
It’s not moral to infect people with a virus.
Around the country, people who wear a mask all the time are being harassed, even assaulted by their own families. We’re getting pushed out of the public. In some cases, we’re getting disciplined at work, even fired.
We’re gaslit all the time.
Bob doesn’t have to deal with any of that.
Bob has demonstrated that wearing a mask sometimes doesn’t protect you from anything. His strategy of eyeballing crowds doesn’t work. And yet, he says he probably isn’t going to change his behavior. He’s not going to be less cautious, but he’s not going to be more cautious, either. That means he’s willing to do all of this over again. He’s going to keep eating out. He’s going to keep eyeballing crowds and making half-educated guesses on what’s safe. He’s going to get Covid again. He’s going to infect other people. He’s almost proud to say it.
Thanks to wishy-washy Covid advice, the public thinks you can just sort of wear a mask sometimes and be safe. They think there’s some magic number of people in a room that makes a difference, when there’s not.
Do I think it’s funny that Bob almost died from Covid? No. Do I think it’s inappropriate to laugh it off while stating outright that this experience won’t have any influence on his future decisions? Yes.
I would be writing a different piece if Bob had something like, “I was wrong about Covid. My stupid ass passed out in the shower and I almost died. Don’t do what I did. It’s time to start masking up for real.”
But he didn’t say that. He said the opposite of that. He told an elaborate story. He framed it as a cautionary tale. But his caution wasn’t about Covid at all. His caution was about taking a shower when you’re sick.
I guess Bob has a point, but it’s not the headline.
Thanks to this kind of advice, the public doesn’t believe in masking. They think it’s sort of cute to have a brush with death. You can’t take anything seriously anymore, not even your own mortality.
Bob is openly encouraging millions of other people to engage in this same reckless behavior. It doesn’t look reckless. Bob comes off as such a nice guy. He seems grounded. He would never do anything to hurt us.
That’s moral mediocrity for you.
It’s doing just enough to convince everyone around them that they’re a good person, but not one bit more. It’s acting nice while doing whatever they want, and ignoring all the glaring evidence they’re wrong. It’s behaving like sort of doing the right thing sometimes is all you can expect of someone. It’s expecting everyone else to settle for them only sort of trying to do the right thing when it’s convenient.
It’s being wrong, and still not changing their behavior because they think there’s always going to be someone to save them. It’s gently suggesting that if anyone calls them out, they’re the bad guy.
I truly wish everyone could be responsible for their own Covid risk. It would make our lives a lot easier. Unfortunately, that’s a lie cooked up by the privileged. As long as this moral mediocrity continues, we have to go above and beyond to protect ourselves and our families, and then get blamed for it.
Thank you, Bob.