Will Covid-19 add a new occasional garment to our wardrobes — the flusuit, an equivalent of swimsuits and raincoats for lethal flu season viruses threatening to turn pandemic?


'CAIRN' Celeste Roberge, postgutenberg@gmail.com

Celeste Roberge has been surprised to find that her sculpture series that is, to her, a reflection on geological time, has been interpreted as The Weight of Grief by the many who have found comfort and catharsis in studying it.  This one, photographed by pG at the Nevada Museum of Art, is ‘Cairn’ (1998)

Who could have imagined that World War III would have a virus on one side and all humanity on the other? 

Not as an April Fool’s Day joke but because it is a question as persistent as an earworm  in this pG  head, will we all be buying flusuits soon — stylish versions of Hazmat garments for winter respiratory viruses that turn deadly? Each one equipped with a replaceable, high-grade respiratory face mask, two layers of gloves, and stick-on/strip-off covering for feet — because Covid-19 is being spread on footwear, carried from the floors of supermarkets, and public transport and toilets?

If we all owned at least one of these, the way most of us do a swimsuit and raincoat, there would be no need for lockdowns. Everyone could keep doing their jobs and keep things running. Doctors and other professionals dedicated to keeping the rest of us alive would not be dying at a more tragic, alarming rate than — we suspect — in any war of certainly the last hundred years. There would be no chance of what we are witnessing: crash-and-fail grand slalom attempts to steer the world’s most powerful economies through near-total shutdowns of economic activity.

A flusuit could some day be the emergency variant of garments designed for the everyday ‘wearable computing’ or ‘body-borne computing’  that technologists have been anticipating for decades — clothing embedded with all the functions of smartphones and apps today, and a great deal more:

Body-borne computing is already a part of many people’s lives, in the form of a smartphone that helps them find their way if they get lost, or helps protect them from danger (e.g. for emergency notification). The next generation of smartphones will be borne by the body in a way that it is always attentive (e.g. that the camera can always “see” one’s environment), so that if a person gets lost, the device will help the user “remember” where they are. Additionally, it will function like the “black box” flight recorder on an aircraft, and, in the event of danger, will be able to automatically notify others of the user’s physiological state as well as what happened in the environment.

The array of sensors that they are expected to incorporate could perhaps include a few dedicated to detecting the presence of known or possible pathogens and set off alarms when these are found on the surface of a flusuit. 

We wouldn’t necessarily have to look like astronauts. Gym rats could show off their assiduously sculpted bodies in mostly transparent models.

Which of us living through the extreme social distancing and shut-in living that went global, this month, would not welcome the chance to climb into and zip up a flusuit to be freed to go anywhere, and from endless handwashing and disinfecting chores that could soon be blamed by mental health experts for mass outbreaks of obsessive-compulsive disorder?

The scientists have been warning us for years that global warming would make pandemics more common. A 2008 paper on the subject by the U.S.’s National Institutes of Health cited, among other evidence, the research findings of Nils Stenseth of the University of Oslo:

Using data collected twice annually between 1949 and 1995 in Kazakhstan, a focal region for plague where human cases are regularly reported, Stenseth and colleagues determined that Y. pestis prevalence increases dramatically in its primary host, the great gerbil (Rhombomys opimus), during warmer springs and wetter summers (Stenseth et al., 2006). Rodent populations also tend to increase under these conditions and, along with them, the possibility that plague will be transmitted to humans. Analyses of historical climate variation, as reflected in tree-ring patterns, suggest that similar warm, wet conditions existed in Central Asia during the onset of the Black Death in the fourteenth century, as well as in the years preceding a mid-nineteenth-century plague pandemic. As Earth’s climate warms, warmer springs and wetter summers are expected to become more common in Central Asia (as well as in North America) therefore raising the possibility that plague activity—and therefore the potential for epidemic disease—will increase.  

Each country would of course have to build its own flusuit fabrication factories to wean the world of its over-dependence on China’s low-cost manufacturing, whose risks — including the inability, elsewhere, to manufacture protective equipment for medical workers, testing kits and ventilators — have been redlined by Covid-19 as nothing else has or could. 

In the meanwhile, here is pG’s recommendation for a fragment of song to hum (three times, slowly and defiantly) for the essential 20-second soap-and-water routine for decontaminating hands. It’s from ‘The Future,’ Leonard’s Cohen’s uncanny 1992 classic:

… And now the wheels of heaven stop

You feel the devil’s riding crop

Get ready for the future 

It is murder

Things are going to slide

Slide in all directions

Won’t be nothing 

Nothing you can measure anymore

The blizzard, the blizzard of the world 

Has crossed the threshold

And it has overturned

The order of the soul … 

3 thoughts on “Will Covid-19 add a new occasional garment to our wardrobes — the flusuit, an equivalent of swimsuits and raincoats for lethal flu season viruses threatening to turn pandemic?

  1. The idea of a suit like that does remind me of what’s worn by a woman on the cover of the copy of Philip K Dick’s ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” that I read.
    Or what’s worn by David Bowie in flashbacks to his home planet in the film, ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’. In the 1980 tv adaptation of ray Bradbury’s ‘The Martian Chronicles’, I’m sure I remember the indigenous Martians wearing something similar.
    It all seemed exotic to watch, back then. Not sure I could get used to wearing one.
    I’ve had a smartphone for a year, but never use it, never carry it with me, always turned off.
    I remember that Leonard Cohen song, and those lyrics, but never imagined them applying so soon, if they do.
    One of the earliest novels that caught my imagination, aged 15, was Stephen King’s The Stand, where a superflu, a constantly shifting antigen virus, escapes a US military laboratory, and spreads worldwide. It gets nicknamed Captain Trips and kills most people. The survivors split into 2 camps, one on the side of God who gather and live in Boulder, Colarado; the other on the side of Satan, The Dark Man, The Walking Dude…who gather and live in Las Vegas. I remember King stressing in the novel that the technical, technological people would mostly go to the Las Vegas side. That they “would have the lights back on first”.
    Then the two sides go to war. I noticed Stephen King telling fans of The Stand a couple of weeks ago, on Twitter, not to worry…that Covid19 is far less deadly then the superflu in his book.
    The Florence plague that Boccaccio’s protagonists in The Decameron are attempting to evade had a 40-60 per cent death rate. If Shakespeare wrote Macbeth in quarantine, that makes me wonder what his contemporary Cervantes was getting up to at the same time, apart from losing one arm in a sea battle.
    So much literature is set around plagues and quarantines, from Camus to Garcia Marquez.
    As of March 17th, Oxford University’s Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine has the worldwide Covid19 death rate (or Infection Fatality Rate – IFR) at between 0.1 to 0.26 per cent.
    “Taking account of historical experience, trends in the data, increased number of infections in the population at largest, and potential impact of misclassification of deaths gives a presumed estimate for the COVID-19 IFR between 0.1% and 0.26%.*”
    “It is now essential to understand whether individuals are dying with or from the disease. Understanding this issue is critical. If, for instance, 80% of those over 80 die with the disease then the CFR would be near 3% in this age group as opposed to 15%. Cause of death information from death certificates is often inaccurate and incomplete, particularly for conditions such as pneumonia. These factors would act to lower the IFR.
    Antibody testing will provide an accurate understanding of how many people have been infected so far, and permit a more accurate estimate of the IFR.
    We are currently tracking excess mortality (Assessment of Mortality in the Covid-19 outbreak to understand this phenomenon) to determine how many excess deaths occur during the pandemic. Accurate data on deaths and cause of death (which is not forthcoming) is vital to determine the effect of the COVID pandemic.”
    A great deal of detail about how they arrived at that figure is outlined at this link –
    If Oxford’s data analysis is correct, and IFR is 0.1 – 0.26 per cent, then that could be compared/contrasted with the usual general seasonal influenza IFR of 0.1 for example.
    Or, of course, with bubonic plague, having an IFR of up to 60 per cent, historical sources imply.
    In this instance, the country-breaking, or world-breaking effects of Covid19, seem not to be due to death rate, but to hospitalisation rate, pitted against an unpreparedness in health care systems for such a rate.
    That hospitalisation rate, and length of stay required, seem to be the world-breaking factors.
    Along with loss of civil liberties, the possible ushering in of mass technological surveillance, a new great depression, etc etc.
    As the Imperial College report that influenced UK govt policy stated, more or less (I read it in full but that was last week), no one knows what the social/psychological effects of locking down a whole country will be because it has not been tried before. The report also stated that even if lockdown was kept up for 18 months, there would be no assurance of it working, and that this was a strategy that would only be ended by a vaccine.
    It’s been fun reading the counter-reports from leading American schools disagreeing with the Imperial Report…and reading the myriad of conspiracy theories surrounding all these events…
    The United Nations rapporteur was interviewed on Sky News today, they are very worried about erosion of civil liberties in many countries, using covid19 as an excuse, as Orban in Hungary.
    What the UK, asked the English interviewer. “Well, ” replied the Irish rapporteur (I will attempt to paraphrase from memory), “we did find it worrying that a 300-page bill was produced in response in a few days, detailing draconian laws…when that happens we usually think immediately that such a document must have been one prepared long before, awaiting an opportunity for implementation.”

  2. I was sure you’d have something unusually fascinating to tell us about a sci-fi-fi classic, and was right. I’m going to have to read The Stand.

    Here’s a neurosurgeon and author, Henry Marsh, writing on the FT.com site a few days ago — a piece for which they’ve taken down their pay wall — with an estimate of 1.0 and not 0.1 per cent for a death rate, but heavily qualified:

    ‘Now there will almost certainly be large numbers of patients who need ventilation, even though the mortality of the virus is probably only in the region of 1 per cent. (This figure is very uncertain, as we simply do not know how many asymptomatic cases there may be in the population or how many patients currently in hospital will go on to die.)’


  3. Yes, an excuse for suspending civil liberties — then, for our kind, this in addition:

    ‘Internet Archive accused of using Covid-19 as “an excuse for piracy”
    The “National Emergency Library” has made 1.4m ebooks freely available, many by current bestsellers, and sparked outrage from writers’ organisations’

    ‘In a fiery statement, the Authors Guild in the US called the decision appalling and said it was “shocked that the IA would use the Covid-19 epidemic as an excuse to push copyright law further out to the edges, and in doing so, harm authors, many of whom are already struggling”. Writers around the world have faced cancelled book tours and loss of freelance work during the crisis, while many bookshops have been forced to close.’


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