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 …