The analogy is by all means imperfect. I will point out some of the ways it is imperfect. But I do believe it will help folks who might not understand yet some thing about the nature of COVID.
We keep talking about flattening the curve and how once it starts going back down things can open back up. I think when it comes to basic biology that’s a mistake. And I am open to you, dear readers, pointing out any errors here. Hey, I was the Education/English major who ended up in Communications/Mass Media for my BA, then to Music Business and Recording. Science was NOT my strongest field in school. (However I have always had a vast interest in it, if only it they didn’t insist on turning it into a foreign language. But that’s another topic.)
I am also a homebrewer who has written about beer for many years. But I admit I am a generalist in almost all fields, including brewing. I think that’s why some analogies I use can work well helping others understand. Not all. Ask my wife.
How is beer yeast like COVID?
Quite a while ago I had trouble fermenting a 5 gallon batch. Frustrated I turned to what was one of the first super yeasts for homebrewers: WLP 99. WLP 99 can brew up to 25% alcohol, or 50 proof, for you hard liquor folks. At the time it had an incredibly high tolerance, though now I think they have yeasts that surpass 99: a yeast named by Max Smart’s brilliant partner Agent 99 back in the 60s.
Yeah, I couldn’t resist that one!
Anywhosie, I was fermenting with mango, I think. I couldn’t stop the yeast. As my old friend, now sadly gone, Mike Semich said: “That’s not higher alcohols. 25%, and you got there!”
Now imagine a very nasty wild yeast that has no upper limit as long as we keep feeding it. Oh, just in case you’re not quite following we are what it feeds off of. If we just open back up, come out of our hidy-holes, the ‘yeast’ will start going crazy on us again. In fact there’s a possibility it will become more aggressive, even nastier, than it was before due in part to mutation… which kind of takes us away from brewing a little.
The analogy breaks down even more after that: and NOT in a good for us way. Beer yeast is NOT a virus. Yeast in general can be beneficial or somewhat of a parasite. This is why if you’re in a hospital with a breathing tube you might get swabbed with something called Nystatin which kills excessive yeast, or at least stuns it. Any beer yeast will eventually top out given the right conditions as it ferments. Usually, by no means always, beer ferments in controlled environments. But COVID isn’t in a controlled environment. It jumps from food source to food source. And when it feeds we are COVID’S Golden Corral that’s open 24 hours with its endless buffet: black, white, rich, poor… everyone.
If COVID was more like the typical flu we get shots for it might not be so dire a situation. But COVID-19 is very, very aggressive and it’s very dangerous to susceptible groups of people, and even those we wouldn’t think would be all that susceptible. So aggressive it is crippling health care systems, the same systems that those of us not infected may need for heart attacks, accidents, appendixes: ANYTHING that that can bring us to a hospital. It spreads so fast. In a Smithfield processing plant in South Dakota where one worker came down with COVID. They closed it down for 3 days, sanitized it, and shortly after they opened they were up to almost 300 cases. At least 300 cases. They’re still tallying how many more last I heard.
Right now the only real limitation is isolation, distance. Other future limitations: herd immunity, and science: vaccines and advanced treatments. All of which will take time to develop. We’re not there yet. There is one more limitation to COVID I can think of: mutating in the most horrible ways. That’s lead down an all too a black plague-like as it spreads. This path is a constant theme of disaster and SciFi films like On the Beach. That film was about extermination, unlikely here unless COVID mutates in the worst way.
So let’s not try our best not to do that, OK? Do what must be done. We really can’t afford to do otherwise, right?
Inspection is a column that has been written by Ken Carman for over 40 years. Inspection is dedicated to looking at odd angles, under all the rocks, and into the unseen cracks and crevasses, that constitute the issues and philosophical constructs of our day: places few think, or even dare, to venture.
Ken Carman and Cartenual Productions
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