Gasoline is under a dollar a gallon in some places. People are staying home in droves. The air is getting cleaner. Animals are reclaiming habitats. Sea turtles are laying eggs in record numbers. The collective technical skills of the nation have soared. Zoom has become a verb and a household word. “Dogs and cats living together.” (Just had to slip in one of my favorite lines from “Ghostbusters.”) Even so, more people are spending time in nature and around the dining room table with their families. Students are learning and teachers are teaching in ways that are new and different for many. The presidential race has been knocked off the news. It is Co-vid 19 information 24/7. Despite all of this change, the disruption in my retired life has been minimal. I don’t go to my monthly poetry group meetings, Saturday Master Naturalist classes, or lunches with friends. I only go to the grocery store when I need something and I wear a mask when I do go. I’m still making jewelry, reading, playing with the dog, observing birds, taking photographs, and writing. I’ve replaced some of my “normal” live educational interactions with Zoom webinars to learn about book publishing from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and from Audubon, more about birds. A pleasant change is I get to have lunch with Ken since he is working in his basement office.
This year living full-time in the United States for the first time in over two decades has been eye-opening. I have learned a lot about this country that I wasn’t aware of: the number of children and families who don’t have enough to eat is astounding; the number of people who live pay check to pay check is staggering; and the racial divide is wider than the Mississippi River. True, I live in the south, but from what is reported on the nightly news, these statements describe most areas of the U.S. In contrast to that bleak picture, it is heartening to see workers who are usually underappreciated being appreciated for a change. I am worried that Americans’ memories will be short and that once things aren’t so dire, they’ll forget about the store clerk and the teacher. They won’t remember how many students get free or reduced lunch and just how sketchy life is economically for small businesses and many, many families. I’m keeping my fingers crossed they’ll surprise me.
Along with improving their technology skills, the general public is getting an education on epidemiology. Since this is a fanzine/blog about words, let’s break that one down a bit. The suffix –ology means the study of. Epidemia is from the Greek and means prevalence of disease. For the uninformed, it could be a steep learning curve in terms of, well, terms. Isolation vs quarantine, for example. From the Latin, insalatus means made into an island. Quaranta means forty in Italian. The former means to keep the well away from the unwell while the latter means to wait it out alone to see if the person exposed to disease becomes sick. For pandemic and epidemic, we turn again to the Greek. The root -demic means people of a district. The prefix epi- means on, upon, near, at. The prefix pan- means all. An epidemic is a disease that affects many persons at once and spreads from person to person in a localized way. When you decide which word to use, it is a matter of scale. A pandemic is essentially an epidemic that has spread across many continents. As doctors discuss possible treatments and governors talk about medical needs, the words respirator and ventilator are frequently mentioned. Respirators are masks; ventilators are machines. Both deal with the respiratory system. –spir means breathe while vent stems from the Latin ventulus, “a breeze,” which comes from ventus, “wind.” (This is a good time to give a shout-out to Vocabulary.com. If you don’t know it, it is a great place to learn words. My students and I used it a lot.) Other words in the news are disinfect, virus, and vaccine. According to the online Cambridge Dictionary, the definition of disinfect is to clean something using chemicals that kill bacteria and other very small living things that cause disease. Hmm…that last bit makes me wonder about virus. Just what is a virus anyway. It causes disease; it’s a very small thing. Is it living? According to Encyclopedia Britannica: Virus, infectious agent of small size and simple composition that can multiply only in living cells of animals, plants, or bacteria. The name is from a Latin word meaning “slimy liquid” or “poison.” Viruses are powerful agents that can mutate and lie dormant in a living body. We also know it can “live” on surfaces for various amounts of time. Even so, viruses can’t reproduce without a host. Bacteria is different; bacteria can be killed; viruses cannot. It is impossible to kill something that isn’t living. So this is where it is a bit confusing. Viruses on surfaces can be killed; in your body, the virus is using your cells to reproduce and survive. The treatments must not kill the host cells to the point where the host is adversely affected. A vaccine is a medical treatment to reduce the chance of getting a virus. Back when doctors were fighting small pox, a vaccine was created using cow pox virus, so the word vaccine comes from vaccinus, vacca, Latin for cow. A vaccine uses a live, but weakened strain of a virus or a killed virus to help the host develop antibodies which builds immunity against the virus. Antibodies are disease fighters in our immune systems. Vaccines are developed to help prevent hosts from contracting the disease the virus causes. It takes quite a while to develop a vaccine. The virus and the disease it causes must be studied so that scientists can mimic it. Then the vaccine must be tested on host subjects to determine its effectiveness and to see if there are side effects. The world is impatiently waiting for a vaccine. The progress in developing one is moving forward at a rapid pace, where rapid pace means by year’s end. In the meantime, we can keep busy learning words.