What Trump and Biden both got wrong about Covid, how to #BeSmarterThanAVirus and why it’s still important…

Sick of Covid? Me too… for a moment though, please forget you have ever heard of SARS-CoV-2…

At some point in the pandemic, I became frustrated with misinformation. Now I’m on my way to being almost as wealthy as Elon Musk. (Obviously, only one of those two sentences is true.)

As much as I would like to share with anyone reading this how I came to coin this phrase, why I applied for a trademark, how I’ve wrestled with giving in to my inner capitalist or how I may have finally found a way I could do so without suffocating my inner altruist- I won’t. I understand if people may be curious and want to know. After all, these are points that I often return to, even in my own mind. But I won’t. Instead, let’s just get to it- with the caveat that I am definitely not a writer… (so please be gentle if leaving a comment about the quality of my writing).

But first, a little about me- because anyone looking for me via The Google will actually stumble upon my intentional mess of a social media presence and a relatively long history of Internet use going back to 1991-ish. Much of it has been intentional- but it was never for other people’s eyes, really, but as a body of work that I would use for future analysis re: communicating context in online communities. (Seriously, don’t ask.)

So- here’s a few things you will not learn about me (via The Google) but which should provide sufficient context: yes, I’ve been in the military (three periods: 89–96; 04/02–11/02; 11/02–03/11), National Guard, Army Reserve and Active Duty Army- in that order); yes, I have an undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, a BA in Communication with a psychology minor (1995). Yes, I worked in technology- including some nifty roles in Silicon Valley mid-1990s to 2002- and was primarily self taught. Yes, I have been diagnosed with ADHD Inattentive Type, PTSD, anxiety, depression, agoraphobia- and am very open about all of it, including a post-service spinal cord injury as the result of an alleged assault. In addition, I’m a very religious and devout atheist who is either a centrally liberal who is conservatively independent or a liberally centrist independent conservative, I am LGBTQ but not out, and I am primarily home bound, haven’t worked since 2011. (I am retired, after all- but am now trying to start a business and [hopefully] graduate school- two things that have been on hold since my SCI.) And, lastly, I have Tweeted and included the hashtag #BeSmarterThanAVirus on so many posts that, well… I’m tired of doing it.

So tired, in fact, that after being hospitalized in late October 2021 due to complications from my spinal cord injury (and encountering misinformation throughout my hospital visit), I decided to put more effort into my “Be Smarter Than A Virus™” campaign. Since then, I’ve created Be Smarter Than A Virus, LLC, worked with several designers via sites like Fiverr and am waiting on at least one more update regarding trademark registration. Although BSTAV (Be Smarter Than A Virus in shorthand) already had a .com web presence with the assistance of Shopify- I felt the need to do some additional work such that I could tell a story that wasn’t just being told with words.

For example, BSTAV didn’t just magically appear. It’s actually part of a larger “campaign” (putting that word in quotes b/c I’m not sure if I’m using it properly in this context) that I am working on to bring attention to a variety of issues in such a way that it may reframe how some people may think of them. In addition, all of this relates to my undergraduate studies in communication (BA) and psychology (just a minor) that I completed in 1995, my interest in pursuing graduate school and research (in some area of communication and/or psychology) and a specific interest about communicating context, which I am going to start sharing with the world as wage my own battle with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and others for how they have treated me and likely millions of other Veterans with diagnosed ADHD. But that’s not all… in addition, I’ll also be trying to raise awareness about issues regarding equality, the UN Sustainable Development goals, medical marijuana legalization, the energy transition and the role between rhetoric, perception and behavior- especially in politics as I definitely support the idea of the US having multiple major political parties at the national and local levels because our current duopoly isn’t just a rigged system- but one that, by it’s very nature, doesn’t jive with reality. And, for what it’s worth, given my education, life experiences, personality, identity and interests- I think I’m pretty well qualified to write and share perspectives on all of these topics- even though I am definitely dealing with issues of imposter syndrome and my own mental and physical health challenges on this side of this- my first *planned* post on Medium.

So… how does this relate to SARS-CoV-2, Trump and Biden? What did they get wrong about Covid and how can I and my friends, loved ones and coworkers #BeSmarterThanAVirus and why is this even important or worth my attention?

Let’s take the low hanging fruit first…

In my opinion, as a lifelong independent- both Trump and Biden’s attempts at communication with the American public over SARS-CoV-2 have, amazingly, forgotten the role of politics.

I forget who I am quoting or paraphrasing here, if anyone, but to me the role of politics is communicate to people the power of possibilities… and how words, thoughts and ideas can indeed turn into real world stuff- through mechanisms of action like debates, voting and legislation. Maybe I’m naive, but that’s indeed my understanding of what politics *should* be about. (Instead, here in the US- it seems to be more about money, power- and various efforts at maintaining or increasing one or the other- or both.)

In my view, Trump used his power rather grotesquely. While I praise the Trump Administrations’ efforts with Warp Speed- and the truly helpful to society at large work many individuals engaged in behind the scenes- the rhetoric of the former President about Covid has been horrible- and because I know his supporters lash out at anyone and everyone who doesn’t support their dear leader, let me be more precise: Trumps’ rhetoric on Covid (“it’s just a flu” and so many more) has not been helpful. Worse, it was often flying in the face of objective reality.

Biden’s sin- by comparison- seems to be one of omission. Although I believe history will show- and accurately, that the Biden Administration has indeed made some very wise and intelligent moves with respect to Covid, I think many will agree with me that communication (at least until recently) hasn’t been their forte. In addition, although I am indeed a very religious and devout atheist, our current (and duly elected) President seems to intentionally avoid talking about the *politics* of Covid, or at least he did initially. My one wish in this area, and maybe he’ll do it some day, would be that he would communicate the following to citizens of the United States (and of the world) from the Oval Office:

“Yes, the previous administration lied about SARS-CoV-2. It isn’t “just a flu”- it is indeed a very tricky virus that can have a pretty horrific impact on the human body, even if the individual isn’t experiencing any symptoms. In addition, since it is a novel virus- preventing infection (as a way to avoid potential health complications in the future) is the approach we recommend, so please get vaccinated.”

So there, albeit briefly, is what I think both administrations have gotten wrong about Covid. This “error” is precisely what opened the door to things like debates about schools, masks, distancing- and so many other behaviors being essentially politicized- and we will not see the end of those debates for some time. Lost in all of that, unfortunately, is objective information about the thing people should be concerned about: SARS-CoV-2 and what, if anything, may happen *inside* a human body once infected.

In case you’re reading this and wondering why it’s important to even pay attention to Covid and it’s potential impacts to my body, well… let’s talk about that.

Not being a doctor, nurse or other licensed and practicing healthcare professional- I will avoid talking about the virus and it’s potential impacts to the human body as it’s really not something I am an authority on. But in my time as a combat medic in infantry- as well as with my lifelong relationship with healthcare, including my current personal context as someone currently in their ninth year of tetraplegia- I can tell you that there is A LOT about healthcare, mental health, disease, infectious diseases and basic anatomy and physiology that isn’t actually understood by the average person in America today- but there’s multiple reasons for that.

Regardless of the reasons, a more effective communicative stance from the beginning of the pandemic- and one I highly recommend in communication, generally- is the practice of “teaching up.” Which is to say, from the beginning of the current pandemic, I think it would have been incredibly helpful to many, especially those with little healthcare knowledge or literacy, to teach people about viruses, how viruses are different from bacteria, as well as the basics of how we know viruses do their thing. With that, given that the Covid-19 pandemic was because of a new virus, doing so would have set a rhetorical stance where the public would- on an ongoing basis- receive updated information as it develops and the culture of change (and the evolutionary nature of science) would have been embedded in rhetoric, perception and behavior.

In January 2020- specifically on January 19th, 2020, which was when I first read about the virus we now call SARS-CoV-2 in a BBC News article- I already had a decent working knowledge of viruses as a disease vector. That knowledge included common sense approaches to disease mitigation- such as masking and distancing. But it also included an awareness- by way of my knowledge of other viruses and evolving science about them- that some viruses, though the initial “disease experience” may be slight or barely worth mentioning, can and often do lead to health complications later in life. (In the event this is news to you, however, I would encourage reading- from legit and trusted sources- about HPV or EBV.)

We are now learning more about potential impacts of a Covid infection- and yes, even when the infected individual is asymptomatic. But rather than present a bunch of information to you here- information which is still evolving, I would encourage people to explore and engage on their own. (FWIW: I will try to share any significant (but verified) stories via BeSmarterThanAVirus.com and it’s social media presence; I’m including a few links with this story as an example.)

So what does it mean to #BeSmarterThanAVirus?
(Or… how can I and my friends, family and coworkers navigate Covid going forward?)

Using SARS-CoV-2 as an example, much of our current rhetoric- in the US and around the world, doesn’t seem to communicate to regular people going about their days information of the kind and quality people need. Instead, news tends to focus on trends- case rates, masking debates, this persons’ reaction- or that organizations’ reaction, etc- instead of the thing people need to know about in order to make informed decisions about risk and how to minimize theirs.

In addition- as someone who is actually excited about the energy transition, the UN Sustainable Development Goals and who is quite aware that one of THE biggest threats we face today in tackling these issues- as well as Covid and Climate Change- is misinformation, I really don’t want to be known for… selling t-shirts. Or selling anything, really, especially stuff that doesn’t actually make the world- or the people in it- better. (In the interest of full disclosure, when I started writing this article for Medium, the .com site hadn’t been open for purchases in months. However, having made progress on several fronts- I re-opened the .com for business on Friday, April 1st 2022. Fun fact though, the only shirts that exist today are ones I’ve purchased as samples. That should tell y’all something… but I hope it underscores that I’m not doing any of this for money.)

So… before I give in to my inner capitalist (but in an altruistic way)- I thought I would try one more time to share my mantra with “the world” in the hope it may be used as a tool for recontextualize people’s understanding of SARS-CoV-2, Covid and Covid-19, while promoting vaccines and encouraging common sense behavior appropriate to the context of a (STILL) ongoing global pandemic with a still novel virus.

#BeSmarterThanAVirus: The Background:

A current graphic, but I need to confer w/designer as it’s missing (TM) and something else…

Early in 2020/21, seeing that my friends were getting confused by Covid and vaccine misinformation- and well aware that I’ve sorted through my own misinformation experiences for 30+ years, I created a sort of a mantra to combat Covid misinfo. Using attribution substitution, it’s an attempt to recontextualize rhetoric about Covid away from the political and into the one thing that kicked off the pandemic: a virus.

Included below are are two samples of my mantra. (Note: The phrase “Be Smarter Than A Virus” has a trademark pending for clothing; I have not sought intellectual property protection for other uses.) The bullet points can and should change depending on the context of the message that needs to be communicated and an understanding of the target audience. Feel free to contact me if there are any questions; I’m happy to help. That people are dying often *because* they’re not vaccinated just…. bugs me, you know?

I’m not familiar with how to message to every possible demographic, but I’m confident that wherever vaccination numbers are low, targeted social media marketing in combination with more traditional marketing- when combined with consumer behavior of resistant markets- will help reduce incidents of misinformation and increase vaccine interest and acceptance.

Ideally, if I were a more capable individual or at least not busy with my current reality (i.e. simultaneously trying to start a business while also managing my complicated physical and mental health)- throughout the remainder of 2022, I would try raise funds to do targeted social media campaigns in select markets wherever and whenever vaccine acceptance rates are low and viral activity in definable communities are trending in the wrong direction.

In sharing everything I’ve written so far- and the following mantras- my hope is that maybe, just maybe- I’m not alone with this.

So… for those of you who are looking for guidance but not getting it- here are two sample #BeSmarterThanAVirus mantras. The first uses a “SMART” acronym; the second does not.

Sample 1:

How to #BeSmarterThanAVirus (w/SMART acronym):

(S)tay aware of viral behavior in your community

(M)aintain your vaccination status per health agency recommendations and those of your licensed (and preferably not pilled) healthcare provider.

(A)dd and use preventative measures as appropriate for your context (masking, distancing)

(R)emember to share useful, helpful and scientifically accurate info- and NOT Covid.

(T)est if and when appropriate and tell yourself and others the truth about your vaccination and infection status…

….And remember, all of this is about a sneaky, well evolved little virus. Not politics, not people, not policies we may not like or agree with. It’s all about a VIRUS which can do quite a bit of damage to humans (individually and economically), even when those infected may not experience any outwardly visible symptoms.

#BeSmarterThanAVirus y’all… it’s really not that hard.

OR… a shorter version, without the “SMART” acronym:

Sample 2

#BeSmarterThanAVirus y’all… it’s really not that hard.

1) Get vaccinated if you can (& do it to help those who can’t).

2) Monitor covid, variants & vaccinations in your community.

3) Use mitigation as appropriate for your context.

Tying this back to my personal and professional interests (communication, psychology and communicating context), my experience with Covid (i.e. the overall pandemic) has been a classic case of humans struggling with a thing I’ve come to call “perceptual myopia” or, in other words, a situation which evades our normal human perceptive abilities creating a type of blindness or nearsightedness. It is the same or same kind of behavior that I’ve seen my fellow humans struggle with in other contexts- such as with misinformation (think: climate change, Obama, hate, racism, etc.). What I do not understand yet- but want to- is how or why some humans seem to be immune to perceptual myopia while others are not.

There it is. Y’all now know *HOW* to #BeSmarterThanAVirus. Now go do it. And if you’re not already vaccinated, but could be- please start there. Please & thank you, even…

However, if you happen to be one of those individuals who still views the risk of an infection from SARS-CoV-2 as being “just a little flu” while viewing the current vaccines (authorized in the US) with skepticism, here’s a few additional links to help provide additional context. (I’m including five stories now just so I can publish this, but will add more as time passes and additional research is conducted and those findings are published.)

In the interest of full disclosure, at the time of publication, the author has received full three doses of Moderna and will get his fourth dose in conjunction with upcoming travel plans.

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