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COVID-19 Un-Donne
by Hilary Williamson (March 2020)
    'No man is an island entire of itself; every man
    is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
    if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
    is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
    well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
    own were; any man's death diminishes me,
    because I am involved in mankind.
    And therefore never send to know for whom
    the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

John Donne wrote No Man is an Island (his poem against isolationism) in the seventeenth century. It has resonated down through the ages but no more so than today. The COVID-19 pandemic requires us to keep physical distance to protect ourselves and others, as 'any man's death diminishes me'. Yet it's also very important for all of us to avoid social isolation in these difficult times.

I remember a physics prof in the 70s telling us that every breath we take includes a molecule of Caesar's last exhalation. James Lloyd's 2017 article, Are we really breathing Caesar's last breath?, delves into this, telling us 'A breath seems like such a small thing compared to the Earth's atmosphere, but remarkably, if you do the math, you'll find that roughly one molecule of Caesar's air will appear in your next breath.' Caesar's last breath will not expose anyone to COVID-19, but the odds are good that the breath of someone you get close to right now will!

Hold that thought and consider our six degrees of separation (actually 6.6 in a recent study, Proof! Just six degrees of separation between us). This is the notion that anyone on Earth connects to anyone else through a chain of no more than six others. Think about how quickly a respiratory virus can spread through the chains of acquaintances rippling out from each one of us! Our individual choices matter right now!!

If you know someone who is not taking the pandemic seriously, ask them to think harder, act wisely, and save lives. The 'bell tolls' for all of us right now, and it will stop a whole lot sooner if we accept that we are 'all part of the main'. Let's act accordingly and get COVID-19 Un-Donne!
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