It was one year ago today that a man named Li Wenliang died. Maybe you remember him. Maybe you don’t. But today we all should. Because he wasn’t the first person in China to die of COVID-19, but he was possibly the first to try and warn people about it.
And he was told to shut up.
Li, who was only 34, was an ophthalmologist in Wuhan. He and his wife were expecting a second child. Just before the New Year, he posted a warning in a chat room about this strange, new virus. He cautioned about human-to-human spread. He knew that people were secretly being quarantined.
Just days later, he was hauled in by Chinese authorities and forced to sign a statement that his warning was illegal, a rumor, and not grounded in fact.
He died the next month, having caught the disease from a patient.
It is crucial to recall Li’s story on the anniversary of his passing, because even now, a full year into The Age of Coronavirus, information is still being withheld, questioned, suppressed, pushed forward and yanked back.
In truth, you could argue that the biggest frustration with COVID-19, beyond its obvious health dangers, is the endless spin cycle of misinformation about it.
What should we believe?
Think of the theories that, at some point over the past year, were presented as the truth. They are staggering in their confusion.
You don’t need a mask. You must wear a mask. Travel shouldn’t be limited. Travel must be limited. You can’t catch it unless someone is sneezing and coughing. You can catch it from people who seem healthy. You must wipe down every delivery box and wait hours to open it. You needn’t do all that, you can’t catch it from a box.
Stay 6 feet apart. Eight feet apart. Ten feet apart. It can’t hang in the air. It can hang in the air. Airplanes are petri dishes. Airplanes are totally safe. Wear gloves everywhere you go. Don’t wear gloves, they hold the disease.
Cover your eyes. Don’t cover your eyes. One mask is fine. Two masks are better. Children are at risk. Children aren’t at risk. You can’t get it twice. You can get it twice. Once you have it, you’re immune for years. Once you have it, you’re immune for three months.
Animals will spread it. Animals won’t spread it. Two million Americans will die in a year. Death numbers are being inflated. It should be gone by Easter. It should be gone by summer. It should be gone by 2021. It won’t be gone for years.
The vaccine is the answer. The vaccine is a step. The vaccine protects you from getting it. The vaccine only protects you from symptoms. You can’t spread it once you’re vaccinated. You can spread it once you’re vaccinated.
The vaccine is good for years. Oops, you may need a booster. The vaccine protects from new strains. Oops, it may not protect from new strains. The vaccine is perfectly safe. The vaccine has side effects. Actually, we don’t know all the side effects.
Schools are safe. Schools are dangerous. Restaurants are OK. Restaurants are not.
And the most maddening statements of all:
We don’t know the long-term behavior of the virus.
We don’t know the long-term effects of the virus.
We don’t know the long-term implications of the vaccine.
Now. Go. Make a wise decision.
No closer to answers
A year after Dr. Li was forced to sign papers branding him a liar, a team from the World Health Organization finally landed in China to, ostensibly, investigate the origins of the disease. A year later? Yes. And this was only permitted after weeks of wrangling and backtracking by the Chinese government.
Does anyone really believe that the WHO team will be allowed to see anything truly incriminating to China? If you were on that trip, wouldn’t the first question you’d ask be “Why did you silence the guy who issued the earliest warnings about this thing? And how are you any different now?”
Forget that. Those questions don’t get asked, and those answers never come. And so once again, even in trying to determine something as vital as where this pandemic truly began, we’ll have great distrust about information being provided. And in a world where we are used to getting proper information with a cursor click, this doesn’t sit well. We are not a patient population.
But we should remember Dr. Li. The dangers of not listening. The perils of blindly trusting a government. He had questions. We should continue to have questions. Honestly, anyone who doesn’t have some questions about this pandemic hasn’t been paying attention.
President Joe Biden glumly talks about a “dark winter.” But when it comes to coronavirus, we’ve been in the dark for a while. The only thing we’re sure of is that we’re not sure of anything. Not much comfort there.
Contact Mitch Albom: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at MitchAlbom.com. Download “The Sports Reporters” podcast each Monday and Thursday on-demand through Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify and more. Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom.