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While counting the dead

Death, a saying goes, is something that happens to others. Those “others” on one’s mind these days would be the COVID-19-stricken who succumbed, their numbers giving us an idea of what the word viral literally means.

Beside me now are my jottings in the last two months, the official count of those who tested positive for the virus, the recovered, and the dead, as well as the totals as announced daily on TV late in the afternoon. I also have line graphs on paper. There are apps for it but I prefer doing it manually like we did in high school. This way I have a closeness to the numbers, the highs, the lows. And for me to pray and wonder about those who did not make it, what they were like when they were alive. Each one had a name, a face, a voice, a family.

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The exercise does not fill me with dread, and I observe mindfulness while doing it. (Mindfulness is now closely studied and popularized by behavioral scientists as a way to a more meaningful, fruitful, less stressful existence, something we need in these times.)

While I also make a graph of the new positive cases, I am more interested in the number of deaths. The positive cases, experts tell us, are only the tip of the iceberg. They do not represent the true numbers because they only come from the tested ones and there can be false positives and false negatives. So I leave that to the epidemiologists and the number crunchers.

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But the dead—there cannot be false deads or half-deads. The death count may also not represent the truly dead as there are COVID-19 deaths that passed unnoticed, fatalities who were not tested for the virus. Still, there can be little doubt about the diagnosed ones who died and became part of the records. And so every afternoon, I watch Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire announce the numbers recorded from 4 p.m. of the previous day to 4 p.m. of the present day. I do not know if the deaths actually occurred during the 24-hour-period or are overruns from the past.

My heart skips a beat when Vergeire says, “Ngunit…” (Filipino for the Spanish “pero” or the English but) then “ikinalulungkot po naming sabihin na” (we are sorry to say that)… and she gives the death count for the past 24 hours. We are in the midst of World War C, she constantly reminds.

These are the COVID-19-related deaths from May 12 to May 19, going down these past eight days and for a total of 837 for the past two months or so: 25, 21, 18, 16, 11, 7, 7, 6. The highest was on April 12 with 50. On my graph it looks like the sharp spire of a Gothic cathedral. Every time there is a sharp drop I heave a sigh of relief.

Experts admit that it will be a long way before a vaccine and a cure can be discovered. But US President Donald Trump, despite warnings from the Food and Drug Administration, flaunts taking hydroxychloroquine (a drug for malaria) as a preventive. “I’m still here,” he boasted two days ago.

Hereabouts, President Duterte, who swears by Fentanyl, announced a P50-million bonanza (double that, he added) for Filipino scientists who can concoct a vaccine. So, in the meantime they beg, steal, or borrow?

Some time back, a caustic remark supposedly from a bio researcher, but wrongly shown with a photo of a Spanish politician, went viral. “You give the footballer 1 million euros a month and a biological researcher 1,800 euros per month, and you are now looking for a coronavirus treatment? Go to Cristiano Ronaldo or Messi and they will give you a cure.”

Whoever actually said or just invented that plaint was articulating the irony of it all. Never have we been so appreciative of the hidden work of scientists in freezing labs, nerds studying deadly microorganisms, trying to discover something for the good of humanity. But there could be mad ones, too, creating deadly viruses and toxins that can threaten our lonely planet.

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In the meantime, we do our part and soldier on.

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For more news about the novel coronavirus click here.
What you need to know about Coronavirus.
For more information on COVID-19, call the DOH Hotline: (02) 86517800 local 1149/1150.

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