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From the editor: People vs. the virus

From the editor: People vs. the virus

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Tim Burmeister

Tim Burmeister

Six months ago, in December, I went to a music festival in Las Vegas. I started out my day walking around the crowded sidewalks of the Strip. Then I stopped in at a brewery for some food and beverages before heading to the festival grounds. That night, surrounded by people all around, we looked up at the sky and heard the sussuration of hundreds of drones overhead, and we all watched as the sky lit up in colors as Kacey Musgraves sang, “Oh, what a world, don't wanna leave. All kinds of magic all around us, it's hard to believe. Thank God it's not too good to be true. Oh, what a world, and then there is you.”

The next night I was packed back into a crowd of people with some whiskey and the Foo Fighters. After that, walking around Las Vegas in the early morning hours, the streets were still filled with people. What time was it – 3 a.m.? – when I decided to get a Lyft to take me back to my Airbnb. I asked the driver if there was going to be a lull and the crowd would thin out in a while.

“Oh no,” he said. “It’s going to get busier pretty soon.”

What planet was I on? Did these things really exist? Lyft? Airbnb? Going to a festival and getting in the middle of people packed in like sardines? Did we ever live that way? We’ve got to stay away from people! Anyone could be a vector of contagion!

These are strange times. That little coronavirus has wreaked a lot of havoc. And when I say “little,” that’s an understatement. How many of those things can fit on the head of a pin? I looked it up. The answer is 100 million.

They look kind of pretty in the graphics we see. All those colorful little crowns poking up. That’s why they call it “corona,” because of the crowns. I would like to kick off those little crowns. But it’s too little for that.

The coronavirus is causing so many problems. There’s the COVID-19 disease. People are dying. And then there are all the steps we’re taking to try to slow the spread of the virus, messing up so many people’s lives and causing so much economic devastation.

There are so many stories out there. When you see the statistics of tens of thousands of fatalities, every one of those numbers is a person with family and friends. And then there are the millions of people sheltering in place at home. Some people kind of enjoy staying at home, but for other people, it’s driving them crazy. And there are so many people out of work, so many people worried about what’s going to happen to them financially. There are stories of people who have put so much work and passion into building a business for years, and now that business is collapsing.

And we don’t know what the future will bring. Could the economy come roaring back, or at least do a slow build to something close to normal? Or are there more problems ahead?

Everyone has ideas about what we’re doing wrong. We should be doing more to slow the spread of the virus. We shouldn’t be doing all the things we’re doing that are ruining the economy.

But how can we make a comparison? We know what we’ve got now with the steps we have taken to shut things down and slow the virus. And what we’ve got now is bad. But any other scenario is a counterfactual. Where would we be now if we hadn’t shut things down as much as we did? We don’t know. We don’t know how many people would have died in a different scenario.

There’s a lot we don’t know about the novel coronavirus yet. We don’t know the fatality rate, but it is a lot less fatal than a virus like this can be, and we have had pandemics in the past with a lot higher fatality rate. But this coronavirus does seem to be very contagious.

Everyone has theories about the coronavirus. I’ve heard them all. Well, no, of course I haven’t, because there are so many.

The newspaper I used to own in Montana is running a series of stories written by a local historian about the effects of the 1918 flu pandemic in Montana. Lots of people were dying from the flu, even in the rural areas, and World War 1 was also going on, and there was a drought. Those were tough times.

Some doctors in Anaconda, Montana back then had the theory that there was a relatively low number of deaths from the flu in Anaconda because the sulfur and arsenic in the air from the smelter smoke had an antiseptic effect. That is a theory I have not heard yet during today’s pandemic. Maybe we should try it.

Every country in the world and every state in the United States is handling the pandemic a little differently, so a few years from now we should be able to sort through all the facts and see what worked best and what didn’t work, and we will also know more about the novel coronavirus, so we should be able to put together all our knowledge to be better prepared to deal with the next pandemic.

But we still won’t agree.

One thing we will probably all be able to agree on: Mistakes were made.

We don’t know what we’re doing at this point. We’re muddling through. But there’s a concept we can keep our eyes on – the idea that Andrew Collins talks about a lot in the Mining Minds conversation that is in this issue of the Mining Quarterly:

“It’s all about people.”

It’s an idea that comes up often in the Mining Minds podcasts. In the mining world, we’re a community, and it’s all about people. Yes, mining is a business, and sometimes on a mine site it can seem like you’re just part of a business, or you’re a number, but really, nothing would get done without all those individual people doing what they do.

It’s all about people. It’s not about numbers. And it’s not about theories.

The mining companies are providing a good example right now. They are promoting safety. And they are taking a lot of steps to support their local communities.

It’s all about people. A lot of people are hurting now. If there is an opportunity to do something to help, let’s do it.

Hopefully, we can all get through this together.

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