The COVID-19 Pandemic & More: Pride Month, Gas Stoves, Misinformation, and ZombiesJun 5, 2023
The waning of Colorado’s COVID-19 epidemic continues with only 98 Coloradans hospitalized last week and case counts trending down.
June is Pride Month, which began on the CU Anschutz Medical Campus with the 1st Annual CU Anschutz Pride Parade and Celebration. The first Pride Parade was held June 28, 1970, marking the first anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising. Since then, June has become Pride Month. Pride Month 2023 comes at a moment when the LGBTQ+ community is being used as a foil by the political right. The attacks are far-reaching and extend to healthcare, education, books, and more. The conservative right is using its stranglehold supermajorities in state legislatures to implement an anti-LGBTQ+ agenda and the attacks reach to local levels through school boards and activist parent groups. Corporations featuring Pride Month products have come under fire as well. There are public health consequences of these anti-LGBTQ+ activities, including the furthering of discrimination and hatred. We should all be concerned by the return of the unabashedly open attack on the LBGTQ+ community.
In January, I wrote about reawakened concern about indoor air pollution from gas stoves. The saga continues. On May 24, the House Oversight and Accountability Committee held a hearing with the title: “Consumer Choice on the Backburner: Examining the Biden Administration’s Regulatory Assault on Americans’ Gas Stoves.” The hearing focused on the Department of Energy’s proposed rule: “Energy Conservation Standards for Consumer Conventional Cooking Products,” seeking energy conservation under the Energy Policy and Conservation Act. Potential risks to health were not at issue; rather, the focus was on a perceived administration strategy to remove consumer choice and to reduce use of natural gas. The American Gas Association was represented among the organizations offering testimony.
In a front-page story last Wednesday, the New York Times described the work of a Stanford research team that is tracking the flow of nitrogen dioxide from gas stoves through apartments. The monitoring captured peaks generated during stove use that, not surprisingly, spread throughout the New York City apartments investigated. The flow of nitrogen dioxide from gas stoves through homes has been well documented. In a 1996 report, my University of New Mexico/Harvard team examined predictors of the nitrogen dioxide concentration in children’s bedrooms, quantifying the impact of gas stoves. At that time, the literature was already extensive, although the measurements were made on timeframes of days to weeks and not in real-time as with the work reported last week.
After thinking about the issue (again), if asked whether an electric stove should be substituted for a gas stove, I would refer back to the precautionary principle and offer that a gas stove is a source of indoor air pollution with possible health risks, albeit not quantified with great certainty. They also represent a source of greenhouse gas emissions. People can make decisions based on such precautionary thinking and also the real costs of switching to an electric stove. Policy and regulatory approaches—and politics—are stirring up the debate.
Over the last three years, I have written often about the challenge of misinformation for public health and for science more generally. I just became aware of the International Panel on the Information Environment (IPIE), “an independent global organization dedicated to providing actionable scientific knowledge on threats to our information landscape.” This new organization will soon be releasing several reports on the topic. Locally, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science houses its Institute for Science & Policy, which offers a venue for trustable discourse on complex topics. The Institute has scheduled a timely discussion of artificial intelligence and misinformation for June 22. We need independent and trustable entities, like the IPIE and the Institute for Science & Policy to help in sorting out misinformation from truth and to communicate evidence and combat misinformation. A National Academies’ committee is currently addressing misinformation.
Once again, I have been reading post-apocalyptic fiction, a genre always around, but ever more frequent with the twin impetuses of the pandemic and climate change. At the pandemic’s start, I located copies of Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year and Camus’ The Plague. I have not yet reread them, distracted by the wave of more contemporary choices. I have two for this book report: Denial by Jon Raymond and Zone One by Colson Whitehead.
Denial, a 2022 publication, is set in 2052 when the impact of climate change is widespread. The plot relates to an earlier protest movement, the “Upheavals,” which led to the Toronto Trials that convicted oil executives and lobbyists for environmental crimes. The plot hinges around a reporter who has identified a former executive who fled to Mexico and was untried, reminiscent of Nazi war criminals who fled to South America. The book can be read as a “cat and mouse” thriller or viewed as allegorical.
Whitehead’s book, published pre-pandemic in 2011, is set in a post-pandemic apocalyptic world that has left uninfected people and the infected—best described as zombies. Whitehead is acclaimed for The Underground Railroad, the Nickel Boys, John Henry Days and more. Zone One describes three days in the life of Mark Spitz (read the book to learn the origins of the character’s name) as he roams the streets of New York hunting down the living dead. I could not resist a post-pandemic novel by such a superb writer. However, I will probably not choose to read another apocalyptic novel like this one involving a plot set around destroying the flesh-eating living dead. At least COVID-19 does not create zombies.
My readings indicate several different scenarios for post-pandemic fiction: the race for a cause and a vaccine; murderous infected zombies chasing the uninfected; the reconstruction of civilization; and the end of humanity. Please add to or subtract from my plot list. Enough is enough.
If you are in Colorado, where we have gone from drought to deluge, be patient—the sun should return. This is not misinformation.
Jonathan Samet, MD, MS
Dean, Colorado School of Public Health