Divided We Fall: The Importance of Building Solidarity

The Latest Human Virus

In any conflict, it’s important to understand our opponent’s strengths and weaknesses. It’s also critical to know our own strengths and weaknesses.  As we fight COVID-19, strategic evaluations focus on our needs for intelligence (pathology, testing and contact tracing) defensive armor (PPE and sanitizer) and offensive weapons (vaccines and antivirals). Above these logistical concerns, we must assess who the combatants are, how they have fared in the opening skirmishes of this war, and their short and long-term prospects for victory or defeat.



Microbes vastly outnumber us – they are, by far, the most numerous organisms on Earth.  Their simplicity focuses on one goal, survival. Viruses are hard to kill, since technically, they are not alive.  Lacking the basic elements of life, they invade and borrow from living “hosts” in order to live and reproduce.  Viruses have no brains, no hearts, no souls; they are not good or evil, they just are. They mutate rapidly, swarming over and around immune systems to penetrate living cells. Viruses are passengers, riding the “human train” as we pass them on to their next target.  During their struggle to survive, some leave “collateral damage” of dead and maimed “hosts.” If they become too virulent, they kill their hosts and, thereby, end their own existence. This phenomenon is believed to explain why the 1918 flu has not recurred.    


Humans (Homo Sapiens) 

Humans are complex creatures – we love, hate, fear, wonder and dream.  We have developed art, religion, philosophy, medicine, warfare and government. This complexity is a double-edged sword; we are easily distracted from our prime directive – species survival. Diseases see the human species as a golden opportunity, a promised land where they can grow and thrive. They ignore our artificial polarization along racial, ethnic, age, economic, political or religious lines. Plagues are not blocked by closing borders, nor does wealth ward off infection. However, those disadvantaged due to poverty, racism, lack of education, poor health and limited access to healthcare suffer to a greater extent than the privileged. As a result, COVID-19 death rates are highest among African Americans and Latinos in New York and Chicago, and outbreaks have erupted among minority communities in Albany, Georgia and the Navajo Nation. Long-documented prejudice among medical providers results in minority patients being turned away repeatedly as their symptoms worsen, often die and they infect their friends and families. We hear of Asian-Americans, many of whom are frontline health professionals, attacked and spit upon, as if they conspired to inflict the “Chinese Virus” on “True Americans.”  We criticize each other for doing too little, acting too slowly, and stumbling in ways that we repeat in our own blunders. 



So far, different nations’ responses to this pandemic have met with varying levels of success. This pandemic parallels World War II in many ways. Some leaders dither and whine while others move decisively, marshalling resources and uniting their people in a common cause. As in December 1941, the US is reeling from an attack for which we were unprepared, and we are still divided and confused. Meanwhile COVID-19 advances relentlessly. Despite internment, discrimination and systemic racism, the Tuskegee Airmen and the 442nd (Nisei) Regiment fought heroically, were wounded and died for our nation.  Thousands of women served in the military and war industries, symbolized by Rosie the Riveter, making an essential contribution to our ultimate victory.  In order to overcome this planetary plague, nations and people need to cooperate and learn from shared experience. History has taught us the necessity of enlisting all our human resources to defeat threats to our nation and planet. We ignore those lessons at our own peril.


Mark Long
For the Anti-Racism Ministry Team

For 26 years, Mark Long worked with the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, fighting Sexually Transmitted Diseases, AIDS, injuries and violence, and managing CDC’s global health programs and institutional review boards (IRB).  He also directed IRBs for the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and served as a compliance officer with the Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Research Oversight.  Currently, Mark teaches courses on public health, research ethics, racism and the history of science for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at North Carolina State University.