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  • Writer's pictureAlan S Kolok

August 1. Science Good News #21.Playing poker with the devil.

Updated: Aug 14, 2021

In high school I played poker with my friends. We played for money.

Bad idea.

At the time I worked a crappy, low paying job. So when I lost it hurt, a lot. My friends, in contrast, were in better financial standing than I, had less to lose and, yeah, more often than not, they won. As the age-old adage goes, the person with the least to lose most often wins.

The same thing can be said for the corona virus. Being nothing more than a long strand of genetic material encapsulated in a spherical coating covered with spike like projections, it has nothing to lose. To extend the analogy, it doesn’t even know that it is in a competition with us. Yet despite the lack of intention, the virus doesn’t tire of or quit, it just keeps infecting new hosts, evolving new variants and keeps the game going.

We on the other hand, have everything to lose. Loss of life, prolonged hospitalization, chronic after effects of the illness, are all very real consequences that we have been trying to avoid. But beyond these horrific effects are more subtle ones. Community fear, frustration and distrust run rampant today. These are the continuing tensions that develop when playing a deadly game against an opponent whose next moves are unpredictable.

And we are tired. Tired of wearing masks, of trying to convince others to get vaccinated, of explaining the importance of maintaining the vigil. We want to stop, to resume our usual lives, to put this all behind us. But unlike a friendly game of cards there are no house rules, and we don’t get a chance to cash in our chips and go home.

A few months ago, the corona virus anted up for the latest round with the delta variant. The delta variant is now by far the most prominent form of the virus in the United States. And while the vaccinated may not get sick from it, they can spread it, a new wrinkle that changes how this game will unfold. As I write this article it appears as though mask mandates will return and a new campaign to get vaccines into the arms of the unvaccinated, is picking up momentum.

So where is the good news in all of this? Interestingly, the good news is embedded in the bad, for the virus, win or lose, just doesn’t care. Unlike my high school buddies that were more than happy to take my money, the virus doesn’t keep score, it just plays.

How is that good news, well, there are some surprising turns of events. In India for example, the delta variant caused a huge outbreak a few months ago, but now the rates of new infections have plummeted, well in advance of herd immunity. The same is true in the Midwest of the U.S. the alpha variant was poised to spread across the country, but it didn’t.

No one is really sure why.

The corona virus is a crafty adversary, and there is always a chance that a variant will evolve that will evade our vaccinations. Whether or not that happens, the virus continues to play the game. Some hands it wins, others it loses, many are completely surprising to us.

We are in a poker game with the devil, and he has nothing to lose. We hold some good cards and have learned a lot from experience, but the game is far from over.

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