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This column reflects the opinion of the writer. To learn about the differences between a news story and an opinion column, click here.

Opinion >  Column

Spin Control: Readers leave me lots of voicemails. Here are replies to some I didn’t call back

Maybe it’s the weather, the increasingly shorter days, the moon cycles or frustrations about being holed up because of COVID-19. But there’s a lot of cranky people out there and some of them have my phone number.

Fortunately, it’s my cell phone number and angry people tend to call late at night or early in the morning when the phone is hooked up to a charger and the ringer is off. They have to leave voicemail, which might make them a bit testier.

Take the woman who called to object strenuously to me describing Republican gubernatorial candidate Loren Culp as scrappy. Not a proper term for someone who supports the Constitution, she said. It should be applied to Gov. Jay Inslee, because, she believes, he doesn’t follow the Constitution.

Did I call her back to explain that calling someone scrappy is not a slur and has nothing to do with one’s view of the Constitution? No. Life’s too short.

Her angry tone was matched by the man who called to say he doesn’t believe COVID-19 is real because he doesn’t know anyone who has it.

That’s entirely possible, because Washington has some 7.66 million people spread unevenly over 71,362 square miles. About 180,000 cases of COVID-19 have been reported, which is about 2.35% of the population, or about one in 41. That doesn’t mean that one out of 41 of your friends must’ve had the virus, although if they hang around people without masks long enough, one of them probably will.

I didn’t call him back to point that out, or to say I don’t know anyone with leprosy, scurvy or rickets, but don’t doubt they exist. I don’t know anyone who has had tetanus but I still get the occasional tetanus shot because my late mother, a registered nurse, once described seeing someone die from it when she was a student. They called it lockjaw, but it wasn’t just the jaw muscles that seized up.

Nor did I bother to call to say I had measles, mumps and chicken pox, and so did most of my peers born in the 1950s, but my children born in the 1980s did not and they may not know anyone who did. That doesn’t mean they should doubt the existence of those diseases and not have my grandchildren vaccinated against them.

I decided not to call to say I don’t know anyone from Liechtenstein but don’t think there’s a cartological conspiracy to make up a country in Europe.

Or take the person who called demanding an investigative reporter expose the scam of the COVID-19 pandemic. Her reasoning?

“Where are the dead bodies laying in the (expletive) street, OK?” said the angry woman, who, like many, didn’t leave her name. “I believe they just repackaged the flu and pneumonia and called it COVID-19.”

The flu was worse in 2017 and 2013, she insisted: “It’s a scare. It’s propaganda. Prop-A-Gan-Da!”

I didn’t call back to say she seems to have a view of pandemics straight out of the Middle Ages, or perhaps Monty Python’s “The Holy Grail,” with people walking through a village shouting “bring out your dead.” In the 21st century, people tend to die of illnesses in hospice, a care facility or a hospital. Even in the Spanish Influenza pandemic of the last century, bodies did not pile up in American streets.

It probably wouldn’t have helped to note that in a few of the hardest-hit cities, although fortunately not anywhere in Washington, dead bodies are stacking up in refrigerated semi-trailers.

I could try to explain the structure of the COVID-19 virus differs from influenza virus and viral pneumonia, but I’m not a scientist so I couldn’t do it justice. And it’s a sure bet the caller wouldn’t believe me if I tried.

I can do a little math, though, if she’s reading: Despite the caller’s memory, the flu was not worse in any of the 10 previous years, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics. In any given flu season, which stretches from Oct. 1 of one year to Sept. 30 of the next, the number of flu deaths ranged nationally from a high of 61,099 in 2017-18 to a low of 12,447 in 2011-12.

Washington Department of Health statistics show a similar pattern, from 296 confirmed fatalities in 2017-18 to 8 in 2011-12.

For the country as a whole, as this column is being written, some 273,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 since February and about 3,000 in Washington. That’s more than those who died of the flu in the last 10 years.

It’s also less than one Washingtonian out of 2,500. So for the earlier caller, who may be picking up the phone as he reads this, the odds would favor you not knowing someone who died from the virus.

That doesn’t bring them back to life, and if the pandemic keeps going at its current rate, the odds get better every day that at some point you will know someone who died from COVID-19.

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