Thistlethwaite: The wilderness guide to surviving coronavirus |

Thistlethwaite: The wilderness guide to surviving coronavirus

“Mountains speak and wise men listen,” wrote John Muir.

We in the Vail Valley live among incredibly beautiful and also potentially treacherous mountains. The lessons we can learn from them, especially when they become dangerous, could very well save many lives during this pandemic.

It occurred to me when I was out hiking yesterday that the tenets of wilderness survival can be a guide to how to survive a pandemic. I am thinking especially of STOP: Stay put, Think, Observe, and Plan.

Stay put

Well-informed scientists and physicians are telling us to self-isolate and self-distance in this pandemic. In a wilderness situation, you stay put so you can be rescued. In a pandemic, you stay put because that is part of the rescue.

Stay put through social distancing. Social distancing saves lives because it slows the spread of the virus and keeps us from overwhelming the health care capacity we have. This is called “flattening the curve” — slowing down the rate of infection in order not to be sure adequate resources are available to care for everyone.

Without social distancing and self-isolation, more people are going to die because the system can’t take care of them.


President Trump, however, is signaling he is getting impatient with the economic effects of social distancing and is making noises about prematurely re-opening sectors of the economy.

This kind of knee-jerk response goes against what Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and a member of the president’s coronavirus task force, and other leading public health experts have told administration officials and lawmakers. Prematurely scaling back social distancing measures would hamper efforts to mitigate the virus and it would devastate U.S. hospitals’ ability not only to care for COVID-19 infected patients but to protect and care for their other patients and medical personnel and as well. 

 You’ve got to think clearly in a horrible pandemic. You should not engage in quick, poorly thought-out reactions like stopping social distancing prematurely.

Of course, we are all scared, both of the danger of the infection itself and of the economic recession or even depression that is looming. But being scared can also make you dangerously stupid. Survival requires that we avoid panicky, knee-jerk responses.

In a pandemic, it is crucial to think and rely on scientific data. This is not the world’s first pandemic, and there are lessons already learned we should be following.

Also, when you’re scared, you want someone to tell you everything is going to be OK. But if that reassurance is a lie, it can lower your vigilance and make the spread of the infection worse. 

President Trump has put out lie after lie, telling fearful Americans everything is fine when it’s not.

Here are just a few lies you should not believe.

“We’ve shut it down coming from China.”

“We’re very close to a vaccine.”

“This is a flu.”

“We’re totally prepared.”

“Anybody that wants a test can get a test.”

“I want to thank Google. Google is helping develop a website.”

“We have a problem that a month ago nobody thought about.”

And there are more.

We’ve not shut it down — in fact, it is accelerating. A vaccine is a year to a year and a half away. It is not a flu. The U. S. was grossly underprepared and this dates back to the beginning of the Trump administration.

Testing capacity has been “absurdly slow.” The idea that Google is working on a website as Trump described is bogus.

Now, apparently, President Trump is getting impatient with social distancing because of its negative effects on the economy. So when he tells you that it is no longer necessary to socially distance and you’ll be just fine, will you believe him? Especially when saying that will go against the best medical and scientific advice we have to date?

Think. It is not true that social distancing is no longer necessary. Save your own life and the life of your neighbors. Continue social distancing.

Observe and plan

So here we are, metaphorically in the wilderness with a cell phone that has no signal or is out of battery, no GPS device, not having told anyone where we were going, not having sufficient layers and wearing cotton as a underlayer.

That’s our situation In the wilderness of coronavirus as I observe it. But that is not all I observe.

I have seen that many of the nation’s governors have stepped into the presidential leadership vacuum, and 72% of Americans, regardless of party affiliation, give them high marks.

Not all governors, however. Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida is the object of scathing criticism in Florida for being “a timid leader in the face of the growing scourge” of coronavirus in Florida, and some are calling on him to act or be considered “as derelict as the president.”

Our own Gov. Polis of Colorado is receiving praise for his leadership, especially addressing areas neglected by the federal government. As the editorial board of the Colorado Springs Independent wrote: Polis’s measures “were announced in a timely manner; their intent was clear and in line with recommendations from health care experts; they were based on logic and science; and they represented leadership in an otherwise chaotic time.”

As individuals I see we can do responsible social distancing and self-isolation, while also reaching out by phone or email to neighbors to check on them. We can donate money to the many organizations that are trying to help those in need in this crisis.

These actions are not a rescue, but they will lead to one if we continue to observe, plan and act in this way.

Wilderness survival

Our knowledge of wilderness survival can help us in this time. STOP: Stay Put, Think, Observe and Plan. It might get us through.

And, if you are a person of faith, pray. We are still lost in this wilderness of COVID-19 and rescue is a long way off.

Support Local Journalism

Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User