The new meaning of the phrase, “going viral”

The phrase “going viral” will probably never evoke the same benign meaning or be used in such an innocent fashion as it was prior to January 2020.  One might attribute its evolution into popular vernacular to Richard Dawkins, who coined the word “meme” in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, as a concept for evolutionary principles that explain the spread of ideas and cultural phenomena.

As the coronavirus courses through our bodies, exponentially replicating, infecting and killing, overwhelming our healthcare workforce, and devastating our hospitals, countries, and continents, it is the rare person who would have predicted the actualization of SARS-CoV-2 “going viral” as a modern-day pandemic nearly 100 years after the “H1N1 virus” of 1918.

Today and for the foreseeable future, COVID-19 is a serious threat, virulent and contagious, not only leading to an impressive display of human vulnerability and arrogance, but also demonstrating how innovative and creative humans can be during a time of crisis.

On a daily basis, I am inspired by the outpouring of courage, empathy, and compassion, as well as the injection of original and mutated ideas that will govern the blueprint of our destiny.  The truth is that the coronavirus has gone viral and, in so doing, opened the door to other remarkable evolutionary adaptations.  Adaptations that will both thwart its virility and enhance our society’s immunity, resilience, and long-term survivability.

The way that we survive this pandemic is by enlisting and centralizing all of our extraordinary resources, disseminating evidence-based knowledge, learning from the past, and nationally and globally collaborating and strategizing to create a healthier future for the citizens of the world.  While we must currently proceed with strict physical, not “social” distancing, sheltering in place, and the use of appropriate PPE, our ultimate measure for success should be unification through the realization that all lives matter.  As with other pandemics and evolutionary processes, we will eventually contain this virus, and so in the aftermath of SARS-CoV-2, how will we have ultimately evolved as humankind, and what meaning will “going viral” now carry?

Pringl Miller is a general surgeon.

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