Rumsfeld’s words of wisdom

Published 5:10 pm Friday, April 24, 2020

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When it comes to the global pandemic that has shuttered major cities and even entire countries across the world, Beaufort County is in a better position than most to ride the pandemic out.

The fact that Beaufort County is rural and its population of 47,000 people is spread out over 958 square miles, divided by a river, means, for the most part, that contact with others is easily limited, the exception being on trips to grocery stores, the pharmacy, hardware stores or other places that remain open to the public during the statewide stay-at-home order.

The fact that Beaufort County has 17 known cases of COVID-19 means the rate of infection appears to be lower here than other counties, even those surrounding us.

Some might take those knowns and decide that we’re out of the woods — that daily life can resume as normal. Some might be wrong about that.

The key is the word “known.” That’s the tricky part about this virus. Yes, there are those severe cases that exhibit the established symptoms of fever, cough and respiratory distress, and it’s those people who have been tested for the virus. Then there are the mild cases that have the same symptoms as the common cold or allergies, right in the middle of spring allergy season — those people likely haven’t been tested. Then there are those who have no symptoms at all, yet have tested positive for COVID-19 only because the virus needed to be ruled out during routine pre-op before another medical procedure was performed.

Add that all together and what is actually known is that there are people, even seemingly healthy people, who are carriers of COVID-19. What is unknown is how many.

On Feb. 12, 2002, U.S. Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld said the following: “Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.”

Rumsfeld happened to be talking about weapons of mass destruction, but his statement, for as much flak as he caught for it then, makes sense when applied to COVID-19 now.

Nearly a month into the stay-at-home order, everyone is ready to get back to life before COVID-19 — get back to work, get back to the office, eat out at restaurants, gather with friends and family and not have to worry about contracting a virus that may severely affect us or that we in turn could spread to someone it does severely affect.

Unfortunately, with COVID-19, we are right in the midst of Rumsfeld’s unknown unknown — and that’s a difficult one.