By Dr. Anthony Policastro

The heroine of South Pacific is Nellie Forbush. She is stationed on a South Pacific island. She falls in love with a well-to-do planter named Emile.

When she finds out that he has children from a previous marriage, she is upset because their mother was one of the native Asian women. She decides to leave him for that reason.

A subplot is about a U.S. Marine Lieutenant who falls in love with one of the native girls. He is unsure about the entire thing.

Both characters suffer from underlying prejudices against Asians. Nellie ultimately decides that love conquers all. She goes back to Emile and comes to love his children.

The action took place during World War II. That makes the anti-Asian sentiment somewhat understandable. However, World War II was 80 years ago. There should be none of that sentiment left in our country.

The source of such racism is explored very well in one of the songs that Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote for the musical.

The title of the song is “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught.” It is sung by the Marine Lieutenant. The lyrics point out that children are not born with prejudice. It is learned. It starts with their parents. It is also affected by the culture of their society.

Many of us have experienced prejudice. For example, I grew up in an Italian Catholic family in Brooklyn. I lived in a racially mixed neighborhood. Half of my friends were African American.

I went to Catholic school. It was clear that in that particular social situation that the Irish Catholics considered the Italian Catholics inferior.

A good example of that was at my elementary school graduation. I was the best student in class. However, an Italian Catholic could not be the valedictorian. So the Irish Catholic student who ranked sixth in my class was selected as valedictorian.

The current anti-Asian American sentiment is not something related to the COVID-19 virus coming from China. It is related to an underlying prejudice that individuals kept repressed. It was always there. They just think that they are now allowed to be more vocal about it.

We are not born with those attitudes. It was something that developed over the years. Rodgers and Hammerstein were right. You do have to be carefully taught to learn prejudicial attitudes.

COVID-19 Update

The number of new cases nationally last week dropped to 417,636. That is the lowest it has been since October. This is likely the start of a decline related to the vaccine. Locally, Sussex County saw no change with about the same number of cases as the previous week. We went from 343 new cases last week to 345 new cases this week.

Vaccine numbers continue to rise. Nationally 29 percent of the population is fully vaccinated with 42 percent having received at least one dose.

In Delaware the numbers are similar with 30 percent of the population fully vaccinated and 45 percent having received at least one dose. Again these percentages are for total population (including children) so that high risk individual numbers are much higher.

As we vaccinate those older high risk Americans the overall death rate from COVID-19 continues to slow down.

At one point we had the 7th highest death rate in the world. We are now down to 14th on the list. This suggests that vaccinating high risk individuals has been beneficial to this point.

The 1 per million side effect of clotting with the Johnson and Johnson vaccine was not a complete surprise.

Rare side effects can occur with any medication or vaccine. Tests of the vaccine are done on relatively few people (40,000 – 50,000). Therefore rare side effects might not appear. That is why it is important to report any side effects after the vaccine on the CDC app for doing so.

A study was published last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. A chemical engineer and mathematician looked at indoor ventilation and COVID-19 risk.

They looked at the volume of air in the space. They looked at air recirculation. They looked at droplet filtration. They looked at air turbulence. They looked at air mixing. They looked at droplet settling time.

The conclusion was that in a typical indoor space, distance between individuals does not matter if the exposure to each other is prolonged.

Masks and social distancing protect against large aerosol particles. It appears that smaller particles are more important for transmission than we once thought. In addition, the more talking people did the more the spread of those particles.

They looked at two specific situations. One was a typical classroom. Spread of infection without masks occurred in 1.2 hours. With masks it took 8 hours. Therefore, a typical school day would be covered. That assumes no shouting, singing or physical exertion on the part of the students.

They also looked at nursing homes under their typical setup. The usual safe period was 3 minutes. That extended to 18 minutes with a single layer mask. It was 5 hours using a mask with a filter. Surgical masks lasted even longer than that.

Their bottom line was: “One’s risk increases linearly with the number of people in a room and duration of the event. Relative risk decreases for large, well-ventilated rooms and increases when the room’s occupants are exerting themselves or speaking loudly.”

The air filtration systems on airplanes provide some of the best indoor type environments for minimizing spread on aircraft.

However, last week 49 passengers on a single flight of a 188 seat aircraft tested positive for COVID-19. It was a six-hour-long flight with added time before takeoff and after landing. Thus the exposure was extended. This is consistent with the findings of the study above.