Mark Simon

No sooner did San Mateo County health officials post the number of COVID-19 cases by ZIP code than the Army of Ignorance mobilized and started marching (you can hear the drum beat: dum, dum, dum), boldly asserting that the low numbers prove all this isolation and these “anti-American” restrictions must have been unnecessary.

God help me. I would think this is not needed, but I guess it is: The social-distancing and health restrictions are the reasons why the numbers are lower than initially feared. Those numbers were projections. We beat the projections. That’s a good thing.

That is, in fact, a fact. We’ve done a good job of making ourselves scarce, which, unfortunately, is also what is happening to facts. Information, it appears, can always be shoved aside by assertive foolishness and the aggressive rejection of objective science in the name, incredibly, of “common sense.” To quote from the movie “48 Hours,” “Just because you say it with conviction, it don’t mean (bleep) to me.”

As an example, just the other day, in this very newspaper, we saw someone pose a series of confusing and remarkably uninformed questions, designed to assert a viewpoint that was more like a view-smudge. In there, we saw assertions that there has been limited availability of information regarding local impacts of the virus and, darkly, conspiratorially, that there is something, we, the public, are not being told. 

Who this particular public is supposed to be and when they elected this person as their representative — well, I guess I missed that meeting.

The reality is that public officials in this county have been overwhelmingly forthcoming with information about the local impacts of the virus (see above reference to ZIP code data), and I use the word overwhelmingly with intent. Inescapable also comes to mind. Type “San Mateo County coronavirus” into your computer. I got 1.7 million results. I have to confess: I haven’t read every one.

The facts are everywhere, and uncomfortably so, which is the point and the problem. Unless you refuse to see the facts. Or because, disgracefully, you find them simply too inconvenient.

We live in a difficult time, a cynical time, an anti-intellectual and anti-science time. It’s not a first for Americans, where we boldly exercise our inherent right to be wrong.

Skepticism is healthy. There are many reasons to distrust conventional wisdom and the motives of those who espouse it. The smartest people in our history, and the smartest people I know, will tell you to be skeptical.

Cynicism is easy. It feels smart, like you really know what’s going on. It is, to use one of my favorite phrases, often unencumbered by facts. 

Facts are tough. They are frustrating because of their immutability. It’s understandable that people want to be right and discard those things that make them wrong. As my friend Will Durst said, we are a nation of people who want to eat ice cream and lose weight.

Doubt is uncomfortable. Uncertainty makes us uneasy. So we look for the sure thing. It’s a hard world and we’d all like it to be more like what we want. 

But there is no sure thing. The world is not flat. There is no Deep State operating at every level of government to carry out a vast conspiracy to deny us our rights. Anyone who has worked in government is amused to hear that all these public employees are working together in secret toward a common goal. Asked once how many people work at the White House, President Calvin Coolidge said, “About half of them.”

COVID-19 is not the flu, or a foreign plot, or a Democratic hoax. Real people die from it. Fifty-six people have died from it in San Mateo County. That is not imaginary or the result of county officials keeping information from us. And county officials have been right to set standards to prevent the spread of the virus.

The real disease, and one that is impossible to limit, is not the virus, but ignorance.

And, by the way, we’re a representative government, not a direct democracy. The genius behind that was the mistrust of the whims of public opinion. 

We’re not out of the woods. Health experts will tell you it is still very early. More is going to be expected of us — to stay healthy as a community, to rescue our economy. We’re going to have to decide, each of us, one at a time, by ourselves, that we’re going to work to make this crisis go away. The good news is we don’t have to take that as a matter of faith. We can rely on facts.


Mark Simon is a veteran journalist, whose career included 15 years as an executive at SamTrans and Caltrain. He can be reached at

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(13) comments

I'm hoping...

Look, guys. Debates are great...but can't we all just get along? You guys have equally good arguments, but don't let this situation set up free rent in your heads. Let's all make a pact to protect each other through thick and thin. We're all in this together. [thumbup][thumbup][thumbup][unsure][thumbup]

Thomas Morgan

I was impressed to see on the World O Meter website the U.S has conducted 8.2 million corona virus test. The most of any country in the world. From the media's perspective we are not doing a good job around testing, and they make us sound we are mediocre if not in last place in testing. While it is important to have tests available, the only win is a vaccine.


Sorry, Terence, but you need to check YOUR "facts." At the time you posted your comment there were over 73,000 deaths in the US attributed to the virus. That number is probably greater in reality, and has undoubtedly been kept that low by social distancing.

Terence Y

Sorry, Mr. Western, but I have checked my facts as they come from the Provisional Death Counts for Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) report (updated May 7) compiled by the CDC. Are you saying you don't trust those facts? That number may be lower than reality, as New York, Michigan, and Pennsylvania have been padding their death count to obtain more federal reimbursement money. If so, then the 45,000 COVID death count is lowered to a bit over 41,000 deaths, if not less.

Terence Y

Yes, Mr. Simon, facts are everywhere, but who determines which facts to believe? You, me, the lamestream media, the person who yells the loudest? Here are some facts, all as of May 7, 2020. Eight states never issued stay-at-home orders, and of those eight states, 141 is the highest number of COVID deaths. In CA, there have been 1521 COVID deaths, but almost 75,000 deaths due to other causes. In a typical year, there are 40,000 to 80,000 flu deaths. We currently have over 45,000 COVID deaths. Yet we don't shut down the state every year. The idea to shelter-in-place was to flatten the curve, which occurred in mid-April. Now the goalposts are moving, Which facts are these so-called health experts following? If you, and others, want to remain under house arrest, feel free, but don't let your interpretation of the facts apply to the rest of us, because we also have facts.

Nick Name

You apparently don't understand what the word "fact" means. Facts are not to be believed or not believed; they have been proven to the best of our ability to be true and to exist in objective reality.

Of course, facts can be misused and interpreted for nefarious purposes such as is the case with attempts to manipulate people's points-of-view for propagandist and other purposes, which I think correctly describes your post.

I won't respond to the content of your post since I try not to waste my time entering into discussions or debates with anyone who uses such tactics. For me to do so, I must at least insist on basic intellectual integrity from participants which includes accepting that "facts" either are or are not. If they are subject to questioning and challenges then they are not facts -- they are opinions, hypotheses, or theories.

Terence Y

Mr. NickName. Well of course you can't respond to my post because I've listed facts from the CDC who have collated US deaths to the best of their ability and exist in objective reality as a report they publish on a regular basis. No discussion or debate on your side is required, but thanks for supplying a condescending excuse. Stay healthy, my friend.

Nick Name

Mr. Terence Y: No, you haven't listed facts; you've listed data that, in your opinion, is factual. You then use said data, sans relevant context, to draw conclusions that you then use (as I said above) in attempts to manipulate people's points-of-view.

_That_ is "why [I won't] respond to [your] post". And, your tactic of responding to my post by personally attacking me -- by describing what I said as condescending rather than rationally addressing the ideas I put forth -- does nothing except to further undermine whatever argument you're trying to make.

And so it goes. You stay safe, too.

Terence Y

Mr. NickName. Thanks for your clarification, but I'm confused. You say I haven't listed facts but instead have listed data. But in your previous post, you said facts can be misused and interpreted and that's what I was doing, which implies I listed facts instead of data. I'm sorry you didn't appreciate "condescending" but that is the tone of your post. Similar to this latest post where you again think you're above the fray. Thanks for the discussion/debate. Until next time.

Nick Name

Fair point, Mr. Terence Y. While I stand by my general statement regarding the misuse, etc. of facts, it can also apply to non-factual data. As the statement applies to your post specifically, It would have been better to have enclosed the term in quotation marks, i.e. "facts". I hope this serves to address any confusion caused by or criticism of my wording.

I'm hoping...

I agree with Terence. The CDC estimates there was at least 39 million flu illnesses, 400,000 hospitalizations and 24,000 deaths from the flu in the US during the 2019-20 season. (I fact check my facts after I've checked them) And the flu season before that was even worse. So it's hard for me to be frightened of this. The weak immune systems and folks over 65 should be protected...but the rest of us need to get this economy stimulated!!!


Well, good luck to you and others who think like you. The fact remains this is a new viral strain, very contagious. Some “open” states are already seeing an increase of cases after relaxing their sip. And let’s not forget the children that are being diagnosed with strange illnesses due to this virus. Stay well, we will observe the cautions til it’s deemed relatively under control and safer for all. We’ll keep our masks and wash our hands, better safe than sorry!

Cindy Cornell

Hallelujah and pass me my mask.

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