Covid-19 Russian Roulette

Let’s say a friend asks you to play a game. The game is simple: there’s a six-sided die, you take turns rolling the die and if you get the number 1, you lose. You have 5 in 6 chances, or roughly 83% probability of winning. Not bad, right?

After a few rounds, your friend asks if you want to bet some money just to make things a little more interesting. Just $1 or €1 per turn, nothing big, winner takes all. At 83% probability of winning a roll and with such low stakes, you’d probably go for it, at least for a few rounds, just for fun.

Then your friend suggests you increase your bet to $100/€100 but you will use a different die, one with 60 sides (I know, bear with me). You quickly do the math in your head. That’s 59 in 60 chances of winning, or roughly 98%. Even though the stakes are higher, you have even better chances of winning, so why not, right?

If you don’t entirely agree with the premise so far, because you’re not a gambling person (good for you!) or because even at 98% chances you still wouldn’t be comfortable betting that much money, that’s OK. I assume you can still understand the reasoning behind it and how so many (most?) people would do this.

Good, let’s keep going.

Suddenly your friend suggests you play a different game, this time with no money involved or any reward of any kind.

The game is called Russian Roulette.

In case you don’t know it, russian roulette is a game of chance played with a revolver loaded with a single bullet and (usually) two players. Each player takes turns at spinning the cylinder (so that no one knows where the bullet is), placing the muzzle against their head and pulling the trigger. If the player is lucky, the chamber with the bullet in it is not aligned with the triggering mechanism. If it is… well, they lose the game.

With a six-shooter (six chambers, one bullet) you would again have 5 in 6 chances, or 83% probability of winning - in this case, not getting the bullet. Again, there’s no money involved. Would you play?

Unless you have a death wish, your answer will most definitely be a resounding “no”.

Let’s go crazy and bring this up to 1000 chambers and just one bullet. That’s 999 chances of survival in 1000, or about 99.999% probability that you would not get the bullet. No money or any reward of any kind, just the thrill. It’s almost guaranteed that you won’t get the bullet - and still…

Even if there was a reward of some kind, it would be hard to say yes, wouldn’t it? After all, you’d be gambling with your life.

Now let’s add a twist: on every turn, before pulling the trigger, you would have the choice of either pointing the gun at your head, or at your friend. This would give you a much better chance of survival - but you might end up killing your friend, which is also unthinkable. This game is sounding less and less like something you’d play of your own free will, isn’t it?

Would it make a difference if, instead of a friend, the other player was someone completely unknown to you? (hopefully that’s still a resounding “no”)

What if we consider the possibility that instead of simply dying, you - or your friend - could also end up in a very bad shape, part of your brain blown out, your motor and cognitive functions forever diminished, being dependent on someone else for the rest of your life… quite a grim outcome. Some would say it would be even worse than dying.

The best option is to simply not play the game at all.

It’s easy for us to gamble when the stakes are low because if we lose, we don’t lose much. It’s an entirely different thing when we’re gambling with our life or someone else’s life.

Yet, that’s what a lot of people do every day during this coronavirus pandemic.

The risk carries no reward and the chances of getting the virus are actually much higher than the chances of surviving the 1000-chamber russian roulette game. After getting the virus, it’s another russian roulette game: the consequences can range from absolutely nothing and the person not even knowing they’re infected, to the person dying - with a broad range of serious and permanent respiratory, neurological and heart conditions to choose from in between.

When someone chooses not to take precautions, they are basically saying “I’m OK with playing russian roulette and I’m ok with pointing the gun at my friends and family”. They may end up OK but their loved ones, coworkers, friends, and their relatives may not be so lucky. By not taking the necessary precautions, they are putting themselves at risk and risking the lives of everyone else around them.

And keep in mind, we’re not just talking about people dying, we’re talking about the possibility of having long-lasting or even permanent health issues.

And yes, you might argue that contrary to the russian roulette game, this disregard for precaution can actually have a reward, which is maintaining one’s sanity. After months of lockdown, we are all feeling affected. We miss our families, our friends, the sun, the fresh air, exercising outdoors, etc. Luckily, we can have all that without having to risk our health and the health of those around us - we just need to take precautions.

You can - in fact, you should go out to get fresh air and exercise. Just don’t get together in large groups and keep your distance from others.

You can meet your friends and family, just don’t do it indoors, make sure you all weark masks and keep your distance.

Wash your hands regularly. Always carry a little bottle of hand sanitizer when you go out and use it generously. Keep your distance from others. If you have to get close to someone else (less than 2.5 meters or 8 ft), wear a mask. In fact, always wear a mask in public, just in case you forget or accidentally get closer than you should. Avoid any closed spaces where you’d be too close to other people. And of course, if you have symptoms, stay home and call your doctor.

It’s still going to take a while but we’ll get through this. We just have to keep making the right decisions every day instead of playing russian roulette.