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Since the Arkansas Democrat-

Gazette is now a digital worldwide paper, some readers might not understand the Southern expression "hunkerin' down." In response to a couple of recent columns in which I used the phrase, I received several emails from California, so I might need to clarify its meaning.

Back during the erratic late 1980s, when the price of oil dropped to under $10/bbl, my partner and I were in Midland, Texas, trying to find financing for a well in south Texas. We were talking to a Texas oilman who had been in business for decades, and I said, "How in the world are we going to get through this $8 oil?"

He just shook his head and cracked, "I don't know about y'all, but I's just gonna hunker down till it passes."

That's makes it pretty clear what hunkerin' down means, and if you are anything like our family, you are hunkerin' down. That's called "sheltering in place" by some of the more sophisticated columnists, but not by me. I'm hunkerin' down, bored, and mad as hell. That's because the virus has not just made us hunker down; it has affected every part of our lives. It has greatly reduced our quality of life.

I'm an oil and gas exploration geologist, and you might think my profession wouldn't be affected. Yet the virus has almost eliminated oil and gas exploration--and my job.

The pandemic's worldwide stranglehold drove oil futures, which determine the price of oil ahead of the market, down to below $0. In fact, it got down to a negative $34 per barrel--suppliers would pay you that much to take a barrel of oil.

It didn't stay there for long, but today, as the market bounces around $35 per barrel and an over-supplied world market exists, hundreds of drilling rigs are being stacked, and the capital to drill new wells has dried up.

That's because the income of producing oil wells, which were at $70 per barrel before the pandemic, are now at $36 per barrel. That has reduced cash flow by over 50 percent. Those are the dollars that were being used to drilled new wells.

If we analyze our activities and daily lives before the pandemic compared to today, we can easily see how enormous the impact has been. The first area in the country, which was hit the hardest, was New York City, and to combat the virus, the mayor and governor took extraordinary steps to control the first wave of the virus.

It seems that as the second wave starts, they are determined to keep it from being as bad as the first: mandating masks and social distancing and committing to shutting down segments of the city's entertainment district, which includes bars and restaurants, if the situation gets worse.

However, since there is not a national mandate, which would make masks and other safeguards mandatory, the situation varies from state to state.

Among the top states in the country for new virus infections seem to be North and South Dakota. You would think states where you can drive for miles without seeing a car would be at the bottom of the list. But these states aren't, and it's not difficult to understand why.

In order for the virus to spread it must travel from an infected person to a non-infected person, and that is why we hunker down, maintain social distancing, and wear masks. The countries that crack down and enforce those safeguards have licked the virus.

The entire continent of Australia has eradicated the virus along with New Zealand and other countries, which have it under control by doing what it takes to control the virus.

A study from the nonprofit research institute IZA found Germany's local and regional mask mandate "reduced the cumulative number of registered covid-19 cases between 2.3 percent and 13 percent over a period of 10 days after they became compulsory."

The Dakotas never fully closed down, and that allowed the virus to spread in bars, restaurants, parties, and other large gatherings. A motorcycle rally in Sturgis, where the attendance was estimated at over 500,000, along with very little mask-wearing and where social distancing was ignored, is certainly a red flag. Some experts blame that motorcycle rally for being part of the catalyst that spread the virus through the area. Both states have made masks voluntary.

Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota has been quoted as saying, "Here in South Dakota, we trust our people. We respect their rights. We won't shut them down."

As the number of deaths and infections continue to grow it becomes obvious our country is not doing what it takes to control the spread. We have continued to lead the world in infections and deaths, and if we are going to control the virus and reduce deaths we must do what other successful countries are doing: mandate masks, social distancing, and avoid large group gatherings.

To make the mandate effective we must impose significant fines on individuals and companies who ignore those restrictions. If we don't, the virus will continue to kill Americans, and until we reach herd immunity, hundreds of thousands will die.

A vaccine will probably be available before the end of the year, but it will be well into 2021 before enough Americans receive the vaccine to give our country protection.

There are thousands of dead Americans who made the virus political and didn't follow any of the safeguards. Politics should have never been a part of an attempt to either ignore the virus, or diminish the need for safeguards. Hopefully, we can put politics behind us and concentrate on eliminating this pandemic.

Email Richard Mason at


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