It’s hard to know how to start. I have two blog post drafts from a few days ago that are already obsolete. Publishing any of these would feel callous and tone deaf. How can I talk about the unexpected bliss of life at home with all our kids reunited? How can I share a succession of memes that seemed funny just yesterday but today make your stomach sink in horror?
The world is speeding up, and the future becomes the present all too soon – even though each agonizing day of this horror show seems to drag on forever.
Last Sunday’s episode on The Daily illustrates this better than anything (if you haven’t yet, I can highly recommend subscribing to The Daily – simply hearing Michael Barbaro’s voice every morning has become a soothing comfort to me). It is the reading of one woman’s account of her husband’s battle with Covid-19 disease, and her daily life of taking care of him and her teenage daughter in their New York apartment.
It’s an odd combination of beautifully poetic writing and descriptions of the harsh realities of this illness. What got most to me were her thoughts during long, lonely nights, when the fear is worst. What will I do if I get sick too? If we both have to go to the hospital? Can a 16-year old live on her own in an apartment, or who could we send her to? In one scene, she sees people out on the sidewalk, without masks, as she and her husband make a slow and halting walk to the clinic for an x-ray. She envies their peace of mind, but also feels pity that not too long from now, their world may very well have changed just like hers did a few weeks earlier.
My present is their future, she says.
I think this is a good way to describe what the world is going through. Somebody’s present is our future, and our present is somebody else’s future.
And how each country has reacted to protect its citizens is a direct result of the ability of a country’s leaders to look at that present elsewhere in the world, and prepare. And our government, aided and abetted by one notable irresponsible news organization, has dismally failed in that respect.
Two and a half weeks ago, on 3/14/2020, I posted a graph on this blog. I urged everyone to use the slider on the graph to see how a delay in drastic action would increase the death toll. And how, conversely, immediate public closings of more or less everything were needed to slow down the spread of infections. I’m not going to bother to look which insanity, exactly, Trump and his enablers in the Senate and on Fox News were spouting on that exact date, but it was likely a variation of we got this under total control, I did a fabulous job of managing this crisis, and the cure is worse than the disease, we need to pack churches by Easter.
And by no means was I sounding the alarm early. Others have done so for months. By January, most experts agreed that this was a potential disaster. By February, we could all see it unfold in Italy in real time. And yet there were people I remember arguing with at the time who insisted that we are not like Italy, we are so much better equipped. America, the exceptional country. That was a stupid thing to think. And it was a criminal thing to say by those who quietly sold their stock behind the scenes, like certain senators from North Carolina and Georgia.
Well, I hear a big sound of silence from these people now. Except not all. Unbelievably, there are those, like Ron DeSantis, who are still willfully ignoring the reality of exponential curves. How I wished, back in mid-March, that he would do the sensible thing and shut down Florida for spring break. It could have saved countless lives. Instead, Florida became one giant Petri dish where the virus spread and from where it made its way to countless homes across North America.
Maybe you could forgive the lack of swift action then, even though it was willfully ignorant. But it is unforgivable now. With every day that he dithers, he is condemning people to death.
Other states have done better. The Bay Area was wise, it turns out, to tell its residents to stay home when they did. It was the first time I had ever heard the term “shelter in place.” And it’s now one of the areas of the country where the spread has already slowed. Social distancing is working. To continue to drag your feet in the face of these overwhelming facts is not negligent, it is cruel. And it is also immensely stupid. As John Oliver said, the choice is not between two bad outcomes (deaths vs the economy), it is between one bad outcome and both bad outcomes. Doing nothing or doing too little has had catastrophic consequences on the death toll and the economy, and we are nowhere near rock bottom yet.
The federal government finally showed us that curve yesterday. The one I showed you some weeks back. We are told that with mitigating circumstances we can keep the death toll to under 200,000, and that this should be a success. Excuse me? You are now going to claim “success” with an outcome that could have been averted if you had acted months ago, when all the experts were shoving that curve into your face, and you refused to listen? Told us instead, we have 15 cases and soon they’ll be down to zero?
Furthermore, the 200,000 figure is wildly optimistic. And the “mitigation” being undertaken is not nearly stringent enough, or universal enough. As I said, there are still states that don’t have statewide bans on social gatherings. My state, Tennessee, has finally put in place a statewide shelter order. But I went and read it yesterday, and it is full of loopholes. It is not an actual order, for one, but more of a strong “urging” to stay home. And there are exemptions for “essential services” that boggle your mind. Like religious services. I won’t bother you with the harrowing stories you can find of church gatherings becoming hotbeds of coronavirus outbreaks.
There are still people out there that look at confirmed cases in their city, their county, their state – wildly underreported in any case because there are not enough tests – and say, that’s not too bad, we don’t need to put in place harsher measures that will hurt the economy, we will see how it goes and then maybe do it later.
Later will be too late. An exponential graph is an exponential graph. To look only at the beginning slope of it is the same as thinking you can safely pass right by this iceberg with your ship. What happened in Italy in February was New York’s future. What is happening in New York today is our future. What is happening in Tennessee today is Montana’s future. The cases that will hit in your community 3 weeks down the road are being spread all around you right now, this very minute.
Somebody’s present is going to be your future.
PS: Please, if your leaders don’t tell you to stay home, do it anyway. Isolate yourself. Don’t go out for groceries unless you absolutely have to. Wear a mask. Wash hands all the time. Disinfect surfaces like you’ve never done before. Protect yourself and others. Staying at home with everyone healthy is a pretty good place to be in.
PPS: Also, if you get your news from Fox “News”, stop. They’ve been lying to you for a very long time. They told you to go out and party to defy the liberal fear mongers while they quietly disinfected their office spaces. They told you this is a hoax. How we all wish it was a hoax, but it’s not. It’s real, and you need to stop listening to them, or at least go for a second opinion from a less-biased source. What these other sources are reporting on right now is your future.