Thoughts on COVID-19

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Corona viruses have been around for a long time and the world has seen its share of pandemics, plagues, and disasters of all kinds. This one seems modern, illusive, yes, even novel. It is one that developed countries should have been prepared for despite the challenges of combatting a largely invisible menace. Those countries and U.S. states that have taken the threat seriously from the beginning by implementing social distancing measures, quarantines, shelter in place and stay at home orders, who shut down businesses and emphasized sanitary protocols, and conducted mass testings, are now in better shape in terms of hospitalizations and death rates. In the U.S., states like California, Washington and Oregon, fiercely fought the virus from day 1 and managed resources efficiently, with some help from the federal government but not nearly enough.

The federal response to the virus outbreak in the U.S. has been an absolute disaster. Trump dithered and downplayed the seriousness of the virus in the early stages arguing that it would go away, that it was just another flu, and a political hoax, that the flu was much more serious in terms of the number of deaths and no one was talking about it – he suggested that liberals should be more alarmed about drownings and car accidents. His confidence in the hoax theory gave Republican governors in states like Florida and Georgia the license to ignore the warnings of public health officials. Until recently, many Floridians could be seen frolicking on beaches as if sand, sun, and salt water provided protection against the virus.

By the time doctors and scientists finally got through to Trump, it was too late to prevent the spread of the virus and to martial the resources states needed to protect health workers and save patients. And even though Trump has been conducting daily briefings suggesting he might actually care about the devastating impact the virus has had on people, unfortunately these have turned into campaign rallies and sparring matches with reporters. Rather than using the full powers of his presidency to issue a national stay at home order and to require companies to retool in service to the needs of hospitals and front line workers, Trump is attempting to weaponize the virus for his political advantage. Instead of giving states what they need, he appears to be strategically fulfilling requests to governors who say nice things about him. Those who dare to criticize, Trump attacks like a fifth grade bully.  He called Governor Jay Inslee a snake.  He lies about the quick U.S. response – it was not quick, it was delayed. He claims that he has saved millions of lives because he closed off the U.S. to Europe and China, which is not true; he even had a UK exemption initially, perhaps due to business interests, and the UK has had one of the worst outbreaks and least effective responses to it in the world.  And none of this even mattered because the virus was already spreading in the U.S.

The death toll projections for the U.S. are expected to be around 60,000 which is a much lower number than originally anticipated, and Trump is already taking credit for this, saying his swift action has made all the difference. Where is the empathy? To date, almost 100,000 people have died from COVID-19 worldwide and nearly 17,000 in the U.S.  Other than Trump and his blindly loyal supporters, who could argue that 60,000 U.S. dead is a winning number? By the way, 60,000 would be twice the number of deaths from the flu in a typical year in the U.S. and nearly twice as many car accidents. How many of these senseless deaths could have been prevented if Trump had really taken swift and decisive actions like some countries did, had he heeded the advice of experts long before the pandemic hit, and had he not dismantled a pandemic task force that was in place because it had Obama’s stamp of approval?

Look at the numbers in Finland, Germany, and So. Korea.  What do these countries have in common? They acted early by massively testing and by locking things down. They prevented rampant community spread so that their hospital systems wouldn’t be overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients. Neighboring countries of Germany and Finland like the UK and Sweden that acted late have been hit much harder and have significantly higher death rates.

Trump claims that the U.S. is testing like no other, more tests than anyone, and that may be true, but not more tests per capita, not even close to Germany or So. Korea. And he said that anyone could get a test who wants one, which was probably the most impactful lie of the 60,000 plus he has told while in office to date, because as everyone knows in the U.S., it’s next to impossible to get a test unless gravely ill. Even health workers in some areas are not able to get a test.

The failure of the federal government to effectively deal with the COVID-19 outbreak will be Trump’s downfall. Trump’s incompetence has cost American lives, not saved them. His lies are insidious and designed to mask his failures as a leader. Rather than owning up to his errors, he blames the governors – saying they acted too late. This is classic gaslighting. In fact, states have mostly had to act on their own – secure their own ventilators, buy their own PPE. They’ve had to recruit volunteer resources where there are shortages of nurses and doctors. They have had to lead the U.S. response because the federal government refuses to step up or is not prepared to. Now that is not to say that the federal government has done nothing. They have deployed the army corps of engineers to build temporary hospitals. They have sent some supplies to various states – ventilators, PPE, test kits in a disorganized fashion. They did steer two military ships to ports in California and New York to treat patients. They did issue some basic guidelines to stop the spread of the virus – first it was 15 days, as if the virus would be defeated in two weeks, then that was revised to 30 days giving some the false hope that it would go away in a month. Trump desperately wants the country to get back to work, to boost the economy and improve his election chances, the virus be damned.  And that attitude may cost more Americans their lives.

And this is not to say that there are currently no efforts to fight the virus and treat the victims. Far from it. The front line workers, the nurses, the doctors, EMTs and other emergency responders are working tirelessly. They are heroes. They risk their lives everyday to save and protect others even without the proper gear to protect themselves in some cases. They are literally the ones saving lives, not Trump. Additionally, many governors and mayors throughout the country have responded much more  effectively than the federal government, taking cues from health officials rather than partisan politicians who question data and dismiss science as a hoax. They make the Trump administration’s response look small, petty,  ill-informed, and dangerous.

We will get through this pandemic together. But it will take a coordinated response. If the feds won’t lead, the states and cities will have to continue to take charge and keep the pedal to the metal to paraphrase Dr. Anthony Fauci. Trump may encourage businesses to re-open before it is safe to do so, and may claim that the virus has been defeated – maybe he’s stupid enough to believe his own lie. But most Americans know the truth that no one is safe anywhere until there is a vaccine, and that might be 18 months out.

So, stop the spread. Stay home if you can. If you have to go out, keep your distance, wear a mask and gloves, wash your hands frequently, use hand sanitizer, cough into your elbow, disinfect anything you bring into the house from the outside. Wash clothes after going out. Disinfect door handles. Don’t shake anyone’s hands. Self-isolate if sick and call/contact the doctor. Have food or medicine delivered. Get supplies of prescription meds for 90 days if possible. Look after your loved ones especially the elderly and infirm. Check in on friends (by phone or computer). Listen to the doctors and public health officials. Be safe. Better days are ahead.

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