COVID-19 doesn’t care about your opinions regarding its threat. It can come into your house, fluff your pillows, breathe on your toothbrush, lick your doorknobs, rearrange your furniture and settle down for a nice long visit before you even know it’s there.
By the time you figure out you have a guest, you yourself have become a vector spraying COVID into the wind like the fountains at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, because you’ve likely been infected for days or even weeks, and may never feel a single symptom. It is utterly insidious.
This is one of the central reasons why this beast has done so much damage. This was true when the first U.S. case appeared in Washington State, and after all the pain it has caused over the intervening time, it remains precisely as true today. That pain is not over. According to science, it is likely just getting started.
We cannot wish this thing away, though we are apparently going to try, because Donald Trump tells us we have prevailed and will soon return to greatness. As of this week, all 50 states have “reopened” to one degree or another. Each state is winging it when it comes to safety rules, because the federal government under Trump’s “leadership” has washed its hands of providing conscientious guidance and assistance. In fact, if Mitch McConnell has his way, even the entirely insufficient help that has been provided will be rolled back in the name of ideological purity.
Florida and Georgia have blown their economic doors wide open to COVID, and have tampered with their infection numbers to dupe the public into believing they will be safe. In doing so, these states have put not only their residents but the entire nation in deep peril.
In Florida, the death toll numbers being released by the medical examiners were higher than the ones being released by the state, so the state put a stop to the examiners’ releasing their numbers. Rebekah Jones, the state employee tasked with updating the public database of infections, was fired after complaining that the numbers were being altered and manipulated. Gov. Ron DeSantis called her an insubordinate stalker, but neither he nor anyone else explained why those numbers were juked.
Georgia GOP Gov. Brian Kemp was hailed a hero in publications like The Wall Street Journal for keeping his state’s COVID numbers low after “reopening” the economy to a far greater degree than most other states. It was all a mirage, a deliberate masquerade intended to fudge the numbers and fake out the people in favor of the money, and the blood will be on Kemp’s hands when all is said and done.
Despite the best efforts of its Democratic governor, the state of Wisconsin has likewise thrown caution to the wind thanks to its right-leaning judiciary. The bars in Green Bay have been packed with no consideration given to the need for social distancing, and residents of Illinois are flocking across the border to enjoy the easier strictures than the ones in their state. Some of them will become infected with COVID, because that is what COVID does. They will bring their infections home, and the pandemic will continue to spread.
Indeed, the menace is already making itself acutely felt in rural areas that have to date been largely spared, and thus are the epicenters for the wildly irresponsible “Reopen Now” movement. Trump’s White House knows all about it. “A new analysis being reviewed by the White House shows southern states that moved too quickly to relax social distancing guidelines face significant risk for a resurgence of the coronavirus over the next several weeks,” reports The Daily Beast. “In several cases, counties will see hundreds of additional cases by June 17.”
Churches in Georgia, Texas and Arkansas that invited their congregations back for worship have suffered new outbreaks, forcing some of them to close their doors again. This is a pattern that will almost certainly be repeated across the full spectrum of our common national activities as the virus continues its long burn.
For churches and other houses of worship, there will be no direction on safety coming from the federal government any time soon. “Guidance for reopening houses of worship amid the coronavirus pandemic has been put on hold after a battle between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the White House,” reports The Washington Post, which was resistant to putting limits on religious institutions.”
The U.S. retains a relentlessly myopic view of itself and the world. We are here, they are there, because we believe ourselves to be “exceptional.” Yet COVID laughs at the notion of borders, having crossed several to arrive here undetected. Globalization has made the legal fiction of borders all the more gossamer, and the wider world is plunging into the same viral darkness we endure here.
In Brazil, right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro is doing his best Trump impersonation, shrugging off the crisis even as Sao Paulo has endured a 34 percent spike in confirmed COVID cases. Lebanon trembles on the cusp of a major food crisis as the virus rips through the population. India and Bangladesh are staring down the barrel of a massive cyclone while COVID slashes through the poorest and most densely populated sections of cities like Mumbai.
It came from “over there” to here, and there is every reason to believe it will do so again as the entire world becomes engulfed. The only thing COVID is better at than killing is traveling. The latter serves the former with terrifying ease, and even if we “flatten the curve” in a best-case scenario, we are one international flight away from having all of it start up all over again. This is not even close to being over.
There is now hard data on the degree to which Trump and his allies have botched the response to this pandemic, and the numbers are utterly horrifying. Disease modelers at Columbia University have concluded that if the U.S. had instituted social distancing one scant week before it did, some 36,000 fewer people would have died. Had we begun the practice on March 1, as many scientists and medical professionals advised at the time, around 83 percent of the deaths that have occurred would not have taken place.
We stand on the cusp of 100,000 COVID deaths here in the U.S. According to the Columbia University study, some 80,000 of them could and should have been avoided. In the face of this fully preventable catastrophe, Trump has responded by saying he would have done absolutely nothing differently if given the chance. At this moment, Republican operatives are lining up pro-Trump quacks in lab coats to preach the bastard gospel of immediate “reopening.”
Let all that sink in good and deep, and remember it well the next time you hear him, or anyone, proclaim the crisis done with.
Bob Dylan once told us, “Money doesn’t talk, it swears.” He was right. U.S.-style capitalism has always been self-destructive at its core. With its roots buried deep in the abomination of the slave trade, this nation’s concept of “business” chews through people and nature in a ceaseless and thoroughly gluttonous quest for “growth,” which is nothing more than a kind euphemism for “plunder.” It has been this way in one form or another since the first European boot touched this soil.
Capitalism is entropy writ large, and today, we find ourselves bearing witness to what may well be the final fragmentation of a lethal idea: That a few who have everything can dictate mortal terms to the many with little and less. Empty stomachs outweigh the balance of power every time, and hungry children become angry adults who will have a bone to pick with those who laid them low. Of this, history fairly sings.
The country is not “reopening” because the pandemic is finished, or because scientists and medical professionals say it is safe. We are “reopening” because in these United States, the people have always come a distant second to profit. As this crisis broadens and deepens, some of those people may decide to take matters into their own hands and strike rather than die for someone’s desire for a haircut or a table at their favorite restaurant.
Our leaders have led us into this meat grinder, and now they want us to sacrifice ourselves for the greater glory of revenue and “growth.” It is already too late to save those who will die for these malicious, callous, greedy decisions, and if the song of history keeps its tune, there will be a fearsome reckoning on the far side of this convulsion of heedless cruelty.
Please do what you can to stay safe and do not listen to the president or his friends, so you may be here to bear witness to that, and to lend a hand as you see fit. We are on our own, and in this together. Solidarity is the only vaccine we can depend on until further notice. That, and that alone, is how we will prevail.