The First 100 Yards of our Coronavirus Marathon
Why Americans died needlessly of COVID-19 and why it’s likely to accelerate in the months ahead as we race to reopen the country.
Depending on where you live, the first wave may be ending for you. Statistically speaking the first wave will have ended when a state has no new infections for fourteen days. Not one state can say this has happened.
Surviving the first wave is not something to celebrate. You survived it because you were likely sheltering somewhere if your state’s leaders were doing their job. The sheltering in place was only the beginning. It was to prepare you for the stage many states are now entering: The far more dangerous and possibly explosive second wave.
The second wave was inevitable. We all knew it. We agreed to shelter in place while hospitals figured out how to prepare for the expected wave of casualties from the first wave. We sheltered in place for two to three months, depending on where you lived in the country.
Before I go any further, I want you to understand my perspective on this virus. Yours may be different, but I hope it isn’t. Let me say it so there is no guessing and no vagary in my words.
The coronavirus didn’t go away. You are not safe.
This is not the world of 2019. This is 2020 and we are all at risk from SARS-CoV-2. People are still dying from this virus and will continue to do so, all around the world, even in places which currently managed to get their infection rate under control; those which managed to isolate the sick, contact trace potentially infected individuals to have them quarantine themselves, maintain shelter in place and entreat their citizens to wear the necessary PPE to survive.
The second wave is more dangerous than the first because people survived it. They psychologically are treating it like a storm or hurricane and they are ready for it to be over. In their minds, they sheltered and the storm has passed. But viruses don’t work that way.
This infection is mobile and will continue to move among us as we move. And as we travel, and ship and return to an international footing, this virus will move across borders, a silent killer, invisibly among us, waiting for a moment of inattention, to strike. Novel, we have no defense against it except what build with our habits.
Knowledge, good habits, diligence, focus and attention to detail may be the only thing between you and this disease. There is no vaccine and may not be one for two to four years on a fast track. Conceivably, (unpopular though this may be to hear) there may NEVER be a viable vaccine and our goal is to find effective, safe, affordable, quality treatments.
THE HARSH REALITY
The coronavirus is still out in the world and in the United States it is estimated 2,000 people every day will die from this disease for the foreseeable future. It is estimated by the end of September, 200,000 Americans will have died of COVID-19 related illnesses and tens of thousands of others will have life-altering physical health conditions they may have to deal with for the rest of their lives.
There is no safety. There is less dangerous. There is measured risk. That measure will be chosen for you, if you don’t learn what those risks are an how to mitigate them and protect yourself. Our leaders could have done more. They should have.
We will pay the price for their greed, contempt and outright ignorance.
Three months was all the sheltering Americans seemed able or willing to do. As our poorly managed state and national funds ran out, and with no infusion of corporate cash from tax dollars, all the government could do was write more debt into existence.
Rather than letting big business fend for itself, buoyed by its recent (within three years) tax cuts and other economic shenanigans like buying back stock and everything else they did with the money they didn’t pay in taxes, big business managed to get a lions share of the first stimulus money which was supposedly directed at Americans to help the survive the first months without work as they sheltered in place.
Where other nations were paying their citizens the equivalent of about $2000 dollars a month for three or four months (sufficient to allow them to live and even pay their rent if they were frugal) Americans were given a one time $1200 stimulus check which would arrive anywhere from three weeks to NEVER. Why never? Because a host of decisions would decide who, when, where and why you may or may not get a check.
Pay taxes recently: you got a check and pretty quick.
Haven’t filed taxes recently (or if you are young, at all): no check for you.
Moved recently: you might not get a check right away.
17 years old: maybe you get one, maybe you don’t.
On social security? Maybe you get a check, maybe you don’t.
Married to a legal immigrant? No check for your partner.
All of this hid the fact that many people living in the United States would not get a check for two to five months after they were issued, especially if they needed to get a paper check because Donald Trump NEEDED to sign them.
The worst part is many people who will get a check are likely to get that check at the address they USED to live in but will be subsequently evicted from because they do not have work and have not paid rent.
Technically, if you (or your landlord) had the right kind of loan, you could have your rent frozen for three months. This did not STOP your rent from accruing and at the end of the three months you would have to pay up or get out. Most people were struggling to pay their rent when they HAD a job. Add three months of back rent and no job and all you will see is a host of evictions as soon as the lawyers and judges return to court.
Potentially millions of Americans are in this fix and there is no cure being discussed at the national level thanks to protests and other social challenges including a complete disregard for the coronavirus itself, as the second wave (or the extended continuation of the first) continues.
Unlike more progressive countries, America tried to get slick and instead of giving people money they could use, their “stimulus” was hidden in unemployment check bonus (which meant if you weren’t working before, or lost your job recently, there was no additional stimulus for you.)
Such religious couching of the money (if a man works, he eats — tying it to unemployment implies only those who worked should eat) would have unexpected side effects, from states whose unemployment technology was as old as time and unable to keep up with the demand when 40 million Americans declared bankruptcy.
Some states (Florida, in particular) had their unemployment technology intentionally crippled to keep their unemployment numbers low for political reasons. This mean a state where people where chronically unemployed, they were unable to file effectively because the technology was crippled by design. This was known by the state’s governor but not consider significant until the coronavirus make a vast number of Floridians needed to apply and the system spent more time down than up.
POLITICS, MISINFORMATION AND OUTRIGHT CRUELTY
Where we stand now is upon a precipice: 44 million Americans are without work, with their rent backing up, with no additional stimulus funds being made available from government. The government COULD do it, but won’t, deeming the fallout to be too difficult to navigate.
What’s to navigate you might ask? The shutdown and shelter in place cause many states who were already close to not having enough money to go into the red. A responsible government would have realized this would have been a result and made contingencies for this as part of federal oversight. Instead, Mitch McConnell and the Republican Party have decided to tell states to go bankrupt (which states cannot do) or to beg the President for funding subject to his approval, creating a partisan divide as red states and blue states, already separated by ideology are now struggling to get resources needed to run their states.
This partisan divide affected which states got funds, personal protective equipment, ventilators and the speed at which their stimulus funds were approved. States which curried favor with the president (read that as red states) were able to get more money and more resources.
States which couldn’t get money, were forced to watch their economies struggle and did the only thing they could do when they weren’t able to get more money from the federal government: they began to reopen their economies, telling people they could go back to work, even though the threat had not passed.
Were we going to be able to shelter in place forever? Unlikely, but the goal of sheltering was to both “flatten the curve” reducing the rate of infection, allowing hospitals, emergency workers, and the medical systems in general time to set up for COVID-19 wards, gather PPE, train staff on the best ways to deal with this problematic infection and with said experience have, hopefully, fewer deaths on the front end of the infection. This was called preparing for the first wave.
New York was one of the hardest hit states in the first wave, along with New Jersey. Population density, minority populations with comorbidities (existing health conditions which caused a higher chance of extreme sickness or death such as asthma, diabetes, immunocompromised persons, kidney failure, hypertension) common to the African American community and population.
Outside of New York the first wave was manageable but the United States would eventually count over 200,000 dead by the first of June. This was the same time the nation as a whole was experiencing cabin fever and the president having shut down the media broadcasts from the CDC and its own so-called Coronavirus Task Force which consisted of the president’s hand picked agents congratulating him for a job well done as Americans died at a rate of 1500 a day across the country.
States began to reopen, having decided to attempt to adopt guidelines from the CDC and WHO. These guidelines tended to be a combination of masks, physical distancing, no large groups, hand washing and limited exposure to other people. Businesses were to begin creating new parameter for their occupancy, from halving the number of people in stores and restaurants, to only allowing curbside pickup. Essential workers who delivered food, EMTs, police and medical staff all sickened at expected rates and deaths among transit workers and hospital staff were some of the highest among essential workers.
Meat packing workers would be forced to return to work, having their work declared essential but the facilities did not provide adequate care and many of those workers would become sick and a number would die while they figured out how to have those facilities function under the new COVID-19 guidelines.
PARTISANSHIP, AN IMMORAL CALCULUS
While states have dithered about explaining what they needed to do to keep people safe, misinformation has swept the nation and paid provocateurs protested about wearing masks and returning to work, but the truth was most of the people who were protesting were not fighting to return to work, they were fighting to force others to return to work so the state did not have to pay them unemployment.
How did that work? A state would declare itself at a limited level open for work. A series of stages set by each state based on a federal guideline would determine what kind of businesses could be open and what the requirements for that business would be. Once they were allowed to be open, the business would tell its workers, they could come back to work, despite the fact, there were limited means of protecting workers from the coronavirus.
In essence, they were being told they HAD to return to work and if they didn’t they would be declared having quit their jobs and thus were ineligible for unemployment, getting both the business and the state off the hook. The worker would not get unemployment nor would they have a job. Great for the business and the state, but this process threw thousands of workers to the wolves.
What was the purposes of this essay? To point out our nation’s citizens have been misled, its workers failed and though cities, counties and states are reopening and returning workers to jobs, the nature, the safety and the new parameters of those jobs is still in question. Whether it be at work or at school, Americans are going to have to make hard choices, often with conflicting or insufficient information.
Where to work, whether to work, how to send our kids to school, should they go to daycare, how dangerous is going out into the public, riding a bus or a train, eating at a restaurant, going to a stadium, everything we took for granted six months ago, must now be considered with a focused effort. No group is completely immune.
Being young offers some resistance, but more and more cases are showing up in every age group which means asymptomatic carriers are possible and the question becomes how do we keep the people most vulnerable from being infected by our more immune resistant family members.
ALL BAD CHOICES
As you return to work, the guidelines for your workplace are liable to be mutable and constantly changing. Remember, the powers that be chose to experiment with your life rather than transform our system to help protect you and yours.
Every day you have to deal with the virus and a government which refuses to increase testing to adequate levels, refuses to provide affordable healthcare, whether you are working or not, refuses to return states to shutdown conditions as the virus begins to spread wildly again, are all ways of determining who lives and who dies.
If you can work from home, safe from mass transit, from having to be in an office, you will likely live, as your chances of getting the virus diminish with reduced contact with other people. If you’re essential, your risk is correspondingly greater with each Human interaction you engage in.
The American government failed you when Trump cut CDC funding and shut down the pandemic awareness system put in place by the previous administration. He failed you a second time when he allowed sixty days to pass where he declared the virus a hoax and refuse to take action.
Now the government is forcing states to reopen and essentially spreading the virus without providing standards, moral, social, effective protections which show a value for life not only as a workforce capital but as Human beings deserving of life even in a time of pandemic.
The callous disregard for American lives will be seen in the months ahead when schools and colleges reopen and efforts to return to normal are pushed because American attention spans cannot manage the effort necessary to survive the conditions we find ourselves facing.
We have just finished the first hundred yards of a 26 mile marathon. The worst is still ahead of us.
THINGS TO REMEMBER:
Wear a mask: It protects you and it protects others. If you become infected but are asymptomatic, you are reducing your spread of the disease.
Stay informed locally: Read your local news to have an idea if your state, county, or city is having an increase in cases. Regular surveys of those information sources may give information on what your local authorities are recommending in coming days or weeks.
If you are sick, stay home. Self-isolate. If you get sick, and find yourself having trouble breathing, call your local hospital and get instructions on how to get appropriate care and which facilities can treat you.
If you get sick, get tested. This is especially important if you live with other family members.
Don’t touch your face. Break the habit of touching your eyes, nose or mouth. The virus is known to use the mucus membranes of the nose and eyes to enter the body. Be mindful of how often you touch your face. If you are face to face with the public, a face shield may also be a recommended device to consider.
Stay out of the public. This will become more important as cities reopen and exposure increases. In light of protests, I cannot stress enough, a high quality mask, physical distancing and avoiding crowded areas. Avoid getting arrested as your mask may be one of the first things confiscated.
Limit your interaction with other people and be your own best contact tracer. Know who you met with, where you went and if you want to be extra careful, keep your own log of where you went on any given day. It might save a life.
Wash your hands, thoroughly. Twenty seconds, warm water and soap. If you are out in public touching things, a 70% hand sanitizer is an adequate substitute until you can get to soap and water.
Are gloves viable? It depends on what you’re doing. Poor glove etiquette is as bad as not having them at all. Be in the habit of touching things in public less.
As to whether you should clean everything entering your home, epidemiologists are still arguing. But I clean everything with soap and water when I get it home. I also change my clothes.
In my mind, there’s no such thing as being too careful during a worldwide pandemic whose end date is indeterminate and whose lethality offers the potential of dying or worse, living a broken husk with lung failure, renal failure, liver failure, blood clots, strokes, vascular disorders, or a host of other lifelong afflictions which could make me more vulnerable to the same disease in the future because adding insult to injury, we have no idea if any immunity gained lasts a lifetime.
I want to do my level best to never find out.
Once more for the people in the back: Knowledge, good habits, diligence, focus and attention to detail may be the only thing between you and this disease. We have just started this race and out of the gate, America is almost dead last.
Don’t let the American affliction of a short attention span make you underestimate this world-changing threat on our doorsteps. The world is fundamentally changed, possibly forever. Good luck out there.
My name is Thaddeus Howze and I am The Cognitive Dissident.
Thaddeus Howze is the Answer-Man, a fugitive speculative fiction author and futurist with an encyclopedic knowledge of comix and pop-culture. He writes political analysis as the Cognitive Dissident. He is an assistant editor at Krypton Radio, a climate activist and pod-caster at the The Good Men Project