The following was a letter sent to my father-in-law, who lives in London.
When the planes hit on September 11th, 2001, I was in sixth grade. School did not start until 9:00 AM Central Standard Time, so I was privy to the second plane hitting live on television. There was so much coverage of the event that it took me much longer than I’d like to admit to see that this was something new, that it was something different from what had happened before. When we went to school, I distinctly remember teachers attempting to wheel in network televisions so we could continue to watch. Some classes had CRT televisions in corners of the room, tiny and pixelated little screens that revealed to us as young children, ostensibly, that we do not control our fate, and that much of the world will be just as strange when you leave it as right now being in it.
No one ever told me to write down or document any of these thoughts from that time, and so all I really have is my memory, which I have come to see as a painfully unreliable source of information. So with our schools closing for two weeks after a harrowing spring break, I told my students to document everything. Whether it is in the form of a handwritten notebook, or it is some online blog, or if they happen to have a camera besides their phone, or if there is a way to record their voice, they simply need to have this in the future. “This is big,” I told them. “It’s not every year that the stock market crashes as bad as it did in 1987, that people buy more toilet paper than a Halloween mummy outfit will allow, and that the entire world is drawn to a standstill.”
Other teachers do not see the point. They are taking pains to inform the students to “be ready for projects to do” while they are under house arrest. To me it is ironic that the World History teacher, who only weeks ago had covered World War I and the Spanish Flu epidemic would not understand the implications of the virus that is sweeping the globe right now. Will this be as damaging as the Spanish Flu? Of course not. But why is it so humorous to me that our local history teacher does not see the history being made right now?
Much more pernicious is the toll this will take on America’s poor. The New York Mayor refuses to close schools, despite the fact that it allows children to be charged with the virus and then shot out like “little vectors” as Yale Professor Nicholas Christakis has taken to calling them, back to their homes, where they will hug their grandparents. The reasoning he gives is that some families will be unable to feed their children, instead relying on the public school lunch system to provide dietary needs.
Our schools, poor as they are, faced a similar dilemma. I work in a Title I school, which means that over half of our students receive either free or reduced price lunch.
Let’s review this, shall we?
The United States of America, a noble example of liberty, which as a nation has dominated global economics and politics for the better part of a century, cannot feed its own children.
The coronavirus first and foremost will be a rude wake up call to the citizenry, and as usual it will be the poor, dim, and overextended who will bear the cost.
Combating the virus will be traumatic. On March 11th, the University of Massachusetts in Amherst held a meeting with medical experts and professionals from top schools like Johns Hopkins, Yale, Harvard, and so on and so forth. It’s called the COVID-19 EXPERT JUDGMENTAL FORECAST SURVEY They stipulated that the peak, the PEAK, of hospital visits, will occur in May.
Long story short: we’re just getting started.
China has taken draconian measures to ensure its country has rid itself of the virus. Rumor has it that eventually they will have completely locked down under house arrest some 700 million of its people, more than twice the entire population of the United States. Human rights might quibble at the charge, but it worked. What is more distressing and alarming is that it might have been necessary: as China is the manufacturing warhorse of this Earth, to have our products, our medicines, our supplies stymied would have been the end of an era.
South Korea is the Westernized solution many have turned to. With more tests per citizen than any other nation, with measures to make the tests “contactless” to prevent incidental exposure in the form of drivethrough tests, as well as high-tech uses of monitoring the GPS on smart phones to make sure those under quarantine obey their directive, South Korea took a possibly horrendous situation and mitigated it. Of course, as a peninsular nation with a younger average population, they had luck on their side.
Italy is the opposite of that. With an older population, a connection to Europe through public transportation, and a stagnant economy that has lagged behind, their healthcare system is hemorrhaging under the weight of incoming patients. Last I checked, their death rate stands at 6.8%.
The United States, with hardly any testing across the country, has taken to preemptive closing of institutions, but in such a free nation, with an emphasis on individual liberties, people are still going to bars. Industries are still working around the clock, and citizens are marching into grocery stores to empty their shelves of nutrient dense food. The CDC was not equipped to handle such a pandemic, and even private measures by Google and Amazon pale in comparison. But are we REALLY this destitute as to rely on private companies? The testing that occurs now is moot: the virus is in 49 states (West Virginia reports none).
So testing is like dancing the waltz with no music.
And it is going to hurt. A baby boomer population with a variety of post-smoker health problems. An overweight population due to 78% of their diet as fast food. Young college students vaping as they play video games ad nauseum. Autoimmune diseases that touch every family. And as far as I can see, little care taken to social isolation.
John, it is a learning experience. I turned 30, and the more I look at the country we have built since 1970, the more I realize that no one is minding the store. No one is paying attention. Donald Trump practically dismantled the pandemic response team years ago when he took office, if only reflexively and spitefully to go after anything that his predecessor, President Obama, supposedly built. The climate change accords came after that…
It is almost more horrific that the virus is such a mild one. Yes, it is more damaging than the flu. Yes, it is more pernicious to older populations (while the Influenza epidemic of 1918 affected children). Yes, it has the capacity to spread wildly and effectively. But it is also a simpler virus compared to that of say Swine Flu, with a death rate over 50%. This should have been an easily managed crisis. Instead, the whole world pressed the pause button on the Netflix account. Sports industries on pause. The Vatican on pause for Christ’s sake (pun intended). Airlines dying as we watch. Travel suspended, public transit viewed as a death trap. Political primaries in the U.S. cancelled or relocated. I am receiving advertisements from Domino’s pizza, suggesting that I can request a “contactless” delivery of my large 14″ cheese pizza.
I think you saw how precarious America was as a nation, because you had a European comparison. You saw the crumbling infrastructure, the strapped and dilapidated public institutions. You saw the price gouging monsters that private, individualized healthcare wrought on its citizens. But now we are all going to see it. America has been running lean, it’s been running “light.” And with pandemics, that is not possible. One cannot REact to viruses. One must be PROactive. When president Obama heard of the Ebola crisis years before, he sent 10,000 people to fight the disease, learn from it, and react to it. We had known about COVID-19 for three months, knew of its existence, and yet our administration did nothing. Ron Klain gave an interview with New York Magazine on the ways we have made mistakes. I will paste that here. Feel free to weep on behalf of the Western world.
So the conclusions that many Americans have drawn is this: what little faith remained in the United States Government is gone. There is either a lack of communication (publically) or a massive wealth of overcommunication through social media tools like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, that leads to confusion. One Johns Hopkins doctor on Sam Harris’s podcast says it will pass, another as a researcher into dangerous epidemics on Joe Rogan’s podcast says it is going to be horrendous. There are no lines drawn, and so people are buying toilet paper.
The loneliness that awaits us all is what I am more concerned with. What a shame that we should have to send envoys out to the world, signaling to those who love us that we are still alive, that we are still breathing. I am sending emails and receiving them from students who have no one to care for them. They are simply sitting and playing video games or wandering the small rooms of their houses. American children are only taught to follow orders. They have no neurological structure for creativity, for productive avenues, for inspiration. While I am trying to jumpstart that, they are left to their own absurd behaviors.
As of this morning, the U.K. is considering some grand measures of its own, it looks like. Boris Johnson is being accosted by health experts to take more drastic action. It looks as though you are ahead of the curve.
Take Care of Yourself,