Will April 29, 2020 go down as the day that we turned a corner? Or a temporary blip on a long timeline of misery?
As I write this, there is reason to feel some optimism after a couple of months of bleak headlines about death and economic collapse. Like those first rays of warm sunshine after a cold and wet winter, I crave a true, real springtime with the social component it brings.
A New Hope
There’s a drug called Remdesivir made by Gilead Sciences Inc. that has shown some effectiveness in treating the COVID-19 novel coronavirus. Gilead said Covid-19 patients taking its drug Remdesivir had a speedier recovery than patients taking placebo in a large U.S. government-funded study. The company didn’t release detailed data showing the magnitude of the benefit, saying federal researchers would do so later.
Remdesivir, by the way, is a nucleotide analog, specifically an adenosine analogue, which inserts into viral RNA chains, causing their premature termination. In 2015, the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) announced preclinical results that Remdesivir had blocked the Ebola virus in Rhesus monkeys. The drug was rapidly pushed through clinical trials due to the West African Ebola virus epidemic of 2013–2016, eventually being used in people with the disease.
Dr. Anthony Fauci from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases was so impressed by the study results that he touted the effectiveness of the drug.
In my opinion, Fauci has credibility because he voiced skepticism while the president was pushing Hydroxychloroquine and Chloroquine as pollyanna solutions to a virus that should never have spread this much.
Americans have been extraordinarily patient during this crisis, but it’s pretty clear that we are reaching our limit as governors across the nation begin announcing the lifting of stay-at-home orders, even though the novel coronavirus continues to spread.
Our efforts social distancing since about mid-March have paid off with a leveling of the spread. Here in Alabama, we have not yet seen a downward trajectory of new cases, yet yesterday, the governor announced that her order would be allowed to expire tomorrow at 5 p.m., replaced by a new order effective until May 15 that allows most businesses to re-open subject to meeting sanitation, occupancy and social distancing guidelines. The state’s beaches have re-opened.
I have no doubt that people are going to go out in droves tomorrow evening, filling their need to be social in-person after weeks of only engaging on Facebook or on videoconferencing apps like Zoom.
Business owners are happy to see the lifting of restrictions after a couple of months of losing money. We’ve seen the extremes of capitalism during this pandemic. The unpleasant mental imagery of modern-day slave masters cracking the whip and demanding that the hired peasants get back to work, their health and well-being falling secondary to profits. To some degree, letting up on stay-at-home orders has more to do with limiting their liability than ensuring the safety of individual people.
That’s why I am going to let all of these people eager to call this whole thing a hoax or an over-reaction to go first. I’ll let them fall on their swords before I risk my neck.
Sadly, I fear that much of our efforts thus far will be for naught if we declare victory and fully demobilize before this battle is fully won.
Of course, the new guidelines don’t really affect me much anyway since I was designated legally as an essential employee and have still been required to go into work almost every day. But I have limited my interactions with people as much as possible. Straight to work, then straight home. Maybe the re-stocking of groceries on a couple of occasions simply because isolating at home to avoid a virus is pretty useless if you starve to death in the process.
If you can bet on anything right now, it’s that our days of wearing protective facemasks won’t end for several months. Not until we have a safe and effective vaccine widely available. I’m afraid you’re going to need to postpone going around and licking random strangers.
Time to Put Up or Shut Up
The leveling off of new cases of COVID-19 is leading some to declare that the massive social distancing and sheltering-in-place that we’ve practiced over the last month-and-a-half is a shamefully overblown, overhyped, overly and irrationally inflated, constitutionally questionable and outright deceptively flawed response. These health orders were always going to be victims of their own success.
The skeptics argue that most people who catch COVID-19 have mild symptoms and the ones who die are old or fat anyway. They question whether the death count is accurate and share conspiracy theories about doctors being pressured to attribute deaths to the coronavirus that have nothing to do with the actual cause of death to make it look worse than it is. They speculate on whether it was really all that contagious after all. They say it is no worse than the flu. Some even say we are doing more damage to our immune systems by avoiding exposure.
They criticize the government’s stimulus packages as income redistribution schemes and claim that the actual threat is to our civil rights rather than our individual respiratory systems. They suggest, without proof, that the shutdown was a political campaign to damage the economy in order to harm the president’s chances of re-election.
They feel disdain for “the media” above all else, smearing reporters and TV personalities as using fear to scare Americans into voluntarily going along with shutting down the entire economy.
Based on the facts I have from sources I trust, I disagree with much of that, but their opinions deserve to be part of the conversation.
History will decide who was right or wrong. We will listen as Congress holds people accountable to testify for the record and determine who gets blamed for what actually happened.
At 5 p.m. tomorrow, these skeptics get a chance to back their accusations and theories with action. They can finally get back out there and prove all the doctors, nurses, scientists and journalists wrong. A rare opportunity to either “own the libs” or find themselves fighting for their lives.
Memories of past public health disasters
This whole ordeal has reminded me of when we first learned about a killer virus that was sexually transmitted in the 1980s. It would come to be known as HIV, leading to a fatal compromising of the immune system known as AIDS.
There I was in Auburn, Alabama, a college student out with friends at a bar, feeling frisky but having my libido squashed by talk of a disease that kills from having sex.
You weren’t just having casual sex with someone, you were risking catching a deadly virus from someone who might have caught it from a whole series of other people they might have had sex with. It was mental gymnastics trying to remember who slept with whom and how recently. Sort of like contact tracing now to see who someone might have been around and gotten coughed on by.
As you can imagine, it had a major impact on my love life. So much so that I graduated a virgin, if you can believe that. Honestly. I was always a late bloomer, but damn…
Given the fact that I have a daughter graduating high school, it’s safe for you to presume that this status changed at least once. It’s been a while since I’ve had a girlfriend, but I’ve tried not to think about my involuntary celibacy. I am the only one to blame, given how picky I am about lovers. Finding myself cut off from possible co-conspirators by social distancing has intensified the angst and longing to touch another human being. It’s the principle of scarcity intensifying demand painfully illustrated.
The easing of restrictions gives me hope that someday soon, I might find myself in the arms of a beautiful woman doing things that are none of your damn business, my dear reader.
Healing the Economy
That’s what has really been lighting a fire under the president’s ass. Despite all of his shenanigans and unbelievable statements and tweets, he’s felt guaranteed of a second term, assured that none of that stuff would matter so long as he could keep people employed and feeling secure.
That sense of invincibility ended around mid-March when trading halted on Wall Street for the fourth time in two weeks. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed with a loss of just over 1,300 points and the S&P fell by 5 percent. All of the gains made under Obama and carrying forth under Trump since the Great Recession just evaporated.
I am doubtful we’ll be able to restore the economy to where it was over the next several months before Election Day.
Was This Inevitable?
I’m not telling anyone else how to vote, but I won’t forget the negligence that led to thousands of unnecessary deaths while someone played golf and held rallies to make himself feel good about himself, ignoring repeated warnings of what was coming. If he were CEO of a corporation instead of a president nearing the end of his term, he would have been fired months ago for failing so spectacularly.
The current occupant of the White House and his cronies even had a 69-page playbook with hundreds of tactics and policy decisions that the Obama Administration had produced after learning lessons from infectious disease outbreaks. A handbook that got ignored.
The poor management of a crisis was compounded by the decision in 2018 to dismiss an executive branch team responsible for coordinating a response to a pandemic. The current occupant of the White House also depleted previously allotted funding for the CDC’s global disease outbreak prevention efforts that had been reduced by 80%, including funding for the agency’s efforts in China.
As early as New Year’s Eve, the current occupant of the White House was being warned of what was coming, repeatedly, and instead of reacting to prepare and contain the virus, he dismissed it. A whole month passed before this president reacted to declare a public health emergency and announce travel restrictions.
On Feb. 4, the current occupant of the White House vowed in his State of the Union Address to “take all necessary steps” to protect Americans from the coronavirus. Now, 85 days later, there are more than 957,875 total cases and at least 53,922 deaths, including two right here in my home county. In pivoting his messaging to the economy, what we are witnessing is a calculated political risk.
The current occupant of the White House has faced widespread criticism for the slow and haphazard way in which it has handled the public health crisis. He himself downplayed the risk posed by the virus for weeks, in tandem with prime-time personalities on Fox News, and has since taken to using the televised White House coronavirus task force updates to tout unproven cures.
The Nightmare We All Want to Wake From
So here we are: the rent is due on Friday and city/state governments are starting mass layoffs amid the coronavirus fallout. And the president of the United States is seemingly willing to sacrifice your life to jolt the economy into revival in the third quarter to save himself politically.
The thought that keeps me up at night is how our nation’s enemies might precision-engineer new viruses to cause harm, giving their own citizenry the vaccine so it wipes out our people. The shortcomings of this president have laid bare for them just how effective a weaponized germ could be in destroying our economy and our cohesion as a society.
What’s to stop someone from creating a killer germ just so they can make a fortune selling the cure? That’s a scenario conspiracy theorists have laid on Bill Gates for weeks now without any proof.
How does that make you feel, America?