Like everyone else I am having trouble thinking about anything other than the coronavirus pandemic and the shockwaves it has sent, and will continue to send, through the system. As it began to unfold I found myself thinking, talking, and posting about it fairly constantly. In an effort to try to keep it confined to a given time and place, both physically and psychologically, I am keeping a diary of it all.
April 27: Dr. Lorna M. Breen, the medical director of the Emergency Department at New York-Presbyterian hospital, died of suicide yesterday. She was 49.
Her father, also a doctor, told the New York Times that she had described to him “an onslaught of [COVID-19] patients who were dying before they could even be taken out of ambulances.” She herself contracted COVID-19, recovered, and briefly returned to work before being sent home by the hospital. She had gone to stay with her parents in Virginia where she died.
Her father said she had no history of known mental illness. He said, “she tried to do her job, and it killed her . . . make sure she’s praised as a hero, because she was. She’s a casualty just as much as anyone else who has died.”
Last week I talked about the nihilist conspiracy theorists whose response to the damage COVID-19 is doing is, basically, “hey, everyone dies . . . this is no different than flu season.” Dr. Breen doesn’t die if this horrific pandemic is “like flu season.” Anyone who denies or diminishes the tragedy of her death or the death of any other victim of this pandemic — of which there are far more than have been formally accounted for thus far — can go straight to hell.
Ohio’s governor, Mike DeWine, spoke today about a path forward for re-opening the state from lockdown. It’s a phased plan. The main points:
- May 1: A “healthcare opening” which will allow for elective/non-essential medical procedures that do not require an overnight stay to resume and which will allow dental offices to reopen;
- May 4: Manufacturing, distribution, and construction businesses will open, as will “general offices,” which sounds like any non-public setting centered in office buildings or office parks or what have you. They are asking companies to allow employees to work remotely if at all possible, but offices will open; and
- May 12: Consumer retail and services opening, meaning shops and stores and things.
Notably absent: restaurants and bars, hair salons, and day care, which DeWine said are not yet considered safe based on the metrics and considerations they’re looking at. That will come later. They’re looking at starting now with what they’re calling environments which are “more controllable.” A patient in for outpatient surgery is less likely to cause problems that could lead to infection, the thinking goes, than a toddler in day care or a 24 year-old bro at a sports bar, and the other categories of places fall someplace in between.
Also notable: we’re basically going to be living in the age of masks, as all of these opening dates come with a number of caveats about crowd levels and how people must behave, and in almost all of these situations masks will be mandated. I expect we’ll all be wearing masks, basically everywhere, for at least a couple of years. I wonder if some people — older people, people with suppressed immune systems — will be wearing masks for the rest of their lives.
I’m not smart enough to know if this timetable makes sense but, at the very least, it all seems to be informed by data and science rather than politics. I’m a bit uneasy at the prospect of Allison going back to work as early as a week from today — she works the front desk at her office and interacts with the public –but (a) as has been the case with almost everything else Ohio has done with this so far, I feel pretty confident with how they’re handling things; and (b) Allison’s employers are good, caring people and I trust them to work with her to make her feel comfortable.
Not that there isn’t still aren’t problems.
DeWine premised the announcement by recapping all of the work the state has done to get to this point. He did it, I suspect, to make people feel confident that it’s all well-considered, but I can’t help but note that all of the things he mentioned — a ramped-up number of tests, effective contact tracing, the production of swabs, the acquisition and distribution of protective equipment, etc. — are things that were necessary to address because the federal government utterly failed in this regard. Indeed, today it was reported that Trump was warned of all of this as early as January yet ignored it all for two months. Just this evening Trump held a grandstanding press conference with business leaders in which he talked about how he has a new strategy for “getting testing online.” On March 6 — pushing two months ago — Trump said “anybody that wants a test can get a test.”
This is a failure that goes beyond negligence and incompetence. It’s out-and-out recklessness and indifference that has caused thousands of people to die who might have lived if Trump gave the first fuck about the responsibilities of his office. We talk about his failures and his inadequacies on a shallow level almost daily as he rants and raves as he does. His failure, however, is of a gravity and depth with which I really don’t think we’ve yet to truly contend beyond our surface outrage. He has failed to carry out the fundamental mission of our government: to protect citizens from harm. It’s worse than a failure, actually. It’s a willful abdication. In a just world he’d be removed from office. We do not, of course, live in a just world.
Another problem presented itself a couple of hours before DeWine spoke, when the Goon Caucus of Ohio’s Legislature (i.e. Republicans) released their own, competing re-opening timetable which is, basically, “open everything in four days and let God sort it out.”
DeWine is the governor and, in these matters, what he says goes, but this sort of shadow government posturing is still distressing. For one thing, it will be the approach adopted by other states (Texas today said retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters and malls can reopen Friday at 25% capacity) and, to the extent this all drags on, it will become an increasingly appealing alternative message here and elsewhere. I mean, this is is a joke, but it’s basically where this piecemeal bullshit is leading us:
Congrats, everyone. We invented the Holy Roman Empire. pic.twitter.com/9kWRKkIGsw
— Bass Pro Shoppe (@BobbyBigWheel) April 27, 2020
The degree to which people like our GOP legislators and others like them are demonstrating just how little they care for anything other than money is fairly startling. Though I suppose if we’re being objective it’d be hard to look back at their track record and find anything else they care about consistently besides money. They, like most Republicans, talk a good game about respecting life but never back it up with actions that suggest they truly respect it. If these people get their way people will die. They will die in the name of the economy. And, in all likelihood, they won’t even save the economy. People will not magically revert to their pre-March behaviors simply because some Republican politicians end restrictions. People are still scared because people are still getting sick and dying, and they do not want to be next.
The empty promise of an immediate return to normality will nonetheless resonate. People aren’t working. People don’t have savings. People don’t have healthcare coverage. Neither the United States nor the states have answers for them right now because we as a country are unwilling to take the necessary steps that will allow ourselves to weather this pandemic in a responsible way. If forced to choose between starving and risking COVID-19 infection, people will do the latter.
I’m glad Mike DeWine has been handling all of this in a responsible manner. But I desperately wish we had leaders who acknowledged how desperately dependent upon employment everyone is for the necessities of survival and how such a state of affairs is not the only way a society can be structured.
I took a five-mile walk late this afternoon. There were far more people on the walking trails and there was far more traffic on the roads than I’ve noticed since all this began. Certainly far more than I’d usually expect to see on a Monday. Sure, it was a nice day, but not any nicer than a few scattered days we’ve had of late. Part of me wonders if people are simply letting their schedules drift by virtue of the lack of structure and are beginning to treat weeknights like they might treat Saturdays. Part of me wonders if DeWine’s roadmap to re-opening, such as it is, was encouraging people in some way.
Whatever the case, it was weird having to navigate around so many walkers, joggers and bikers after having my town and the countryside around it more or less to myself for the past couple of months. This might’ve made me cranky on most days but I suppose I was in a pretty decent mood by then. I decided to take it as a sneak preview of a summer that may at least approach normality after a spring that has been utterly lost.