The Pandemic Diary: July 20

Between February 10, 2020 and May 27, 2020, I kept a daily diary chronicling my thoughts, impressions, fears, anxieties, and outrages in response to the COVID-19 Pandemic. It ended up being over 120,000 words worth of personal therapy for me but I stopped updating it once doing so ceased to be therapeutic and, instead, began to anger me and fill me with despair. I am, however, updating it once in a while because, sometimes, the anger and despair gets to be so much that it has to go somewhere.

 

Yesterday was my son’s 15th birthday. My birthday was six days ago. My wife’s a month ago. My anniversary the month before that. Last night we celebrated an occasion, once again, with carryout food instead of dinner out. My parents wished their grandson happy birthday through masks from a considerable distance.  When all of this started I assumed things would be close to normal by now, but they’re not. My daughter’s birthday is in December. Given how things have gone I have very little faith that things will be normal by then.

As I wrote many times when I was keeping my daily Pandemic Diary, things have gone the way they have gone due to utter failure — criminal negligence, really — on the part of our leaders. The federal government abdicated its paramount responsibility and refused to protect its citizens. Indeed, it’s taken great efforts to actively harm them. That all trickles down, of course, to states and counties and cities, none of whom have the ability to deal with a national problem in the way the federal government could and many of whom are simply unwilling to try. Indeed some, like the federal government, are actively seeking to do harm.

Today the Washington Post published a thorough assessment of America’s complete and total failure to respond to the pandemic. Most of the broad topics are things I covered in real time, as they were happening, in the Pandemic Diary, but it’s helpful to see it put as succinctly and as plainly as it is here, in the pages of one of America’s papers of record:

Six months after the coronavirus appeared in America, the nation has failed spectacularly to contain it. The country’s ineffective response has shocked observers around the planet.

Many countries have rigorously driven infection rates nearly to zero. In the United States, coronavirus transmission is out of control. The national response is fragmented, shot through with political rancor and culture-war divisiveness. Testing shortcomings that revealed themselves in March have become acute in July, with week-long waits for results leaving the country blind to real-time virus spread and rendering contact tracing nearly irrelevant.

The United States may be heading toward a new spasm of wrenching economic shutdowns or to another massive spike in preventable deaths from covid-19 — or both.

How the world’s richest country got into this dismal situation is a complicated tale that exposes the flaws and fissures in a nation long proud of its ability to meet cataclysmic challenges.

The fumbling of the virus was not a fluke: The American coronavirus fiasco has exposed the country’s incoherent leadership, self-defeating political polarization, a lack of investment in public health, and persistent socioeconomic and racial inequities that have left millions of people vulnerable to disease and death.

Even after all of these months it’s difficult for me to wrap my brain around it all. It’s hard to accept how incompetent and, indeed, malevolent, our leaders have been and seem hellbent on continuing to be. It’s been a long time since I had anything approaching optimism about the course our country is on, but never before these past few months have I felt completely hopeless. The Post article pretty much captures all the reasons for it.

And no, seeing encouraging polling about this fall’s election doesn’t do much to help.

Even if Trump is defeated and even if a great many of his enablers and emulators across the country are defeated as well, it’s not going to make a hell of a lot of difference, I don’t believe. The people who have led us into this will not disappear. They’ll rebrand slightly and remain and will never be held accountable for the death and misery they have inflicted upon the nation. They’ll be quickly welcomed back into the grand debates of the day, all claiming that they had no part on this or other calamities they have authored and, within 2-4 years, be ascendant once again. Bank on it.

I mean, think about it:

  • We didn’t hold the slaveholders, the Confederates, or the segregationists to account after they were legally discredited, and they came back, rebranded first as southern Democrats and remain as a significant bloc in the Republican party;
  • We didn’t hold the robber barons who sent kids into coal mines and textile mills to account when we outlawed those practices and they simply rebranded themselves as free market capitalists and right-to-work advocates;
  • We didn’t hold the men who led us into tragic, unjust wars to account when those wars finally ended. Indeed, we rehabilitated them and cast those who would criticize them as un-American; and
  • We didn’t hold the criminals who crashed the global economy with their fraud, greed and nihilism to account after they did what they did and they’re all more wealthy and more powerful now than they were before.

In light of that, what makes anyone think that there will be any holding anyone to account for actively causing the deaths of thousands of people via their mishandling and, indeed, active perpetuation of a pandemic? Indeed, what makes anyone think that there will even be a true assessment and accounting of the mistakes which led to the pandemic being so much worse here than it was anywhere else?

We won’t do those things. We won’t even try. At most the history of the pandemic will be “It came out of nowhere, we had no idea it’d be this bad and, man, Donald Trump was bad, eh? Thank goodness he’s gone” But he’ll be the only one who is truly gone. The various cabinet members, advisors, governors, senators and congressmen who have supported, enabled, and copied him will hang around and distance themselves from their failures by either blaming them on others or, more likely, simply pretending they didn’t happen. We’ll mostly allow them to do so. For all practical purposes we will learn nothing from it all. In the end, all of this death and suffering will have been both avoidable and pointless.

 

In the meantime, life still has to go on.

The baseball season, such as it is starts this week. I’ve managed to compartmentalize what’s happening inside the lines well enough, writing team previews, while also noting how the pandemic is affecting the game. It’s my job, I’m fortunate to have it, and I will continue to do it even if I am having a hard time toggling between “Braves’ star first baseman is really sick with a virus that has killed 140,000 people in the past few months” and “Five keys to the Braves repeating as NL East champs.”   

Less easily to compartmentalize or rationalize is school for my kids. They are scheduled to begin in less than a month. Unlike some places, their school district is offering an option of 100% at-home learning for at least the first semester, but it’s pretty uncertain how that will all go.

Unlike last spring’s ad-hoc approach, the district has contracted with some company which will administer online learning. It’s not clear whether all of the classes my kids had previously signed up for are available. It’s not clear if we will be required to pay for this, as there was a cryptic comment in the school’s email about how it will be “paid for by the District, pending satisfactory progress or course completion.” That implies that parents could be presented with a bill many of us can’t afford but I am not sure. I am worried about the existence and quality, if any, of actual teacher engagement for online students given that a great many students will not be using it but, rather, will be going to school in person. Teachers are already stretched thin and are already stressed enough. We’ve asked the school for clarification on these points but they have yet to respond.

I want to know about all of that because I, understandably, am extraordinarily wary of sending my kids to school in the midst of the pandemic’s resurgence. I worry about them, of course, but I worry about their teachers. Their friends and their friends’ parents and families too. My family. Anyone else who will be affected by a couple thousand kids converging, indoors, behaving like kids do. Which is everyone, obviously.

I am also worried, however, about them not going to school. They’ve been home since March. School is not just about education but it’s also about socialization and community and friendships and mental and emotional development. How long can they remain isolated before it begins to affect them? How long can this continue before we’ve created a new lost generation?

We’re supposed to choose whether they will take the online learning option by this Wednesday. I have no idea how to do that given the lack of information we have. There are no good options.

We’ve gotten absolutely nowhere in the past four months.

(photo credit: Dobrislava, via Wikimedia Commons)

Craig Calcaterra

Craig is the national baseball writer for NBCSports.com. He writes about things other than sports at Craigcalcaterra.com. He lives in New Albany, Ohio with his wife, two kids, and many cats.