The Pandemic Diary: May 14

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.

Follow this Category for all entries.

 

May 14: When you work in media for a little while you start to get emails from P.R. people trying to pitch you story ideas. Usually they’re press releases about events they’ve been paid to promote. Sometimes they’re representing self-proclaimed experts who they’re trying to get quoted about a news topic of the day. Sometimes they’re trying to get you to write about trends that affect a business or an industry group that hired them.

If the P.R. person is at least halfway savvy they know who you are and what topics you write about and have at least some reason to think you may be someone who would be interested in the story they’re pitching. Often times, however, they’re just blasts to anyone whose email they’ve scraped from some media site at one point or another.

I prefer the latter kind. I’m not writing a story based on a P.R. pitch either way, but at least the general ones sometimes hip me to new information I can drop into casual conversation.

Like the one I got this evening:

 

Reconnecting to pitch a timely story that everyone in your audience may find quirky, suprising [sic], relevant, and very helpful during COVID-19 shelter in place.

Car mechanics who work with YourMechanic.com across country (as well as NPR and NYTimes) are shining attention on this strange phenomena that’s impacting car owners unexpectedly during COVID-19 quarantines.

Because car owners aren’t driving their vehicles often during shelter in place, rats and mice are moving into car engines for warmth and comfort, especially at night. They’re creating nests, nursing their babies, and building small rat colonies (we have pictures of the messes they’re making).

It’s an issue many car owners only notice when it’s too late. And by then, rat colony damages to wiring and plastic accessories costs between $3,000 to $10,000 to repair. (Researchers have considered that rats may be COVID-19 carriers, and have confirmed that they could spread the virus on their paws.)

In addition to rat infestations, quarantined car owners are discovering that their idle vehicles’ batteries are dying, and car parts like rotors and gas tanks are rusting from lack of driving.

All of these issues are preventable with some simple tips and warning signs, according to Master Auto Repair Technician Keith Canate from YourMechanic.com. 

 

It closes with, “Please let me know if you’d like me to share our expert auto mechanic’s rat nest photos, our top ten tips for rat infestation prevention, and our easy tips for keeping idle cars healthy during COVID-19 lockdowns.”

I won’t write about that any more than I just did but, not gonna lie, I sorta wanna see those photos.

 

In Washington, Rick Bright, a Trump Administration vaccine expert who was reassigned for (a) raising concerns about the federal government’s COVID-19 response; and (b) criticizing President Trump’s promotion of unproven drugs to treat the virus, testified before Congress.

He said said that the Trump Administration’s inaction in February and March cost lives. He said he pushed for ramping up production of ventilators and masks, but he was told by his superiors that they didn’t think there was a “critical shortage.” He said that that early inaction has cost the lives of healthcare workers who didn’t have sufficient PPE and that that the country at large is continuing to deal with the consequences of Trump’s negligence.

He said that the pushing of malaria drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine to treat coronavirus was unwise and that the retaliation against him was based primarily on his attempts to get them to stop it. Since then the FDA has found that those drugs have negative consequences for COVID-19 patients and has warned physicians not to use them. Trump, you’ll remember, openly promoted them from the presidential podium.

He said that there has been a complete lack of a “single point of leadership” and that because of it, experts have been unable convey useful information to the American public “so they have the truth about the real risk and dire consequences of this virus.”

Most ominously, he said this:

“Our window of opportunity is closing. If we fail to improve our response now . . . I fear the pandemic will get worse and be prolonged . . . Without better planning, 2020 could be the darkest winter in modern history.”

The Trump administration’s response was to say that Bright should not be trusted because he has not consistently shown up to work at the new post to which he was assigned. I wish I was making that up.

 

I suspect that that line — don’t listen to the man sounding the alarm about our country’s failures and the potential for “the darkest winter in modern history” — will carry the day, at least with enough people to prevent anything from changing.

I say this because, before Bright’s testimony, the Washington Post reported on some polling about the public’s confidence in health experts. Overall, the public has far more confidence in the CDC and Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health than they have in the president, who gets low marks overall.

For Republicans it’s another matter: they trust Trump over Dr. Fauci when it comes to the COVID-19 response by an 84-61 margin. This despite the fact that Trump has touted those unproven malaria drugs, has talked about the “injection” of disinfectants into people’s bodies and before and during the pandemic has talked repeatedly about how Covid-19 will just “go away.” This despite the fact that Fauci has spent 50 years as an expert in infectious diseases and combatting epidemics.

It’s a cult. It’s a cult that has led this country to the brink of ruin. It’s a cult, however, that controls most state governments and currently controls Washington.

 

About those state governments.

Today Ohio’s governor Mike DeWine said, of the pandemic, “what we had hoped to see is not a plateau, we had hoped to see that curve go down. We’re not where we hoped we would be.”

Yet he nonetheless announced the opening of day care centers and gyms for May 31. Public pools can open up May 26. Between those and offices, factories, warehouses and distribution centers, retail stores, bars, restaurants, hair salons, nail salons, tattoo and massage parlors and piercing businesses, there will be hardly anything shut down in Ohio by the end of the month. Despite the fact that “we’re not where we hoped we would be.”

Ohio’s opening schedule has been choreographed to make it seem like it has been based on science and data, but it’s basically been about helplessness, political calculation, and fear.

  • DeWine spent all of March and April stressing that testing and infection rates will dictate matters, but the federal government abandoned Ohio and every other state in the country, abdicating its duties to keep America safe and undercutting our ability to respond to the pandemic. We were helpless;
  • Then DeWine began to be outflanked by legislators on his right and, fearing a challenge to his authority, he began to attempt to appease them with a stepped re-opening schedule. That was the political calculation; Finally,
  • Yahoos stormed the Michigan capitol with guns and courts in Wisconsin made a power grab and, I suspect, that made him afraid. And given that the armed insurrection in Michigan basically worked, and that the Wisconsin court has turned Wisconsin, in the words of its governor, into “the wild west, I suppose that fear was well-founded.

We are left in a place in which, magically, the science which was to allegedly lead us has led us to a reopening schedule that perfectly correlates with the calendar month of May. Correlates so well that it even allows for the pools to open up the day after Memorial Day. I suspect most people are just happy to see things opening up again. If you take two steps back, however, you realize how absurd it is to think that this is anything other than our governor throwing in the towel, knowing he has been beat.

 

I can’t just leave this in that third bullet point: armed right-wing terrorists have successfully shut down the operation of a state legislature. The president even encouraged them. A governor of another state is simply telling anyone who will listen that the situation in his state is completely out of control.

This sort of news all passes by us at warp speed every day. It comes in such volume that it’s almost too much for us to process. It’s coming at a time when people don’t have the capacity to even process normal levels of information because of the stress and dislocation in their lives. In light of that it’s easy to allow it to simply wash over us without grasping the bigger picture and the significance of it all.

That bigger picture, whenever I take a moment to breathe and then to assess, is that the entire system is breaking down. That, while the pandemic will eventually subside one way or another, the damage that has been done to our country as it ravaged it will likely never be repaired. That history will view this time as a watershed in American life. That everything that came before it will be known as “the Antemorbus Period” and everything after will be . . . something else.

I hope that that’s not the case, but I’m not very optimistic. There was already a lot of mileage on America’s engine, but Trump and the social and historical forces which brought him to this moment didn’t take a moment to even check the oil before getting behind the wheel. They’ve been stomping on the gas and pushing it into the red for past several years and they’ve pushed down harder since turning onto this bumpy road.

There’s black smoke coming out of the exhaust and I suspect that the engine is about to blow. When it does the man driving will simply get out and walk away, leaving the engine block to fill up with rats.

 

(Featured Image: Sean Stratton, 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.