The Pandemic Diary: May 6

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.

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May 6: Still shaken up about Rosie today.

Allison and I keep thinking we see her sitting in windows or running around corners. Due to some of her odd habits, both pre-and post-seizure, we did certain things in the house such as leaving the door to the laundry room/litter box area cracked (when she had a seizure in there she would catch a claw on the dryer vent and hurt herself, so we needed to create an easier escape route for her than the small kitty door) and keeping the door to our bathroom closed (she knew how to turn on the water faucet in there with her head, resulting in the water running for hours). All day I’ve caught myself making sure the doors were open or closed, forgetting that I didn’t need to bother with that anymore.

I also didn’t know what to do with myself today without going through many of the routines I’d developed for her. All the pills. Making up special bowls of food. It was just an awful lot to take.

But a couple of things helped. First: a lot of very sweet messages from a lot of you.

This is a diary so I don’t often break the fourth wall and talk about the people reading it. But I know a lot of you do read this and a lot of you have reached out to me over the past couple of months. Some of you to tell me that what I’ve written has helped you process our strange new existence. Some of you just to say hi or to ask if I’m doing OK.

Today so many of you reached out to comfort me about Rosie. I tried to respond to everyone. If I missed you, I’m sorry. But know that it meant a great deal to me to hear from you.

Everyone may be socially isolated, but I’ve somehow felt even closer to people than usual over these past couple of months by virtue of this diary and the digital connections that surround it. Thank you.

 

Something else that helped: takeout Indian food and patio drinks with Allison:

We’re gonna make it through all of this. We’re gonna make it through this together. We’re gonna make it through all of this if it kills us.

 

There’s some hope that an experimental Covid-19 vaccine being developed by the University of Oxford, and which is starting human trials, could be a workable vaccine with a million doses produced by September. There are obviously no guarantees — early reports such as these often turn into vapor with a quickness — but given how inept our leaders have responded to this from a public health perspective, the best hope we have now is some sort of magic bullet from the world of medicine that will save us from that lot. All we have, actually, is this sort of hope because, otherwise, we’ve been thrown to the wolves.

Why do I say that? Because of sentiment like this:

 

If you listen to people like this person — who is a well-known and well-read voice from the conservative mediasphere — the only two options we, apparently, have right now is (a) everyone resumes normal life and hundreds of thousands of people die from illness; or (b) everyone stays home forever and dies from poverty.

No one seems to want to acknowledge that there were at least three other non-exclusive courses of action we could have taken as a country, and which some other countries have taken, that we have simply and irresponsibly ignored:

  • We could have and should have prepared for this eventuality in the first place by having a coherent pandemic plan in place that could have been deployed when the warning signs became apparent early in the year;
  • We could have and should have used this shutdown time to make up for that lack of pre-planning and to, basically, embark on a Marshall Plan-level effort to create testing, contact tracing, and PPE capacity that could enable a safer and more responsible reopening now; and/or
  • We could have and should have, as the richest nation in the world, deployed a massive welfare state initiative in which we basically paid people to stay home in a longer, more thorough shutdown while efforts were made to further remedy our poor pre-planning and our lack of post-shutdown leadership.

We did none of that. Instead:

  • Trump ignored the problem in its runup and actively dismantled key parts of our country’s anti-pandemic operation;
  • He then wasted almost the entire past two months by denying the very existence of the pandemic and then disclaiming federal responsibility to deal with it, forcing the states to embark on a patchwork anti-pandemic plan with a fraction of the resources available, all while putting political pressure on governors to, actually, do less than they’re doing; and
  • We provided financial relief efforts to people and business that have been far too small on the people side and riven with corruption and cronyism on the business side.

It was simply unimaginable to our leaders that this situation could arise. It was simply unimaginable that they could be proactive in order to address it like the emergency it is. It remains simply unimaginable to them that something other than the post-Ronald Reagan American Economic Order could be put in place to ease the suffering of the country. That is why we are in a situation where we are forced to choose between “killing grandma” and enduring mass economic suffering.

That is why, at this point, a vaccine is our only real hope to avoid a public health calamity and/or a second great depression.

 

As for that patchwork response I mentioned above, there are two governors who have been praised for their work more than most of the others to date: Mike DeWine of Ohio and Andrew Cuomo of New York. But let’s not hand out any trophies yet, as both of them are failing to show their best sides this week.

Yesterday DeWine announced $775 million in budget cuts, with most coming from Medicaid, K-12 education, and higher education. That will lead to massive job cuts and austerity measures in education and healthcare.

Were there any alternatives? Sure there were. The state maintains a so-called “Rainy Day Fund” — which is technically called the “Budget Stabilization Fund,” and which is specifically designed for the purpose of addressing unexpected budget shortfalls. That fund currently sits at $2.7 billion, or over three times the current shortfall. He could also, of course, simply call for increased taxes. DeWine is a Republican, however, so you’d be more likely to get him to rip off his clothes, shout “HAIL SATAN!” slaughter a goat, and drink its blood on live television than to see a tax increase happen.

DeWine was specifically asked why he’s not tapping the rainy day fund. He said the state shouldn’t use this money “until it has to.” I’m struggling to imagine what he thinks a rainy day actually looks like.

Every time I’ve praised Mike DeWine for his handling of COVID-19 in Ohio I’ve prefaced it by saying I support almost nothing else about him. This is why. It’s because when given a choice of either (a) spending some money in state coffers; (b) placing even part of the burden on wealthy Ohioans or businesses; or (c) making life harder for teachers and for the sick and needy, he will always — ALWAYS — pick option (c). He and every Republican will do that, every time.

 

Meanwhile, in New York, Andrew Cuomo seems to be calling into question the very idea of teachers in classrooms teaching children:

I have two pretty high-achieving high schoolers and their school was, from what I can tell, far better prepared to go to remote learning than most schools. They have had a steady and fairly regimented assignment pipeline. There are video meetups with teachers and a number of resources for students who need to communicate directly with teachers.

They are also kinda flailing in many ways. Their schedule and structure has been difficult to maintain, and they are socially isolated in ways that none of us could even begin to imagine being when we were fourteen and sixteen-years old. They’ll get by because they’re bright, they’re pretty self-motivated, and because they go to a school that does not want for material resources. They also have parents who transitioned easily into working from home and who, thus far, have not been at risk of losing their jobs.

I can only imagine how rough all of this is for kids who do not have all of these things going for them. Whose schools are not well-funded by a wealthy suburb’s property tax base. Whose parents are strapped and stressed. Who may have to worry about where the next meal is coming from.

School is not just about ticking off bullet points on a state-mandated lesson plan. It’s an essential part of a community. An essential part of every child’s upbringing and socialization. There is no substitute for kids going to school, and to the extent anyone uses our few months of a remote learning as a pretext for slashing education budgets and promoting “post-pandemic” remote learning initiatives, they will be making a catastrophic mistake.

 

In Texas, their governor, Greg Abbott, who has been touting an aggressive reopening plan for his state, was recorded on a private call admitting that “every scientific and medical report shows” state re-openings “ipso facto” lead to an increase in coronavirus cases:

“How do we know reopening businesses won’t result in faster spread of more cases of COVID-19?. Listen, the fact of the matter is pretty much every scientific and medical report shows that whenever you have a reopening—whether you want to call it a reopening of businesses or of just a reopening of society—in the aftermath of something like this, it actually will lead to an increase and spread. It’s almost ipso facto. The more that you have people out there, the greater the possibility is for transmission. The goal never has been to get transmission down to zero.”

He’s now claiming this is what he’s been saying all along, but that’s not true. He has been saying that if numbers of infected go up after reopening it’s because of increased testing just showing people who were already infected.

As I’ve been saying for a long time now: they know that what they’re doing is wrong. They know that because we do not have adequate testing procedures and resources that the sort of reopening they are mounting right now is going to lead to otherwise avoidable deaths. They simply don’t care. They’re OK with it because they believe the mass of deaths coming down the pike will blend into the news cycle in ways that a besieged economy cannot. They’ve made a choice and we’re all expected to live with it. Or die with it.

So again, this is why I put hope in medical breakthroughs that may be pie in the sky at the moment. It’s literally all we have.

 

Short of that kind of hope we’re left with distractions:

If, in 1991, someone had asked you to bet money on the likelihood that the lead singer of Guns N’ Roses was going to get into a Twitter beef with the Secretary of the Treasury during a global pandemic, what would you have said? Apart from “wait, what’s Twitter?”

Get in the ring, Steven. When we’re not stricken with existential terror, we’re all kinda bored. I’d sort of like to see what happens.

 

 

(Featured Image: Ed Vill, 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.