While America Plays — The Virus Doesn’t Care

People who know me well will be surprised by this statement: I am an optimist. I try to believe that rational people gather information and make decisions to support themselves and their community. I am a child of the Enlightenment. In a crisis, I start by assuming that people will generally rise to the occasion, look out for their neighbors and make small sacrifices for the whole. I believe that a well-run government can have lasting positive effects on the lives of everyone. I am often disappointed, but my default position is to assume good intentions. 

The Virus Doesn’t Care

Having spent time learning about it, I admire the ruthless simplicity of the coronavirus. It exists to exist. It rapidly creates variants to hide. Without consciousness, it has a plan. Once infecting someone, it holds back on the individual’s symptoms to build a high viral load that can be transmitted more easily. It kills some of its hosts, but as the body dies the ability of the virus to jump to helpers is actually enhanced. If someone does survive the virus, they often suffer lung damage making them more susceptible to a future variant. It preys on the innate complacency of human nature to flourish. Yea, I have to admire something designed to live and survive.

The Virus Doesn’t Care

Last night, I was monitoring how social distancing was working. It isn’t. Tweets from the beaches of Spring Break Florida are jammed. People in Nashville put up pictures of crowded bars and concerts with taglines proudly proclaiming they are defying the virus. In Portland, and around the country, people are jamming bars to celebrate St. Paddy’s day. (Ireland cancelled all celebrations. And when did this become a 3-day event here?) In spite of new evidence from South Korea that 20somethings are efficient carriers, a generational divide is clear on social media. The indestructability of youth flourishes. Bringing home the virus to mom, dad or grandma and grandpa is not a thing. Not just youth, the Republican governor of Oklahoma, tweeted a picture of him and his family in a crowded restaurant saying people should join him, everyone is going to be fine.

The Virus Doesn’t Care

I don’t have to generalize the denial. Sadly, it lives in my own family. People are traveling and making more plans to travel in the next couple months. One member is putting false information on Facebook. Two nieces flew from 2 different locations to meet for a weekend in the hot zone … Seattle. One of them an RN, relative moments from being a frontline warrior in her workplace, a hospital. While Sally and I are hunkered down, taking all the CDC recommendations seriously, our own family is a microcosm of why social distancing messaging isn’t working.

The Virus Doesn’t Care

This morning brought us the first polls on how America is seeing the threat of Covid – 19. The optimist in me hoped to see a national coalescing around the crisis. Instead, we see the same 60-40 nation as every poll on Trump. The right has succeeded in creating a large group of Americans who will no longer believe any news. Yesterday, I listened to right-wing talker Lars Larson get attacked by his own audience for agreeing with the social distancing policies of the Democratic governors of OR and WA. He seemed befuddled that the monster he created was turning on him, not for supporting a rational policy, but for having the audacity to ever support a liberal, no matter the reason. Today, Trump is swarm tweeting about the fake news, Hillary’s emails and pardoning a loyalist. The crisis? Not so much.

The Virus Doesn’t Care

I just watched everybody’s favorite and most reliable CDC doctor, Anthony Fauci. He was making the rounds of all the Sunday news shows. He is clearly in a pickle because this morning he was spinning us, creeping up to the edge of the abyss and backing away. He says he wouldn’t go to a restaurant but can’t say nobody should hoping people get his message. He talks about bending the pandemic curve and doing the right things, but he works for Trump and can’t say we should order people to do the right things. He can’t commit to when we will have ubiquitous testing and only hopes it will be available in a week. He is serving 2 masters: Trump and us. He has to bow to the first to stay in the game and we need him in the game. Please stay in the game.

The Virus Doesn’t Care

I turned a corner this morning. Maybe I have become a nihilist. I hope not. But given our current tribes, some are choosing to treat this crisis as another time to choose sides, standing in a crowded bar chatting USA! USA! USA! Covid -19 and how we approach it has become yet another signifier, a way that many of us can express our beliefs. Oh, I don’t underestimate the general human code. We are awful at looking ahead and acting. Denial is built into the genetic code. Maybe that is how we are optimistic at all. Most people aren’t information junkies like I am, digging deep for the truth moment by moment. I think we stand at the edge of a purge of both an enormous number of humans and of the last stronghold of belief: being sure. Sure of who we are and what we think we know. Fake anything is about to disappear.

The Virus Doesn’t Care

America is a geographically big country. I think the most salient thing I heard today was from a former FDA chairman, someone who now has no masters to please. He said, given the progress of the virus and the inability to fence in and direct Americans like China, we will end up having multiple Wuhans across the country. That sounds right, the density of the virus in the population now varies by big city and region. It will come in waves and last for months. This morning, Andrew Cuomo almost begged the president to authorize the military to immediately start building field hospitals across the country so that we have more capacity. Almost begged.

The Virus Doesn’t Care

Be Smart. Be Compassionate. Wash those hands.

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