A Horrible Choice
As the coronavirus runs virtually unchecked throughout most of the country, as only three states have recorded a decline in cases, as the number of confirmed cases exceeds 3.3 million and continues to skyrocket at an ever-accelerating pace, and as the number of Americans lost to COVID-19 approaches 136,000¹, two things are abundantly clear:
1. Our government is failing us. Beginning with the federal administration, most of our elected officials are doing a miserable job of controlling the virus. There is no plan; no consistent messaging; no agreement on basic preventative tactics — like the need to wear a mask in public and maintaining physical distancing; no shared, science-based standards for reopening; no national coordination of personal protective equipment or contact tracing; and no shared understanding of the severity of our plight. Add to this the fact that the country’s leading expert on infectious diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, is no longer included in official briefings, possibly because he disagrees with the president who, as far as we know, has no medical or public health training.² Worse, the White House is working to undermine Dr. Fauci’s reputation by developing a list of occasions when he ‘has been wrong about the coronavirus.’³ To say the very least, this does not bode well.
Need more evidence of the government’s utter incompetence? From the beginning of the pandemic in the United States, it took 99 days to reach 1 million cases, 43 days to amass the second million cases, and only 28 days to reach the third million cases.⁴ Ninety-nine to 43 to 28 days. Will the next million take only two weeks? Need another example? Florida reported a staggering 15,300 new cases this past Saturday, 4,000 more than their previous high.
We clearly haven’t learned a thing. Despite having only about 5% of the world’s population, we have 25% of the world’s cases and deaths. We have been banned from entering the European Union. We have become the world’s pariah.
We have no reason to cheer, no reason to believe we’re handling this well, no reason to think we’re on a path that will get us out of these dark, depressing, dangerous woods in the foreseeable future, if ever. And do not believe anyone who says otherwise. At best, they’re delusional. At worse, they’re lying to us.
2. We are fighting each other. The coronavirus isn’t enough of a threat? To make the situation that much more untenable, we’ve turned on each other. Mask wearing has become a political statement, one laden with ‘individual liberties’ and other selfish, self-serving, uneducated rationalizations. Store clerks and others are being verbally and physically attacked for attempting to uphold municipal or state mandates requiring facial coverings. Public health officials have resigned after receiving public rebukes or even death threats for keeping their states and municipalities closed. Physical distancing has been eschewed by the president and by many of his fans. (How is it working out for you, Tulsa?) Worse, many in government and right-wing media openly question whether COVID-19 is even worth our attention.
Blame for the ineptitude and the resurgence of the virus is being ascribed by the administration to anyone and everyone except those in charge. Despite what they’re attempting to sell us, this is decidedly not a pandemic caused or prolonged by Democrats, President Obama, Hillary Clinton or the ‘radical left.’ We’re also being told by the president that 99% of cases are ‘totally harmless,’ that the virus will soon ‘go away,’ and that the administration’s coronavirus strategy is ‘moving along well.’⁵ The first claim is blatantly false — just ask the thousands of patients in ICUs across the country and the 135,000+ who have died. The second is wishful thinking, with absolutely no basis in fact. The third is a crock.
What is truly maddening is that we would have a fighting chance to beat this thing if we were in this together, with a united purpose and a shared, concerted approach. Sadly, we are not and we have the White House and right-wing media to blame. The escalating confirmed case and death counts are squarely on them, as is our rapidly diminishing place in the world. Science is science and fact is fact and the administration is ignoring both. Have any doubt? Get in touch with someone who has lost a loved one to the virus or someone currently in an ICU. See if they agree that the virus is totally harmless, about to go away, or if the administration’s strategy is moving along well. Somehow I doubt they will.
A wild, tangential thought: might the rampaging virus somehow serve the needs of the administration? Destroy the economy, sicken millions, scare tens of millions, and tear the country apart in the process? Might that explain why they’ve turned their collective backs on the havoc COVID-19 is wreaking? Too much to consider? If so, stick with the original hypotheses: incompetence. It works and it’s accurate.
In the midst of an out-of-control pandemic comes the sudden, urgent mandate from the administration to reopen schools. It’s not as if we’ve had sustained success reopening any other segment of our society. Most public health professionals attribute the exploding rates of COVID-19 across the country to premature and poorly-controlled reopenings. We couldn’t reopen bars or beaches, so now we’ll try it with children, teachers and school staffs?
Parents of school-aged children everywhere will soon be faced with an intensely gut-wrenching decision: Should they allow their children to return to school — where the risk of contracting the virus is significant — or should they keep their children safe at home and continue to face the near-overwhelming challenges of nonstop parenting, homeschooling, and, for many, the demands of working full-time from home. Add to this Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s unwillingness to commit to following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines for school reopenings, saying Sunday that the guidelines are meant to be ‘flexible’ because, as she put it, ‘there is nothing in the data that would suggest that children being back in school is dangerous to them.’⁶ I’m not sure what data she is referencing, but even if true, where is the concern for the safety of school bus drivers, teachers, maintenance and office staff? And everyone they and the students go home to?
The choice is horrible. Does a parent choose the health of the child or education? The health of the child or the need to socialize? Health or the ability of the parent to return to work? Health or the need to ensure the child is fed? Health or the potential spread of the virus to teachers, family and friends? Health or time for a shower? Health or parental sanity? Health or illness. Or worse.
What makes the choice agonizing is that parents can’t have both. A parent can’t choose health and the many benefits of school. At this moment, either the child’s health is put at risk or there’s no school. It is a no-win scenario, with the child’s health and all who come in contact with her or him hanging in the balance.
The administration and some governors will tell you otherwise. Actually, what they will tell you, through their many uninformed, untrustworthy, disingenuous party-line spokespeople, is that school is ‘not that hard.’⁷ If we can reopen Home Depots, we’re asked, what’s so hard about reopening schools, aside from the obvious fact that schools and Home Depots have absolutely nothing in common? Pass that along to the parents — and the teachers, for that matter — who are struggling with the idea of sending their children back to that petri dish of illness we call the classroom.
School is essential. That’s indisputable. But attending school at this time must not be placed before the health of students, teachers and staff. To do so is irresponsible. And immoral. Much like our current administration. When the needs of those in power exceed the needs of the people who put them in office, we must stop, take a deep breath, and question if our needs are being served. If those in power are interested in opening schools — without a shred of evidence that they are capable of protecting the health of the children, teachers and staff involved — we should stand collectively and say, in a strong, loud, polite voice: ‘You want to open schools? Okay. You first.’
Parents and teachers would likely feel far more confident and relieved if the federal government shifted from its aggressive, antagonistic, even hostile stance about schools reopening to one in which it provided the necessary financial resources to support the diligence and care each school is committed to offer. Parents and staff would also likely feel more comfortable if the federal government supported the CDC’s basic recommendations: go slow, take every safety precaution, and monitor progress rigorously, making adjustments as necessary.
It’s one thing to have the administration put our health and safety at risk. It’s quite another to have it put our children in harm’s way. Do these people have no conscience, no sense of right and wrong? Or is this simply about keeping one’s job by avoiding the vindictive, irrational wrath of our new top infectious disease expert, our president, who is doing all he can to keep his job? Or is this just about reopening the economy, even as the virus thrives and we suffer.
Given the current state of the virus and our tone-deaf, science-denying, self-serving, one-track-minded administration, the choice is horrible.
¹ As of 9:00 p.m., ET, July 12; https://www.cnn.com/interactive/2020/health/coronavirus-us-maps-and-cases/