I’ve Never Been More Frightened

A worthy, uniquely-American sentiment, but this mask-less guy standing close to others and eager to have COVID-19 restrictions lessened has it wrong. His sign should read, ‘Give me liberty while I, perhaps, give you and those I come in contact with a vile illness and, maybe, death.’ With apologies to Patrick Henry, of course.

I realize it doesn’t make for good protest signage, but it is, indeed, accurate. That’s, in part, why I find myself being so frightened. More so than during any other time in our nation’s history, including immediately after September 11.

This past week, another 100,000+ cases of COVID-19 cases in the United States were confirmed. During the week the virus claimed over 12,000 lives. Our new (momentary) totals: over 1.3 million confirmed cases and 79,525 deaths.¹ Both numbers continue to lead the world and are increasing in nearly every state of the union. Yet, despite the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s clear criteria, states are reopening. Not one state has yet to qualify for reopening per its guidelines. Not one.

Yet, we are hellbent on getting out of the house, going to work, shopping and resuming some semblance of normalcy. I get it. We’ve been inside for a very long time and people need to earn a living. Even so, that’s not what scares me.

Here’s what does:

  • Testing continues to be woefully inadequate. As of Sunday, May 10, the U.S. ranks 9th in the world among those countries currently most impacted by the virus.² We trail Portugal, Belgium, Spain, Italy, Russia, Switzerland, Germany and Canada, each of which has tested more people per million than we have. (China and South Korea are no longer on this list, since they are not currently in the throes of the pandemic. If they were, we’d undoubtedly drop to 11th.) Public health officials are clear that testing is the key to a return to normalcy. Yet, at this moment, we have tested a whopping 2.5% of the population. Why tests aren’t in abundance throughout the country is anyone’s guess. Could it be because the administration has deemed them ‘unnecessary’ and ‘nonsensical’?³ Despite the fact that every person entering the grounds of the White House is tested. As they should be.
  • The CDC’s detailed guidelines for reopening the country have been rejected by the White House. Saying that they are ‘overly prescriptive,’ the White House has blocked their publication and use.⁴ The explicit purpose of the guidelines is to help restaurants, retail outlets, personal service providers (e.g., salons, barbers), schools, and churches open safely. Yet, they’ve been tossed by the administration. Might this cause more death?
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci, arguably the government’s most respected authority on this and other pandemics, has been prevented by the White House to appear before a House committee investigating the coronavirus response in the U.S.⁵ He will be allowed to testify before a Senate committee, but not a House committee. Might this be because the Senate committee is Republican controlled, while the House committee is led by Democrats? Why has this become a partisan issue? Might it be at our expense?
  • Unemployment climbs while the lines at foodbanks across the country continue to lengthen. We are approaching unemployment numbers that rival those of the Great Depression. Many in the country are unable to provide food for themselves. Both are conditions of horrific proportions. This, alone, is cause for abject fear.
  • Collaboration in pursuit of a treatment and a vaccine is nonexistent. If there was ever a time for nations to work closely together to develop a treatment and, critically, a vaccine for COVID-19, it is now. China and the United States should put aside their political differences and seek a cure together. This is, of course, not happening. Instead, fingers are being pointed; additional tariffs are being threatened. Unfortunately, the movie we are in was not written in Hollywood. There are no adults in the room.
  • The administration has singled out California — a state among the lowest per capita rates of confirmed cases and virus-related deaths — as being slow to reopen in a specific effort to hurt the president’s reelection chances.⁶ Here we thought, apparently mistakenly, that the painstaking steps being taken in California were to prevent illness and death, to crush the curve. According to the president, heard by millions on Fox & Friends last Friday, elected and public health officials in California were conspiring to hurt him. Not protect Californians, mind you, but to hurt the president. Who knew?

While all of the above have contributed significantly to the fear I’ve developed for our safety and wellbeing, the development that scares me and, frankly, angers me the most is this:

  • Citizens across the country, like the individual pictured above, have openly and, in many cases, proudly rejected the need to wear masks and maintain physical distancing while in public. Some of these people have confronted, sometimes violently, store clerks and other employees who have asked that all patrons entering their workplace wear a mask. Clerks have been yelled at, pushed, spat on, and shot. Last week, a security guard at a Family Dollar store in Flint, Michigan was killed after instructing a customer to wear a mask or leave the store.⁷ Such has been the rude, self-centered, over-the-top and outright criminal reactions to an attempt to protect patrons — and employees — from the virus.

Why such vehement rejection of basic, commonsensical, simple behaviors in a pandemic? Have these people not seen the sobering projections emerging from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington?⁸ If they had, they might think twice about ignoring the guidance of the CDC. The CDC knows what it’s talking about. They know pandemics and know how to beat them. Wearing a mask is easy, as is maintaining physical distancing. No training is needed. You’ll become an expert in no time.

We are a nation of individual liberties, but this wanton behavior is nothing short of spectacularly irresponsible. It does not respect the contagious and deadly power of the virus. It does not respect the ruthless, relentless rise in cases and deaths. It does not respect us. It is selfish. But it is consistent with the behavior of our top two elected officials, who have eschewed the need to wear masks in public — even while touring a hospital and a mask-making factory — and to maintain physical distance. This even as two individuals within the White House and close to the president and vice president tested positive for COVID-19 last week. That Sean Hannity of Fox News has referred to the virus repeatedly as a ‘hoax’ used to ‘bludgeon’ the president cannot be coincidental.⁹ And recently, on Laura Ingraham’s program, The Ingraham Angle, Rudy Giuliani called tracing ‘ridiculous.’ He went on to support his inane statement by saying that if we are to trace those with COVID-19, then we should ‘trace everyone for cancer, and heart disease and obesity.’¹⁰ Someone should explain to him, in small words, that cancer, heart disease and obesity, unlike COVID-19, are not communicable diseases, where ‘communicable’ means ‘contagious.’ You only trace diseases that can be transmitted from one person to another. Regardless, he made his point: this is much ado about nothing.

What truly scares me is that we are now two tribes. We receive and believe different information, different data, different ‘truths.’ One tribe demonstrates compassion and respect for fellow citizens, the other appears more interested in personal freedom than in the health and wellbeing of those around them, regardless of the consequences. In the past, in the pre-COVID-19 days, this was disappointing, understandable, even tolerable. It’s now a source of danger. Because anyone electing not to wear a mask and choosing not to practice physical distancing can contract the disease and unwittingly spread it. Possibly to someone you know and love. Given that states everywhere are reopening, despite not one satisfying the CDC’s guidelines (which, as we noted, have been dismissed by the White House), the likelihood of the virus spreading is significantly greater. Which makes the possibility of it finding its way into your life, into my life, that much more likely. All because some believe their individual rights are more important. That’s the mark of a stratified, class-based nation, one without shared morals and laws. History has shown us time and again that that’s where societies go to die. Which, at the core of it, is why I am so very frightened.

¹ As of 7:00 p.m., ET, May 10; https://www.cnn.com/interactive/2020/health/coronavirus-us-maps-and-cases/

² https://www.statista.com/statistics/1104645/covid19-testing-rate-select-countries-worldwide/

³ https://www.yahoo.com/huffpost/infectious-disease-expert-white-house-coronavirus-claim-091810590.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/07/us/politics/trump-cdc.html

https://www.cnbc.com/2020/05/01/anthony-fauci-blocked-from-testifying-at-house-coronavirus-hearing.html

https://www.sfchronicle.com/politics/article/Trump-California-too-slow-to-reopen-suggests-15257207.php

https://abcnews.go.com/US/incomprehensible-confrontations-masks-erupt-amid-covid-19-crisis/story?id=70494577

https://covid19.healthdata.org/united-states-of-america

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/apr/04/sean-hannity-defends-fox-news-claims-coronavirus-misinformation-hoax

¹⁰ https://www.yahoo.com/entertainment/giuliani-calls-covid-19-contact-055358693.html

Alan is a consulting psychologist with a long and storied history of helping organizations of all sizes become more enriching, empowering places to work.

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