Maskless in a Clueless Land

Image for post
Image for post
President Trump during the last debate with Joe Biden.

Just other night, I found myself in a Walgreens. I had just returned from getting a root canal in a molar and had to replenish my pain medications.

As I stood at the counter being checked out, an older man walked in, paused, and asked in a loud voice if it was okay if he didn’t have a mask. The checker said masks were mandatory. For a moment, I thought we were going to have an issue with a mask denier, but the man, looking disappointed and a bit disoriented, turned and shambled back out.

I asked if they had a supply of masks for customers. No? So I ran around looking for masks by the counter, and the checker pointed me to a display at the end of an aisle. By the time I made the purchase and got outside, the man was putting on a paper one-use mask I think he had just pulled from a trash can. I cannot prove that because I didn’t actually see him do it. But it seemed to be the case. I told him these were washable. He thanked me. As I walked away I saw he had left on the dirty one, and I realized he likely had no place to wash the ones I had given him.

Oh, America. You are so exceptional in so many ways, but we really must include this in any listing we make.

Two nations, under Trump, inexplicable, with liberty from social responsibility and justice for some.

This is where we are in the U.S. response to the coronavirus pandemic, which is raging again, overwhelming hospital staff across the country and making open ICU beds vanishingly rare. While we have passed 10.6 million infections and 245,000 deaths in this country, many of those who should be using masks — the single best method for stopping the spread — choose not to because wearing masks was made into a political issue by the president (and people of his ilk), and other people who desperately need masks cannot afford them or are homeless with no place to wash a reusable mask.

A number of days after it became clear he had lost the election, during which time he exerted zero effort on the pandemic and all his time tweet-sulking, Donald Trump made his first appearance on Friday the 13th to claim that his “Operation Warp Speed” has succeeded in creating a vaccine. But the maker of the most promising vaccine, Pfizer, took no money from the government program. Trump may have had a good thing going with that “Operation Warp Speed,” in any case, but his other, more effective program, of neglect and confusion and contentiousness and political maneuvering, could have been dubbed “Operation Megadeath.”

As Donald Trump ignores the pandemic and salts the field in every way he can think of for the incoming president, and while Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito amazingly picks this moment to complain to the Federalist Society that COVID-19 rules on limiting church attendance have “placed unimaginable restrictions on personal liberty” (among other choice comments), Joe Biden and his team have quietly moved forward.

The Biden team has already named a COVID-19 advisory board, composed of 13 infectious disease and public health experts, to shape a new strategy. He has announced that his chief of staff will be Ron Klain, who led the response to the Ebola virus outbreak for the Obama administration.

He has also announced plans to increase testing and contact tracing efforts, create sufficient personal protective equipment and make masks mandatory, fund states in their efforts to distribute a vaccine, rejoin the World Health Organization, and to be guided not by politics but by evidence-based science.

As reported by Nature, Tom Frieden, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), remarked that a new approach could make a big difference: “…if Biden and Harris follow the science, communicate honestly and openly and have an organized response, it would be “three big resets” from Trump’s administration.”

Pharmacies like Walgreens and CVS, with their in-house health clinics or vaccination services, will no doubt be key distribution centers for a vaccine when one is approved. Perhaps the mask situation I encountered was not the norm. It would make a lot of sense if pharmacies could uniformly have masks available at the counter and at the door. When that vaccine appears, a lot of people will likely be in the store waiting in line. What’s the plan? Brand them if that seems like a good marketing idea, but have them available.

Although he absurdly claimed victory in the pandemic some time back, Trump long ago gave up even trying to provide any helpful information to citizens. On the campaign trail, he continued to obfuscate about the crisis, saying the end of the virus was just around the corner and that it also was all political: “That’s all I hear about,” Trump said in a tweet and at a rally in October. “Turn on television, ‘Covid, Covid, Covid, Covid, Covid.’ A plane goes down, 500 people dead, they don’t talk about it. ‘Covid, Covid, Covid, Covid.’ By the way, on November 4, you won’t hear about it anymore.”

As to the hundreds of thousand deaths in the country, he infamously shrugged: “It is what it is.”

As least 20 high-level White House members and staffers have been infected with coronavirus, and The Washington Post reported that more than 130 Secret Service officers are infected with coronavirus or are currently under quarantine due to Trump’s campaign travel and large rallies.

Now, that’s what nearly 72 million Americans must be thinking of when they think of the word leadership.

One might question Trump: Remember last spring during the PPE crisis, when you were playing state against state? When nurses were resorting to using garbage bags as makeshift gowns to protect themselves? Remember that time in late January when you were told that the virus was the most dangerous thing you would deal with as president, and you kept it quiet? Remember when you were talking and talking about yourself and other things that weren’t coherent at those coronavirus task force news briefings, eating up nearly all the time so the experts could barely get a word in edgewise? Remember how when you allowed Drs. Fauci or Birx speak you would stand super close, visibly radiating disapproval for the message they were desperately trying to get across to Americans?

Those questions may sound like an old SNL comic interview by the late (and great) Chris Farley, but there could be no laugh at the end, when he would ask: “Remember when you allowed so many people to die? Why did you do that?”

Written by

Kirk Swearingen is a poet and an independent journalist. His work has appeared in Salon and The American Journal of Poetry.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store