U.S. Pandemic Response: We Are Being Half-Measured to Death

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Restaurants at half capacity? Bars closing a tad early? Companies closing the social hub? Schools opening with masks — but still indoors? Sports teams trying to find a way?

A highly infectious virus does not honor half measures.

After creating chaos by disinformation and general crankery about the pandemic (a “strategy” that continues to this day), the president and his Republican enablers in Congress began almost immediately, back in April, to beat the drum to re-open the country, not waiting for the COVID-19 curve to flatten because, as we’ve recently learned, the hit seemed at first to be mostly to blue states.

On the corporate front, executives duly challenged their facilities managers to make things as safe as possible in the workplace. What this meant for many office workers was an invitation back to hastily retrofitted open-office spaces, as if working indoors could somehow be made safe with masks, colorful arrows on the floor, plastic barriers between stations, and tighter restrictions in the “social hub.” (I should say that I am lucky enough to work for a company headquartered in The Netherlands, and the approach has been cautious and humane.)

To allow people to work, of course, you must open schools and daycare centers, so those became the next points of rather cloudy focus for Republicans on their C-O-V-I-D version of the Snellen eye chart, where the details of policy are written in letters that remain fuzzy no matter how one focuses on them.

We teach kids science and mathematics in school, but neither of those subjects seem to obtain when it comes to the schools that are reopening. Child care workers and teachers are essential pawns in this game, and the tough-stance Republican attitude (at least toward children who attend public schools) can be best summed up by Missouri Governor Mike Parson, who said that, sure, children returning to school would be infected but they should go back anyway because we have to “move on” and they would likely recover.

If you find it difficult to believe I’m being fair to what he said, here is the quote, which bears repeating until November: “They’re at the lowest risk possible. And if they do get COVID-19, which they will — and they will when they go to school — they’re not going to the hospitals. They’re not going to have to sit in doctor’s offices. They’re going to go home and they’re going to get over it….We gotta move on.”

Apparently, we gotta move on to infect families at home and others in the neighborhood. (And, as it happens, governor, not all young people do recover.)

Here where I live in St. Louis, one imagines students being waved back to school by the McCloskeys helpfully volunteering as heat-packing crossing guards.

So, yes, words to remember from Mike Parsons, governor of Missouri. But words not so different from those of many Republican governors all over this Great, Infected Land. Just ask teachers and students in Texas, Georgia, Mississippi, and nearly everywhere politically red states have turned COVID red.

The baseball season? Well, first, let’s take just a moment to savor those memories. And I have to say that it was exciting to see coronavirus infections being added to the daily box scores, tucked in next to the errors. This opens up all sorts of new metrics possibilities — RPIs, runs per infections? WPIs, wins per infections?

If I may be indulged to continue my anthropomorphizing of an uncognizant strand of genetic material wrapped in a protein coat that implacably attempts to infect cells and take over their machinery and mutate its way to domination glory (wait, this sounds like someone who seemingly is a person we know all too well), then I would imagine that the coronavirus happens to be thrilled by sports. The close contact, the heavy breathing — well, it’s really to die for.

In my hometown, watching the Cardinals play the Pirates in their opening series, I was happy to see masks being used in the dugout. But, inexplicably, they were not used when players reached base, when they are often in proximity to an infielder, or when players came to the mound for a conference with the pitcher. Half measures would seem inevitably to lead to half rosters.

Hockey? The NBA “bubble”? Well, okay…but one would expect much the same story. Most likely worse due to the closer contact and playing indoors. Football? Think of the linemen panting like overfed mastifs into each others’ faces. What we need is a spectator sport in which the players score more points as they disperse. Professional keepaway?

Public officials announcing new restrictions that will go into effect, say, in a week or so? This “we’re-gonna-take-some-action-soon” gambit is my wife’s favorite of all the half measures; she finds it horrifyingly hilarious. It’s the governmental equivalent of someone with a positive test result on September 1 announcing he will self-quarantine beginning September 15.

On the local level, bars are to be open only until, say, 10 pm? Restaurants may operate only at half capacity? Well, then, the virus will dine with a bit more elbow room and be sure to drink up before closing. Bros, belly up to the bar — the virus is standing the next round.

We can all feel deep empathy for small businesses possibly going under, but how about some judicious bailouts for the owners instead of yet more of the plague?

This virus is gregarious; it’s going to chat you up at the bar or at that party at the Airbnb that guy-your-friend-knows rented. The virus is a deep conversationalist. On a molecular level.

All of our little half measures amount to a Zeno’s paradox, as it were, in the field of epidemiology, except this virus is no tortoise, and in this footrace Achilles seems to be adamantly slashing at his own tendon. We make up a little of the distance on the virus each time with these half measures, until we fall back — to infinity.

Perhaps we should think of this as the Trump paradox, a race in which health experts are hog-tied and gagged and the president is allowed a golf cart. But he’s not racing to fight the pandemic, he’s using the golf cart — to, you know, play golf. Lots and lots of golf, as the country he ostensibly leads continues to suffer a very high percentage of deaths compared with population (about 25% of deaths with under 4% of the global population). The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) projects that the United States will reach more than 300,000 deaths by the first of December. “MAGA,” anyone?

And in the savage form of capitalism practiced in this country — its roots still in the heartless traditions of the slave economy — Republican lawmakers cannot abide the idea that workers would be paid barely a living wage to stay out of harm’s way and slow the spread. In fact, the paltry $200 per week proposed by Republicans would drive more people to take unsafe jobs and into homelessness — both which would create more infections.

All of which seems to be the point. The way we as a country have been consistently let down by the leadership of a certain party makes one wonder if having no discernible plan now — creating more chaos as the election approaches — is their plan.

It all feels very much the same as the president’s talk about taking a tough stance with Russia, even as he frequently consults with Putin and seemingly works on his behalf. One need not bother to assert that Trump is working directly for Putin, because, for what he is accomplishing on behalf of Russian interests, and in generally sowing chaos in this country, he might as well be.

The endless protests by the president and those around him that they have made “great progress” against the coronavirus is the same sort of gaslighting; in the end, we see what we see, the numbers are what they are, and it is what it is. The United States continues to suffer from the No Plan-demic, leaderless, with our hodge-podge of half measures.

But there can be no half measures when it comes to the sociopathic art of gaslighting. In the Art of the Con, one must stick to one’s story — if it turns the entire world upside down and inside out.

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