Before the weekend comes, the number of known deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. will surpass roughly 58,000. This is the same number of Americans who died during the Vietnam War. It took five presidents — Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Ford — and more than 20 years to amass that body count overseas.
Donald Trump needed just four months to knock on the door of that grim milestone right here at home, and then he mused on national television about whether injections of disinfectant into the human body could be used to treat COVID-19, immediately leading calls to poison control centers concerning exposure to Lysol and bleach to double in New York City.
“There’s a 9/11 happening in America every single day right now,” writes Umair Haque for Medium. These are staggering concepts to encompass. One day there’s a story about a fast-moving virus in China, then Washington State, then Boston and New York, and with the suddenness of a blindside car accident, we’re stuck at home like bugs in a bottle making Vietnam and September 11 comparisons to provide some level of context for what has happened to us.
A long list of experts, including Trump hostage Anthony Fauci and Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control, warn that this really is only just beginning, and it will get worse. Rosy White House predictions about getting back to normal by Memorial Day must be ignored as vigorously as remarks on injecting disinfectants. The experts I trust, the ones who haven’t been wrong yet and are not trapped within Trump’s erratic orbit, say we will be contending with COVID-19 for the long remainder of 2020, and probably beyond.
I am still laboring to accept this. The stark winter landscape of New Hampshire is slowly, ever so slowly giving way to one of the greatest shows on Earth: springtime in New England. The temperate rainforest blanketing the region is reviving itself in a riot of emerald greens and yellows, with the rest of the spectrum soon to follow once the wildflowers pop.
How can this be? How can these two phenomena — the COVID-19 emergency orders and the emergence of a long-awaited spring — be happening simultaneously? This is the point in the school year when I would be signing my daughter up for summer camp, but that’s out. The future stands before us as a blank canvas, as close as our four walls and as distant as maybe.
The situation will get worse in a galloping hurry if the stay-at-home orders are lifted and people fail to observe the strictures of social distancing, yet that is exactly what is happening. In Georgia, you’d think nothing out of the ordinary was happening even as the death toll there rises by the day. Many members of Black communities in Georgia, which nationally have suffered the consequences of COVID-19 far more severely than other sectors of the populace, are outraged and terrified.
In southern California, an early-season heat wave had people flocking to the beaches in Orange County over the weekend. According to the Associated Press, there were some 40,000 people packed onto Newport Beach alone. Gov. Gavin Newsom is considering closing all public California beaches for the next three weekends, but I suspect the situation will come to require a sterner, longer closure of the shorelines. In Wisconsin, around 2,000 protesters stood shoulder-to-shoulder on the steps of the Capitol building, many without masks, demanding the state lift its stay-at-home order.
Tennessee, Oklahoma, Nevada, Texas, Mississippi and Colorado are among the states that already have or will soon “re-open” their economies to as close an approximation of business-as-usual as they can arrange. Hair salons, tattoo parlors, movie theaters, some restaurants and of course, the gun stores will fling wide their doors to an infected population, the virus will find new hosts, and the pandemic will go on, and on.
“The number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Tennessee was 9,667 as of Sunday, according to the latest figures released by the Tennessee Department of Health,” reports The Tennessean. “That’s up a jump of 478 new cases, the highest number of new cases recorded in one day so far in the state. It’s an increase of 5.2 percent from Saturday’s totals.”
There is no doubt that the economy is in a Depression-level death spiral. Millions of workers and small businesses face complete financial ruin, if they have not arrived there already. Money from Congress to help offset the pain got snatched up by larger, healthier companies who saw free money and scooped it up. Even so, many prominent business leaders are deeply wary of opening the country back up too soon and risking a new spike in infections, and they are all too correct to be concerned, because that is almost certainly what is about to happen.
COVID-19 has already begun its long burn through the rural areas of the country, and the infection rate will continue to accelerate with the lifting of these stay-at-home orders. As that happens, these rural areas are going to run headlong into a critical shortage of hospitals capable of treating COVID patients. Some people will have to drive for hours to find medical care, because so many local rural hospitals have been closed. Not profitable enough, you see.
As I said last week, this is only the middle of the beginning. For many, this next slice of time will be the hardest part to cope with. Five weeks of this strange new world is wearing on people just as the weather is getting nice. Kids are beginning to get brittle with bored, scared frustration. Managing mental health has become a struggle for many, and there has been a notable spike in instances of domestic violence across the country. All this, and it is only the first wave of this thing. There are more to come, and likely soon.
Now would be the perfect moment for some rousing pep talk, but I haven’t got one in me this morning. My grandparents got “Nothing to fear but fear itself” from their president when calamity struck that generation. We get “And then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute” from ours, along with no national testing regimen and a lot of happy talk about how this will all be over any day now.
It won’t be. This isn’t a pep talk, but a profound warning: Do not listen to Donald Trump under any circumstances. If you live in a state with a governor who is bent on lifting the strictures that will contain this thing until a vaccine is secured next year, do not listen to them, either. Listen to your own good sense and stay home if you can. Stay well. Stay safe.
The party when this is over will be the biggest thing the planet has ever seen. We all have to wait for our invitation, however, for as long as it takes to print them. Be here for that, please. The time has come to accept the present as the way it has to be, and find ways to cope as best we can. I’m not there yet, either, but I’m working on it. In the meantime, keep the bleach in the cupboard, your head down, and your chin up. I’ll see you at the party. We will all have some stories to tell.