Terry H. Schwadron

May 6, 2020

So let’s take stock.

— Per the White House Coronavirus task force, we’re only going to re-open large swaths of the country’s businesses if states and localities see a 14-day decline in cases and promises of continuing physical distancing. But 30 states are now re-opening, albeit under a patchwork of different rules and regulations, and with virtually none meeting the minimum federal guidelines.

Indeed, within three days of allowing distancing rules to expire, Texas saw a spike in cases. Coronavirus cases outside New York are on the steady rise, but the Trump administration is talking about ending the task force. Is the problem solved?

— Protests are organized around the right to individualism and a return to work, but where we’re seeing groups gather is at the beaches and parks, not at the workplace. Indeed, businesses are fumbling by themselves to come up with individual safety codes for workers — or just blowing off safety. We’re hearing more voices, including former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, saying increased death is simply the byproduct of going back to work. Death panels, anyone?

— According to the Department of Homeland Security, we’re looking for death rates to double by June 1, though the White House is more concerned that it has not washed those numbers to water them down than it is about a clear signal of continuing danger — whatever the actual predictive modeling is used. The White House doesn’t want infection specialist Anthony Fauci to testify before House committees, where they think Democratic majorities will seek to embarrass the Trump administration, but does consider it okay if Dr. Fauci appears before Republican-majority Senators. Avoiding partisanship during a crisis, are we?

— While we should still be worried about what’s ahead, Donald Trump is sure that there will be no fall return of a virus that has yet to leave. And he has sought to turn our attentions to unseen evidence that the disease leaked from a Chinese military weapons lab in Wuhan — as if that has any bearing on what we need to be doing now. This passes as Leadership?

As one columnist noted this week, we can stop awaiting the “new normal.” This may be it.

The No Straight Talk Express

I can’t speak for you, but every few days now, I find I have to just stop to consider what it is that we are doing as a community, as a nation, to make ourselves feel safe.

Surely we can’t be safe while we’re worried about where the rent money is coming from, so the relentless campaign towards re-opening is having its intended effect. Increasingly, we are publicly acknowledging that fact through our legislators and public officials.

But is it too much to ask that we do so by insisting that we take whatever precautions we can? Is it too much to ask that we remember that we are dealing with the most contagious fatal disease in 100 years?

Does seeing Donald Trump take over the Lincoln Memorial, which is not generally allowed for such events, to have a political campaign-type conversation with Fox News fill you with optimism? Does hearing him announce — once again with no evidence, authority or plan — that there will be a vaccine in place by the end of the year make these months between now and then a whit safer?

Do we even believe, as I do, that a couple of the 100 vaccine experimentations going on around the world will yield at least partial answers in that kind of time frame? Or does it mean, once again, that there will be a vaccine around — but we still will lack the organization, supply lines and distribution monies needed to get it to people around our country and around the globe?

Lessons Learned?

The medical folks say it is a lock that even if we behave well, keep our distances, and get through the summer, that the disease will be back in the fall. The only question for anyone but Donald Trump is how big the return will be.

Here’s my question: Have we learned anything from the last few months?

As we see coronavirus starting to roll through suburban and more rural areas of the country than the urban clusters in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Dallas, why is it a surprise to rural hospitals that they may need more than two ventilators at a time? Why are those personnel re-raising the issues of protective gear?

If we only have half the projected wave of return cases in the fall, will we be better prepared?

Trump seems once again to be betting our health on the notion of a single vaccine that will make the virus suddenly disappear. It seems much more likely that there may be two or three different kinds of vaccine that will be needed, and that we will be fighting with other countries about who controls them and can obtain them in the billions of doses.

This “new normal” sounds a lot like the petty, shortsighted, greedy and intentionally blind normal we knew six months ago.