Terry H. Schwadron
May 22, 2020
Is this patchwork approach to re-opening on the unofficial start of summer working out? It’s early yet, but are we seeing enough to know whether to slow down or speed up? Is everyone as baffled at me at the confusion in the country?
To hear Donald Trump and followers, including those toting loaded assault-style rifles into state houses, the re-opening can’t be fast enough. Political overlays for a Trump reelection effort notwithstanding, we can’t ever go fast enough. Trump makes it clear day after day that he’s willing to let people die to get a re-election-worthy economy come back to life.
But businesses are turning belly-up because they have no customer base. And Trump wants credit for delays, failures and some helpful decisions, whether from him or others, while continuing to act as if the virus is totally gone — including yesterday’s insistence for religious gatherings over medical advice and reality.
To the public health doctors and, still most Americans, we’d like more reassurance that starting up again comes only with sufficient recognition that we face renewed contagion risks without any usable guidance and health enforcement for businesses and gathering places. It’s not so much fear of disease, as fear that undirected businesses small and large will not put safety concerns first.
The divisions in this country are still or newly confirmed as huge. We’re seeing banner-waving substitute for a search for intelligent, measurable steps; we’re even seeing people actually physically attacking one another over mask-wearing, including scattered shootings, as if it were an offensive symbol of American weakness rather than reasonable personal protective gear.
Trump doesn’t say we should be attacking mask-wearers, but he doesn’t condemn it either, though he ducks any public wearing of a mask himself, for whatever vanity or political reasons he holds. Meanwhile, Trump says he is finishing up a sequence of basically having prescribing himself hydroxychloroquine without medical evidence that it is a preventive drug.
Nationwide, we are indeed beginning to see increases in coronavirus cases in Texas, North Carolina, Arizona, Tennessee and other Southern states, though so far at rates that appear less than the feared huge spikes we might have expected from seeing crowded beaches or unmasked, un-distanced bar patrons in many states. Still, Alabama’s ICU beds are full, just as the governor lifts all bans on public gatherings.
Experts note that cases are growing even as the weather warms — prompting debate over whether heat is a factor. The only agreed-upon issue is avoiding large gatherings to deny the virus new hosts. The areas that had been high report dwindling cases, and some even report that there are more diagnostic tests available than patients.
But the protesting continues nonetheless, taking on a distinct political flavor rather than straight defense of individual liberty.
Plus, The Atlantic Magazine reported this week that the statistics on which various states are basing their opening decisions reflect much variation and, apparently erroneous information — the inevitable result of the Trump administration’s failure to take hold of setting national policy and encourage fifty different approaches.
Let’s just say the medical case is sufficiently muddled that my grandchildren don’t know that it will be safe enough to go to day camp.
What About the Money?
As confusing as the medical issues may be, there ought to be no issue by now over how much help is needed on the economic front. But, indeed and as expected, even with political divisions at play, the inexorable morass of this Trump administration is failing to even spend the huge baskets of dollars already allotted.
A Congressional Oversight Commission created by the Cares Act has found in its first legally required report, that the Treasury Department has spent little of the $500 billion fund created to keep businesses afloat and workers on the payroll — and we’re seeing unemployment soar. The report also found that there is virtually no check on what Treasury is doing. And just in case anyone forgot, Trump has fired inspectors general who were supposed to do the watching, because he detests oversight.
By contrast, small businesses grabbed up money under a separate program and extension, though many note that the money did not go to really small businesses. And the money meant for individuals is still tied up in many cases of going to dead people or never arriving.
At the same time, Trump is talking about the need for payroll tax cuts, as if that can solve any current problem without worsening the Medicare/Medicaid programs which they fund, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is threatening to withhold state monies committed under coronavirus and to exempt businesses from any liability in failing to protect consumers or workers.
We could go on, but the government that has flailed in its chaotic mishandling of directing an understandable national policy on virus testing, identification, isolation, treatment and public safety is also flailing on the money side.
We can skip altogether the failures to round up a bipartisan, humanitarian, empathetic or otherwise caring cohesion as a nation. How can you explain a Trump who in the midst of the most serious attack on the country by illness has the time and attention to make up fantasy crimes of his predecessor.
Returning to Normal?
What we seem to want in increasing numbers is simply for disease to vanish magically. Trump wants his rallies, that woman protester wants her haircut, younger folks want to hang at the bar or the beach because disease will never touch them.
My wife and I got away from New York City briefly, safely leaving our isolated apartment for our isolated and wiped-down car, to a lesser-populated town upstate that also was isolated and on the verge of re-opening. There, where we could go about our outdoor chores, there were no sirens in the air, no outward signs of diseases more dangerous than those brought by deer ticks, a place where no one in the local supermarket had trouble wearing a mask without a single cross word. It must be how the rest of the country looks at New York and Chicago and Los Angeles as dens of disease that will never touch them.
Impatience is its own disease, of course, blinding the willing to ignore basic safety and concern about community.
Even if you want to believe in the full Trump program, where’s the planning for a potentially vicious return of disease in the fall?