“When the final bulb pops alight, and the smoke and sparks dissipate, it is finally legible, this elaborate incandescent sign. Leaning to your left to gain a better view, you can see that it reads: Le Cirque des Rêves. Now the circus is open. Now you may enter.”
– “The Night Circus”, Erin Morgenstern, © 2011
On Wednesday, May 27, the COVID-19 death toll here in the United States achieved a brutal milestone: 100,000. Globally, some 5.6 million infections have been confirmed, with more than 353,000 fatalities. Bearing only 5% of the world’s population, the U.S. has roughly one-third of deaths directly related to the COVID-19 scourge and about 1.7 million infections. Sometimes being first isn’t such a good thing.
About 300 municipalities in the U.S. boast populations of about 100,000. We have sports arenas that can seat 100,000 people. Despite the viral carnage, many cities across the U.S. are moving towards a re-opening; albeit with a few restrictions. The limitations appear subjective. Some restaurants, for example, remain delivery or curbside pick-up only, while others allow a small number of patrons indoors, with tables kept at least six feet apart. Most demand employees wear masks and latex gloves at all times, but don’t require the same of guests. Then again, it’s sort of difficult to imbibe in food and beverages with one’s mouth ensconced in a piece of cloth – no matter how fashionable it might be.
Is this the new normal? And who designates what is or is not normal?
For me social distancing and frequent hand-washing have been normal since color television was still a novelty. Yes, I am that…mature and I was that precocious! But, for some people, washing their hands after they pick up dirty laundry or take out the trash is a catastrophic lifestyle change. Hence, my social distancing predilection.
Such habitual alterations aside, I can only shake my head at the blatant disregard some people have for their neighbors – what I also call downright stupidity. Am I sadistic in chuckling at the thought of moronic infidels perishing in the morass of their viral incompetence? I view it merely as being practical – in a Darwinian frame of mind. Among lower mammals, those that cannot maintain pace with the herd are sacrificed to the course of nature. Among humans – at least in democratic societies – even the stupid are afforded some level of sympathy.
However, it’s tough for me to sympathize with many of our elected leaders, including the psychotic, discombobulated clown the United States calls its president – Donald J. Trump. The alleged liberal media has noted the president’s distortion of facts regarding the COVID-19 pandemic – from his pronouncement that April heat will kill off the virus to his suggestion that injecting basic household cleaning chemicals into one’s corpus is good preventative medicine.
One hundred thousand is not just a number – it represents human beings; lives lost to a disease that, oddly enough, has a low fatality rate. The U.S. death toll to COVID-19 is equal to the number of fatalities in this country to the 1968 Hong Kong flu, which killed roughly 1 million people globally. One would think a nation as developed and affluent as the United States would be able to confront any scourge as influenza. But looks are often deceiving. The U.S. has been good at developing weapons of destruction. Our military is the most highly-trained and well-prepared fighting force in the world. Yet health care issues always seem to be relegated to a Neanderthal-style the fittest shall survive type of mentality.
And it goes back to what political structure is in place at the time of the crisis. Forty years ago, when AIDS arrived on the world stage, the U.S. was beset by the ultra-conservative Ronald Reagan – a half-ass actor cum political assailant. While contemporary conservatives deify Reagan and tumble into near-orgasmic frenzies at the mere mention of his name, the rest of us clear-headed folks understand what an incompetent dolt he was. And not just because he turned his back on the working folks of America! As a social conservative, he and his minions felt justified in categorizing people into those who deserve to live and those who don’t. With his banshee of a wife beside his feeble body and mind and an attorney general who thought waging war on the adult film industry was a noble cause, the Reagan Administration ignored the very real calamities of a growing crack-cocaine epidemic and the burgeoning AIDS crisis. Thus, thousands died, while Reagan uttered a few quaint phrases that cemented his aw-shucks persona as adorable to his legions of blind disciples.
I see much of the same happening now with COVID-19. As thousands fall ill and the economy sinks, Donald Trump is more engaged with his Twitter account and continues propagating the myth of rampant voter fraud. Now we have 100,000 dead from this novel coronavirus – and growing – with more than 1 million infected. And despite that low morbidity rate, just recovering from the ailment seems to be a slow ride through the fires of Hell wearing tissue paper-thin clothing soaked in lighter fluid. Moreover, scientists still aren’t certain of the long-term effects of COVID-19. Most people recover, yes, but at what cost? How will the disease impact their health years from now? What of their cardiovascular system? Respiratory system, metabolism, digestive tract, immunity? Like AIDS forty years ago, COVID-19 is fresh off the virological boat. We just don’t know.
I do know, however, that a conservative ideology is bad for health care. Like the schematics for the Titanic, everything looks great on paper – until it slams into something, and we see what happens. No one knows what the hell to do! Except pass judgment and make light of the matter.
That’s what Reagan and his ilk did during the AIDS mess: toss around cruel jokes and tap-dance on the graves of the fallen. And it’s pretty much what Trump is doing now. He’s not exactly making jokes – his presidency and leadership have taken the top awards on that. But he’s not providing any true direction. He did order some manufacturers to being producing much-needed medical supplies. But even that came with some arm-twisting!
Think about that number, however: 100,000. What number of dead do we have to see before everyone takes it seriously? When is it no longer just a very bad day? What price is a life?
Images: Alejandro De La Garza