By Larry Levine –
A headline on the Los Angeles Times front page:
“State sees rise in cases as restrictions lifted.”
A headline in the Boston Globe:
“Coronavirus hospitalizations rise sharply in several states following Memorial Day.”
A headline in the Texas Tribune:
“Texas reports largest single-day increase in coronavirus cases.”
A headline at NBC News:
“COVID-19 cases are on the rise in 21 states.”
A headline on page one of the California Section of the L.A. Times:
“COVID-19 cases surge amid more reopening.”
These headlines and others like them appeared in newspapers across the country in the first four days of this week as some 21 states saw record numbers of cases and hospitalizations. This does not include several states that stopped counting or announcing numbers or are fudging by passing off COVID-19 cases as something else.
The stories below each of these headlines note the increases have come during the two-week incubation period following the Memorial Day holiday. Newspaper and television pictures that weekend showed hordes of people crowding beaches, parks, swimming pools, hiking trails and in other public settings often without masks and unmindful of social distancing.
As more states pushed forward with more openings since the holiday, America has looked like a run-a-way train, heading for a washed out bridge, with the engineer’s foot on the throttle and the passengers cheering for more speed. From observations of the behaviors of growing numbers of Americans, you’d never know there is a problem.
No place is more perplexing than Texas, where in 11 of the last 16 days, the average number of new cases hit record highs. Texas was one of the first states to relax stay-at-home orders, doing so in early May. Now 72 percent of the available hospital beds in the state are full, there has been a 37 percent increase in new cases since Memorial Day and the governor says the state is ready to move on to phase 3 of opening. They still haven’t met the standards for phase 1.
Arizona notified hospitals this week to prepare as COVID-19 cases pushed the state’s ICUs toward capacity. In 14 of the last 16 days the average number of cases hit new highs. Hospitalizations have increased 49 percent since Memorial Day. As of Monday 76 percent of the state’s ICU beds were full and the number was climbing. Arizona political leaders refuse to issue mandatory mask orders and people don’t seem inclined to mask up on their own. Pictures of swim parties, golf outings, picnics and other Memorial Day festivities showed crowds with no one masked and no social distancing. That continues today at many of the state’s swank resorts.
Nineteen other states reported highest-ever seven-day averages in recent days. A Washington Post study found the cause is tied to loosened controls and social gatherings since Memorial Day, not to increased testing as President Trump and some governors have claimed.
What is it that drives a nation to charge forward in the face of warnings from health officials and mounting evidence that things are heading in the wrong direction? The health director of Orange County CA was driven out of her job this week by a backlash against an order for facial coverings in public places. Numbers climb and governors open movie theaters, nail salons, and restaurants.
When President Trump unloaded responsibility for re-opening the economy on the governors, he guaranteed political pressures would move things rapidly. To double-down on that bet, many of the governors handed the responsibility off to county and city officials who are even more vulnerable to political pressure from local interests.
When people stream out in public because a stay-at-home order is relaxed, do they not realize they haven’t been ordered to go out, only permitted. Is it an arrogance that “it won’t happen to me” that drives them to venture out for a haircut or car wash? Or is it good old American hedonism, a self-indulgent desire for a pedicure? Well, your pedicure will prolong the pressures on those of us who opt to continue to stay home and to wear masks and observe social distancing when we have to venture out.
Do people grant themselves permission to go mask less into crowded places because they are confused by conflicting sources of conflicting information?
Then there are those who have been left with little or no choice. Economic need drives them to return to work, even if they still feel at risk. The fear of ruin drives small business owners to push to re-open or to re-open without permission.
It didn’t have to be like this. If we had a real President surrounded by a talented cabinet and willing to turn to experts for help, we still would have faced a pandemic but the pain and consequences did not have to be so great and wide-spread.
A real President would have acknowledged the potential at its first sign, as Presidents have in the recent past. He or she would have convened a team of experts in appropriate medical fields to draft a plan for how the nation could prepare for the impending danger and to whatever extent possible limit the damage, including the number of deaths. A real President would have called together leaders of other nations to mount a unified defense against the virus and its consequences. Instead, Donald Trump called the virus a hoax, minimized its potential and shrugged off any chance to do anything to prepare.
A real President would have recognized the potential for economic disruption that would follow the need to shut things down to control the spread of the virus. A real President would have convened a panel of economists, labor leaders, business leaders and others to create a plan to minimize the damage to working people and business owners that would result from a shutdown.
While the government of England guaranteed working people 80 percent of their monthly salary up to the equivalent of $4,000 and told them to stay home, the U.S. Congress opted to send stipends of no more than $1,200 as one-time payments to some workers and do nothing for the vast majority of small business and restaurant owners whose employees were promised temporarily increased unemployment benefits. It was all a slap-dash affair that sent billions of dollars to large corporations that were able to marshal teams of lawyers to speed through the application process while small business owners, mom and pop shops, were left out because the money was gone before they could get through the paperwork.
A real President would have thrown the weight of the federal government to secure the needed medical supplies and equipment in anticipation of the pandemic and then distributed the supplies and equipment to the states. Donald Trump stood back and told the states they were on their own. The result was a 50-state competition that drove prices up.
What we have is a circular disaster: a) the virus is here but we’re not going to acknowledge it; b) people are dying so we need acknowledge it and shutdown the economy to prevent the virus from spreading; c) the shutdown is causing economic hardship to millions of people; d) those who are hurting demand a re-opening of the economy; e) states start to re-open without having met even the first phase requirements established by the federal government, which were ignored by the President at the very briefing at which they are announced; f) re-opening proceeds and accelerates; g) hospitalizations and deaths increase as the virus and resultant COVID-19 disease surge; h) we are right back where we started, ignoring the advice of the medical community and pretending the virus will go away or there will be a vaccine, while governors and federal officials chant that they won’t shutdown the economy again; i) see a, b, c …
It was Albert Einstein who said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” It is the United States of America that is proving him right.