Bearing Witness to the Pandemic March 2020

Week of March 1, 2020

The coronavirus has now spread across the country with hundreds of cases confirmed and a mounting death count. As the crisis begins President Trump is slow to react and misleads the nation by first claiming it was “very well under control” and that “we have very little problem in this country.” He downplayed the virus as if it was just another flu season and we were experiencing “a moment in time that would soon pass.” And that it would be a “very good ending” and the infection count “within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero” and by April “it will go away” with warmer weather. He claimed that “anybody that needs a test gets a test.” All these things would prove to be not true.

Administration officials and conservative news outlets went on the road and over the airwaves to proclaim “we have contained” the virus and “it is close to airtight” that there would be no health or economic tragedy. Vice President Pence adds to the confusion by claiming that a million test kits will be available by end of the first week of March. The administration’s talking-head surrogates claim the media and evil Democrats were using the virus as a conspiracy to take down the President. So what does the President do to unite Americans as the pandemic comes ashore? He takes aim at former President Obama, then the Democrats and then the fake news media for creating undue alarm and panic.

Conservative news and some Republicans promote the idea that the coronavirus is just like the flu. It is most definitely not. The coronavirus is found to be more easily transmittable in the air and lives longer on surfaces. The incubation period is longer where people can be infected and shedding the virus without any symptoms. The peak of spreading virus to others can occur before being symptomatic. There are no vaccines to prevent getting it. There are no antiviral treatments once have it. Those infected can become seriously ill and put on a respirator all within the same day. Complications from blood clots and other adverse reactions are causing strokes in those infected at higher rates that associated with flu. Our healthcare system and facilities are underprepared and sized to handle the higher numbers that will become seriously ill with COVID-19. And finally the death rate is much higher than the normal flu especially for he elderly. It is very different and more dangerous, and as such it should be criminal to claim otherwise.

With stock markets in a freefall, the Federal Reserve Bank takes an extraordinary emergency step of a substantial 1/2 percent rate reduction to calm markets. Unfortunately, but rather predictably, analysts take this to mean that there is indeed a economic crisis unfolding that will take the economy into a recession and markets continue to fall. Trump complains that the rate reduction was not enough.

Week of March 8, 2020

It now becomes clear to the public that this month and likely entire year in American history will be remembered for a long time. As the global coronavirus pandemic sweeps across the world a National Emergency is finally declared in the US. The federal government is rushing to make up for time lost early on by an administration that initially downplayed the risks. This then contributed to the delay of testing and quarantining infected Americans when it might have been possible to do so, as other countries like South Korean did to avoid the situation we are now entering.

We are not alone as whole regions of the world and our own country are being put into quarantine islands.Modern life as we know it for  generations has ceased to exist. International and domestic travel comes to a halt. Businesses big and small are being closed as layoffs commence. Public schools are shuttered. Students are sent home from college campuses with semesters suspended and commencement exercises cancelled. Concerts and public events are cancelled. Malls and retail shops go empty then close their doors. Zoos and museums close. Sports games and tournaments postponed with entire seasons cut short. Residents are told to stay home and shelter in place. Highways, streets and sidewalks are deserted. Employees are asked to work from home. Officials ask us all to practice “social distancing” when out in public. Church services and masses are halted. Panic shopping starts by consumers seeking every-day staples like toilet paper and canned goods.

Some members of the White House as well as Congress self-quarantine themselves. Buildings in the nation’s capital are closed to the public. Federal, state, and local offices, legislatures, and courts are shut down. Elections are delayed and poll sites go dark. The stock market suffers its largest daily losses ever and has fallen nearly 30% despite the halt of trading several times during the week. Trillions of dollars of investment savings have been lost in one week. A recession is predicted by economists. In emergency action the Fed injects $2 trillion into short term lending to help with liquidity. Health officials say things will get worse and they warn unless the infection curve can be flattened that hospitals will not be able to care for all those seriously ill from the coronavirus. Mass confusion exists about who can get testing. American families are rightfully scared, especially the elderly with preexisting health problems. And slowly a new normal of a Shutdown America becomes normal across the country.

How tragic that President Trump who wanted to build physical walls to keep immigrants out and raise tariff barriers to reduce imports now finds his Presidency rocked by a hidden virus from abroad.

Early in the week the Trump Administration promises an economic plan of big tax breaks for corporations (of course), lower interest rates for their borrowing, emergency relief to oil companies and airlines, reduce regulations, and cuts to payroll taxes they pay. How clueless as this does little to help all the full-time, part-time, and gig independent contractor workers who have already or will soon lose their jobs. Democrats instead propose aid to help Americans directly, including extended unemployment benefits, healthcare cost relief, food stamps, and better sick and family leave benefits.

Midweek in a prime time address to the nation President Trump himself looks unsteady and rather terrified. He makes matters worse with faulty statements that federal agencies have to walk back that same evening. The day after he speaks to the nation U.S. citizens rush to leave Europe to get home after Trump mistakenly announced that all American-European travel and trade would cease. His handling of the crisis is attacked from all corners across the nation.

At a Rose Garden briefing the day after the dismal address to the nation Trump does better but acts more like a master of ceremony in a TV show as he paraded leaders from companies like Walgreens, CVS, Roche, and Quest across the stage. Ignoring the recommendations of his own NIH and CDC, Trump continued to shake hands, touch microphones, and in general do the opposite of what Americans were being asked to do.

Later in the week after declaring a national emergency, a reporter asked Trump if he took responsibility for a slow response and inability for citizens to get tested. He replied “I don’t take responsibility at all” and then calls out the media as fake news. Another reporter asked about the administration removing from the National Security White House Office a global pandemic position in 2018. Trump says it was not his decision but someone elses. Trump blames the Democrats and news media for attempting to sabotage his legacy with a hoax. He after all wore a campaign style Keep America Great hat at a visit to the CDC during the week.

Week of March 15, 2020

The greatest international, national, community, business, familial, and personal emergency most Americans mayl ever experience continues into the second full week of the coronavirus pandemic. More states are in lock down with 80 million residents now told to shelter in place. Schools in many states have been closed until the end of the current school year. Hospitals and medical personnel are begging for more supplies like masks, gowns, and respirators. Some doctors and healthcare workers are now reporting having become infected. The national stockpile of medical equipment is found to be totally inadequate for a pandemic. Elective medical procedures and routing doctor visits that are not emergencies are called off.

The virus has now spread to all 50 states with thousands more ill. Cars line up for hours waiting for their occupants to get drive-thru testing that is very restrictive in eligibility. Without massive precautionary testing – delayed in part by the administration’s slow start to deal with the crisis – the CDC warns the only way to stave off a disaster with millions dead is to remain in our homes and practice social distancing.

The Fed lowers interest rates to near zero, then starts buying bonds and other commercial securities, then rushes in to save the money market fund industry, then tries this and that to stop the hemorrhaging of financial markets, all without much affect. The stock market has now given up nearly 4 years of gains with the largest daily drops in history.

Millions of workers are forced our of their jobs. Streets are empty and stores remain shuttered. That is with the exception of gun shops that are doing record business. Many store shelves remain barren as panic buying continues for families ordered to shelter in place for what could be a month. Restaurants and bars are ordered closed. Non-violent prisoners are being released out of prisons to avoid penal death trap catastrophes. Officials first recommend no gatherings greater than 1,000 people, then 500, then 50, then 10, then 5 people. Nursing homes close their doors to family visitors, even for those close to death who may die without their family present or being able to say a final goodbye and you are loved.

It’s enough to bring tears to all of us, as it does me as I write this.

State elections were cancelled at the last minute by court order. More state capitols close their offices and chambers. Local newspapers cease publication as advertisers and distribution channels disappear overnight. Airports are empty and international travel is effectively halted with Americans left stranded abroad without a way home. Both the Canadian and Mexican borders are closed. Hotels close their doors completely. Cruise ships are stranded at sea with thousands of passengers unable to get home because few ports will accept them disembarkation.

The President signs the Defense Production Act to prepare industry for what is to come. Police chiefs say that to protect their officers and the public they will no longer respond to non-emergency calls or stops for minor violations. The Pentagon orders the deployment of two Navy floating hospitals to the East and West Coasts to provide relief for land-based hospitals that are predicted to be overrun with the most seriously ill. State national guard units are called up to begin constructing temporary hospitals.

The big automotive companies announce they will close their plants as do many other industries that are considered nonessential. Economists warn that unemployment could reach 30%, a level not seen since the great depression. Congress squabbles over a $1-2 trillion, yes trillion dollar, relief package for businesses and families as some claim the country is facing an economic abyss like never before seen. Small mom and pop businesses are expected to be devastated if they are closed for a month or longer. Congressional Representatives and Senators from both parties are tested positive and enter into quarantine away from their duties during the national emergency. Finally the President, Vice President, and other members of the cabinet get tested and thankfully are all negative.

And despite all of this, the President seems incapable of understanding the fear of average American families much less show empathy with steady honest leadership that we so desperately need at this time. Instead, he continues to blame the media for stoking the crisis, the Obama administration for what he had to respond with, and the Chinese for the origins of the virus. He seems to enjoy declaring himself a wartime President. During a national press conference when asked if he understood Americans were scared Trump instead turns his rage on a reporter asking him about the disbanding of the White House pandemic office om 2018. He calls reporters out as being “nasty” and “terrible.”

Week of March 22, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic tightens its grip on the world. At week’s end there were now over 120,000 cases in the U.S. officially reported making us the country with the most cases surpassing Italy and even China where it all began over 3 months ago. New York City has become an epicenter with thousands infected and hospitals at capacity. Many experts say the number of infected may be an order of magnitude more that reported as testing across the U.S. is still inadequate.

There are now over 1,500 deaths in the U.S. and 30,000 worldwide as the number of global cases races toward 1 million. The dead are of all ages, nationalities, races, income levels, and prior health conditions. No one is immune from getting COVID-19 because of their social or economic status. Superstars, prime ministers, sports athletes, politicians, doctors and nurses, royalty, students, celebrities, rock star musicians, priests and rabbis, guards and prisoners, soldiers and police officers, bus and uber drivers, mail carriers and grocery store workers, the elderly, and infants have all now become equally infected.. Perhaps the only good of this will come from all of us realizing that we are one, together, living on a rare increasingly fragile planet.

Countries now have ordered some 1.5 billion of their citizens to remain home include Italy, Spain, India, South Africa and the United Kingdom. More than 8,000 have died just in one country, Italy, with death rates approaching nearly 1,000 per day during the week. The most important international event that brings nations of the world together, the Summer Olympics, are postponed for a full year by their host country Japan.

President Trump to his credit is beginning to act more as he should have been doing a month ago. He immediately signs a $2T bill to rescue the economy without quibbling with Congress. He starts using the National Defense production act to order the production of more respirators. He hastens the deployment of the U.S. Navy hospital ships to their assigned ports on the west and east coasts. He is supporting stay at home and shelter in place orders for nearly 200 million Americans. Stranded Americans abroad are finally getting help from the State Department in coming back home. He approves disaster decrees for a number of states.

The CDC finally starts allowing private companies to test in huge volumes. Trump has finally lessened the number of times he disputes what the NIH, CDC, and Governors are saying or asking for. The Federal Reserve Chairman starts talking straight with the country and says we could be facing not a recession but a depression with unemployment rates of up to 30% similar to the Great Depression of the 30s. Over 3 million suddenly jobless people filed for unemployment in one week alone making it the largest filing ever and quadrupling the previous weekly record set in 1982.

Yet, the President still can’t help himself even when his intentions seem to be moving in the right direction. He says he hopes to have the economy turned on and people back to work by Easter, despite health officials saying that this will be far too early as peak of the curve is not expected now until mid month. He tweets out that he cannot “let the cure be worse than the cause” and says that “you can destroy a country this way by closing it down.” Apparently, meaning if some have to die for the economy to be saved, so be it. Other Republicans and conservative news channels echo the same sentiment that some Americans may have to die to allow the country to move forward. God, please tell me this is not real.

The President suggests that the borders between some northeastern states be closed before consulting with the respective governors. He prematurely suggests that a malaria drug soon to be approved by the FDA could protect against the virus, and an American dies when he ingests a lethal amount of it. When Trump hears that Republican Senator Romney, who voted for his impeachment, may be next and is in quarantine, he says “that’s too bad” with a snark in his tone and smirk on his face. He instructs Vice President Pence not to communicate with governors who aren’t “appreciative” enough of the President’s efforts. During the national emergency he makes time to tweet a video showing his likely opponent Joe Biden, coughing and confused calling him out as the Democrat’s best and finest. He accuses Governor Cuomo of New York of establishing death panels and lotteries. He challenges some states as saying they don’t need all the ventilators they are claiming they do.  This attack all while the New York governor and mayor are turning NYC’s convention center into a 1,000 bed hospital to handle overflows as the number of cases exceeds 45,000 with over 500 deaths. Medical tents in a wartime field hospital are set up to handle regular hospital overflow in Central Park for the first time since the Civil War. Refrigeration trucks are brought to outside hospitals to store the dead. Funeral homes report running out of space to process the dead.

The $2T emergency rescue prepared by Congress and signed by Trump will go down as the largest single spend in American history. The bill provides $500B for loans and guarantees to state and local governments and businesses, $350B for small businesses, $300B for direct payments of $1,200 to each American under income limits, $260B for unemployment benefits, $150B for healthcare, $50B for homeland security, $15B for food and agriculture, $25B for transportation, $10B for defense, $30B to the airline industry, $27B for research into treatments and vaccines, and the list goes on and on. It seems during a war on a pandemic we have all become democrat socialists to save each other and our economy. Maybe Bernie Sanders has won even though he is losing the Democrat primary.

The above news items have been taken from a number of international, national, regional, and local news media sources, both print and digital. Additional editorial opinions and comments about these news items are those of this author.

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