This is a time for mourning, for things large and small.
You can see it in the increasingly emotional debates about “solving” the Covid-19 pandemic—a growing number of Americans are for opening everything up and relying on herd immunity, while others are for sticking with the existing restrictions on movement. What makes the debates so frustrating is that there isn’t any conclusive evidence that either approach “works.” Those in favor of re-opening point to Sweden as an example of a country relying on herd immunity, even though the jury is still out, and it’s questionable whether such a small country with a very homogeneous population proves anything. It’s uncertain even how complete immunity works for those who have survived Covid-19, or how long it lasts.
Similarly, those wanting to continue trying to “flatten the curve” also face an absence of huge victories, though they look to be closer. Countries like Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, and China are starting to reopen. But even in those places, there have been some new outbreaks, and there are fears of a second wave.
The reality remains that the pandemic has hit the U.S. harder and longer than any other country. With about 4% of the world’s population, the U.S. accounts for just about one-third of Covid-19 cases (one million out of three million cases worldwide). Indeed, the U.S. has more cases than the next five countries behind it (Spain, Italy, France, Germany, United Kingdom). Quite asounding. (For the actual numbers, take a look at the Johns Hopkins map and data of worldwide cases.)
Mourners often tangle as part of the denial and anger that go with grieving. And you have to wonder if all the division, together with incompetence on testing, has extended America’s agony. Many of those seeking salvation pin their hopes on a vaccine, but of course, there is even more emotional debate about that, with Bill Gates, the philanthropist founder of Microsoft, becoming a convenient whipping boy in that hopeless back-and-forth. And once companies accede to the demands of demonstrators and open their doors, you can be certain there will be lawsuits as workers sue their employers for responsibility for Covid-19 illnesses, a large law firm predicts in a press release I received today.
Within the seemingly endless debate and demonstrations, one thing is certain: there’s been a lot of loss. Loss of people and a life style we once took for granted, but also loss of control, or rather, perceived control.
For something in excess of 50,000 Americans there’s been the loss of life. For countless thousands of others, there’s been the loss of jobs and businesses, especially for those in the restaurant and travel businesses.
Even for those who don’t fall into the above categories, there’s been endless loss of things large and small. Children have lost weeks of school and educational support. Adults have had life cycle events like weddings canceled, with both financial loss and emotional upset. In many places, even funerals aren’t allowed, or are severely limited.
There have been huge consumer and business trade shows canceled, with all the financial losses around that. Professional baseball, basketball, hockey—all gone. Theaters, museums, and movie houses closed. Dentists, barbers, optometrists, and others are shut down.
Sometimes the little things can be upsetting as well—the inability to just decide on a moment’s notice to go out to a restaurant or movie, or restrictions on biking in parks and walking on beaches.
It looks as if the losses could continue into the summer. Farmers markets due to start in May and June in New England are on hold. The amateur Cape Cod Baseball League has already had its summer season cancelled.
Of course, there have been gains as well. Urban traffic is way down and the air around cities is much cleaner. Small farms and food producers that sell directly to consumers, have seen a run on their products; just read Joel Salatin’s blog for examples and explanations.
Overall, at least in the short term, I’d say there’s been more loss than gain. When we experience serious loss, we tend to go through the process of grieving, which typically involves stages— denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally, acceptance. I suspect we’re all at different stages..…but still a good ways from acceptance. Whatever the stage, it usually helps to be kind and forgiving, first and foremost to ourselves, as well as to others….rather than seeking scapegoats and trying to assign blame.
The rest of the world seems to have been able to figure all that out, to accept the directives of their public health leaders, and follow a united path. Only Americans are so divided and impatient as to be at each other’s throats, in the midst of a pandemic. It’s a troubling phenomenon. Is it a function of the absence of a reliable financial safety net, which many other advanced countries have to relieve worker anxiety from extended layoffs? Or are Americans just hard wired to not trust authority of any kind? If this kind of massive crisis can’t unite us, what can?
I for one don’t believe our rulers are using this crisis to revoke our freedoms. I’m not so sure that will be the case in the elections six months from now, but for now, I believe our governors and public health officials are going by their professional judgment as to how best to ensure public safety. They’re not working for the vaccine industry or to undermine the prez.
But to the extent we continue to be ever more divided over countering the pandemic, I fear both will simply drag on (the division and the pandemic) much longer than is necessary, with ongoing grieving. And more ominous, if we’re not really nearing the end of this pandemic, but rather more at “the end of the beginning,” with “a second wave” and possibly more Covid-19 in our future, well, it’s a long 2020 looming. Sorry to be a stick on the mud.