For some reason I’ve had a line from an Eric Clapton song running through my head all week. It goes, “Lately I’ve been running on faith.” And that feels a lot like what’s happening across our country and community as we fight against the pandemic of COVID-19.
The truly unbelievable turn life in this country has taken in the past two weeks still leaves me thinking I’m going to wake up from a bad dream. People I know have lost jobs they’ve had for years, businesses are shuttered, schools are closed and this newspaper I’ve spent 18 years building is teetering on the abyss over something I still haven’t seen in person. As I write this, I still don’t know anyone who’s officially had COVID-19, although I do know plenty who think they probably had it and got over it.
But we must have faith it’s out there waiting to overwhelm us, right?
As I write this, though, there have only been 471 confirmed deaths nationwide. That’s 1.4 people per million U.S. citizens who have died so far, and we’re already looking at a $2 trillion bailout package that may get passed one day if our fine leaders in Congress can ever stop screaming at one another.
Based upon projections, we’ve decided to take steps unheard of in this country before. The fears of a two-week statewide lockdown crippled our community for days as such measures became reality in other parts of the country. Right now we’ve put that Draconian measure on hold.
I just can’t help feeling like we’re burning our own house down to kill a rat. Yes, COVID-19 is deadly and dangerous, primarily for older people with underlying health issues, but it’s also not much of anything for the vast majority of people who get it. The CDC says more than 34,000 people died from the 2018-19 round of the flu and we didn’t shut down a single 7-11 weenie Ferris wheel or cancel a Baby Shark concert.
We’re just living on faith that this pandemic is going to pick up speed and leave people lying dead in the street.
And really faith is all we have, because we’re dealing with guesses and projections when we can’t even test everyone. It’s tough to have faith when you look at the nearly 300,000 tests we have had in this country and realize out of all those people — people who had a reason to take the test — just 42,000 tested positive so far. Yes, 86 percent of the people who’ve needed to take a COVID-19 test came back negative. But, we should still be terrified enough of this to destroy our economy.
At this point someone is chiming in, “Oh, so money is more important than people to this guy?” No, but a stable society has its own weight in our lives and plays a vital role in health as well. What happens to people who lose their jobs, are thrown out of their homes and have nothing to eat and nowhere to go? They don’t count? What happens if millions of people lose everything and overwhelm our social safety net? That dark future is pretty damn scary.
Or do we just have faith government can print more money and make it all go away? Faith that the U.S. could never go through another Great Depression? Faith that there could never be 30 percent unemployment?
Just as assuredly as there are experts predicting 2 million deaths from COVID-19, there are experts predicting the total collapse of our economy. The rise in crime and poverty and inability to pay for good nutrition and medicine will cost lives, too.
One of the things that makes it so hard to just throw everything away is that we aren’t even smart enough to make plain what needs to happen in order for our medical system to be overwhelmed. It seems like a no-brainer to me that every community in this country should know exactly how many spare hospital rooms and ventilators it has and that number should be publicly reported each day so we’ll know how things are progressing. But both statewide and locally we’re told that’s secret information.
Mobile County Health Department says they know what our supplies are but refuse to share that info for some bizarre reason. We’re being asked to take extraordinary measures in our lives and to destroy our businesses, but the guy who orders the restaurants closed won’t tell us how many ventilators there are in Mobile County? Come on.
So we’re just running on faith that there may or may not be a problem. MCHD says it’s not worried about us having the hospitals overrun and if there is an issue with supplies, they’ll just order more. From where? How long will it take? They won’t say. But have faith, it’s all under control.
A big part of what’s driving this whole panic is the absolute faith so many people have that the worst is going to happen. Humans tend to be hypochondriacs as a rule. I’m watching people spray their desks every hour or two or wash their hands a hundred times a day. I know my own hand-washing and desk-spraying has gone up. It feels like we all have bugs crawling on us.
It reminds me a bit of the AIDS epidemic and the drumbeat of how we were all at great risk. An article from Smithsonian magazine I read Monday night actually talks about how the Center for Disease Control’s “America Responds to AIDS” campaign sought to press the point that everyone was at risk, when the truth is that some groups targeted by the campaign, in fact, faced a very, very low risk. But resources were shifted away from targeting high-risk groups in order to put the fear in the low-risk groups.
This has some of that same feel in that we’re treating this as a risk so dangerous to everyone that it’s worth possibly sending the country into an economic tailspin from which we won’t soon recover. But if our local hospitals aren’t worried and our local health department isn’t worried, should we be?
Over the years I have developed a tremendous faith that groupthink is almost always off base to a serious extent, particularly when we’re in a panic. Fear is easier to sell than calm and measure, and it’s more fun to watch on TV. Add in the fact that politics color every single thing we do these days, and I have almost complete faith this economic upheaval will have been not only unnecessary, but counterproductive when the dust settles.
It’ll be easy enough to argue, “Hey, we flattened the curve and that’s why nothing bad happened!” You’ll just have to take it on faith.
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