Category Archives: ethics

Perpetrators, Victims, and Bystanders in the Age of COVID-19

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

We are now living in an age where established norms of civilized peoples have been turned upside down and inside out. This is due to combination of events, some that I mentioned in my last post. however, the most troubling that I see is for people in positions of power where they could actually do good to mitigate our losses in the novel Coronavirus 19 Pandemic, either directly contribute to its spread, or turn their backs knowing what is happening. Holocaust Historian Yehuda Bauer wrote: “Thou shall not be a perpetrator, thou shall not be a victim, and thou shall never, but never, be a bystander.”

But here we are again with that choice. Like the Holocaust it comes down to the question of who lives and who dies. But unlike the Holocaust where those decisions were made by people who killed their carefully selected  victims by bullets, gas, medical experiments, euthanasia, or who worked and starved them to death, we are brought to this point by the lack of preparation and callous indifference to the disease when it had a chance to be stopped, slowed, or brought under control until a vaccination or an effective treatment can be found. Now, doctors and nurses, themselves potential victims because they do not have adequate personal protective equipment, will have to make choices about who lives and who dies because they do not have enough ICU beds and ventilators to treat everyone. Last week I wrote  about the coming combat mass casualty triage that many hospitals will have to implement in the coming days and weeks. To those who have not seen combat, been in mass casualty situations, or really their history, the decisions will seem cruel, and maybe even unjust, but that is the reality that we are soon to face here.

Honestly I don’t see the doctors and nurses who have to make such decisions as perpetrators, as they too are being infected and dying. They are also victims, as are the infected and dying. The real perpetrators are those that allowed this virus to spread, who denied it being a threat, minimized the threat, those who delayed acting, and those who have profited by it are the perpetrators.

The rest of us have a choice. We can take the side of and do everything we can to help the victims, or we can join the list of perpetrators by perpetuating their lies and crimes, or be bystanders who turn a blind eye to what is happening, neither taking a stand for or against what is happening. Sophie Scholl who lost her life at the age of 22 by writing the truth about the evils of the Nazi regime wrote:

“The real damage is done by those millions who want to ‘survive.’ The honest men who just want to be left in peace. Those who don’t want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. Those with no sides and no causes. Those who won’t take measure of their own strength, for fear of antagonizing their own weakness. Those who don’t like to make waves—or enemies. Those for whom freedom, honour, truth, and principles are only literature. Those who live small, mate small, die small. It’s the reductionist approach to life: if you keep it small, you’ll keep it under control. If you don’t make any noise, the bogeyman won’t find you. But it’s all an illusion, because they die too, those people who roll up their spirits into tiny little balls so as to be safe. Safe?! From what? Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn.”

I haven’t mentioned the numbers lately. They started to remind me of the nightly casualty counts that were shown like baseball box scores on the nightly national news broadcasts on ABC, CBS, and NBC. Sadly, every one of these numbers is a real person. The infected and dead are of all races, religions, genders, rich and poor, good and bad alike.

So I ask that when you read them to remember that, each one a real person with hopes and dreams, either ended or put on indefinitely by the virus. Then there is the ripple effects, all the family members, friends, acquaintances, and colleagues left behind. There are now holes in lives of people who have lost loved ones or friends, that cannot  be filled by pious talk, blaming others, or by saying that this is God’s will or judgement.

Each of these people, the infected, the dead, and even those who recover bear the physical, emotional, and spiritual know the feeling of the God forsaken, as do those who knew them, loved them, and suffered with them. Forgive the intrusion of faith here, but for me it is the image of Jesus the Christ, hanging on a cross, forgiving a thief, comforting his mother, can crying out to his God and Father in defense of those killing him, “forgive them they know not what they do.” But then there were the bystanders who just sat back and watched, whose inaction be it from their agreement to what was occurring or fear of speaking out allowed them to do nothing. Elie Wiesel wrote “What hurts the victim most is not the cruelty of the oppressor, but the silence of the bystander.” 

So here are today’s latest numbers. Worldwide the toll stands at 1,261,095 infections, 68,468 deaths, and 260,032 recoveries. A death rate that is now up to 21% based on the resolved cases, be they recovered or dead. Of the 932,595 active cases we have no idea as to how their cases will resolve. Hopefully the numbers of recoveries against deaths in these cases will begin to lower the death rate number. However, we cannot know that number until the cases are resolved, but the death rate among resolved cases has climbed from the 14%-15% rate to 20-21% in about ten days worldwide.

But in the United States, for once we are now leading the world in terms of the number of infections, despite the fact that our intelligence agencies wanted the President as early as mid January of what was coming. The President, denied, delayed, dithered, and dispersed the blame to everyone but himself until he saw the stock markets tank.

So with that being said let us talk about the United States and how many people are infected, died or recovered here. In the Good Ol’ USA, which if we remember the words of our President had become  great again under his personal leadership, there are now 331,285 total cases, 9,479 deaths, and 17,091 recoveries from the virus. That is a 36% death rate. That rate among the resolved cases has remained constant between 35-40% over the last week and a half. additionally we have only tested 1,751,296 people, and thousands of they tests have not been processed because the laboratory system is overwhelmed.  But the number of Americans tested is just slightly over one half of one percent of the Census Bureau’s 2019 population estimate of 329,450,000. So we cannot be sure of how many people have been exposed to, infected by, recovered, or died of the disease.

Likewise we now lead the world in total infections, our deaths only trail those of Spain and France. We’re number three, can I get a cheer for that? I doubt it because within a week at the most we will also lead the world in deaths. So let’s hear that chant of USA! USA! USA! And We’re number One!”  Can I get an Amen brothers and sisters? I hate to sound flippant and sarcastic at such a time, but with so many people ignoring social distancing and doing nothing to stop the spread of the virus, including pastors who flaunt their state laws and Federal recommendations and continue to gather, or Florida’s Governor Rick DeSantis who reopened his states beaches barely two days after he closed them, how can I not be somewhat sarcastic and flippant? It’s gallows humor. These people are going to spread the virus or contract it themselves. The data shows that each infected person spreads the virus to an average of 2 to 3 other people. Do these people want others to become infected, or spread the virus to their friends and families, or do they have some kind of death wish?

I’m sorry, but those are rhetorical questions No sane person would want that to be the case, unless they are brainwashed cult members, apocalyptic Christians, or sociopaths who only want the worst for others in order to achieve their own salvation or annihilation. You cannot be too sure about religious ideologues, some of them get a kick of thinking that they will be martyrs for their cause, even if that cause were a lie. Just ask the 9-11 hijackers, but they are all dead. Ideologues, religious or otherwise who seek to kill people and then want the honor of martyrdom are simply narcissistic sociopaths who could care less about the death they inflict and the subsequent consequences, because it is really all about them.

But the President was not alone in first dismissing the virus or the impact that it would have. It appears that China’s President Xi did the same thing, as did Russia’s President Putin, and many other world leaders. No matter who they are or what country they lead, if they denied, delayed, or otherwise left their people unprotected in the face of this virus they are the perpetrators. Especially leaders that ignored the warnings of their medical and scientific advisors and urged people to go back to work as if things were still normal and the virus couldn’t kill them. Admittedly, their is a scale of culpability in this, early on many nations said that they were not like China, or then like Italy. Denial is not just a river in Egypt, but the sooner a nation and it’s leaders got over denial, the sooner they began to actually take action to protect the lives of their people.

Likewise so so called religious leaders who encourage the ignorant sheep in close proximity of each other fully realizing that some or many could be contagious, supposedly in the name of religious freedom, but more to gather their cults and collect their money as for profit prophets, promoting imaginary cures based on supposed secret “words from God” or miracle cures that can be purchased, and providing you have faith will work. They and others like them are the perpetrators.

But that leaves the rest of us. Will we speak? Or will we for whatever reasons, as logical as they may seem to be we have a choice of what we will do.

But then there are the heroes who save lives and are punished for doing so. One of them is Captain Brett Crozier, the Commanding Officer of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, tried to inform his chain of command of an large outbreak of COVID-19 on his ship that was threatening to overwhelm the capacities of his medical department. He did not get a satisfactory answer so he blasted out an email to many Navy officials, which was leaked by someone and published by the San Francisco Chronicle. But his email got attention, and he was allowed to take the ship to Guam, where he was able to begin transferring infected sailors off the ship and arranged to have the rest of the crew tested, and placed in safe quarters.

He was also bound by the DOD’s decision to follow CDC guidelines and not to have his crew wear Personal Protective Equipment if they were not medical personnel, or already infected and showing symptoms. That CDC guidance was finally changed Friday, and I just received a text saying we were now allowed and encouraged to wear cloth masks. Thankfully, during this period many of our workers were teleworking or on paid administrative leave due to they or their family members are in high risk groups for contracting the virus. Commanders of ships at sea didn’t get that opportunity.

The strange thing to me is that multiple Naval Commanding  Officers whose negligence, lack of adherence to Naval Regulations, or concern for the welfare of their crews and safety of their ships enjoyed the benefit of a full hearing by experienced Naval Officers before they were relieved of their commands. This did not occur with Captain Crozier, who was relieved by Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly against the advice of the Chief of Naval Operations. Modly has noted that he understood and admitted that President Trump, a man who fired Modly’s predecessor Richard Spencer who publicly stated that the President’s defense and pardoning of convicted war criminals harmed good order and discipline in the Armed Forces, wanted to fire Captain Crozier, despite the fact that he protected his ship and crew. However, against the advice of the Chief of Naval Operation and other senior Naval officers, Mr. Modly relieved Captain Crozier before such a board of inquiry could be convened, which meant that there is no chance of one occurring now, except as a means to decide if he should be prosecuted for his actions.

Of course any such board would have probably affirmed Captain Crozier’s actions, unlike the Commanding officers of other ships who covered up their ship’s training, manning, and technical or mechanical deficiencies and who by doing so sacrificed the lives of their sailors, and grave and costly damage to their ship which rendered those ships non mission capable for more than a year each. Despite the lies being presented by the President aided by his media and political apologists, Captain Crozier exhibited the finest of Naval tradition in protecting his ship and crew, and boldly risked his career for the defense of his crew and the nation. And it appears that he too has contracted COVID-19 and may be prosecuted for his actions. In this case it appears to me that the Navy’s justice system has been turned inside out and upside down.

So I must make a judgment. Captain Crozier acted in the best interests of his ship, sailors, the Naval tradition, sore values, and truth. In doing so he was afforded less justice then men whose lack of concern for their ships, crews, and the nation were given. Likewise, though his actions saved lives, and will result in the ship and crew being fully mission capable with a few weeks. Yet he was given less respect or protection for his actions, by the President has in pardoning convicted war criminals.

But as a veteran of over 38 years of military service, in peace and war,  I have to admit that I am ashamed of our political, military, and moral leadership which would pardon war criminals, give full hearings to men whose actions led to deaths of their crew members and long term costly repairs to their ships, before relieving them, who then condone and defend their actions against Captain Crozier whose real offense was trying to save his crew. He is a victim of both the disease, and the Navy leadership, who have become perpetrators of injustice.

Captain Crozier was denied a fair hearing, and and condemned because the President wanted it to happen. That my friends, as an officer whose oath is to “defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic” and not the actions of any a political party or President, demands that my honor is based on defending the Constitution, and at the same time knowing that it is not my career that is sacred, but the honor and reputation of the nation in upholding our laws, Constitution, and institutions of the nation, against usurpers who  only seek to expand their power and gratification at the expense of the United States, and its citizens, even using the police and military power of the state against them to do so, I have to make a stand for truth, and like General Ludwig Beck who resigned his position as Chief of Staff of the Wehrmacht in defiance of Hitler’s invasion of Czechoslovakia, and who lost his life in Operation Valkyrie in 1944, I have to state like Beck:

“Final decisions about the nation’s existence are at stake here; history will incriminate these leaders with bloodguilt if they do not act in accordance with their specialist political knowledge and conscience. Their soldierly obedience reaches its limit when their knowledge, their conscience, and their responsibility forbid carrying out an order.”

For me, my friends, that is the heart of the matter. This is about the public health and the welfare of my neighbor, not about me. If any order is issued in contradiction  to the  the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of  Rights, the U.S.Constitution, or the Uniform Code of Military Justice,  I must raise my voice against it, and as a matter of honor defend those accused  of breaking them. How can a man with any sense of honor not due so?

We all have a choice. Will we be a perpetrator, victim, or bystander during this crisis? I cannot be a bystander, I cannot be silent. I have to echo and proclaim the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” 

So until after that tomorrow  and I wish you all the best, and please be careful out there.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

 

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Filed under Coronavirus, Diseases Epidemics and Pandemics, ethics, healthcare, History, laws and legislation, leadership, national security, natural disasters, Political Commentary, Religion, US Navy

The COVID-19 Tsunami is Here and The Pro-Life is Exposed as Profit over People

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The disaster that few prepared for, including our President despite having verified and validated evidence of it in January is here. Back then we were given a moment in time to prepare, something that people that experience tsunamis ever get. An administration in denial dismissed evidence that could have mitigated the novel Coronavirus and minimized the number killed by it. I will not go through the litany of deception and false claims that he made made, and the actions of his administration in giving away tons of vitality needed Personal Protective Equipment  from our national stockpile, to China. PPE that our doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel are crying out for because they are having to reuse or use makeshift gear to treat the victims of the novel Coronavirus. 

Back in January there were only a few cases, which the President said would soon disappear along with the virus, and the President’s “band played on,” to borrow words the late Randy Shilts in his monumental volume about the initial response of the Reagan Administration to the AIDS pandemic. However, despite the warning the President played politics by minimizing the threat, and later bragging about how he has responded to it, constantly upstaging, and contradicting the experts of the CDC including Drs. Fauci and Brix, while ignoring the rising infection rate and death toll until it became a political liability. When that happened he and is enablers, supporters, and propaganda network, you know them well Fox News began to deflect the blame to the Democrats, the impeachment hearings and Senate trial, the Chinese, the media, and anyone else for his multiple failures when simply listening to experts and being honest with the American people would have been far better. In fact he took his impeachment trial and COVID-19 so cavalierly that he kept having campaign rallies beating his chest, demonizing his opponents, bragging on himself, and exposing his followers to to a deadly virus in massed rallies who God knows how many were exposed to satiate his vanity. That is the mark of a true sociopath, he doesn’t even care about his supporters. Think about that.

Just 24 days ago, on 8 March, the United States reported 541 infections and 22 deaths. By March 18th there were 9,259 cases and 150 deaths. Four days later we were at 46,182 cases and 582 deaths, a death rate of 66%, well over the worldwide percentage. Two days later we were over 66,000 infections and over 1,000 deaths. Now we lead the world in number of infections, as infections and deaths are spiking, and the healthcare system is being overwhelmed without enough resources to care for the victims or protect their caregivers. In two and a half months we went from a barely noticeable situation, unless you pay attention to potential pandemics. But in 24 days we went from a noticeable wave to a tsunami of infection and death, not to mention economic carnage, and worldwide instability. But, instead of doing what almost all of his 44 predecessors did, President Trump declared “I don’t take responsibility for anything.” Forget President Harry Truman who declared “the Buck stops here,” or any other President, this President denies any blame for anything regardless of how serious it is. But that is his history: draft dodging, divorces, affairs, corporate bankruptcies and failures, leaving employees, contractors, and now the American people in the lurch to protect himself.

As of now the United States has 215,300 of the world’s 936,204 infections, or 23% of the world total. That is a 338% increase since 8 March. Our death rate since 8 March has gone up by 223%. By the way we have the unfortunate distinction of having the most infections or any country in the world. But wait, there’s more. Of the 47,249 deaths we went from 3,ooo to over 5,000  deaths in 48 hours. Our death toll is now 5,110, or 11% or the worldwide death total, and supposedly we have the best medical system in the world.

But that is not the case. Public health ranks at the bottom of our priorities. Expensive specialty procedures and interventions are at the top, not to include medical procedures performed simply for our vanity and good looks. Preparation for pandemics and disasters  is also low, because our medical system is profit based predicated on what insurance companies will pay for, if an American is fortunate enough to have medical insurance. The fact is that our private and even public hospitals operate with very little surge capacity, because it takes profits down. ICU beds, ventilators, and the highly trained staff need to man them are expensive. Insurance companies don’t like to pay those costs, nor do hospitals and medical systems. For the corporations, profit takes priority over people, even when the doctors, nurses, and other staff are committed to life and the Hippocratic Oath.

As of today that number is far lower than it was a week ago, as failing businesses end their COBRA policies, and then fire their workers. It looks great on a corporate balance sheet but it fucks all of their employees, especially those who devoted their lives and careers to those corporations, while the Trump Administration refuses to let the millions of people impacted by this to purchase health insurance through the Obamacare exchanges. The President rejected that today, it is quite obvious that he would rather destroy the lives of people than to save them and then claim victory despite the loss of 100,00-240,000 people or more. Those are not the actions of a man who stands for the sanctity of life, but rather a sociopath willing to sacrifice lives to keep power.

The cruelty of profit over life exposes that our real civil religion and morality is not life, but profit. As a historian and scholar of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, I have to ask when palliative care transitions to euthanasia, and those deemed life unworthy of life, are euthanized by the people who supposedly there to care for them and protect the sanctity of their lives. As this cris continues, and the Trump Administration remains in change that such a decision will be made, not to protect the sanctity of life, but to enhance corporate profits, and political power, regardless of the human cost.

It is late and I am tired, but as of now of those whose cases were resolved by death and recoveries, 36% resulted in death. The worldwide death rate has gone up to 20%, up from 16% at the end of last week.

I believe in God, faith and prayer, but without the actions of responsible human beings in leadership positions, elected, appointed, or commissioned, we are headed to a human, economic, sociological, and eventually war based solution, regardless of whatever nation starts it,

So until tomorrow I wish you all the best. Please be careful out there.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under civil rights, Coronavirus, Diseases Epidemics and Pandemics, economics and financial policy, ethics, euthanasia, faith, healthcare, History, holocaust, laws and legislation, leadership, life, national security, natural disasters, News and current events, Political Commentary, pro-life anti-abortion

COVID-19: Living with its Reality While Being Brave and Caring While Acknowledging our Fears

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

T.S. Elliot penned these words: “Humankind cannot bear very much reality.” 

The sad fact is that Drs. Birx and Fauci have been quietly trying to brace the President and many of us for reality. Despite all the falsehoods and false hopes that emanated from the mouth of the President  between January and the beginning of March they, like them or not, soldiered on when many would have quit. All the President’s  denials, delays, disinformation, claims of fake news, bragging about his success, attacking  political opponents, and demonizing real news agencies, and reporters by name did not keep them from pushing back. I am not sure, but I suspect that Vice President Pence began to trust them helped push the President into accepting reality that the numbers that will die in the United States are far beyond anything that he ever would admit. Today they admitted that 100,000 to 240,000 could die, and that with successful mitigation. The same models predict a million and a half to two and a half million deaths without “successful” mitigation efforts. Who knows what April will bring, but I don’t think most American leaders or their followers are willing to deal with the hard truth that lay before us.

What our states are now beginning to do may be too little and to late to prevent an even higher death toll. Truthfully, based on the deadliness COVID-19 has demonstrated in our country where a lot more people in the 20-50 year old bracket are falling victim than was expect, I think, though I desperately  want to be wrong, and a quarter of a million is a low estimate based on the historical tendency for Americans to not obey the rules, trust science, or the government.

The terrible thing is that now the President would consider a death toll of 100,000 a “victory.” Had the President and  administration prepared for the virus when they were warned, we would have had a chance at minimizing the death toll, like South Korea.

But here we are facing one of the most catastrophic moments in the history of our country. We have to pull together, work together, and fight this together. Political, ideological, and religious animosity has to be chucked over the rails of this ship called America if we are not to sink. As one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence said, “we either hang together or we hang separately.”

Sadly, I have the feeling that many Americans will not believe until they, their family members, and friends start dying. As C.S. Lewis wrote in A Grief Observed:

“We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, ‘Blessed are they that mourn,’ and I accept it. I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination.”

That my friends is the reality that we face. No matter our religion, lack thereof, or ideology may be, we are all human. Unless we are true narcissistic sociopaths, the deaths of friends and loved ones strike the very core of our innate human finiteness. They remind us that we too are mortal, and part of a community. I have friends across the religious and political spectrum, even people who disagree with me vehemently on various matters. But the death of any of them would involve grief that I cannot explain.

So now the latest COVID-19 casualty report. Worldwide there are 858,669 cases, 42,151 deaths, and 178,099 recovered. The get the death rate we do not uses the total infections. John’s Hopkins uses the total number infected, but since that number is always changing it is unreliable. Instead you have to use the total cases completed by either death or recovery, as the denominator. You divide the number of deaths by the number of completed cases. That rate is now 19% worldwide. In the United States there are now 188,530 total cases, 3,889 deaths and  7,251 people who have recovered, a 35% death rate. Of course as the minor infections recover the rate will most likely go down, to between 5 and 10%, not the 1-3% that some estimated just weeks ago. This is a killer virus, much worse than any flu. I’m not a scientist, but a historian. The great Spanish Influenza of 1918-19 killed over 600,000 Americans, and based on the latest estimates nearly 50 million deaths worldwide, and the populations, especially those living in major metropolitan cities, were far less than they are today.

John Barry, author of The Great Influenza: the Story of the Greatest Pandemic in History  wrote:

“overstate to make a point—warned, civilization could have disappeared within a few more weeks. So the final lesson of 1918, a simple one yet one most difficult to execute, is that those who occupy positions of authority must lessen the panic that can alienate all within a society. Society cannot function if it is every man for himself. By definition, civilization cannot survive that. Those in authority must retain  the public’s trust. The way to do that is to distort nothing, to put the best face on nothing, to try to manipulate no one. Lincoln said that first, and best. A leader must make whatever horror exists concrete. Only then will people be able to break it apart.”

The lesson is that truth even in the face of unimaginable disaster and loss of life, must be told. The same is true with how to mitigate the threat. Fear is a natural response, and anyone involved in a war, which this is, is not unreasonable, especially when there is no vaccine, should demonstrate a measure of reasonable fear. General George Patton wrote words that should be absorbed by everyone facing this virus today:

“If we take the generally accepted definition of bravery as a quality which knows no fear, I have never seen a brave man. All men are frightened. The more intelligent they are, the more they are frightened.”

That means that we can be frightened, yet brave. We must continue to life life and care for others even as we use social distancing and other prevention measures.

As Captain Jean Luc Picard in Star Trek the Next Generation said: “the first duty of every Starfleet officer is to the truth, whether it’s scientific truth, historical truth or personnel truth…”

Our leaders regardless if the are political, scientific, media, military, religious, or medical leaders must tell the truth, and then do the hard things in order to survive without becoming the dystopia of a world like the Mad Max films, novels like 1984, or so many examples from history and fiction.

We need leaders who tell the truth, and we need to act, despite our fears to defeat this threat. As Winston Churchill said in Britain’s darkest hour, “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat,” our leaders regardless of party or ideology have to stop offering meaningless but comforting words, and tell the truth. If they don’t we will experience worse than we could imagine. As the English comedian Rowan Atkinson uttered in the BBC comedy series, Black Adder: “a fate worse than a fate worse than death.”

100,000 to 2400,000 preventable deaths is not a victory, it is a needless sacrifice of human life. Each of the dead is more than a number or name, they are human beings who leave behind parents, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, grandchildren, friends, and coworkers. Each death leaves a hole in the heart of someone who loved and cared for them, that cannot be filled by empty words.

Until tomorrow, and with hope for the future. Please be careful out there,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

 

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Filed under Coronavirus, Diseases Epidemics and Pandemics, ethics, faith, film, healthcare, History, laws and legislation, leadership, News and current events, Political Commentary, Religion

Very, Very, Very Dreadful: COVID-19 and Our Future


At Kroger Today 
Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Albert Marrin wrote in his book Very, Very, Very, Dreadful: The Influenza Pandemic of 1918: 

“No other disease, no war, no natural disaster, no famine comes close to the great pandemic. In the space of eighteen months in 1918–1919, about 500 million people, one-third of the human race at the time, came down with influenza. The exact total of lives lost will never be known. An early estimate, made in 1920, claimed 21.5 million died worldwide. Since then, researchers have been continually raising the number as they find new information. Today, the best estimate of flu deaths in 1918–1919 is between 50 million and 100 million worldwide, and probably closer to the latter figure.”

The current novel Coronavirus pandemic may not kill as many people as the Great Influenza pandemic did, but the numbers that it will kill will be catastrophic, not only in the number of lives lost, but in the unrest it causes in so many nations will lead to civil wars, usurpation of powers by authoritarian regimes of various ideologies, and subsequent wars that it helps spawn in the coming years. And frankly, after 75 years of relatively small wars, which admittedly have and tragically killed millions of people, the global order has remained relatively stable, until now.

The instability in the global markets, rising unemployment, shortages of so many items that we have come to rely upon, is just the beginning, and the virus has just begun. If it follows the course of the 1918-1919 pandemic, which most scientists believe that it will this is just the first phase. The second will be a slight lessening of infections and deaths in the summer followed by an explosion of it in the fall and winter, and the third wave will be far deadlier than today’s. It may even mutate into a far deadlier strain, as of now we know of two strains of it, and who knows how many there will be in the fall and winter? I cannot say, but I would put money on at least two or three, which even if we can produce a vaccine for the current ones, in record time, the mutations may be immune to it.

We were completely unprepared for this despite knowing that we were due for a pandemic. While industry can produce record numbers of ventilators and PPE, in a relatively short period of time, even which may not be deployed soon enough for this first phase of the pandemic; they cannot produce qualified ICU doctors, nurses and technicians that fast.

Even when we get the beds and ventilators, as well as additional rooms, we will have to staff them with doctors and nurses without or with minimal ICU experience, most gained during their medical or surgical residencies, or rotations through them during nursing school. It takes a special breed of physician or nurse to work in critical care, just as it does to be a cancer specialist, Emergency Medicine Doctor or nurse, or name the medical field. The fact is that you cannot make such specialists in a limited amount of time, and thanks to our managed care, for profit, system we don’t produce enough of them anyway. They are much more valuable than the equipment they have to use.

If the hospitals of the First World are being overwhelmed, just imagine what will happen when the virus begins to explode in the Third World, where a lack of basic medical care is standard, and critical care physicians and nurses are at the university and government run medical centers in major cities, most often the national capitals. The virus will spread through the major cities with a vengeance, and then to the hinterlands. Millions will die, simply because they live in countries too poor, and often politically unstable to deal with it.

As of tonight the numbers continue to explode. As of this moment there are 722,916 cases of the COVID-19 Virus worldwide, and 33,976 deaths. This is up from 532,362 cases of COVID-19 and 24,090 deaths Friday.  Today 536,454 of the cases are still active. Of the closed cases 151,756 have recovered and 33,976 have died for a 18% death rate, up from 16% less than 48 hours ago. That is a increase in infections of 190,553 cases and an increase of 9,886 deaths in just 48 hours. Say what you want, but the numbers don’t lie.

The same is true in the United States the numbers are not encouraging because we are so far behind the testing and preparation stage. As of now there 142,178 cases, and 2,484 deaths, and 4,559 recoveries a death rate among the closed cases of But at this same time on 27 March there were 85,984 total reported infections with 1,300 deaths and 1868 recoveries. Currently 135,135 of these cases are active. The mortality rate among the closed cases is 35%. Sadly we are nowhere close to the peak, which despite efforts to mitigate the spread in some states, others are refusing to make take any precautions, including those bordering some of the hot spots where the virus is now exploding.

Thankfully, despite his many lies, obfuscations, and refusal to take responsibility for anything, while blaming state governments and even health care providers for the growth of the virus, has at least admitted that many more lives may be lost and expanded his restrictions on gatherings to at least April 30th. I expect that he will have to push it further back.

But Americans, especially his supporters hate this, and are likely in states they control will ease restrictions as early as next week.

However, it is late and I have to get ready to go to bed so I can get to work in the morning.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

 

 

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Coronavirus and the Unthinkable: The Coming Need for Combat Mass Casually Triage

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

We live in a vastly different world than we lived in just a few weeks ago. The President persists in repeating the mantra that nobody saw the novel Coronavirus coming, when in fact there were such creditable reports coming from China that even the Texas based H.E.B. Grocery chain began to prepare for it in January. The interesting fact is that we’re simply paying attention to unclassified, publicly available reports about it, and not the classified information being provided to the President by U.S. Intelligence agencies in January and February; information the President either paid no attention to or willingly ignored. Thus, unlike the people of H.E.B., the Federal government made no preparations for the coming pandemic. No wonder he persists in saying that no one saw it coming, it lets him off the hook, a victim of his own willful ignorance.

Because of this civilian hospitals are without enough room, ICU beds, isolation rooms, effective medications, respiratory ventilators, and Personal Protective Equipment, all known by the acronym PPE. Part of this is because we run a profit based medical system. ICUs are very expensive to maintain, if a hospital maintains a large surge capacity, it loses money.

They are not your general purpose hospital rooms; the really well equipped ones have  individual rooms, often equipped with negative pressure so infections cannot get into the rest of the ICU from being infected when the door is opened. they have to be staffed by highly trained physicians: Since most people in ICUs are dependent on some form of respiratory support, the Attending Physicians are usually Pulmonologists, or to put it simply, doctors who deal with the complexities of the human respiratory system. Depending on the patient they work with Cardiologists who deal with the heart, Neuro-surgeons, and Neurologists, who deal with the Brain and Central Nervous System; Cardio-thoracic surgeons, Gastroenterologists, Cancer Specialists, Rheumatologists, Renal Specialists, Trauma Surgeons, Burn Specialists, ENTs, Entomologists, Virologists, Radiologists, and host of other speciality disciplines. The nurses are not your ordinary nurses. They are RNs with certifications in critical care, cardiology. Neurology, and like the doctors a host of other disciplines, many have Masters and Doctorates, and nurses generally are assigned to work with one or two patients, where on a general medical or surgical ward that ratio might be one for every seven or eight patients. Then there are the respiratory therapist who run and maintain the ventilators and other breathing machines, the X-Ray techs, the phlebotomists, the lab techs, as well as LPNs, Nurse’s Aides, and Medical techs, and unit clerks who do the unglamorous work in the ICU. In really well equipped Medical Centers there are portable X-Rays, CT scanners, and Dialysis machines in the ICU. This doesn’t count the highly complex ICU beds, Cardiac monitors, IV pumps, and so much else to make them work. Let’s not mention the Chaplains, Social Workers and others who work with the patients, families, and treatment team in caring for each patient. I have spent a number of years as an ICU chaplain in major medical centers that are also teaching hospitals. I have seen my fair share of suffering and death, as well as the heroics of ICU staff members.

In normal times there are just enough ICU units and beds to treat those that require them, as well as all the equipment and personnel to keep them going. But many smaller hospitals lack this capacity, they are dependent on major medical centers, and local specialists and practices to supply what they need. The fact is that this pandemic has revealed just how unprepared we were for it.

This places doctors in a terrible conundrum. These physicians, nurses, and techs are devoted to saving lives, and most of the time the work heroically to saves the lives of men and women with multiple morbidity factors, or what some of us called “medical disaster areas,” because they were so sick that even heroics could not keep them alive. Statistically most Americans will spend a month or more of their final year alive in an ICU, when palliative care would be more human. ICUs are incredible, but too many people, influenced by television medical dramas believe that they are miracle centers, when they are not. As modern Americans we have forgotten the lessons of our ancestors, we no longer value life enough to make our dying loved ones comfortable, surround them with love, remember their lives, and let them to tell their stories and say goodbye. Instead we try to keep people alive without considering the pain and suffering that the treatments of their maladies cause  them, We have institutionalized death, and made very caring strangers responsible for the deaths of our loved ones, in sterile, mechanical, and unfamiliar places. I have seen too many of these deaths and remember so many of them. That my friends is just in normal times. These are not normal times.

Since we failed to prepare for it in the eight or so weeks that we had a chance to prepare for it, the novel Coronavirus, or COVID-19, has infected over 600,000 people worldwide and killed over 30,000, is now straining even the most prepared healthcare systems to the brink. Despite the quality of our care, our government, medical systems, businesses, and population were completely unprepared for this, except for those like H.E.B. and me who began to follow it early.

This pandemic is in the process of making providers have to upend normal triage. In normal times we treat the sickest and most likely to die first, those serious but not in a life and death battle second, and those healthiest and likely to survive their injuries or infections last. I remember on one horrible night back in 1994 at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, our ICUs we’re slammed and I was the on call chaplain for the entire 900 bed hospital. All six trauma bays were full, with people suffering gunshot wounds, burns, and injuries from motor vehicle crashes. The same was tru in our Medical ER where all three critical rooms were occupied, with two in the process of full code from contaminated crack cocaine overdoses. As I made my rounds in the ER, preparing myself to be with doctors as they got ready to tell family members that their loved ones were dead, a young man, on an overflow bed, being monitored every 20-30 minutes, with a flesh wound cause by a small caliber weapon in his thigh pulled me aside. He pleaded with me. “You’re the Chaplain, I’ve been shot, get me treated!” I told the young man, “I’ll be glad to do so if you want me to tell the doctors that are trying to keep people from dying that you need to be seen before the man with the gunshot wound in the head that just died, or the woman with massive crush injuries from a car crash who is trying to die, or the man with 70% of his body burned Who is unlikely to live, or any of the others we are trying to keep from dying, for you? You are stable and being monitored, you’ll get treated and walk out of here by tomorrow. So who do you choose?”  The young man was stunned by my bluntness. He then stammered out, “someone just died and others might?” I nodded my head and said, ”what do you want me to tell the doctors?” My words must have struck a nerve and revealed that he still had a conscience. He replied, “No sir, help them and pray for me, I’m sorry.” I said, “getting shot isn’t normal,  and it is scary, but I will pray for you and these doctors will take care of you.” He simply thanked me and grasped my hand. I said a brief prayer for him and moved on in a night that would have me deal with eight deaths, and doing my best to care for the dead, their loved ones, and our staff.

In the Coronavirus era, the young man might be treated first and the dying placed on an overflow bed in the ER. This is not about choosing what life matters more, but the hard fact that no matter how hard we try we cannot save the lives of some people regardless of how many resources we employ.

I learned these hard facts as a Medical Service Corps Officer in Germany at the height of the Cold War. In a NBC (Nuclear, Biological, Chemical) mass casualty event, or even an overwhelming conventional mass casualty event the triage of casualties is upended. In normal times we try to treat the most seriously injured or ill first. But in an environment where the ill or injured are infected by a biological agent that we cannot treat, or a chemical agent that will kill them anyway, or enough radiation exposure to kill them, or we are completely overwhelmed with casualties, we provide palliative care to the dying or most likely to die while minimizing their pain and suffering. instead we concentrate on saving the lives of those who have the best chance of living. As long as we have the resources and personnel we aggressively try to save the lives of people infected by Coronavirus, but if we don’t we need to issue “do not resuscitate“ or DNR orders in order to protect medical providers and to ensure that we save the maximum number of people regardless of their status in society.

In a combat environment, which I hate to say we are now in, a soldier with an otherwise treatable wound who has been exposed to a biological or chemical agent, is given palliative care. Likewise, you cannot run a full code on a person infected with Coronavirus because you risk infecting the treatment team, and other patients in the adjoining beds. That may sound heartless, but it is the most humane course of action. At the rate of expansion of COVID 19, more and more doctors and hospitals will be forced to make this choice.  Chaplains and nurses can care for the dying, so long as they use appropriate personal protective equipment in order to not become infected and pose a risk to others. No one likes this, but if resources and personnel cannot handle the numbers of those infected, then such measures are necessary, and I do not say this lightly. I have been through two pandemics, and combat. I value all life, but there are times when care has to be rationed. That is something I know from history, as well as my education and training. Every life might be sacred, but you cannot save everyone, and whether we like it or not, everybody dies.

That is what we are rapidly approaching now. In the past two days the number of deaths from novel Coronavirus-19 have doubled from 1,000 to 2,000. Since 8 March we have gone from 516 confirmed cases and 21 deaths to 123,750 infections and 2,227 deaths. That my friends is in 20 days. The rate of infection is increasing exponentially as the nation, led by a President who will not lead or take responsibility for his actions and that of his administration, desperately tries to contain it. The state governors who speak out asking for help for their citizens are demonized by the President and his cult like followers.  This isn’t about politics, it is about life and preserving it.

Mark my words, with a week hospitals in many major urban centers, and the understaffed, underfunded, hospitals throughout America’s Red State heartland will be having to make these terrible decisions about who lives and who dies. Sadly, the trail of guilt can be traced not just to Trump and his administration, but to leaders in both political parties, who refused to speak the truth when it was most needed.

I refuse to be one of them. I will speak truth to those in power as long as I can and provide my pastoral care to those who most need it, and I will not reject anyone, Christians, other believers, or those who struggle with belief or reject the entire concept of a Supreme Being. For me all that matters is that they are flesh and blood human beings in need of empathy and care, regardless of their beliefs.

So, that being said, I wish you peace, health, and the blessing of not having to make such decisions, unless you have to speak for a loved one who cannot speak for themselves.

We are in a war against an unseen enemy as well as others who want to destroy us. More often than not the President sides with those who want to destroy all of us regardless of party, race, religion, or ideology. Like it or not we are now dealing with a combat situation and  everything we knew before is  obsolete.

I have been preaching this for years, but because I deal with combat induced PTSD and other issues I have been sidelined by the Navy Chaplain Corps. But I won’t stop preaching to truth to power and caring for everyone in my care. Twenty-four years ago when I was ordained as a Priest in my former church, the Archdeacon made a prophecy that like Saint Stephen I would accept martyrdom joyfully.

Mind you, I am not one to take such utterances literally, and want to live as long and and happily as I can. Nor do I seek martyrdom be abuse I believe that God, whoever he or she may be is not a fan of such actions. That being said,  I want everyone I know to live through this and produce antibodies in their blood cells that will help others live. Likewise I will speak as long as I live against political, business, financial, military, or religious leaders who would use this crisis to consolidate and expand their powers at the expense of all over us, regardless of our race, ethnicity, religion, political or ideological beliefs may be.

But I am tired, so until tomorrow, please be careful out there.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Exponentially Exponential, COVID-19 and Reality, not Fantasy

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I know that I am beginning to sound like a broken record. That being said I must tell the truth, even if it appears repetitive. In Star Trek the Next Generation, Captain Jean Luc Picard gave Wesley Crusher the following words of wisdom.

“the first duty of every Starfleet officer is to the truth, whether it’s scientific truth, historical truth or personnel truth…”

Bottom Line Up Front: As of this moment there are 471,035 cases of the COVID-19 Virus worldwide, and 21,283 deaths. This is up from 381,699 cases of COVID-19 and 16,558 deaths. Today 335,534 of the cases are still active, of the closed cases 114,218 have recovered and 21,283 have died for a 16% death rate, up from 14% less than 48 hours ago. That is a 90,000 increase in infections and nearly 5,000 increase in deaths in that short timespan.

I know that I am beginning to sound like a broken record, but the response of the Trump Administration to it has been abysmal, despite the warnings of U.S. Intelligence Agencies that the pandemic was coming, the administration did nothing. The President made light of it, said that it would have little impact, and played the part of Denier in Chief for two months, but then the stock markets crashed, and all of a sudden the President decided it was no longer fake news and ordered Vice President Pence to head up the effort to contain the virus and its effects. To his credit Pence did. try, and some policy changes began to occur, but to tell the truth, it was too little too late. The Virus had been spreading in the United States for weeks before Pence even received the mission. As a result the virus spread to tens of thousands of people, many who didn’t or don’t know that they are even infected, who in turn spread the virus without realizing they are doing so.

Because I have worked in ICUs and ERs in major civilian and military hospitals in two past pandemics; AIDS during its most deadly period the early to mid-1990s before effective drugs were developed to help infected people live somewhat normal lives. The in 2009 I was in a different Medical Center dealing with H1N1. As such I have been following the COVID-19 infection numbers and death rates with interest since it first came on the scene, but much more so when the first case appeared in Washington in mid-January. Now for the last month I have been watching the progress of the virus by following the data supplied by the CDC, Johns Hopkins, WHO, and this website https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/ .  It tends to be updated more frequently than the other sites, mostly because it is relying on updates as they are released by countries, and in the case of the United States, the states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. Territories.  It is one of the sites mentioned in DOD and Navy message traffic to use in getting solid data and updates about COVID 19.

In the United States  https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/us/there are now 68,203 cases, up over 22,000 in less than 48 hours. At midnight on 25 March there were 46,145 total reported infections with deaths. Currently 66,782 of these cases are active. 1421 cases are closed and of that number only 394 have recovered and been discharged, but 1,027 have died, giving us a 72% mortality rate. The biggest issue has been the delay in testing and unavailability of test kits. Likewise we are now facing an acute shortage of ICU beds and ventilators, as well as severe shortages of PPE (personal protective equipment) for health workers and first responders, which would include police, fire, and EMS. Likewise there is a critical shortage regular hospital beds and places to put them because our system of managed care does not deem surge capacity important.

These numbers change multiple times a day depending on when countries, or in the case of the U.S. our states and territories report their daily data. The disturbing item to me is that with the exception of China, South Korea, and Japan and a few other Asian countries that instituted draconian measures to flatten the infection curve, the virus is showing exponential growth in the United States and western Europe. The reason it hasn’t exploded in many underdeveloped Second and Third World countries is that it was most likely late getting there because they are out of the way and do not get the kind of visitor, tourist, and business traffic that Western Europe and the United States have. Likewise they do not have the test kits or adequate medical care to document the spread. However, once it takes hold it will become a killing machine, wiping out millions in those unfortunate countries, and probably leading to more refugees, infections, and deaths.

Likewise one has to take into account Russia, North Korea, Venezuela, and Cuba which all under-report or fail to report infections and deaths. North Korea has reported no cases or no deaths as incredulous as that may sound, but reports from that county say that anyone showing symptoms is taken out and shot. Russia, for a large country between China and Europe reports under 1,000 infections and very few deaths, while reporting almost 7,000 more deaths from pneumonia than last year. Pneumonia is almost always the cause of death for those infected with COVID-19. Coincidence, I think not, especially when Vladimir Putin was photographed coming out of a hospital in complete biological hazard protective equipment. Non permeable suite, helmet with respirator, facial protection, and gloves. that is not normal for a regular hospital visit, even to people with active pneumonia.

Fewer than two and a half weeks ago, 8 March, the United States reported 541 infections and 22 deaths. By March 18th there were 9,259 cases and 150 deaths. Four days later we were at 46,182 cases and 582 deaths, a death rate of 66%, well over the worldwide percentage. Two days later we are at over 66,000 infections and over 1,000 deaths.  But expect we can eventually expect this to fall to somewhat  closer to the world average. But we are not there yet, and this will only get worse with more infections and deaths until the Federal government led by President Trump takes ownership and provides leadership we will have a patchwork of state and local response that only can provide porous protection against the virus. We are not a police state with a population used to millennia of authoritarian rule.

Since the virus is often spread through people who are asymptomatic, and many people refuse to self-isolate or in public violate the six foot buffer zone, I recommend that any person who reads this article practices an abundance of caution for two reason; first two protect themselves, and then, just in case they are infected but are asymptotic, protect themselves and others from getting the virus. This should be the case anytime they leave their homes to do necessary shopping, or go to a medical appointment. Anyone who goes out should not only observe the measures issued by the CDC, but go further. Personnel and their families should wear some kind of surgical, or other mask to reduce the possibility of transmission protecting them, and in case they are asymptomatic anyone they come in contact. These can be hard to find but there are a number of groups or individuals making relatively effective face masks, which though not to the N-95 standard would give them a modicum of protection. Some of the designs and patterns are online. Likewise I recommend that when leaving home that personnel wear vinyl disposable gloves, carry some kind of hand sanitizer (if you can get it) , wash your hands after every physical contact with a probably contaminated surface, and care antiseptic wipes in your car to wipe down the steering wheel, door handles, and gas pumps.

Call this an abundance of caution on my part, but the virus knows no borders, races, religions, rank or status.

However, yesterday and today, after occasionally acting the part of a real President, Trump went back to his baseline. At his briefing last nought he again blamed everyone but himself, and 10 days into a 15 day campaign to try to stop the virus by social distancing and shutting down businesses, he threatened to reverse a key public health decision he made because the “economic costs might be higher than the virus itself.” He walked that back a bit yesterday, but who knows what today or tomorrow will bring, but now many of his propaganda team are urging that he end his social distancing policy, reopen business and let vulnerable people die, all to save the stock markets. Adam Smith, the originator of capitalism would deplore.

In his news conference comments last night, as the night before, he tried to make his threat sound a little more humane by suggesting that isolated people were more prone to suicide, and would would outnumber the people infected and killed by the virus. That is not true. While I know that social isolation can be a killer, its effects can be mitigated by people that care. However, if people go back to work, and stores and restaurants are opened just as the virus is hitting full stride the infection and death rate will make those of the past few days look like peanuts. Millions more will be infected, and many of them will die. As they,  the true believers and investors realize that Trump deceived them, the economy will collapse like a house of cards. Not just because of the effects of the virus, but because the business leaders, stock holders, and even his cult followers will abandon him because they will finally realize that they mean nothing to him.

I highly recommend that anyone reading this read The Great Influenza: the Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History by John Barry, as well as And the Band Played On, by the late Randy Shilts, and Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror: the Calamitous Fourteenth Century. They are all worth the read. History has much to teach anyone who dares to read it without political or ideological blinders.

So, because I am tired I wish you a good night.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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“Therefore Never Send to Know for Whom the bell Tolls, it Tolls for Thee” The Victims, Costs, and Threat of COVID-19


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

On December 31st the Chinese Government reported the first death from nouveau Coronavirus 19, or COVID 19. By the end of January there were over 12,000 cases and 259 deaths. The first infected American arrived from China in the middle of January. At first, the American Government led by the Trump Administration paid little attention to it or downplayed its significance. It did that until the bottom began falling out of the stock markets, bond markets, and the oil market, the latter was not due to Coronavirus but the productions and price oil war between Saudi Arabia and Russia.

The Trump Administration finally labeled the situation a health emergency at the end of January, but did nothing to prepare.  Belatedly, it began to organize a response led by Vice President Pence at the end of February, but even still the President in his speeches and tweets continued to downplay the situation as members of his political, religious, and media cult amplified his message, until a week ago.

The day I wrote my first article about Coronavirus, March 8th there had been almost 110,000 cases and nearly 3800 deaths. That was an increase of 98,000 cases and over 3500 deaths in just 38 days.

Around midnight last night, there were nearly 198,500 cases and just shy of 8,000 deaths, 7,987 to be exact. So in ten days there were around 100,000 new cases, and close to 4200 new deaths. As of this evening there are a total of 218,721 cases, of which 125,392 are currently active. 93,329 are closed, meaning either recovery or death. Of the closed cases, 8,983 or 10% have died. This means there were over 20,000 new cases and almost 1,000 deaths since last night. Italy was hit hardest in the past day, over 4,200 new cases and 475 deaths.  In other European countries the numbers are spiking, and are about a week or two behind Italy in the progression of the disease.

Since last night the United States, in which testing capabilities are being expanded, there are now a total of 9,301 cases, with 2,890 of them being reported in the last day, and a total of 152 deaths, 43 since yesterday. Our numbers are about two or three weeks behind Italy, and despite the measures to quarantine, shut down, or shelter-in-place enacted by state and local governments there is no uniformity to those actions in light of the limited guidance or funding provided by Federal agencies.

In the United States, we were not prepared despite the warnings of experts that such a deadly pandemic would happen. The country was underprepared and unready for such a condition of affairs. Despite the recent flurry of action by Trump and his administration dithered and denied any real emergency or crisis for over two months, not taking precautions, not ramping up production of test kits, N-95 masks, surgical masks, other personal protective gear for first responders, hospital personnel, or nursing home workers, nor did it anticipate the need for anti-viral disinfectants, cleaners, or urge Americans to begin wearing surgical masks in order to mitigate the possible transmission of the virus.  Nor did it take of whole of government approach to the developing crisis until last week. Even with that move there is much confusion and bureaucratic infighting.

Frankly, most departments are still trying to make sense of what they need to do. Today the Navy was ordered to prepare the Hospital Ships USNS Comfort and USNS Mercy for deployment. Both are converted supertankers built in 1974 and 1975 before being purchased and converted and equipped as 1000 bed hospital ships in 1987. They are approaching 50 years old. They are equipped with operating rooms ICU beds, and medical and surgical wards, Radiology suites, and a full range of labs, but it takes a lot to staff them and make them ready to deploy. In addition to normal pre-deployment activities everyone deploying on them will need to be test for Coronavirus before they set foot on the ship to ensure that they do not become “plague ships.”  Comfort will deploy to New York, and Mercy to a yet to be determined West Coast metropolis. It will take at least a week, and probably more to make them ready to deploy. The crews of the ships are Merchant Marine Officers, deck, and engineering personnel, but the physicians, nurses, other providers, and technicians will leave their duty stations in Naval Hospitals and Clinics which are already at critical manning levels. They have to be augmented by activated Naval Reserve Medical personnel, Uniformed Public Health Service Officers, civilians employees of Navy Medicine and medical personnel from Humanitarian Service Organizations. There also has to be a Navy Security detachment, communications section, and an aviation detachment with its helicopters, as well as Chaplains and Mental Health Providers. These ships seldom deploy at the same time so the demands on Navy Medicine will be quite severe in Navy Medical Centers, Hospitals, and clinics.

Likewise, the administration ordered the activation of a number of mobile field hospitals. There are a number of types and sizes of such self-contained units which can be deployed by air sea, or ground. But like the Navy’s Hospital ships they draw almost all of their medical personnel from active duty hospitals, and mobilized reservists. Likewise,  the reserve and National Guard field hospitals depend on the very civilian health professions working in hospitals and private practices already dealing with the pandemic.

While China has flattened its infection and death curves due to its draconian police power to enforce the will of the government over the past few weeks, COVID-19 has spread across the globe. This includes all  50 U.S. States, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico. The numbers are expanding exponentially in Europe and the United States, and today, two members of the House of Representatives announced that they had tested positive for the virus. With every passing day that curve will spike in the United States and Europe, and evidence in other countries suggest that a second wave of the virus is spreading in countries that did pretty well in the first wave.

On Friday, the President attempted to contain the damage with a press conference where he again minimized the threat, denied personal responsibility for anything, and then spoke to supporting financial markets, which briefly caused a rally on Wall Street, which collapsed as he and the administration began to acknowledge the truth of the matter and he turned the answering of medical, logistic, and disaster response to experts, such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, and even Vice President Pence seemed to eclipse Trump as more presidential. Over the weekend the President looked like a man who knew that he was in way over his head, even when he blustered and tweeted. Despite the actions being planned to mitigate the economic, public health, and personal costs of the virus, the damage was done. On Monday the stock markets took their heaviest losses ever, gained a little bit back Tuesday, and crashed again today.

Scrambling to find a way out of the situation the Administration and Congress, thanks largely to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi have been attempting to work out a stimulus bill which hopefully, would directly benefit all Americans, not just the banks, oil companies, and financial industries. Congress passed a measure to provide paid sick leave for all, and the Treasury Department is arguing for direct monetary payments to Americans who are now being hit with the full reality of an uncontrolled pandemic, massive business closures, job losses, and quarantine in some cities and states. The details of that are still to be worked out, but even that may not be enough to save some people from financial disaster.

Today the President used his authority to use the 70yearold Defense Production Act to force companies to make more respiratory ventilators, testing kits, and personal protective gear for medical personnel. But none of these measures can make up for the lack of ICU beds, General Medical beds, that are a feature of our mostly for profit medical industry. Hospitals have lost their ability to surge because maintaining an unused surge capacity is too expensive, until you really need it. Now, thirty years after the end of the Cold War, even the military medical system too has little surge capacity because like its civilian counterparts it has adopted the business models of civilian medical corporations.  Fewer staff, fewer beds, and less surge capacity.

The economy is taking massive hits, large numbers of the people who can least afford it are being laid off with little chance of going back to work anytime soon.

This is especially true of the airline, cruise, hotel, entertainment, hotel, and restaurant industries. In the restaurant industry nearly 15 million jobs are at stake, by the time it abates, there could be 50 million job losses in the hotel, restaurant, and entertainment sectors as local, state and the Federal government begin shutdowns of these businesses. Sadly most of the workers are living paycheck to paycheck, work for minimum wage and tips. Many are single parents, students, and people who chose the jobs because they liked dealing with people, or who were working to support themselves to get a better paying and more stable career. We know a lot of them. Good people, hard working people who constantly get screwed regardless of whether they work for large or middle sized companies who do not value them as people, or local restaurants which do not have large financial reserves, but it will expand as commercial food suppliers lose their corporate restaurant, entertainment, hotel and resort customers who will have no need of their supplies until the situation gets better.

Hopefully the measures being worked out will not only include direct payments to Americans, support for the restaurant, hotel, entertainment, and travel industries which employ far more people than the oil companies, and financial industries, as well as a provision for paid sick leave which is standard in most countries of the world.

But my friends, every one of these victims of Coronavirus and government incompetence is a real person. Many will recover from the virus but will suffer long term effects. Many will die, leaving behind friends, families, and holes in the community. Others, not infected by the virus will lose their jobs, businesses, or people that they love and care about. These people are not just numbers no matter what country or industry they live or work in. They are real live, men and women, sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, friends, co-workers, and acquaintances.

Behind every number there is a name, and a life connected to others. John Donne put it so well in his No Man is an Island:

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”

For me and Judy, these are not numbers or statistics, they are friends, neighbors, and even family.

I am old enough to have worked as a hospital chaplain during two pandemics, and seen people die. I helped write the Army personnel policies for HIV infected personnel and worked with many so they could remain in the service back in 1987 and 1988. I worked in a homeless shelter for abysmal wages caring for those with less working for a board of 30 very well off members who didn’t value me as a person. I have been a company commander in the Army at the young age of 25 with just two years of active duty service before I took command. I have also done two combat tours, seen things most Americans have never seen, been shot at by rockets, machine guns, and small arms, all while unarmed. During this current pandemic I am essential personnel. A chaplain cannot telework. Ministry involves real contact with real people, in the flesh. This involves risks, I am almost 60, but I will take them but attempt to mitigate them in order to care for those who be they military.

The sad thing is that I will have friends and family members who will despite the overwhelming evidence downplay the situation, ignore it, or claim it to be “fake news.” Unfortunately, many will become victims of it or be the typhoid Mary’s of our day, spreading the virus without even knowing they have it.

Ignorance and negligence carry a heavy human price. As stupid and senseless as it may be to some, I have to speak out. As Sophie Scholl, who died as a peaceful resistance leader at the hands of the Nazis when she was just twenty-two years old wrote:

“The real damage is done by those millions who want to ‘survive.’ The honest men who just want to be left in peace. Those who don’t want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. Those with no sides and no causes. Those who won’t take measure of their own strength, for fear of antagonizing their own weakness. Those who don’t like to make waves—or enemies. Those for whom freedom, honour, truth, and principles are only literature. Those who live small, mate small, die small. It’s the reductionist approach to life: if you keep it small, you’ll keep it under control. If you don’t make any noise, the bogeyman won’t find you. But it’s all an illusion, because they die too, those people who roll up their spirits into tiny little balls so as to be safe. Safe?! From what? Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn.”

Nothing is safe now. The fantasy world that we lived in since the fall of the Berlin Wall is over. Pandemics and economic crashes are real, as is the potential for military conflict over areas of vast natural resources, and regions where ancient racial and religious scores are still aching to be settled.

Those are unpleasant facts, and until a vaccine is available that can treat the disease, we have to flatten the rate of infection, and the best way to do that is to  practice appropriate levels of  social distancing. The includes attempting to maintain a six foot separation, no hand shaking, and not going to work if you are sick. Actions taken by various, state, county, and local governments, include closing schools and universities and moving to online education, canceling large festivals, shows, and sporting events, and the voluntary shutting down of professional sports leagues, and prestigious tournaments. In response to these measures many restaurants, hotels, and entertainment centers have had to shut down, or limit services.

We were in a locally owned restaurant with a bar tonight when police entered the establishment to make sure that it was observing the state set number of no more than ten patrons inside. The manager on duty was warned and the three or four excess patrons, most who had been there a long time paid up and left. Once the people left the restaurant, the manager locked the door to ensure that no excess people would enter without a corresponding number leaving. The penalty after the warning would have been a $5,000 fine. The place will either set strict limits and hire security to enforce it, or shift to take out.

As we drove around our Town Center, all the major restaurants were closed. They cannot remain open except for take outs or delivery. Many other restaurants that depend on the volume of customers to make a profit are closed. In our area alone thousands of restaurant employees have been laid off. Likewise, movie theaters, museums, zoos, and concert venues shut down. Outside of our area both GM and Ford have shut down their American assembly plants, laying off thousands of workers, airlines have cut back the number of flights and at least one has shut down all of its overseas services. On Sunday I drove by a local mega church which had empty parking lots because they were being responsible and cancelled their services. That was a strange sight.

With people losing their jobs at such a rapid rate there is a likelihood that the rising real estate market could also suffer price devaluation, and while HUD has banned evictions or foreclosures until the end of April, the market could crash as it did in 2008.

As the disease begins to impact the military, infect service members, their families, and our Civilian Workers, it will degrade readiness. Important exercise with allies have already been cancelled, and soon deployments could be impacted, even if military action is required. Transfers are all now on hold, temporarily duty for schools, command visits, inspections, and other operations are now suspended unless they have a direct impact on combat operations. The movement of trainees to their new duty stations or technical schools is now suspended. New recruits cannot go into training and within weeks the effects will be felt throughout the military.

The President called this a wartime situation. If it really is he should declare a Stop Loss to keep as many military personnel ready in case of conflict. Worldwide economic crises often trigger insanely violent nationalistic movements, and subsequent wars. The possibility of that becomes greater as countries become unstable, and local conflicts could quickly become regional conflicts involving open, and undeclared enemies of the United States attacking our friends, allies, and vital interests in the world, which include natural resources not available in the United States, and yes, those include materials used in products that we all depend on.

I started this last night but was too tired to finish it. Hopefully this will help my readers better understand the very real impact that this virus will have on our society. It knows no class, profession, religion, ethnic, political, or racial division. A lot of people will be infected, and many will die. By the time it passes it will probably impact every one of us, if not directly, but because of it sickening and killing relatives and friends, or impacting our personal lives in terms of employment, earnings, and maybe even how we live.

I do a lot of listening, and I hear a lot of conspiracy theories spouted by people who know nothing of this virus, nothing of the powers of local, state and the Federal government in time of national emergency that it is useless to try to convince them that they are wrong.  Most of the time I I listen but don’t comment because I realize that it won’t do any good.

But I am done for tonight. I could write a lot more, and probably will do weekly updates on this crisis.

So until tomorrow, be careful out there.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

 

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