Category Archives: Military

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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Filed under Coronavirus, culture, Diseases Epidemics and Pandemics, ER's and Trauma, ethics, faith, History, laws and legislation, leadership, Military, News and current events, Political Commentary

I’m Still Standing: My 60th Birthday in the Midst of a Deadly Pandemic

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today I celebrated my 60th birthday. Unlike past birthdays which we celebrated out with friends, tonight was different. You cannot go out to dinner. You can go to restaurants to pick up take out orders, but you cannot dine in. Likewise you cannot go to the movies, sporting events, or concerts.

So what we did was have take out from the place we have kind of found a home, it’s the West Beach Tavern on Cleveland Street in Virginia Beach. It’s basically a dive bar, but their food is great, beer selection pretty good, and the staff is wonderful. Likewise they have the best BBQ we have had since we lived in Texas, and my God, their cook, Mark, is amazing. He has one of the most amazing tasting Ruben sandwiches that I have ever had. The corned beef is marinated for at least twelve hours. Likewise, if it’s not on the menu he will find a way to make it, he is so creative, and all their food is made on premises from scratch.

The time together was nice, but Judy was tired. She has spent the last week and a half designing and making protective face masks, modeled after a standard surgical mask, but with a impermeable polypropylene layer between the cloth layers. She tried a couple of prototypes and has decided on one. She is supplying them to people, including nurses who are vulnerable to the disease. Likewise she spend last night making me a really cool little booklet of her own sweet yet somewhat twisted poetry and verse of different types. Since she had a couple of appointments this morning and didn’t get home until shortly before I did she made an early night of it. She is a hero to me. The masks are not relaxing for her to make, but she makes them because she cares.

Now I am downstairs watching the Netflix series Pandemic, with my wonderful Papillon girl Izzy at my side, and my little Papillon boy Pierre, across the room perched on the back of our couch as I nurse a glass of 12 year old, 8 years in Chardonnay cask, Glen Moray Speyside Single Malt Scotch.

While enjoying my birthday in a more somber fashion than usual wondering what is going to happen regarding the spread of the Coronavirus, how it will effect the world, the country, my family and friends, and even if it makes such an impact in the military that there will a Stop Loss that prevents military personnel from being discharged or retired. Since I am preparing to retire this could include me, and it is already making it hard for me to do the administrative, medical, and other tasks that I have to complete before I retire because most have to be done in person and many people are teleworking. Likewise, my VA disability claim submission that I need to do could well be delayed because you cannot do anything in person. What happens when the military doctors who need to conduct your retirement physical, as well as those you see for follow up care cannot see you, and what happens when the VA does not have the doctors and specialists needed to do their work to verify your disabilities and complete your claim? That is not just a question I am asking, but many others that I know.

That is about enough for the night but I have to post a reminder. As of today the United States is now the leader in the number of verified Coronavirus infections, far ahead of Italy and China, which just a few days ago were far ahead of us. The worldwide total of infections is almost 600,000 and and of those 436,534 are current, while there have been 27,365 deaths, with 133,363 recoveries, a 17% death rate. In the United States we now have 104,205 infections, of which 99,979 are current. Of the resolved cases 2,525 have removed, and 1,701 are dead, a death rate of 40%. These numbers around the world will certainly be far above that tomorrow. We are nowhere close to slowing the spread of the virus or even close to flattening the curve of infection.

So happy birthday Padre Steve, once more into the breach.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

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Filed under Coronavirus, Diseases Epidemics and Pandemics, History, Military

“The Power to Lead is the Power to Mislead, and the Power to Mislead is the Power to Destroy” The Responsibility of President Trump for the Coronavirus Pandemic in the United States

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Well here I go again. Thomas Mommsen wrote that “ The power to lead is the power to mislead, and the power to mislead is the power to destroy.” That one sentence sums up the essence of the Trump Presidency. I have watched several of the Coronavirus Task Force Briefings over the past week. They are painful to watch, at least while he is on stage. Unfortunately, President Trump must continue his attempt to act like a leader at each conference, and every time shows is lack up understanding of pandemics like COVID-19, and their broader effects, medically, sociologically, economically, and militarily; believe me I could name more areas where is lack of real leadership and poor acting ability, to convince us that he actually knows what he is doing is unending. As long as he stays on script during these briefings, uttering platitudes about his interactions with foreign leaders, Congress, and state governors he almost sounds like a real president. Then he goes off script and one knows that it is all an act, and a bad one at that.

The President is not a leader, he is a bad actor who is exposed every time he has to go off a prepared script. He would be better off to just stand in the background after making a short introductory statement, and let experts answer questions, but that is not him. He has to be what he is, a narcissistic sociopath who needs the adulation of others and has a very thin skin. He has to be center stage  and doesn’t have the self-awareness to know that most people see through his shtick. He’s a bad actor, not a leader. General Douglas MacArthur said:

“A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.” 

Bottom Line Up Front: Donald Trump and his administration were warned about the Coronavirus pandemic when it was still en epidemic, mostly contained to China. The warnings of scientists and U.S. intelligence agencies were ignored, depreciated, and called fake news as President Trump and his willing accomplices assured the country that there was nothing to fear. That isn’t leadership, that is bad acting. As Bo Bennett noted: “Faked enthusiasm is worse than bad acting – it is bad acting with the intent to deceive.” 

Likewise, the man has no sense of politics or leadership. He doesn’t understand or care that setting people up to die when you can mitigate the losses is not only irresponsible, but criminal, because Americans are dying, and he cannot even go to a hospital where that is happening and show any empathy, because he has none, and what he doesn’t have he cannot five. Gustave Gilbert, the US ist  Army Psychologist assigned to the major war criminals at Nuremberg that the one thing that they all had in common was an absence of empathy. Gilbert noted that “Evil,is the absence of empathy.”

The words of Gustave Gilbert describe the President, many members of the Administration, the GOP national committee, his fawning allies in Congress, and his state propaganda network, Fox News, as well as many radio talk show hosts headed by the dying Rush Limbaugh show the same lack of empathy, to a tee. That my friends is the bad news, but what follows is worse because at least all of the American deaths from COVID-19 are on them, every one of those sociopaths masquerading as conservatives. To think that until 2008 I was one of them, grieves me, but then I have a conscience and they don’t. They have ideology, and ideology can never can never replace morality or humanity.

As of this moment there are  532,362 cases of the COVID-19 Virus worldwide, and 24,090 deaths. This is up from 471,035 cases of COVID-19 and 21,283 deaths yesterday. Today 383,824 of the cases are still active. Of the closed cases 124,349 have recovered and 24,090 have died for a 16% death rate, up from 14% less than 72 hours ago. That is a increase in infections of 60,841 and nearly 2,792 increase in deaths in just 24 hours. Arnold Glaslow noted: “One of the tests of leadership is the ability to recognize a problem before it becomes an emergency.”  This was not a strong point of Trump or his administration when the problem was first reported to them. Not only did they ignore the scientific and intelligence reports, they denied them and called them lies, while spouting lies to blame others and insulate themselves from any blame.

I know that I am beginning to sound like a broken record, but the leadership and 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 85,594 cases, up over 17,000 in the last 24 hours. At midnight on 26 March there were 85,984 total reported infections with 1,300 deaths and 1868 recoveries. Currently 84,426 of these cases are active. The mortality rate among the closed cases is 39%.

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. The Army is deploying several field hospitals while the Navy is deploying the 1000 bed  USNS Mercy and USNS Comfort to Los Angeles and New York.

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.

Nineteen 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 deaths are spiking.

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. Leading is different than acting, being President is not the same as being the host of a tyrannical reality TV show.

Likewise, unlike China, we are not a police state with a population used to millennia of authoritarian rule that can use truly draconian measures, including welding people’s doors shut, and using massive numbers of police and military personnel to enforce a policy of social isolation, sadly that kind of policy, is the only one proven to be successful at flattening the curve of infection. Likewise, the testing of every swinging Richard and Mulva for the virus is the only way to trace its spread, and focus resources where they need to be sent, as South Korea demonstrated. But our administration refuses to test everyone, saying that it is not necessary, thus we will not have an accurate understanding of the spread of the virus, nor know how many people have been infected.

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, almost every day after occasionally acting the part of a real President, Trump continually goes back to his baseline. he blames everyone but himself, and 12 days into a 15 day campaign to try to stop the virus by social distancing and shutting down businesses, he is 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, yesterday he doubled down on that topic. None of us 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 two previous nights 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. That cannot be said of the virus.

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 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 some of his cult followers will abandon him because they will finally realize that they mean nothing to him. However, there are plenty who will choose to die in his bunker with him.

So, as I did last night, I highly recommend that anyone reading this read the books, 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. Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Coronavirus, Diseases Epidemics and Pandemics, History, leadership, Military, ministry, national security, Political Commentary

Playing With Fire in a House Filled With Gas: Trump Places Stock Markets and Profits above People

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Bottom Line Up Front: As of this moment there have been 381,699 cases of COVID-19 worldwide, with a total of 16,558 deaths. 262,657 of the cases are still active, of the closed cases 102,489 have recovered and as mentioned 16,558 have died for a 14% death rate.

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 have 46,145 total reported infections with deaths. Currently 40,185 of these cases are active. 670 cases are closed and of that number 295 have recovered and been discharged, but 582 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 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.

Two weeks (March 8th)  ago the United States reported 541 infections and 22 deaths. By March 18th there were 9,259 cases and 150 deaths. Four days later we are at 46,182 cases and 582 deaths, a death rate of 66%, well over the worldwide percentage. But expect this to fall to somewhat  closer to the world average. However, that being said, statistics at the beginning of a season do not necessarily reflect those at the end of the season.

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. He blamed everyone but himself, and 8 days into a 15 day campaign to try to stop the virus by social distancing and shutting down businesses, he threatened to revere a key public health decision because the “economic costs might be higher than the virus itself.”  In his news conference comments he tried to make his threat sound a little more humane by suggesting that isolated people were more prone to suicide, would outnumber the people infected and killed by the virus. 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, stores and restaurants are opened just as the virus is hitting stride the infection and death rate will make those of the past few days look like peanuts. Millions will be infected, and many of them will die, and the 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.

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

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Be Careful and Take Care of Each Other: Surviving COVID-19

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Not much good news to report today, except for the fact of at least some people and businesses doing things to try to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Imagine craft distilleries making hand sanitizer, people like my wife Judy doing research and the making face masks that give the wearer a chance to avoid getting the virus or spreading it. She was up very late last night making them, and we slept late. We have a local friend who is going to have some blood infusion therapy and since in her weakened state she will have to have to go to a hospital to get them, exposing her to people who could well be spreading the virus. Knowing this Judy went into action, made masks for her and her husband, and due to the urgency we drove the twenty something miles to their home to deliver them. She’s making them for elderly and at other risk friends as well, not asking for any payment, but because she cares, and she will be sharing her pattern and step by step instructions on her blog, and I will do the same here.

Trust me, there are a lot of people who care, and even if under quarantine, lockdown, or similar restrictions that keep them from normal social activities that keep them connected. The primary way they are doing this is by social media and phone. That is important. Tonight I was introduced to some great musicians who I have loved for decades sharing songs and videos from their homes on social media. For me that was inspiring. The included Michael McDonald, Paul Simon, Mary Chaplin Carpenter and others. We all need to do more and more of it because we cannot do what we normally do to socialize with each other. If you are creative, entertaining or funny, don’t hesitate to share goodwill with anyone you can, it might be the only good thing that happens to them that day.

Isolation is a killer. Isolation and loneliness only increase the effects of those who suffer from depression, other psychological conditions, substance abuse, victims of childhood sexual, physical, or emotional abuse, those under stress who have no place to let off steam, or make themselves vulnerable by seeking help. It is deadly. I know too many people who have killed themselves, and isolation from their community was always a major factor. There are so many times that I could have done it had it not been for people who cared for me, and especially my late dog Molly who decided to make her home with me when I was stationed as a geographic bachelor in Camp LeJeune. My God I cannot tell you how many times I considered driving my care into a ditch, a tree, or off a bridge if it wasn’t for the people who cared for me, and Molly, who would never had understood why daddy didn’t come home.

Unfortunately, when there is no perceived escape from isolation, such is occurring now in so many places in the United States and around the world, the resulting loneliness is going to lead to a major increase in suicide attempts and completions. Already the military is continuing its suicide epidemic, but couple that with social isolation, quarantine, and maybe having a virus that both further isolates them, and might kill them, imagine how those already horrible numbers will spike.

So hear the advice of a highly educated, experienced, but incredibly fallible man. Don’t take chances. Do everything you can to avoid transmitting or contracting the novel Coronavirus 19. That will involve personal sacrifice. At the same time reach out by any means necessary, even in person if you have you have appropriate personal protective equipment, in this case an N-95 equivalent face mask, and vinyl  disposable gloves. No hugging, kissing, or other bodily contact, except elbow bumps. It will not be your prayers, preaching, religious or non-religious jibber jabber that will help them, just your willingness to reach out, care, listen, and stay with them without judgement, and whether in person or by other means show them you give a damn. By the ways, don’t just put up trite words and catch phrases or religious jumbo jumbo like “thoughts and prayers,” “trust God’s healing power,” or anything else that ignores the factual advice not to gather in big groups, or self-quarantine. Likewise, and do leave your home if your have any of the symptoms of COVID-19, and only leave to get tested (if you can).

Please, do not endanger yourself or others. I have seen too many people die from these pandemics not to call the Bullshit flag on anyone who says otherwise. I remember their faces, and how they were abandoned by friends and family when they needed them the most. If you cannot reach out in the flesh to those that you supposedly love and care for, even if the best that you can do is a phone call, social media, or email, then a pox on you.

As far as me, even though because of my age I could take paid administrative leave, neither Judy or I have any of the underlying conditions that put me a high risk for contracting COVID-19. Thus though many of our civilian and active dirty personnel are doing telework or are on paid administrative leave, my place is with those still doing their jobs at the shipyard, military and civilian, especial our, Emergency Management personnel, our  police and security forces, fire department and EMS, port operations, and anyone else , including our senior leadership who remain behind. It is what you are supposed to do as a military chaplain. I am also making myself available by email, social medial, phone and text to every civilian employee (about 95% of our workforce) and Sailor in our Command. I cannot leave the ones at risk, suffering, or dying without spiritual, emotional, or practical help, regardless of their faith or even if the are unbelievers. They either wear the same uniform I do, serve the same nation I do, and taken a similar oath that I took. Therefore, everyone of them matters to me.

I have and know how to use all of my personal protective equipment from pandemics past. I am pretty sure that I will be safe, but I fear not. That is not because I am burying my head in the sand or claiming Bible verses out of context, but because I am being safe and taking the necessary precautions.

This pandemic is going to get much worse before it gets better. In light of that, don’t do dumb things. Don’t believe conspiracy theorists, or pandemic deniers, it will only get you and probably the ones you love the most killed. Don’t believe the religious hucksters who tell you to keep coming to church and mass meetings, because they supposedly have a miracle cure, or that giving money to them will save you, or put your soul at risk, but rather to fatten their bank accounts. Religious liberty does not give anyone the right to put people’s lives at risk in a pandemic. If you belong to a religious body or other group that doesn’t believe in getting medical care, then as the Klingons say: Today is a Good Day to Die. Just don’t take others with you.

Please, by all means, heed this warning, or get yourselves and others killed when it shouldn’t happen, even if you believe that it is God’s will, judgement, or a portent of the Apocalypse. Remain calm when everyone else is panicking, give from your excess to help those in need, and don’t let your religious beliefs, or secular ideology make you a part of the problem, rather than a part of the solution.

I apologize for my tardiness in posting this. The article should have been posted before midnight EST, but I got waylaid by music videos from my junior high school, high school, and college years. They were all quite healing to my soul, but after after all the work in the house, and missions of mercy, I passed out on the couch with Izzy at my side while trying to get my tags and photos posted. I woke up at 5:30 AM with Izzy on top of my iPad and lap, I went to real bed then. I will do my next COVID-19 factual update later tonight.

Peace and blessings,

Padre Steve+

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Long Range Predators: The U-Boat Type IX

U-123 returning from patrol

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It is late and while I want to write a follow up article to my last on COVID-19 tonight was not the time. So instead I am republishing a very old article about the Type IX U-Boats of the German Kriegsmarine in World War II. I wrote about the Type VII boats last week. The class was one of the most successful classes of all submarines which served in the Second World War. The Type IXB variant which comprised 14 boats were the most success of all submarine classes produced by any nation with an average of 100,000 tons of shipping sunk by the ships of the class. U-123 sank 43 ships totaling over 220,000 tons in 12 war patrols. U-107 made one of the most successful single war patrols by a submarine of any Navy sinking sinking over 100,ooo tons of shipping during a single patrol.

As the Kriegsmarine began its expansion in the mid-1930s the new U-Boat arm developed several types of submarines. The Type IX class was designed in 1935-36 as a long range attack boat and was larger had a greater range and were more heavily armed than the more numerous Type VII boats.  The Kreigsmarine designers envisioned a submarine capable of operating far from German bases for extended periods of time.  The design of these boats was derived from the two boat Type 1 class and incorporated lessons learned from that class.  283 boats of the type were constructed between 1937 and 1944 and the Kriegsmarine continuously sought to improve the type which resulted in five distinct models within the class. The boats grew from just over 1000 tons to nearly 1800 tons, with corresponding increases in speed, range, and armament. The final variant had an operational range of over 30,000 miles. This made them the boat of choice for long range missions, including transport missions to Japan.

Type IXA The first group referred to as the Type IXA or simply the Type IX was comprised of 8 boats built by AG Weser of Bremen.  Ordered in 1936 the group was part of the Kriegsmarine’s Plan Z rearmament plan which began when the Nazi Government announced that it would no longer abide by the Treaty of Versailles.  The initial 8 boats had a 1032 ton standard displacement were 251 feet long and were armed with six 21” torpedo tubes with 22 torpedoes.  They had a 105mm deck gun with 110 rounds as well as a 37mm and 20mm anti-aircraft gun.  They were the first German submarines equipped with a double hull which increased survivability and seaworthiness.  They were powered on the surface by two MAN M9V40/46 supercharged 9-cylinder diesel engines that produced 4,400 shp as well as two SSW GU345/34 double-acting electric motors for underwater operations. As in all diesel-electric boats the diesels were used to recharge the batteries for the electric motors while the boat was operating on the surface. They had a maximum speed of 18.2 knots on the surface and a range of 22,354 miles at 10 knots. Underwater they had a maximum speed of 7.7 knots and range of 166 miles at 4 knots.  The official maximum diving depth was 230 meters or 750 feet.  Of the 8 boats of this type 6 were sunk during combat operations and two scuttled at the end of the war by their crews to prevent their capture by the Allies. The most successful of the Type IXA boats was the U-37 was the most successful boat of the type sinking 53 merchant ships for a total of 200,124 tons as well as two warships, the Sloop HMS Penzance and French Submarine Q-182.

Crew members  of U-107 in Torpedo Room

Type IXB The next group was the IXB of which 14 boats were built by AG Weser Bremen. This was the most successful class of U-boats, or for that matter any class of submarines based on tonnage sunk per boat during the Second World War. Each of these ships sank over 100,000 tons of Allied shipping.  They were slightly larger than the IXA boats and had a significantly longer operational range of 24,600 miles on the surface at 10 knots. The U-107 of this class had the most successful war patrol of any U-Boat in the war sinking nearly 100,000 tons of Allied shipping off Freetown Sierra Leone while U-103 sank over 237,000 tons of Allied shipping during 11 war patrols over the course of 4 years. These boats were involved in Operation Drumbeat off the coast of the United States in early 1942.

U-123 Gun Crew

Type IXC The Type IXC was a further improvement of the type with additional fuel capacity and longer range. They displaced 1120 tons and 54 of the boats were commissioned of which 19 were equipped as minelayers with a capacity of 44 TMA or 66 TMB mines. The boats were built by AG Weser Bremen, Seebeckwerft Bremen and Deutsche Werft Hamburg.  The U-505 of this type is the only surviving Type IX and was captured by a boarding team from the Escort Carrier USS Guadalcanal on June 4th 1944. Her capture was kept secret from the Germans and her crew kept as POWs in a separate POW Camp. The story of the crew and their encounter with the game of baseball is recorded in Gary Moore’s book, Playing with the Enemy: A Baseball Prodigy, a World at War, and a Field of Broken Dreams. The book is being turned into a movie entitled Playing with the Enemy which is scheduled to be released in 2011. She is preserved at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.

U-848 under attack by USN Aircraft

Type IXC/40 This was a further refinement of the IXC with slightly greater range and surface speed. It was the most numerous type of the class built with 87 being built by AG Weser Bremen, Seebeckwerft Bremen, and Deutsche Werft Hamburg.  The remains of the U-534 of the class are displayed at Woodside Ferry Terminal in Birkenhead England after being raised from the North Sea in 1986.

Type IXD The final type in the Type IX Series was the Type IXD.  This was a significantly larger boat than the others in the class 287 feet long with a standard displacement of 1610 tons. They were unique in that they had two sets of diesel engines, one for cruising and the other for high speed runs and battery recharge. There were three variants within the type, the IXD1 which were all converted to transport use due to problems with their engines, the most numerous variant the IXD2 and the IXD42 which had greater horsepower.  Thirty Type IXD2s were commissioned with a further six Type IXD42s which were ordered with only one commissioned by the end of the war.

U-505 at the Museum of Science and Industry in 2005 (Jerry Atherton)

During the war surviving boats would receive increased anti-aircraft armament, the Schnorkel device which allowed them to operate on diesel power while submerged as well as better electronics and detection devices. Most of the boats which survived the war were scuttled by the Allies in Operation Deadlight.  The U-511 was sold to Japan in 1943 and U-862 taken over by the Japanese after the German Surrender in May 1945. Both survived the war and were scuttled by the Allies. U-1231 was taken over by the Soviet Navy and served as the B-26 after the war.

The sailors of these U-Boats like all submarine sailors endured many hardships and during the war approximately 75% of the 40,000 U-Boat sailors never returned from patrol, forever interred in the deep with their proud boats.

Until tomorrow,

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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