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 70–year–old 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.