Wishing for More Unicorns

(Another post from my daily coronavirus blog)

May 12

Our son Tony created an impressive origami unicorn the other day. I thought I’d share it. But, if you’re looking for other unicorns, or rainbows, or happy stories, I guess you’d better read someone else’s post because mine is a reflection of concern this morning.

Of course, I’ve been concerned about what is unfolding for the past few months. But I can’t help but worry that an unfortunate course is now set and that we, as a nation, lack the will, the mindset, and the discipline, to tackle this as we must. I think it is unlikely we’ll have an epiphany or shift direction and, as a result, this disease is going to kill far more in the United States than would have otherwise been the case and it will very likely do more economic damage in the long term than it would have had we just had the political courage and good sense to hold the line on reopening a bit longer.

Yes, it’s a failure of leadership. But it’s also a failure on the part of many of our citizens. Wearing masks shouldn’t be an issue of political allegiance — but for many it is. And it’s stupid. Working towards the common good — striking a balance between our personal interests and desires and the well-being of others. lt shouldn’t be that hard. But, obviously, there are many who are more concerned about what THEY want to do — go out to eat, get a haircut, go to the beach — than what our nation needs.

I know it is more complex than that… and I know that people are suffering on many levels. But the short term easing of the economic pain for some, risks causing longer term economic distress for all, and will, without any question, lead to far more deaths. How many more? 70,000? 100,000? 150,000? Take your pick. The experts aren’t sure how many, but they ARE sure that we will see them.

Tony Fauci warned of it again today in no uncertain terms. “If we skip over the checkpoints in the guidelines to: ‘Open America Again,’ then we risk the danger of multiple outbreaks throughout the country.”

“This will not only result in needless suffering and death, but would actually set us back on our quest to return to normal.” Fauci is not alone. I’ve not seen a single assessment from a doctor or scientist that argues the contrary. Former CDC Director, Tom Freden, who I know and respect commented recently that he feared the premature reopening “is not going to end well.”

But virtually every state is now caught up in the rush to reopen nonetheless — even though not ONE of them has met even the very low bar of 14 days of consecutive declining cases. We “have” to do it they all assert. And there’s no stopping them now.

They know that they don’t have the testing capacity. Trump can keep making his nonsense claims about how great we are doing on that front but every single measure says we are not only behind many other nations in per capita testing, but we’re woefully behind on the testing levels we need to be to keep workplaces safe and to control outbreaks. Not even close.

Some experts say that we need 10-20 million tests a day across the nation. Admiral Giroir, the leader of the public health service says we can MAYBE get to 8 million a MONTH by June. Maybe. China, will be testing the whole population of Wuhan — 11 million people — in the next ten days. Nope….we’re NOT the global leader in testing by a long stretch.

The numbers we need to test are huge. So is the price tag at $10 a test. And, as result, we’ll temporize… we’ll equivocate… and we’ll pay a far higher price later if we don’t pay for the testing now. But, one way or the other, we will pay.

As for contact tracing — another critical factor in reopening safely — studies and data from China suggests that one infected person may generate about 50 contacts. Currently we are seeing 25,000 new cases a day in the U.S. I’ve read that it takes a team of five tracers about three days to find 50 contacts. You do the math.

Currently, we have about 3,000 folks nationwide doing tracing. We’d have to increase that number to 100,000 — and daily cases would have to drop from 25,000 to 5,000 —
just to keep up. Neither of those things is likely to happen.

And as I noted above, there are too many of us who won’t wear masks. That’s another problem. And it is compounded when our leaders won’t set the example, making it hard to shame folks into doing what is right to protect others.

To bring things under control China took FAR more stringent measures than we’ve even considered. So have other countries. But we’re unwilling to accept that such things could be required here… we’re unwilling to accept restrictions and unwilling to be told what to do. It’s a mess of our own making.

And so, we’ll suffer, and we’ll see the further spikes and outbreaks and deaths. And even if we then say OMG, what have we done, and try to put the genie back in the bottle, it will be too late.

And it will be even harder to get people to be more disciplined next time around as this become increasingly political. The President is worrying about his reelection and seemingly more concerned about playing to his base than leading in a time of crisis. That isn’t going to make managing this any easier in the days ahead.

I could go on and on. I already have. So I’ll end by citing Tony Fauci once again. Dr. Fauci cautioned Senator Rand Paul today (as Paul was asserting we needed to reopen schools) that we have to be careful and humble about this disease that is constantly surprising us and challenging our understanding. We can’t be cavalier in assuming our children will be OK, he said. They too are increasingly at risk.

His words are likely to fall on deaf ears, though, in many quarters. Too many decision-makers are already being cavalier about the challenges and their options. They roll the dice, hoping their gamble will be OK — hoping that a resurgent economy and a day on the beach will be compensation enough for the loss of a grandparent or a mother or a child.

My bottom line for today? The choices have been made but we don’t have the will or the resources to make those choices viable. And meanwhile, too many in our society are so consumed with themselves that they aren’t able, or willing, to be part of a viable solution that calls for some degree of sacrifice. And, as a result, I worry we’ll all pay a higher price.

I’ll prepare for the storm to come. Maybe it will blow over. Maybe my weather sense is wildly mistaken.

But I’m not going to bet my life on it.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

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