A COVID-19 Diary (of sorts)

May 31

“If America hasn’t broken your heart, you don’t love her enough.”

That was something Cory Booker said this morning. I know what he meant.

“I can’t breathe!” The chants in cities across the nation cut deeply across our consciousness. We are in a crisis of our own making. The pain and the cost of the racism 40 million of our citizens must face every day is real. And that’s just in the Black community. There are others… Latino, Asian… the name doesn’t matter. The color of their skin sets them apart in our nation, it can put them at risk, it can spark bias and discrimination those of us who are white will never know.

It’s a tough morning. It’s gorgeous outside but I’m struggling like all of us to make sense of what is happening on the streets in cities across our nation.

But some aren’t trying to make sense of things. They are instead seeking to exploit these moments and to translate their fear and hatred into violent actions. Their actions have nothing to do with George Floyd.

White men, dressed in black, moving silently and with purpose through the crowds to smash windows, to set fires and to fuel chaos. Other white men, heavily armed, threatening, intimidating men and women of all communities. The symbols of white supremacist organizations and of the radical right have been seen and filmed. There’s more than enough evidence already showing that some of those on the streets are deliberately attacking black and minority owned businesses. It’s ugly. It’s frightening.

I struggle not to rush to judgment. We don’t really KNOW yet what is happening and who the actors are. I believe that there are those on the left, the anarchist ANTIFA forces, who are irresponsible and dangerous and who may be on the streets adding to the problems. But I also believe it’s not just them, no matter what the White House asserts. If ANTIFA is there, so are the Three Percenters and the Boogaloo Bois and other right wing extremists.

They are just as destructive and when it comes to government and attacks on symbols of authority. They actively seek to accelerate our movement towards what they believe is an impending civil war and, eventually, the collapse of our society.

But they go beyond anarchism to advance their agenda of frightening racism and toxic hatred directed, not just against government, but against men and women whose skin color, or faith, or beliefs are different than their own. It is white privilege on steroids. Anarchist violence, no matter the perpetrators, must be stopped. This violence puts our nation, our society, our future, at risk whether from the Boogaloo Bois or ANTIFA.

But the right wing extremists scare me and disgust me to my core. They are why George Floyd can be murdered, why Ahmaud Arbery can be murdered, why Michael Brown can be shot, why Eric Garner can be killed in a police choke hold. There is part of our society who applaud rather than feel outrage. And that is our shame.

We cannot, however, let these groups and our need to respond to them lead us to forget the legitimate concerns about racial and economic and social injustice that George Floyd’s death once again highlights. And we cannot let this be politicized. But that, sadly, has already begun.

Trump attacks the “Democratic” mayor of Minneapolis. Emphasizing his party every time he tweets about him. That’s political.

The President tweeted, “It’s ANTIFA and the Radical Left. Don’t lay the blame on others.” That’s political. It’s for his base.

The U.S. Attorney General has sounded alarm about a threat from ANTIFA anarchists, but is silent on the right wing hate groups who are also there. That’s political.

The National Security Advisor is only focused on ANTIFA as well. They all fall in line with the President.

And, if you’re a Trump surrogate, you avoid talking about or criticizing the white supremacists or Neo Nazis — “those very good people” who brought us Charlottesville.

Our nation is in trouble. And this isn’t the time to divide us. It’s the time to unite us. But we won’t get that from this White House and particularly not in an election year.

I don’t know where this ends. And, even more troubling, this latest tragedy and trauma comes while we are in the midst of a pandemic. And make no mistake, the pandemic isn’t taking a pause while we respond. We’re taking our eye off that ball too. The Atlanta mayor said she hasn’t looked at the corona numbers over the last two days. That doesn’t bode well either.

We can hope that the violence will end — and it likely will (though I think of the sustained yellow jacket protests in France and I wonder). But I worry that, as it does, we’ll just go back to business as usual. We won’t change. And the problems will then fester and erupt once more. And that’s the problem. We NEED to change. That change won’t come overnight but, unless this becomes a focused and determined effort for both our citizens and our leaders, this will happen again and again until we break. We need to understand this, I think, and to commit ourselves to the change that must come.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

May 30

It’s a truly lovely day. Low humidity… warm, but not hot. Brilliant blue skies. It just makes you feel good.

I’ve already done a bit of work outside and a dog walk lies ahead. The pace today is relaxed. I find that I’m not particularly focused. Just in the moment.

I’m trying not to read the news, though, because I’ll be reminded of the blazing heat of the anger and pain that so many are feeling right now and the tone deaf responses that we’re getting from the White House. While I don’t condone or applaud the violence, we kid ourselves if we try to say it is just about criminal elements. There is a far deeper anger and outrage being triggered by George Floyd’s death and it goes to the very nature of a social structure in which systemic racism and deeply rooted bias — even if at times unconscious — is the order of the day.

And this comes as we struggle with the pain and disruption of the coronavirus which has hit the communities of color and those who are struggling economically far harder than it has those of us who are white and relatively well-off. It’s a truth we don’t like to think about, perhaps. It is a reality nonetheless, however, and one that begs the even less comfortable question — what are we going to do about it?

And the pernicious virus is still with us, make no mistake. Over 102,000 dead. Over 1,750,000 infected. And still around 20,000 new cases a day that will ultimately translate into perhaps 1,000 to 1,200 deaths. And now we’re starting to see reports of folks who were at the big pool party at Lake of the Ozarks testing positive… and of at least one who was likely symptomatic at the time. No surprise. There are probably many more.

What seems amazing is that in just three months we have become so accustomed to it that 20,000 cases a day is just business as usual. An “OK” day… nothing to get excited about. And 1,000 deaths just go by unnoticed. The “pause to reflect,” that marked 100,000 fatalities this week, was just that — a pause, a shaking of the head, and then back to business.

Of course, what else can we do? This pandemic will indeed continue until it has run it’s course. It is inexorable. It will continue to infect us. There will be more deaths. There will be more hot spots. And the likelihood of another wave is very much there — even if that is another thing we’d rather not think too much about.

In Latin America, we see the crisis growing as temperatures cool in the Southern Hemisphere. Brazil and Peru are particularly hard hit. And if we’re still seeing so many cases here, even as temps warm, what can we expect as they cool again in the fall? It’s a fool’s bet to assume it will all be smooth sailing.

It’s the same concerns around the world. Japan is seeing cases tick up after easing restrictions. UK deaths are at 38,000. Brazil is catching up with over 27,000. Nepal is seeing cases rise precipitously every day. There are over 6 million cases globally and over 350,000 deaths. But the President nonetheless opted this week to sever our ties with (and support for) the World Health Organization. He warned it was coming, but that doesn’t make it easier to accept or to understand.

I can’t truly share the angst he claims to feel about WHO “failings” when he cannot acknowledge or take any responsibility for our own shockingly inadequate response to this pandemic.

And I’m not sure how to feel about the blame game he is playing, or his assertions that the WHO is too close to China. Even if correct, and I haven’t studied the facts closely enough to really know, is this our primary concern right now? Does it really hurt our own interests? Is this the fight we want to have while this pandemic spreads and vulnerable people, many in nations with underprepared and inadequate health systems, are at huge risk?

WHO HAS done good work on many diseases and many crises for years. We have worked with them in partnership. We have helped lead the way in global health. We have cared and shown compassion and commitment realizing that our immense wealth, power, and privilege carry with them responsibility when confronting global challenges. (Sounds a bit like an international version of the debate about white privilege that is playing out domestically at this very moment).

When we act to address these global threats, we not only reflect our values and show the best of the American people; we also protect our interests and lay the groundwork for future partnership. But we have chosen to walk away. To cut support. To further isolate ourselves. And we do so at our peril.

So… do you get why I don’t want to look at the news? Why I prefer to be in the moment on a beautiful Saturday? Why I want the world to just pass us by? And that’s what I’ll do… for a few hours. But then it’s back to being part of the world. Do the little I can as just one person. Set an example for my kids and grandkids. Show compassion. Be thoughtful. Speak out for change and for what I believe in. Try.

Happy Saturday.

Be strong, be safe, be healthy.

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May 29

Our lives get crazier by the day. The violence and anger that has followed George Floyd’s murder has been used by others to engage in acts of criminality. The images are confused and frightening. What part of what we see is righteous anger and protest? How much is just criminality? Setting fires and looting stores isn’t the right thing. But we can’t lose sight of the grieving and instinctive anger over injustices that are embodied in Mr. Floyd’s death… but that have been with us forever.

As a white man in America, I’ll never know that that feels like. But I can try to understand.

And do I feel an instinctive revulsion when the President seems to lump everyone together as thugs and threatens to send in troops with guns blazing! Yet, when armed white men stormed the seats of government in Michigan or Minnesota earlier this year, THAT was OK. They weren’t thugs. They were “good people” — just like the neo-Nazis and KKK demonstrators in Charlottesville. And the President urged them on with exhortations to “Liberate Minnesota.”

There are no similar calls of “Justice for George.” Nope. Just promises to shoot the “thugs” who were black. What do you think the messages are that the President is sending. What dog whistles are being sounded?

This is dominating the news cycle. And that’s not inappropriate. But we can’t forget that the virus is still out there. Cases are rising in 15 or 16 states still. New cases seem to be tracking with premature reopening in some places… but not everywhere. And this story, with it’s death and suffering, isn’t going away even as the President seeks to distract with his Twitter War.

Everything seems in turmoil. I think of a line from a song… “my mind’s distracted and diffused…” (Kathy’s Song, by Paul Simon). The afternoon might just be better spent at the piano or lost in a good book than at a keyboard. But I hope, even if we must physically distance, that our voices will be heard.

They should be heard on social media, in conversation with family and friends, and in the polling booth (even if it’s in our living room with mail-in ballots) in the fall. Our votes will send a critical message about what we want America to look like. About what we think leadership should look like and about who we want to be. It will be a referendum on ourselves. And COVID-19 or not, I know that I have to be part of THAT discussion.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

May 28

Man. It’s hard to believe. The month of May is almost gone. It seems like just yesterday I was writing about it being May Day. Gone in a flash. Crazy.

So, as the month ends, we’re all focused on the death toll. 100,000+ in three months. It’s staggering. And it’s so hard to fathom how our President, who always is talking and tweeting, can have so little to say on THIS. He finally tweeted — once — on this. It was too little, too late.

I know that even if he spoke volumes, his words wouldn’t matter in terms of changing what has happened so far. But still, how I long for a voice of calm. A voice of conciliation. How I wish we could find words of healing that draw us together and offers comfort and hope for better days ahead.

That’s not what we’re offered, of course. That one tweet about the horrible losses we’ve already experienced was lost amid a seemingly endless stream of tweets and retweets attacking the Russia investigation, Obama, Biden, the “lame stream” media and telling us what a great job he has done in fighting coronavirus. Sigh. This will never change, I know. But it offends my sensibilities nonetheless.

Meanwhile, though, I struggle with the fundamental question of why our death toll is SO much higher than some other nations. I’ve explored that a bit in earlier posts and was thinking today that some of it may just be a function of the nature of our society. It was prompted by a doctor I heard who was discussing the great success that China, South Korea, and Japan have all had in keeping numbers low. He observed it was about “behavior.” But is it easier to elicit broader social compliance in terms of society in some cultures, especially those with a great degree of homogeneity, than others? Does a sense of shared identity and a common view on societal roles and our response to authority make a difference at times like this? I would think it does.

America is different from some of these other countries. We’re a fractious and difficult bunch. Independently minded. Feisty. We are many cultures. Many faiths. Many voices. Some scholars see us as a multitude of nations with strong identities that shape the differing approaches to life, governance, and values that we see playing out right now. And we are notoriously inclined to challenge authority. It’s part of who we are.

I wouldn’t necessarily change any of that. Our diversity IS a strength. The interplay of ideas and perspectives and beliefs is central to who we are. But, right now, those traits can also make it much harder to lead or guide a national approach to a hugely challenging problem that often evokes visceral reactions to proposed responses.

All of this is exacerbated when leaders deliberately accentuate the divides rather than seeking ways to bridge them. That’s when we get what we see today — a nation that is angry, divided, and unable to act in our common self-interest. And against that backdrop, the deaths will increase because we can’t agree to wear masks, or to stay distanced, or to sacrifice a few personal preferences for the greater good.

Worse yet, as some leaders exploit those fault lines for political gain, they create further tension and pressure in a society where so many people are worrying already about lost jobs, depleted savings, and a deadly disease. And
those concerns are being felt most intensely in black and latino communities, and by the women at the lower ends of the pay scale.

The economic and social inequities aren’t new. But now they are coming home to roost with a vengeance. .We know that unfairness in our society breaks along racial lines and we can’t continue to look the other way or pretend it doesn’t. COVID-19 is a grim reminder of the cost of our indifference to the needs of so many. And the anger and dismay that is felt along THAT fault line is now being supercharged by another incident of blatant racism — the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

You really can’t call it anything else. A senseless act of unprovoked violence by a white police officer against a black man. An act of violence that led to his death — as bystanders appealed to the policeman to stop, but he, flanked by thee other officers — was indifferent to the appeals. And this comes on the heels of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery in Atlanta. It is reminiscent of scenes we have seen time and again, but few have been as blatantly clear as this assault and murder.

Abuse of power. Contempt for the life of a man of a different color. Both were on full display. You can’t convince me that this wasn’t about racism. About an ”us vs.them” mentality. You can’t tell any of us who watched the video that we weren’t watching a public execution.

And we shouldn’t be surprised by the response. The anger and frustration, the fear and bitterness, that have been unleashed. If we don’t act, if the justice system doesn’t deliver justice, what can we expect?

This heinous act embodies the division, the anger, the racism, and the economic injustice, that drives us apart and that makes it harder than ever for us to solve the problem of COVID 19.

It’s not just angry white men with guns who feel lost in our nation… it’s a whole hell of a lot of us. Those guys with their guns in Michigan and elsewhere felt “oppressed.” They claimed their freedoms were being infringed. Poor babies.

Oppression is NOT your governor telling you that you can’t go to your favorite bar. But it IS the knee of a white cop on the neck of a black man — a handcuffed black man — murdering him as we watch.

COVID-19 isn’t causing any of this, of course. But in many ways it is holding up a mirror. It is showing us how economic inequalities, injustice and racism in our society have contributed to the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 among women and men of color and how it is killing them as surely as the cop killed George Floyd.

We need to find our way to a different reality. We can still be fractious and feisty and independent, but we have to create a society that works for us all. One where we come together for a common good.

I still love our nation despite our flaws and failings. Every nation has them. But we can’t fix them if we are unwilling to see them. And if we then see them and don’t act, then shame on us.

I guess we can only hope that all of this sorrow and tragedy helps us to see ourselves more clearly and, if it leads us to act, some good will come of it. If it doesn’t, I fear we are truly lost.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

May 27

How very sad it is that, as we deal with the deaths of 100,000 of our citizens, we have a President who wants to trivialize their deaths by making the wearing of a little piece of cloth another battle in the culture wars. Rather than asking whether this simple act might save a few lives that would otherwise be lost he is turning the wearing or masks — or not — into a measure of our political standing and even of masculinity. How low can we go?

There is no room for this. No time for this. No need for this. Except in his political calculations. It seems to be in keeping, however, with how he has approached so many issues. He accused a reporter who chose to speak louder rather than just remove his mask of trying to be “politically correct.” It seemed so calculated on the president’s part. It wasn’t that he couldn’t hear. He just wanted to score points.

But We have seen plenty of examples of how he approaches the world. For him, strength is about bullying and masculinity is about misogyny — about belittling those who disagree with him and putting uppity women reporters or politicians in their place. And now it carries over into the issue of masks.

I credit Joe Biden for refusing to be drawn into the debate about whether wearing a mask made you more masculine… is message was that it wasn’t about masculinity but about leadership. “That’s what leaders do” he said. And he’s right. And that’s what each of us should do. Be leaders. Set an example. Respect others. Save lives.

Dr. Fauci implored people again today to just wear a mask. The GOP Governor of North Dakota, Doug Burnum, was near tears in his remarks yesterday as he pleaded with folks to set aside politics and just do the right thing. He asked his state’s citizens to disregard this “senseless dividing line.” He was right. This is no time for games or posturing. It is time for leadership. I doubt we’ll get it from the White House. So it will have to come from us.

Meanwhile, I see that the tracker I used yesterday that put us at over 100,000 deaths is at odds with some others that say we’ll hit that grim milestone in the next 24 hours. Either way, every day brings new tragedy and we aren’t doing all we can to stop it.

I… just… don’t… understand. I don’t.

We play political games while people’s lives are lost. I recognize that there are huge challenges and tough decisions. But I fear that too often political calculation and partisan self-interest are shaping the answers we see rather than science and facts and a deep and abiding concern for our citizens.

And even good advice is awfully hard to act on. The CDC offered new guidelines, for example, regarding public transport. I believe that they are offering the very best advice they can in a very challenging environment but, if the advice is “avoid touching things,” and you’re riding the subway, or on a crowded bus, I have to wonder just how that is going to work out for everyone. Or here in Virginia, the governor is making masks mandatory…except in churches, and daycares, and schools, and colleges and universities. A good effort but I am at a loss to understand the logic behind some of those exceptions.

Yes, it’s another day here in COVID world where half the folks in a recent poll said that they wouldn’t take a COVID vaccine. Some are worried that, in the rush to create a vaccine, it might not be safe. That there might be side effects. That there won’t have been enough testing. Reasonable questions and concerns that we’ll all be debating when the time comes. There’s no silver bullet, I fear, and no easy answers. So we all need to be smart, thoughtful, careful, and reasonable.

And that applies to masks. They aren’t a political statement. But they do send a message about who we are, what we care about, and our commitment to each other. And for any guys out there who worry about their image… it’s not about testosterone. If you’re not man enough to wear a mask, if you’re not man enough to protect the ones you love, then I ask you… what kind of man (or woman) are you?

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

May 26

I checked the COVID-19 dashboard before I began to write. The death toll in the US stands at 100,090. We have known, of course, that the 100,000 figure was coming and, in some ways, we can say it is just another measure in the course of this disease. But, emotionally and psychologically there’s something about the idea that we’ve now hit six figures in the death toll that jars us. And we know we have a long way to go.

The news is mixed. Even the hopeful news is only hopeful by comparison to the really frightening stories that have been our fare for weeks on end. Among them, Northern Ireland had its first day with no deaths since March 18. Italy’s number of active cases is now half of what they were at the pandemic’s peak, and the UK as a whole had it lowest weekly death toll — 4,210 deaths — in six weeks.

And here at home, we can spin the news different ways. We can say that coronavirus numbers are rising in only 18 states… or we can say that coronavirus cases are still on the rise in over one-third of the nation. We get so many mixed messages. Political messaging, medical messaging, stories from people about the pain, the loss, the kindness, or the hope that they see. We get it all.

The doctors are worried. One leading infectious disease specialist from the University of Minnesota cautioned today that no matter what we say or predict the virus will do what it is going to do… and he believes that it won’t stop until 60-70% of the population is infected or there is a vaccine. We are, he says, still in the midst of the first wave and yes, like most experts, he predicts a second wave is likely.

In Georgia, graduation parties have resulted in new hot spots emerging. All those folks partying in the Lake of the Ozarks who made the news? They were told to quarantine. Will they? Likely not. There is so much worry that we’re going to see new peaks, new hot spots erupt. It’s worrisome. And meanwhile, we still haven’t gotten testing figured out and the federal government now seems to be punting the issue to the states that are already cash-strapped and struggling. It does not bode well.

And the President, meanwhile, is going out of his way to make wearing masks part of the culture war that fuels the anger and fear that fires up his voters. He won’t wear a mask and he attacks Joe Biden for doing so. Strikingly, a number of recent polls find that 60-70% of Americans favor wearing masks in public right now. Medical professionals ask us to wear masks. The President’s medical experts tell us to wear masks. But he’s chosen to make it an issue. A badge of partisanship. Ugh.

I heard a pastor who opened his church, in defiance of the governor’s orders in New Jersey, offered a defense that was all across the board. In fairness, his congregation was doing much that was right from a public health standpoint in terms of masks, and distancing, etc. It was still an act of civil disobedience, and we can debate its appropriateness but the congregation was at least trying to be careful. But then the pastor said, yes… he wore a mask. Except when he was preaching. Except when he stood on an elevated platform and in a loud voice sprayed out droplets that would travel into the crowd and stay airborne for 12 minutes and IF he happens to be infected, those droplets will make others ill too. And when challenged about not wearing a mask he noted that the President doesn’t so… you get the picture.

Maybe this pastor isn’t sick. But there are super spreaders out there. Folks who are in a position to engage, and sicken, lots of folks in a short time. Folks who believe the rules don’t apply to them, who don’t wear masks, who think their rights are more important than other people’s health, or who, quite simply, just don’t think. This is what we’re up against. And if a third of our fellow citizens decide not to listen or act responsibly this pandemic will last that much longer.

Let’s remember that, globally, this problem isn’t slowing down. The crisis points shift, but the disease continues to sicken and kill thousands every day. And every nation remains highly vulnerable to new peaks and new waves — at least until there is vaccine — if we don’t test extensively, if we don’t take the essential precautions as we try to reopen. The bottom line is that we need to care for each other like family. Now, more than ever.

Some nations have gotten it right. We haven’t. And we’re going to have to learn even harder lessons before we do — if we do.

It’s a Tuesday that feels a lot like a Monday, so I guess this was my “Monday” rant. But the sun is shining and our tiny corner of the world remains coronavirus free. I’ll settle for that.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

May 25 – Memorial Day

This Memorial Day resonates differently for most of us, I think. We remember, of course, those who served and sacrificed for our nation. I wonder what it was like for my father Joe and his older brother Pete
when they put on our nation’s uniform and went to war. They both returned safely. My father never saw combat. He never even was deployed out of the states. And my uncle did go overseas. I know he was in India. But I don’t know if he saw combat either.

They both, however, served. Children of immigrants to our nation, they both were prepared to join others of their generation in a war that — at least from the vantage point of today — seemed so clear cut. A war against fascist states determined to conquer, to cleanse, and to enshrine racial purity. It was a competition of values and beliefs that seemed clear cut. I’m proud of the service that they offered, and I’ll remember them today, even though we lost them many, many years after the conflict ended.

In that conflict, we defeated the enemy. But the virulent nationalism, the racism, the contempt for the “other,” the belief that the color of their skin, or their ethnic heritage granted them the right to shape the world at others’ expense — all those contemptible ideas still survive. It’s a battle we still must fight. And the failure to do so, to stand against those who propagate hate, and racism, and misogyny, is a betrayal of all those who have sacrificed for the values we stand for.

Not every conflict in which our countrymen have fought and died reflected our values as clearly perhaps. Some of those conflicts may even have called our values into question. But, that does not diminish the service of those who stood for our nation. So thank you… to all who have served.

And permit me the indulgence of recognizing and thanking the women and men of our foreign service and intelligence services for what they do for our nation. They are so often forgotten. They don’t wear a uniform. But they serve across the globe, including in some of the most difficult and remote and dangerous spots in the world. They serve with honor, distinction and courage. And they deserve our nation’s gratitude as well.

Meanwhile, today we are fighting a new enemy and, once again, heroes are standing up to meet the challenge. Our medical first responders — the nurses and doctors, and EMTs and techs, and so many others who are on the front lines. Who are accepting the risks and the challenges in service to us all. Thank you.

And the essential workers who have kept wheels turning despite the craziness. Who have baked the bread, cleaned the stores, delivered the goods, managed the nursing homes. They too are on the front lines.

They all have experienced losses as a result of their service to our nation. These are the heroes who we need to remember today as well. Unlike those I spoke of yesterday, who put themselves above our responsibilities to each other as part of society, these heroes acted on behalf of all.

The word hero can be devalued if used too casually, perhaps, but it may be, at the present time, it is not used enough. The heroism and commitment of so many of our fellow citizens is being lost in all the noise of this virus. And if so, that’s very sad. They deserve to be recognized and valued, and today is a day when we can do so.

And today we remember not just the heroes, but all those we loved who are gone. It is a day to remember parents and spouses and siblings and children. And, as the years pass, that list of those who are missing from our lives grows longer. It’s sad… but inevitable.

We hurt a bit because we miss them. But we also smile as we remember and celebrate them. And, as we cherish all that they brought to our lives, and as we honor and share our memories of them, we ensure that they live on.

That’s what today is about. Let’s get to it.

Stay safe, stay strong, stay healthy.

May 24

It is appropriate, perhaps, that this Memorial Day weekend the New York Times headline is “U.S. Deaths Near 100,000, an Incalculable Loss,” and the front page is devoted to a listing of the names of those who have been lost. The subheadline is “They Were Not Simply Names on a List. They Were Us.” They were.

“Every single one marks a future cut short and a family and community that will never be the same.”

That was part of a tweet from Joe Biden. President Trump was tweeting, too, but not about the deaths, not about the pandemic, and not about what we can do to keep ourselves safe. The only COVID-19 tweet he shared in recent days was one further pushing hydroxychloroquine — despite the further studies saying it is dangerous — and ineffective — for use in COVID-19 patients.

I know that highlighting the losses won’t bring these folks back. But ignoring them, as the President seems to, doesn’t make the loss any less tragic.

Personally, I think that the NYT’s remembrance of those we’ve lost is on target. And, while I’d prefer a President who offers messages of healing and hope rather than messages of partisanship and self-aggrandizement, we can’t wait for our leaders to define our understanding of events. We need to define them for ourselves.

It’s a choice. What do we believe, what is important, and what do we prioritize? These are choices we are facing every day during this pandemic. And those choices raise fundamental questions about whether our rights as individuals, or our commitments to each other as part of a community, are the most important.

Meanwhile, I get frustrated by the specious arguments being touted by some about their “rights.” None of our “rights” is an unrestricted absolute. We don’t have the “right” to drive drunk. We don’t have the “right” to shoot each other. We don’t have the “right” to get our way through force.

We have a compact, as part of our society, to recognize our shared interests and responsibility to each other. And that applies now more than ever… though, many in our society seem to see it differently.

That would be bad enough if this was just about individuals and the risks they are assuming. But even more frustrating and worrisome is that we all have to live with the consequences of other’s choices. If the virus spreads more broadly, we are all at risk — not just those who think that their “right” to go to the bar or the hair dresser Is more important than our shared interest — and obligation — to protect society at large.

But for now, I’m off to the kitchen. The potato salad is made (the homemade vegan dressing is SO good). The tofu has marinated. The fruit salad has been cut up. The beans have marinated. Both need to be grilled. That’s next up on the list. Then there are burgers (again, vegan) to put together.

Seeing the grandkids and our daughter and son-in-law, will be great. Six feet is not THAT far… we can still talk and laugh and see the little ones and watch them at play.

They are the reason we keep our distance, the reason we do what we can to keep this virus under control. For them, and for all our family and friends. It matters. We all have a role and we all have choices. We know what ours will be.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

May 23

We got up early today to make a Whole Foods run during senior hour. It is Memorial Day weekend and it will likely get busier later. Even as we left we saw folks in their socially-distanced line waiting for admission as they try to keep crowds down.

We needed to pick up a few things. Our daughter, son-in-law, and grandkids, will come over tomorrow for a socially-distanced Memorial Day meal of burgers and dogs, potato salad (all vegan), and grilled tofu and maybe some fresh fruit. We’ll eat outside, no shared plates, and seating will be spread out. It will be our second time doing this sort of thing. It seems to work. We’ve sorted through the multitude of logistical considerations with care.

Anyway, I wanted to write now… a bit after 0900… before I get caught up in the long list of things I want to do in the yard and around the house. A busy day lies ahead. It’s good to have “tasks” at times. No complaints.
I did a quick scroll through the headlines. It’s not surprising that coronavirus continues to dominate the news. I am struck by the fact that I don’t automatically go first to the dashboard to get the latest numbers. Earlier in this process the numbers were a gauge that mattered and marked the astonishingly rapid progression of the disease. Now they are just numbers, I guess. As the numbers grew, the incremental increase every day seemed less shocking. The same with deaths… sadly. Another 25,000 cases in a day seems much less mind-boggling when there are already 1.6 million cases on record.

That’s still an alarming number though. We had 31,000 new cases on the 19th and 24,000 reported on the 21st. We’ve been ranging between 20,000 – 30,000 cases a day all month and averaging above 27,000 a day. That’s close to a million new cases a month. And that could mean around 60,000 are deaths. Of course, this can’t go on forever… but there’s still 320,000 people or more who haven’t been infected in the US alone. It could go on for quite some time, if we’re foolish enough.

As a case in point, I offer a Missouri hair stylist who worked at a Great Clips that re- opened in early May, even though scientists argued against such reopening so soon. That stylist had the virus, of course, and exposed 91 people over eightdays. That is what “foolish enough” looks like. And, statistically, the odds are that at least one of those people will die from the disease.

And do you believe that, if religious services are permitted freely, that congregants will really social distance? That they will all wear masks? That they will refrain from the singing (likely maskless) that will spread infectious respiratory droplets far more broadly? I think all of the above is a problem and that we’d see further spikes in our numbers. Another example of what can happen if we’re “foolish enough.”

So, who is championing the reopening of churches now? Donald Trump.

Of course, that appeals to his base, even if the idea itself is dumber than dirt from a public health perspective. It seems ironic to hear someone who seems to dismiss Christian values as being only for suckers and the weak prattle on about the importance of faith. Sincerity doesn’t shine through. But i guess it’s easy to do s if when you have no real authority to act on you pr words. You can say anything you want.

So he says he’ll insist. He says he’lloverride the governors. He can’t, however. And he knows that… or he should, if has any understanding of how our system of government works (which, admittedly, seems an iffy proposition). But that doesn’t stop him from floating arguments that may be popular with us supporters but that are nonetheless irresponsible. And the fact that those thoughtless comments makes life harder for governors to build unity around the importance of smart public health measures doesn’t seem to enter his head. It’s all about the votes, I guess.

Sadly, as a President he could still be a responsible leader on this issue (there’s a huge difference between leadership and authority) but he has ceded his moral authority and the bully pulpit of the presidency on the altar of partisanship. He is supposed to be the president for all Americans—not just Republicans. But that is a fundamental precept of our socialcompact he has never grasped.

And, if churches open anyway, and more people die,he’ll tell us all it wasn’t his fault. It’s the governors… or the doctors or … somehow… the media. (It’s ALWAYS the media:

On another front, I heard this morning that Hertz is filing for bankruptcy protection as they will need to reorganize their debt. They currently have $17 billion in debt. I offer this not to lament the challenges that Hertz is facing, but as another component of the complex equation that is COVID-19. They are, of course, affected by the drop in travel. But also, there are fewer car accidents, so fewer rentals needed while cars are in the shop, and the market price for used cars is dropping and that affects the valuation of their fleet. So many spin-offs. And many jobs as well — including for elderly folks who might staff the return lines, check-in cars, and more. It’s complicated.

And another headline was for an article examining our already-fraught relationship with Europe. What is widely seen beyond our borders (and by many of us within our borders) as a chaotic US response to COVID-19 has further undermined our credibility and our leadership on the global stage. Our aggressive efforts to make this about blame for China have been rejected by our European partners. And our seeming lack of interest in playing a role in a multifaceted effort to address all dimensions of the pandemic, including origin and response, have led to us being further diminished on the international stage.

We’re being sidelined and dismissed more and more. And that’s not good for us in the long term. The President’s failure to build rapport with European leaders, coupled with his inability to moderate his extreme nativism enough to offer a compelling vision of global engagement and partnership, laid the groundwork for us to be disregarded. COVID-19 just provides the opportunity.

OK… enough… there are a lot more headlines, but I have too much to do. So. Off to work. Happy Saturday. It’s a beautiful day here. Hope it is there as well.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

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May 22

So, here we are. A holiday weekend ahead. Memorial Day. It’s a time for remembrance of those we have lost. To honor those who sacrificed their lives in service to our nation. And now a time to remember, this year, all of those across the world, who have died as a result of the pandemic sweeping the globe. Over 5 million infections, more than 350,000 deaths and the numbers are growing.

In Brazil, where President Bolsanaro has reveled in being a COVID-19 denier, the number of infections is surging. They are now third highest in the world, trailing only the US — where our own leader has blown hot and cold on the pandemic — and Russia. Hmm. The Brazilian health system is overwhelmed… the number of deaths is starting to spike and the peak is yet to come. Tragic. And, like many nations — including our own — many of those deaths could have been prevented.

There is much for us to reflect on over the Memorial Day weekend.

This weekend also traditionally marks the start of summer. And there are folks who are waiting — the image of caged animals comes to mine — to break free. Bars and restaurants and beaches and hotels are going to be packed in many places. Georgia and Florida among them. Of course, COVID numbers are still rising in some of the same places that are looking forward to summer fun.

It’s not a good combination. Yesterday, Dr. Fauci warned that “now is not the time to tempt fate.” But that, of course, is just what we’re doing. And the tempter-in-chief sent all the wrong signals yesterday by once again refusing to wear a mask as he toured a Ford plant in Michigan. Masks were required at the plant. State law required the use of masks. The agreement that led to the plant reopening assured workers that they’d be given a safe environment where everyone would wear masks. But the President chose to send a message that he doesn’t have to obey the rules. He can disregard state laws. And he can put others at risk because he doesn’t want to give the media the satisfaction of seeing him in a mask. Really?

This is the behavior of a petulant child. It sends all the wrong signals and undercuts the efforts of responsible leaders who are trying to strike the balance between reopening and public health. It tempts fate.

I’ve said often that I’m no expert. That we have to wait and see. And so we will. By mid-June we should see if this weekend pushed fate’s tolerance to the breaking point or not. We’ll see how many new cases emerge and how many more died who could, perhaps, have been saved.

If you assume from reading this that we’ll be continuing to wear masks, maintain distance, and limit our exposure, you’d be right. We all make our choices. And we know what ours will be.

Enjoy the weekend. Have a great holiday. But please, more than ever,

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

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May 21

It’s funny how one thing leads to another. Yesterday, I was looking at the far lower infection rates in New Zealand and Australia and how strikingly different they were from our own. But, as noted, their approach ended up being strikingly different from ours too.

Now today, there are new models that show the tremendous difference that we might have seen had we started a more focused effort on social distancing even one, or two, weeks earlier. As of May 3, we had 65,307 deaths in the US. We didn’t get serious about coronavirus in the US until the second half of March, even though the writing was on the wall for all to see. (We started social distancing on March 6 after canceling our travel to Iceland — set for March 13 — a few days before.) We could figure out what was coming. But our leaders couldn’t?

In any event, if we had acted a week early, instead of 65,000 deaths in early May, the number would likely have been 29,410. If we had acted two weeks earlier, the number would have been 11,253. Over 50,000 lives might have been saved. If only we had not dismissed this. If only we had not said… “We’ll be at zero cases in a few days,” or “this is no worse than the flu,” etc.

You can argue about how accurate the numbers are, but it’s very hard to believe that we would not have seen something close to what they’re projecting. Hindsight, as they say, is 20-20. But I keep coming back to the same conclusion, no matter how we slice it. We could have done better and we should have done better. And we paid the price in human lives.

Time will tell if in a few weeks we’ll be getting models telling us how many more lives we would have saved had we waited a bit longer to reopen. But the die is cast. (I avoided saying “the damage is done” because I’m trying to keep an open mind even though I’m worried that this was a very costly choice). What we do know, is that over 106,000 new cases were reported globally yesterday. The largest single day increase yet. Over 5 million have been infected. Over 330,000 have died. California had it’s highest daily death toll so far yesterday and in our nation as a whole we are now over 93,000 deaths. Almost 30,000 new deaths in less than three weeks.

This isn’t over.

And so… I turn to other thoughts. How to keep the starlings from mobbing my bird feeders. Where to plant the phlox that I bought? Where will the new annuals get the best light or necessary shade to keep our yard bright with color? I’ll go out and admire the huge blossoms on the peony. Welcome the pink honeysuckle flowers that are luring hummingbirds. I’ll enjoy the purple salvia, the little coral-colored flowers peeking out in another corner of the garden, and keep my fingers crossed that the butterfly plants and all the other flowers we have planted and sown will soon have the yard buzzing with bees, and that butterflies and hummers will abound. I’ll hope for peace at the bird feeders and time for piano and reading and quiet walks in the neighborhood.

I hope that when this is behind us we’ll know that we used these days well. That we were more reflective, that we grew in tolerance and empathy, and that we became more thoughtful and appreciative of what we have. And although we may still say that, as a nation, we could have done better, I hope, that as people, we’ll say that we got it just about right.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

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May 20

It is really interesting to take a look at what is happening around the world. This is a global pandemic but we clearly don’t have a global response.

As I said yesterday, I’m disappointed we aren’t doing more. Instead, we seem determined to let our disagreements with China become the story of the US global message rather being leaders ourselves in responding to the crisis.
China’s answer to our attacks is to offer $2 billion to the global response effort and to announce it will send doctors and material to help nations in need. Might they be seeking to shift the focus from their own failures to be forthcoming at the outset of the epidemic? Yes, indeed. That may be part of the motivation.

But, nonetheless, on the global stage they are still seen as leading, caring, and responding. We are invisible. The Chinese are the ones calling for a committed global response and, no matter the “why,” they are stepping up as a global leader. They sound like how the US USED to sound. They are assuming the role we USED to play.

At the end of the day, there are many desperate nations that will welcome and applaud the Chinese aid and leadership. And we should be glad that they are helping, no matter what, because this is a global problem that threatens and affects us all. But I can’t help but feel frustration and anxiety when I see China rising to the role that our nation so often played in the past.

We already ceded the leadership on climate change to China and to others who are more committed and concerned than us. (Or at least more committed and concerned than this administration). And now we are ceding the leadership on one of the greatest health crises of our time. And in the long run, that does not advance our interest, it does not protect or advance our values, and it does not strengthen our voice and influence in global fora. Instead, it diminishes us. And it hurts to see that.

The President, I know, wants to put the best face on our response and on the administration’s efforts. That’s what politicians do. But, if we’re intellectually honest, we know we have fared poorly.

And we can see that most clearly when we start to look around and see where nations have succeed and where they have failed. I know that every nation is different in terms of cultural, social, economic and other conditions. But that only goes so far in explaining why we haven’t done as well as others. .

Look at New Zealand’s remarkable success. If we adjust for population differences our total infections would be at 109,000 if we had controlled infections as well as they did.
Instead we are at 1.5 million and counting.

Or, let’s look at Australia. Again, adjusting for population, if we had controlled our infection rate as well as they did, we would have had only 90,500 infections. We have more than 15 times that number. Australia has had 99 deaths from COVID-19. If we had done as well as they have we would have had 1,217 (more or less). We have lost over 92,000 lives so far.

What did Australia do?

Even though the government there is seen as very “Trumpian” in their world view, and in the past, gleefully attacked scientists and liberalism and labor and more, the Prime Minster and his government did the unthinkable — at least in terms of modern American political. They set aside ideology and partisanship.

Here’s a bit from an opinion piece by Richard Flanagan that was published in the (gasp) New York Times. (Yes… I confess… I read the NYT, that hotbed of “fake news.”).

In Australia… “Scientists were respectfully asked for their views about the novel coronavirus and, more remarkable still, these views were acted on and amplified … A national cabinet was formed in which the states’ premiers (the equivalent of governors) from both the left and the right regularly met by video to plot the course of the nation through the crisis. In this way and others, a government that has been sectarian and divisive became inclusive.

“… the epidemic curve was not so much flattened as steamrollered

“The economic response was as extraordinary. Civil servants who had been told they existed to serve politics and politicians also found their expert advice heeded. A huge relief package of direct fiscal stimulus was rolled out, amounting to 10.6 percent of the country’s gross domestic product — second only in the world to Qatar’s (13 percent). Unemployment benefits were doubled, a generous (though not universal) program of wage subsidy was introduced and child care was made free — all measures that only a few months ago Mr. Morrison’s party would have pilloried as dangerous socialism.

“The stimulus plan was designed after negotiations with various civil society groups, including the trade unions. “There are no blue teams or red teams,” Mr. Morrison said in early April. “There are no more unions or bosses. There are just Australians now; that’s all that matters.”

“He thanked Sally McManus, the first woman to head Australia’s trade union movement — a socialist and feminist, a bête noire of the right and to the left of the Labor Party mainstream, Ms. McManus is an activist who allies her politics with the likes of Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn.

“It was a moment of grace, and as surreal as if Mr. Trump sought the counsel of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and then praised her.”

It can be done. There are bold and thoughtful measures that can be tried. Yes… it’s harder here. We’re very diverse. We’re horribly divided. We have wildly competing visions of who we are and who we should be as a nation. But we COULD do better. We SHOULD have done better.

And now? Now it appears that we’re willing to risk a higher number of infections and deaths to reopen the economy but we aren’t willing — at least the President and Senate Republicans aren’t willing — to give more assistance to the states, to give more help to those who are unemployed, or to take any of the bold measures that Australia has. We’ve already seen deficits soar to record levels under the administration, in large measure due to the Trump tax cuts (that sure didn’t make much difference for us… how about you?). But now, when there’s a compelling argument to protect jobs — including public safety jobs and public service jobs (like teachers) at the local level — we are told we can’t “bail out” the people who paid the taxes the federal government relies on. Hmmm.

The bottom line from the President and McConnell and others is “let’s not rush to support families in distress. Let’s not worry about things like child care etc. Nope… somehow, the economy will miraculously right itself and all will be ok… much like the idea that the virus would miraculously disappear.” Hmmmm. Again. How’d that “disappearing virus thing” work out for us? Not so great? Well, maybe THIS time the miracle approach will work. Maybe.

Perhaps Australia isn’t a perfect parallel for us. And I’ll admit that the Congress and the White House have supported some relief efforts — they haven’t totally ignored the need. But I’ll hope you’ll forgive me if the lack of a bold vision and coherent action leaves me disheartened and angry.

And sadly, the unity that characterized Australia’s response seems impossible here when bitter partisanship is the routine fare offered by the President every time he opens his mouth. Is he frustrated by the equally bitter attacks on him from his opponents? Probably so. But he’s the president. He’s supposed to rise above. He’s supposed to set aside ego and personal hurt and anger and lead — especially in a time of crisis. He may not think it fair, but that’s the way it works. That’s what leaders do.

I don’t want to live in Australia. I don’t even want to live in New Zealand (though, as my cover photo and the pics below attest, it’s a lovely country with great vegan options!). America is my home. And I’ve been honored to serve our nation. But we have lost our way. And we’re paying the price every day during this pandemic. And this is a tragedy we’ll be long in recovering from.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

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May 19

Well… here we are. Day 75 since we chose to consciously step back, socially distance, etc. I’ve become hand-washing adept, have multiple made-to-order masks, a good stash of gloves, and a very well established routine here at home. I’ve also got dogs that are spoiled by having their people at their beck and call constantly.

When the year began, our expectations were so different. I had a series of lectures to prepare, there were multiple trips on the horizon, a book launch in Nepal, and so much more. There was a lot to do. We were ready. And we still are… we’re just not sure for what or when.

We’ll sort it out, day by day and week by week. We’ll continue to learn, adapt, and get by. It’s all good. It really is. We’re incredibly fortunate, and we know that there are so many who suffer with far greater challenges than we do. How can we complain?

Of course, there is the craziness that we’re all dealing with that does make it all a bit harder. What do we do when the President says he is self-medicating with a drug that his own experts have cautioned about, have urged that it be used with care only in a hospital setting, and only for patients with pronounced disease? Does it make sense to you? I’m having a bit of trouble with that one.

Quite simply, WHY, the President would choose to use a drug that can, in some cases, be deadly, that can complicate heart problems, cause hallucinations, etc., as a COVID-19 preventative — even though no medical professional believes it works for that — is beyond me. But then, why should today be any different in terms of trying to put a rational spin on the inexplicable choices of the President? It’s just another day in Trump world.

And meanwhile, there is more we learn every day about the disease that further changes and challenges our understanding of it. Have you heard of “COVID Toe?” I hadn’t. But apparently teens and young adults are presenting with itching or blistered skin on their toes. It is the only symptom they have but it turns out its related to COVID-19 infections. Yet another strange turn in this saga. It’s crazy.

And we can’t ignore the fact that, within the week, we will have lost over 100,000 of our fellow citizens to this disease. And it keeps coming at us. New cases per day had been pretty much in the 20,000-25,000 range for the past week or so. Yesterday it was about 32,000. If 10,000 of those cases are due to folks rushing to reopen, that could translate into about 500 additional deaths down the road, (the fatality rate seems to be running at about 5% for diagnosed cases here in the US).

Those are deaths that arguably could have been avoided had we waited a bit longer to open bars, and hair salons, and beaches and more. And if, due to premature reopening, we end up with 300,000 to 500,000 more cases that would have been the case, that could translate into 15,000 to 25,000 additional deaths. Deaths that we could have avoided with patience and care (and if we had listened to the experts). I’m not predicting or modeling what will happen — I don’t have that kind of expertise — but with lots of time on our hands and information to consider you can’t help but speculate. And seldom do the facts lead to highly positive scenarios.

We saw a report this AM about the impact of the disease in Ecuador. It was disturbing to hear about the number of deaths and the inability of the government to manage. Bodies were being left on the streets, at doors of hospitals and morgues. We saw a society unable to cope. And it’s scary and there are other countries in that boat. Certainly, the challenges of this disease are not confined to the US. Numbers are starting to gain steam in Africa. South Africa is now over 16,000 cases. Nigeria and Ghana are about 7,000 each. North Africa is seeing similar numbers. The Congo has 1,500 confirmed cases, but you have to believe that the numbers there are much higher than we know and that puts its multiple neighbors at growing risk.

I’d love to see us acting… leading… on these issues on the global stage. It’s in our interest to do so and, as one of the wealthiest nations on the planet, it seems to me we have a responsibility as well. Instead, we are pointing fingers. Blaming China. Threatening to cut ALL support for the World Health Organization. And then, when we’re doing trying to shift attention to other’s failings rather than addressing our own challenges, what will we do? Be an island onto ourselves? Ignore the suffering? Tell those nations who reach out for our help that they should ask the WHO?

At times like this, leadership makes all the difference. How we choose to lead, the values we prioritize, the messages we send, the compassion and empathy and courage that we demonstrate — it all matters. Truly.

Right now, I don’t see the empathy or the compassion I hope for. I don’t see the courage or the vision we need. And the values that are being prioritized are not ones I share.

So I wait. And I hope. And I do what I can. And I like to believe, if we all try, if we all care, if we all act, and if we all care for each other, then our leadership will be seen, our values will be reflected, and our hopes for the future will not all be lost.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

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May 18

Yesterday, I chose to publish some op-ed cartoons that captured some of the commentary surrounding COVID-19. Thought it would be a nice change. And on a day when I was pressed for time (working on the growing challenges posed by the virus in Nepal and exploring ways for our Foundation to help) the cartoons were a good way to go.

Besides, I was at a loss, and I still am, when it comes to reporting on this virus at the moment. We’re hearing less and less from the medical experts and more from the spin doctors. We hear the president’s supporters spending their time attacking the CDC… seemingly blaming them for the deaths we’ve seen… while also suggesting that the problem is worse in America because of US. WE, they suggest, are an unhealthy bunch with all sorts of co-morbidities and THAT is why we’re dying at higher rates than other countries. Not a failure of planning. Not a failure of delayed action. Not a failure related to leadership. It’s our fault for being less healthy than the average German, or South Korean, etc. An interesting take. Great messaging to people who are already worried about the disease.

It feels like blame shifting is going into high gear. And that’s irritating as can be. We don’t have time for that. We still have a virus to fight. Or are we focusing instead on fighting an election? It’s starting to feel that way.

Meanwhile, case numbers are down some places… up others. No one knows if it’s because of more testing, as some places reveal more infections and not enough in other places. Will there be post-reopening surges or were we worried for nothing? Is it OK for folks to resume work? Do old folks (like me) exercise continued caution? What WILL we do about schools or other things that bring us together?

Is “it depends” really an OK answer? Is having 50 states, countless cities and counties, all making choices based on their own understanding, their own numbers, and their own priorities really going to work for us as a nation? Ugh. All I know, is that I’m more confused than enlightened when I try to sort out the abundance of articles that appear daily. Meanwhile, the tone we hear from the administration is ever more petulant and besieged.

So, as we start another week in these very uncertain times I hope that you will, as always…

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

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May 17

Today a different kind of coronavirus journal entry, but they say that a picture is worth 1000 words..

May 16

It’s a beautiful Saturday morning here in Haymarket. We were up early to make “senior hour” at Whole Foods and were impressed by how many of the shoppers — the vast majority — were wearing masks. We did what we needed to, scored hand sanitizer — an unexpected bonus — and even dropped a few items we picked up for our daughter off at her place so we could visit with her, and the grandkids, from the porch.

We got the groceries put away, had breakfast and coffee, and then it was a dog walk. Not long — a mile and a quarter — but long enough. They enjoyed it and we did, too.

The day will be busy. I have some work to do for our non-profit. I have plans for the kitchen (we want more dirty rice and I’ll make a curried vegetable stew and a sticky onion tart as well. Also, a fruit salad with some of the fresh summer fruit we found today). Maybe there will be time for piano and then I can admire the additional new blooms we’re seeing come to life in the garden now that the weather is warming.

All of that is great. And it’s a distraction from the news. I forced myself to look today… and almost wished I hadn’t. The White House and CDC are fighting and it’s growing more prickly all the time. Fox continues to attack folks like Tony Fauci. A GOP congressman, taking his cue from Trump, says there’s no need to wear a mask… so he won’t. Trump is still complaining that “they” — whoever they are — are attributing too many deaths to Coronavirus, and so on, and so on.

“We’ve turned the corner” or “disaster awaits.” “We’ve done an excellent job” or “it has been a chaotic disaster.” Now, more than ever, we need to read, listen, decipher, analyze, and then form our own opinions. We need to sort fact from fiction. It’s a lot of work. And many in our nation can’t be bothered to do so.

What is even more frightening, is that those folks who live strictly on a diet of Fox News, and there are many, will be presented with a wildly different view of the world than they’d find if they’d make the effort to be more broadly informed. And that narrow slice of the world that they see only further inspires their partisanship and fans the flames of the culture war that is underway.

It can be equally troubling true with those who watch only CNN or MSNBC. We are divided, and the upcoming election will only fuel the anger and division. And the outrageously partisan actions that will inevitably be part of the campaign will further inflame passions on both sides of the divide. I won’t say our nation has never been so divided, but I think that the underlying divisions are greater than anything I have seen in my lifetime… greater than the harsh differences of the Vietnam era that served as a backdrop for sharp disagreements on race, gender, and our core values as a nation.

We’ve been watching this gulf between our citizens growing wider with each passing year, for a decade or more. And unfortunately, the questions we must resolve to manage this pandemic fall squarely into the middle of that gulf. Worse yet, with the electoral campaign looming, our pandemic responses will be used to define us and place us on one side or the other of the cultural battles that will be central to this election. It’s an ugly place to be.

For the pandemic response, we need facts and rational decision-making driven by science. We’re going to get sound bites, slogans, and lies about where we are and where we have been.

Rational discourse is one of the first casualties when politics becomes a blood sport. The spectators want to hear their own prejudices, fears, and anger reflected back to them by the gladiators that they have chosen to support. Anything less seems like thin gruel and, inevitably, both sides become more bitterly partisan. It’s a vicious circle.

I don’t know how we find our way back from these divides. I don’t know how we heal as a nation. Maybe we won’t, but I hope we will. Though I think it will have to be a younger generation that has to take us there. New ideas for new times. The world is changing and the coronavirus will change it further. It’s one more element reshaping our future.

But, perhaps before we can reinvent ourselves, we have to live through the death throes of an era that can no longer exist alongside the social, technological, economic, demographic, and cultural changes that are transforming us.
Maybe this virus will actually accelerate our national transition and make us better prepared to cope with this new world which we are just starting to explore. Maybe.

But, today, confusion reigns. Disorder, division and disagreement dominate daily discourse. So, a glimpse of the news was all I needed. I’m going back into my “zen Saturday mode.” The TV and radio are off. My energy is needed for other things. Leija snapped the pic below of me trying to find that “zen” and suggested I share it. And so I will.

Have a wonderful Saturday and, as always…

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

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May 15

There’s some good news… maybe. It’s iffy. Still, I’ll take it and be glad to end the week on a positive note.

Infection numbers, overall, are coming down. We’ve dropped from around 29,000 to 21,000 new cases per day over the past week. There seems to be a clear trend at the moment. Deaths have dropped, as well, from 2,000 a day a week ago to 1,700+ yesterday. Losing that many people every day is still tragic, but movement in the right direction is good news. So let’s be glad of that. At least for today.

I worry though, that folks will see this as a green light. That they’ll say “see, we KNEW it was ok to reopen.” And stupid will become stupider — if you know what I mean. We need to understand and remember that numbers we’re seeing today are a reflection of what was happening two or three weeks ago. We know there’s a lag. There has been throughout the crisis.

So, after watching folks flood the bars in Wisconsin, and after so many states are changing the rules of engagement, and folks are going out — mask-less in many cases — to have a good time, I have to wonder where we will be in a few weeks. It isn’t as though these folks are responsibly just trying to go back to work while still being smart about the challenges. That I could at least respect.

Instead, we see images that look as though there are tons of people out there deliberately acting out… deliberating ignoring all the warnings and advice as if they are daring all of us worriers — and COVID-19 — to stop them.

They’re all pretty pleased with themselves. They probably shouldn’t be. One of the late night comics suggested that the “folks at coronavirus HQ must be pretty pleased, too.” And, if the virus had such emotions, I think that’s the way it would be feeling. I think it would look at folks cheek-by-jowl in the bar and say “mmmm… more easy pickings.” But viruses don’t plot and scheme… they don’t revel in our stupidity or carelessness. They just “are.” They exist, and they wait, and they keep on going, as long as there are targets of opportunity. They can be implacable and enduring and deadly.

So, as pleased as all these revelers may be with themselves, perhaps they shouldn’t be. And, although I hope that when the current situation is reflected in the numbers three weeks from now, we’ll still be on a downward slope… forgive me if I worry. My problem is that I trust in science, and what the medical experts say suggests that we’re just setting ourselves up for failure. They aren’t infallible and maybe there are factors they don’t understand yet that will change the calculations. I’ll wait and see, but won’t be visiting the bars quite yet — even if they did open here.

But, just for today, let’s be relieved that there’s no horrible new story to dwell on.

OK… let me walk that back a bit. I know there are plenty of outrageous and horrible things we COULD dwell on. I just don’t have the energy or desire to do it.

I want to focus on the fact that it’s a beautiful day. One of the warmest of the year, so far. I’m even wearing shorts and sandals. Kick back and enjoy it (in a socially distanced way). In the yard, we’ve got one azalea that has gloriously bloomed, and another about to match it. One of the peonies is about to pop with multiple flowers. The grass seed has germinated, the wildflower seeds we sowed are coming up, and nature is alive and well, today, in our back yard.

I’m just going to add… Happy Friday. Enjoy the weekend. I’m going to go recharge my batteries. See you tomorrow

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

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May 14

Things these days seem increasingly odd. Strange might also apply. Or weird. Or just good old, “corona-crazy.”

You know we’re in a strange place when over a million people can join a facebook group “where we all pretend to be ants.” I had to look at that one … and that led me into a region of facebook that is scarier than the dark web. Groups where “we all speak gibberish and pretend to understand each other.” Groups where “we can only say ‘Egg’ (I just don’t get how that works). And countless others. Like I said … coronacrazy.

We have folks giving lectures to their cats on the coronavirus, other’s creating restaurants for squirrels, and the employer who did an entire TEAMs meeting as a potato … apparently he couldn’t figure out how to turn that function off on app.

Yep … there are so many more signs that the apocalypse is near. Or, if I was newscaster, I’d say the coronapocalyse. (We’ll be hearing it used soon, I’m sure. Probably already has been.)

So, with plenty of people with too much time at home turning to ever odder ways to amuse themselves, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that even the President, encouraged by the Svengalis in the conservative press, have accelerated the pace at which they’re leading us around the bend.

I know that the President’s advocates will take exception to that statement — and his detractors will argue that this is way-old news. But today, I have to at least vent somewhere when it seems so very apparent that his desperation to sell the “transition to greatness” argument (yeah … I know … it sounds kind of creepy) is leading
him farther than ever from a grounding in reality and science.

If you want to make the case that it’s all okay — as he is trying to do — and that our fight against the coronavirus has been a success, you do things like claiming that the number of reported deaths is inflated. The reality? Well, by every account I’ve seen, the number is UNDER-reported. Perhaps significantly.

Or to support your case you might tell the nation that we and Germany have the lowest number of fatalities per capita in the world. That’s PROOF we’re doing great — isn’t it?. But we aren’t, and we don’t. As of May 11, the U.S. had 24.66 deaths per 100,000 people — more than two times higher than Germany (9.24 deaths per 100,000), and the 11th highest rate out of the more than 140 countries tracked by Johns Hopkins University.

But that’s okay… if that approach fails you can try, as the President has, to blame it on Obama. Yes, indeed. As we struggle with the greatest public health crisis to affect our nation and our planet (over 300,000 have now died globally) we see our president turn to the tried and true approach (for him) of “distract and deflect.” It’s all because of Obamagate, he says. Obama should be forced to testify before Congress about the crimes he committed against the Trump administration.

Here’s one of his latest exchanges with a journalist on this current fantasy:

RUCKER: You appeared to accuse Obama of a crime yesterday. What did he do?

TRUMP: “Obamagate.”

RUCKER: What is the crime?

TRUMP: “You know what the crime is. The crime is very obvious to everybody.”

Except, of course, it isn’t. And there is no crime. However, something IS very obvious here… it’s just not about the previous president. It’s about this one and his reliance on falsehoods and innuendo. It’s about his predilection to blame anyone (or everyone)el se. It’s about his seeming belief that if we shift the attention maybe people won’t notice that we’ll have over 86,000 people who have died by tomorrow. And maybe we’ll forget that the number could, by may accounts, have been much lower… that we COULD have been among the lowest fatality rates in the world instead of among the highest, if we had acted earlier and more thoughtfully.

If ‘Obamagate’ fails to distract, what else can we do? How about scapegoating? Whose fault is all of this? Just ask FOX news… they’ll tell you. It’s Dr. Anthony Fauci. He’s “deep state.” Sean Hannity says he’s working with the Democrats. He’s the “chief buffoon of the professional class” according to Tucker Carlson.

And, not for the first time, the President is choosing to take his cues from these pundits… from these stellar journalists who aren’t at all fake news (even when everyone else who works in media is).

The President says he totally disagrees with Fauci when it comes to reopening schools. And he says that Fauci’s concerns that a premature reopening and disregard for the realities of infectious disease theory may lead to much more pain and suffering and needless deaths is not “acceptable” to him.

Let me say that again. The answers of one of our nation’s leading experts on infectious disease, which are grounded in science and medicine and echoed by numerous other experts in infectious disease, are not “acceptable” to the President.

The President says he sees no reason not to reopen. He assures us that kids aren’t that vulnerable. It will all be fine. Except it may not. I know enough to know that this is a complex question. I know enough to appreciate that his requires great care and thought. And I believe that the lives of our kids, their teachers, their parents and grandparents, and of so many others shouldn’t be dismissed with a cavalier answer and an unswerving march towards the “transition to greatness.

Tony Fauci told Rand Paul the other day that we must be both humble and careful on these issues. But that approach, too, is not acceptable, I guess, to the President.

Dr. Fauci has served us for decades. Multiple presidents. Through many frightening medical challenges. He has offered his expertise and experience and served with honor and distinction. And now there are those who would tar and feather and label him a partisan and a game player because it suits their political agenda to do so. Once, I would have been shocked. Appalled. But not these days. These day’s that’s the norm. It is what happens if you disagree. It’s what happens when you speak truth to power. It is disheartening. It is sad. But, sadly, it is no longer a shock when it happens. It’s commonplace.

So, we may as well all get the potato-head app. We may as well all pretend we are ants. Because in this coronacrazy world, facts aren’t facts, science can be dismissed, and we are expected to just believe that the man behind the curtain really is the great and powerful OZ.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy

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May 13

So… here we are. Another hump day. It would be nice if we could say that we were over the hump in terms of the global pandemic but we can’t. Certainly, when we look at the worldwide graphs, numbers are on the rise. And here in the U.S. we’re still at a very high plateau but cases are almost certain to tick up.

All we have to do is look around the world. China, South Korea, Germany, Iran and other nations are seeing new spikes — in some cases very troubling spikes — following their reopening of their economies. And those nations were in a better place overall when they made the decision to reopen than the we are. So what do we think will happen here?

One of the most conservative estimates, relied on by the White House, now puts the predicted number of coronavirus deaths at over 140,000 by August 4. Double what they were predicting just a couple of weeks ago. The reasons, of course, are the premature openings, the too-early relaxing of tough measures, and the lack of discipline that many people have shown.

Yesterday’s testimony by our leading experts wasn’t exactly hopeful either. Dr. Ashish Jha, Director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, said that the testimony offered neither a very coherent plan, nor ambitious goals. I think he got it about right. And Dr. Fauci reminded us that, despite some of our positive efforts (and there are some) and the plateauing of cases (and downward trend in some states), we do not have this disease under control. The potential for spikes and new waves is certainly there, as we see elsewhere in the world, and it’s hard to believe we won’t be talking about that in the US in the coming weeks.

The most troubling element in the testimony was the testing discussion. As Senator Romney said, even if we have NOW surpassed South Korea in per capita testing, the problem is that South Korea acted at the start of their outbreak — when it was critical to getting things under control fast. We are months later in the process.

And now our testing has to focus differently. It has to focus on containment… ensuring workplaces are safe and schools are safe. It has to be frequent and at such a high volume that we can routinely and regularly test the workforce if we are going to keep new waves and spikes from appearing. And for that, we are once again, behind the curve. God, I wish I could put a rosy spin on this. I wish I could proudly say we’re getting it right because THAT’S the America I feel like I grew up with… we “got it done.” But we’re not.

Admiral Giroir said that “if all goes well” (hmmmm) we should be able to test 40 million a month by September. That’s 1.3 million people a day. Seems like a lot. Except the experts keep saying we need to test somewhere between 5 million and 20 million a day to really have control. With Giroir’s numbers that means that we’d test every American once every 8-10 months which, with a fast moving pandemic isn’t going to cut it.

I know we may not be able to afford or manage the 20 million a day number. I know we’re going to have to accept a level of risk. But where do we strike the balance? And, if we aren’t even going to be able to test one million people a day for months yet, where is the logic in the rush to reopen? What sort of problems are we setting ourselves up for? As an Ambassador, I always tried to link our vision and our values and offer a coherent narrative. To me, that’s what continues to be missing. ‘Neither a coherent plan, nor ambitious goals.’ That about sums it up.

What else can we talk about? How about the horrible impact of the virus on the most vulnerable — it impact on minorities, on immigrants, on undocumented residents in our nation? There’s reporting on all of it, but most of us don’t feel the sense of outrage at this particularly deadly reminder that, in a ‘land of opportunity’ that professes to believe in equality and human dignity for all, we are failing those for whom the promise of the American dream was so compelling. We’d rather not be reminded — I know. But we can’t turn our faces away from the fundamental divides along racial lines that define physical and economic well-being for so many in this country. And we need to not only acknowledge we are failing those who are most vulnerable but then we need to act. To change this.

I know that Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and AOC are too progressive for many in our country, but there is a reason that so many were inspired by them and flocked to support them. They spoke honestly about our need to address these inequalities that existed before, but are now highlighted more starkly, by COVID-19, and to act.

We’ll all be better served to address these issues now, together, but we probably won’t. Instead, further social and political upheaval will lie ahead. We’re in for a rocky ride, I think, if we aren’t able to return to the type of nation that was able to weather the great depression, stand against fascism, create social security and medicare, pass transformational civil rights legislation, and do so much more.

I recognize not all those programs and policies were perfect. I know we have failed at time in implementation at times and we all can see that the struggle for racial equality is far from over. But we have to continue to strive and we have to return to being a nation that cares… one that has a conscience, a vision, and a sense of our obligation to each other.

I wonder if we can find our way back to that kind of a country. Divisive politics, insults, name calling, blame shifting, and a refusal to take responsibility… that’s us today. What’s in it for me? That’s the mantra we hear too often.

Yesterday, two young guys ended up breaking a Target employee’s arm in an assault after they were asked to wear facemasks. A young black man jogging was gunned down by a white man and his son in a heinous act of racial terrorism. And yet at the national level many of our leaders ignore or deflect. There is no outrage. No passion. No effort to find a teachable moment in any of the tragedy we see. No effort to shift the discourse constructively or to focus on who we should be.

Ugh. Sorry for carrying on. But only a little. This is where my thoughts take me as I look at the challenges posed by this virus. I care about our country. Truly and deeply. Almost 40 years of service can do that to you. But we must be better. There have been many mistakes made in our handling of the COVID-19 crisis. They have cost lives, and they are tragic, but we have to find ways to move one. And we will.

But we cannot continue to betray the fundamental values that gave shape to our nation and we cannot abandon the principles that have guided us — been our lodestone — throughout our sometimes-contentious, but often-deeply inspiring, history.

It’s up to each of us to define our future. To put us back on track. I hope we’re up to the task.

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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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May 11

I started writing this daily journal two months ago. Time flies. One measure of its passage is the growth of my beard which, with my wife’s support and encouragement, has been essentially untouched by scissors or clipper for the entire time. (As the accompanying picture will show).

So… where are we two months later? When I started writing there were not even 1,000 deaths from COVID-19. Today we’re at over 80,000. And the projections continue to edge up. Now we’re looking at 137,000 by August 4, and other models suggest that the number will be much higher.

The trendines are still worrisome. We have plateaued and continue to see new cases in the 25,000 – 28,000 range every day. What’s troubling is that the downward slope we see in nations that have been deemed “successful” is not evident in our graphs. Deaths per day have dropped some, which is good, but, there’s no trend line yet… fingers crossed on that front.

Meanwhile, the impact on kids that we’re starting to see and that I mentioned yesterday, is scary. Three kids have died now in New York. 70 more are infected. And we’re seeing it in other states too. Also scary, and enlightening, are the many thoughtful articles that highlight how the disease is spread, and another on the sheer craziness of how insidious this disease is in attacking the body. I’ll put a couple of links in the comment following this post.

Other news? The President’s valet and the VP’s press secretary testing positive is sparking a lot of media coverage. It’s too hot of a topic to ignore for the press, even though there may be more important stories. Still, the seemingly discombobulated response (I don’t get to use that word often but it fits here!) is illustrative. Understandably, White House staffers are concerned. They are worried, but not sure what to do. The medical professionals like the CDC and FDA directors are in self-quarantine. So is Dr. Fauci. The President and the VP won’t wear masks. Staff don’t know whose example to follow. And neither does the nation. That’s part of the problem.

Disjointed and unclear vision and leadership have plagued us from day one. They still do. And we don’t have enough testing still to know what we’re facing. The more we test, the more we find — the governor of Illinois said that’s why his state’s numbers were rising. Not really new cases… just cases being found because they’re testing more.

But we’re still not ready for the massive testing that should accompany reopening. In South Korea one man visited three night clubs one evening. He didn’t wear a mask. Days later he tested positive and during his night out he infected 84 people. Because South Korea is doing intensive testing, they found him. Because they are contact tracing aggressively, they identified those he infected. And because they are determined to stop a resurgence, they shut down bars and nightclubs again indefinitely.

South Korea had the public health capacity and the testing and tracing mechanisms in place to identify the hot spot. We cannot, I think, say the same yet in the US. We certainly haven’t done it in the meat processing plants that have emerged as hotbeds and I don’t believe we have the capacity to do it in the states that are aggressively reopening and, in the process, also reopening the doors to incipient hot spots. The numbers in the next few weeks will tell us more.

That’s what Monday, May 11 looks like here in Haymarket.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

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May 10

Happy Mother’s Day to all. And as we deal with this COVID-19 virus we can, I hope, nonetheless have a day of celebration where we focus on those we love, those who have made difference in our lives.

We’ll likely talk with Tony and Nat, and Joe and Jess (in Texas and Minnesota) today and will see Tjiama and Joe and the grandkids today. And, yes, we’ll do it the right way. We’ll sit outside, let the kids play in the yard with the dogs, and we’ll keep our distance, but we will be together. We’ll figure it out. As we all do. This is part of our new reality and it will continue for months. We’ll all find our new normals, we’ll determine our comfort with risk, and we’ll carry on.

I can’t even begin to predict the “how” and “when” of this. We will take it as it comes. But today the realities — as we understand them — dictate that we stay careful. And so we will.

That’s it. I’m going to spend some time with my favorite mother… and wife… Leija. We’ve got some new blossoms on plants inside and outside to further brighten a sunny day. It’s all good.

And, as I prepare to enjoy a “family day,” my thoughts turn as well to my Mom. She’s been gone for over four years now but she’s often in my thoughts. I think of those seniors who are sick and alone and scared. I think of those who have died without their children able to be with them, and I’m glad Mom, who was in a care facility, didn’t have to deal with that and I know now what a gift it was to be able to be with her — to sit vigil with her in her final days — and to be with her when she passed.

So, let me close with a poem that my Mom used to read to me when I was a little boy. It made her smile… and it makes me smile today to read it again.

If I Only Was the Fellow

While walking down a crowded
City street the other day,
I heard a little urchin
To a comrade turn and say,
‘Say Chimmey lemme tell youse
I’d be happy as a clam
If only I was de feller dat
Me mudder t’inks I am.’‘

She t’inks I am a wonder,
An’ she knows her little lad
Could never mix wit’ nuttin’
Dat was ugly, mean or bad.
Oh, lot o’ times I sit and t’ink
How nice, ’twould be, gee whiz!
If a feller was de feller
Dat his mudder t’inks he is.’

My friends, be yours a life of toil
Or undiluted joy,
You can learn a wholesome lesson
From that small, untutored boy.
Don’t aim to be an earthly saint
With eyes fixed on a star:
Just try to be the fellow that
Your mother thinks you are.

Will S. Adkin

Happy Mothers Day!

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

May 9

So here were are… another weekend. It’s a blustery day today… another freeze warning for tonight. So we’re keeping the basil and the more sensitive garden plants covered yet again. Our azaleas are coming to life though… one is covered with pink blooms and the others aren’t too far behind. All the peony needs is one warm day and that, too, will burst into flower. The two new peonies may… or may not bloom this year. Hoping that they might.

Today felt like a Saturday should. We haven’t turned on the TV or the radio. We’ve been doing chores. I tackled house-cleaning. Leija has dishes duty and is finishing her mask making. Every now and then it’s nice to just get it all clean and, if not sparkling, at least presentable. It feels good. And I’ll confess the house probably needed more than a “lick and a promise” as my mother would have said.

Got that done. Got the bird feeders refilled. The starlings are pretty greedy… but they have to eat too, I guess. The woodpeckers, finches, chickadees, bluebirds, and mocking birds enjoy the refilled feeders, too, as do the sparrows and the occasional nuthatch or jay. We think the hummers are hiding out to stay warm. Saw one a couple days ago on a warmer day.

It was nice to not think about the news. What there is can be disheartening. We’re still pretty much where we have been. Divided, confused, and unsure of what comes next. By Monday, 47 states will have taken some steps to begin reopening… they vary tremendously, but the wheels are turning. At the same time, in the latest poll we still have two-thirds of the respondents scared, worried, and believing we’re moving too fast. If that’s so, it makes you wonder who is driving the train… what is motivating them?

I don’t think that concern for the best public health outcomes is part of their bottom line. Will we see a repeat of the disastrous outcome of the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic because of these premature openings? That’s the worry. Now we wait.

Meanwhile, today we will pass 80,000 deaths. Just a few weeks ago we didn’t think we’d reach that level until September. It’s only May 9. What does that portend? No one talks much about it now. More deaths are indeed the quid pro quo that many are willing to accept to get the economy moving again but, as I said before, I wonder who is going to benefit most. I wonder how many workers who are going back into workplaces where their safety is uncertain think that is a trade-off worth making. But they may not have a choice. It all kind of sucks. (That may not be me at my most elegant, but I think it captures the moment nicely.)

And, if we want something new to be concerned about, there are the increasing number of cases of children having much delayed but very severe inflammatory shock reactions to exposure to COVID-19. The numbers aren’t out of control but they’re growing and we’re seeing them in New York, Louisiana, and other states that were early hot spots. Only a few deaths, but each loss of life… whether a child, a young adult, a health worker, or a senior… carries with it its own tale of love, of loss, and of the pain and sorrow for those left behind. There are too many such tales and we will still hear tens of thousands more in the months ahead. That’s what we can’t forget. This isn’t just a paper exercise or something to debate on the news shows… this is tragedy and pain and sorrow every day for families like any of ours. Again… it kind of sucks.

I’ll stop here. The chores are done. Time to relax a bit. We even have food ready… I cooked yesterday. Massaman curry and black dal and some vegan Thai kebabs. For us, that’s comfort food. So we’ll let the rest of the day find its own rhythm and we’ll settle into that weekend mindset. Hope you will too.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

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May 8

We walked the dogs early this morning. A good way to start the day. It’s cool, overcast, and they say we’ll see rain. So all the more reason to give the pups a chance to greet the day before weather keeps us cooped up.

The somber sky seems to match the economic news. The latest unemployment numbers are the worst since we started to keep systematic records in 1948. Over 14%.

Many of those affected believe that their jobs are still there and they will be rehired — fairly soon they hope. Economists are offering cautionary words, though. And so much could be affected by whether the virus is resurgent forcing states to order new shutdowns or restrictions.

Over 40 states are now in process of reopening to some degree. Very few have come close to meeting the guidelines that were, at one time, being discussed as conditions precedent to a safe reopening. No one talks about the guidelines now. Hope is the strategy. Hope that it will be ok. Hope that not too many will die. Hope that the numbers won’t surge and force a new round of closures. Hope that they guessed right.

I was always taught that “hope” isn’t a strategy. I think that is still true. But, to be fair, I don’t know what the answer is.

The economic costs are staggering. The personal costs are devastating. Setting aside the idiots who talk about their “rights” and who have made this another battle in the culture war, there really are some difficult balances to be struck.

There are risks associated with any course. If families lose their livelihoods, if kids aren’t going to have dinner tonight, if moms and dads are in despair, how do we help them. But if in letting them reopen their salon, or restaurant, or even their tattoo parlor, we expand the numbers who are at risk of illness and death, well… how do we help and protect them?

People will suffer no matter what. Do we let folks lose their jobs and incomes? Let folks whose life savings are in a small business precariously poised on the brink of failure see everything disappear? But already we worry that an additional 60,000 or 70,000 may die from the virus because we couldn’t wait. What about their risk? What about the loss to their families?

Everyone is hurting and there’s not a good answer. I don’t envy the policy makers. No decision is going to be popular with everyone. But it’s not about being popular. It’s about doing what we elected them to do. Make the hard decisions. Exercise their best judgment. Listen to their experts and then act out of conviction that you’re choosing the right path not out of political expediency or wishful thinking.

Hope may not be strategy but I’ll hope nonetheless that your weekend is great, your hearts light, and that you have someone who cares sharing this journey with you in person or just a ZOOM call away.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay well.

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May 7

This morning, when I let the dogs out, both Lo Khyi and Gyptse made a mad dash for the top corner of the yard where they had their encounter with the possum a few weeks ago. They do this every day, perhaps thinking that they will have another chance to demonstrate their prowess against the forest critters whose scent taunts them when we go for walks.

The pups are creatures of habit. Seeking out the same enemy to fight again and again. I don’t want to be like them. I don’t want to sit down to write and seek out the same old negative stories or complaints. But I open the news and am smacked in the face with a new bit of “crazy” and I can’t help but comment.

These issues aren’t just about insults to our dignity, like a possum invading their turf is for my dogs.

Each new bit of “crazy” puts people at risk. People like our son and his partner who are essential workers at their jobs in Minnesota… one of the nation’s hotbeds right now for COVID-19.

Or people like our daughter who may be back teaching “live” in her classroom in the fall. Or our grandkids as they go back to schools that might or might not be prepared to protect them and their families.

What is the latest bit of crazy? Well, first the administration first asked the CDC to formulate a set of guidelines for intelligent and safe reopening of businesses, schools, places of worship and more. That was good.

But then, after receiving the report prepared by some of our leading experts on infectious diseases and how to mitigate their risks, it has chosen to neither use it nor share it.

As a result will we have fifty states with fifty strategies with fifty different standards? Will there be no effort to provide a national vision, guidance, or direction on how to tackle these challenges?

That’s what it looks like. I won’t belabor the risks of premature and uncoordinated approaches that I’ve talked about in other posts. But I have to conclude that this is — in my opinion at least — an appalling abdication of leadership when courageous leadership is needed more than ever.. It is irresponsible and shocking and a failure we can ill afford.

Sadly, however, it is not surprising. All of our experience of the past few years would lead me to conclude that this decision is most likely because the President and those around him don’t like the science. They don’t want to let nasty irritating facts get in the way of their decision making about the economy.

The President wants to go back to how things were three months ago. He doesn’t want to have us accept a new normal that is… new. He wants it to be the way it was. Not different. That’s what he said and we should probably take him at his word..

And so, to get back to “before” he and his team will make decisions unburdened by facts or by science. Decisions that seem to value the level of the stock market far more than the lives and safety of the workers they are urging to return to workplaces unburdened by the nagging nudge of CDC guidelines on safety.

After a while, this starts to seem like it’s just a numbers game to the administration. One where we write off another 60,000 deaths as “just the cost” of doing business — a price we pay to reopen the economy. Each of those numbers though is a father, or mother, or sister, or brother, or child. Each has value that we have an obligation to consider.

This disease will take more lives, no matter what we do. I know that. And I know that not every death is about someone screwing up. Bad things are happening. But we don’t need to recklessly exacerbate the problem. That, however, is exactly what we seem to be doing in pursuit of “getting back to where we were” without carefully calibrated decision-making on how to most effectively restore the nation’s economic health while protecting our physical well-being.

From my perspective, the vision for the economic reopening seems is as clouded as the vision for the medical response has been. The administration’s preferred strategy seems to be a matter of lifting restrictions and hoping that jobs and sales miraculously reappear. (They might want to suggest as well that we invest in coffins… there may be a boom in sales).

Is it too much to hope for a plan? I guess so. And I guess it’s too much to hope that the CDC recommendations will be shared. And I guess it’s also too much to expect our President would have spoken out to decry folks being shot for asking others to wear masks. And I guess it’s too much to expect our leaders to set an example by wearing masks and keeping a distance when they venture into health facilities and factories to demonstrate their leadership. Obviously, I have wildly misplaced hopes and expectations.

It galls me though that at the same time the President wants men and women already struggling with the challenges before to us to be “warriors” risking themselves to reopen the economy. And he suggests we’ll all be okay, if only we are careful — if we wash our hands and keep at appropriate distances. We’ll be ok if we just do… well, if we just do all the things that our leaders apparently AREN’T willing to do. Go figure.

We don’t have a phalanx of doctors taking the temp of anyone who might enter our presence. We don’t have the luxury of testing at the drop of a hat. We don’t get to fly in our own plane, limos, etc. But we are told we should be the warriors. We should take the risks. And we should do so despite the lack of a vision, a plan, or even a chance to hear from the CDC experts our tax dollars support.

I’m sure that the administration will tell us that they have a plan. But if the disjointed, seemingly ad hoc choices they have offered so far are a plan, they have certainly failed in inspiring most of us to believe In it.

So, as long as there’s enough “crazy” out there, maybe I’ll be like the dogs and keep chasing that possum. It keeps me busy at least as I navigate in this brave new world.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

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May 6

Boy… I’m slipping. I forgot to wish you a happy Cinco de Mayo yesterday and didn’t have a margarita or anything to mark the day. Nor did I say the day before: May the 4th be with you. And as a Star Wars fan since the very beginning, I hang my head in shame for that lapse.

But maybe those failings can be excused. I was busy preparing for Giving Tuesday NOW for our work in Nepal. I was trying to keep up with this blog. Trying to keep our newly planted additions to the garden thriving (and temps will drop to near freezing again this weekend… crazy!). It’s been busy. It always is.

And the virus? The omnipresent black cloud that hangs over our world these days? It’s still there. And it is still, in many ways, a puzzle we’re still trying to solve.

This morning they are talking about its genetic variations. Hopefully, those are minor, and they seem to be, but scientists are wondering. Will this affect vaccine development? We don’t know for sure. What about this new, seemingly related, inflammatory illness that is striking children? What is it? Is it a COVID-19 related problem? Very possibly, but, again, we don’t know for sure.

More experts are worrying that in three weeks or so, after incubation periods are past and as the disease ramps up, we’ll see a surge in cases that will force states to shut down again. Again, it’s possible, but… we don’t know for sure.

Even five months into this, there’s so much that we are still uncertain of and still learning. It’s pretty amazing. There are more and more reports that this disease was around even earlier than we thought. Circulating. Infecting people who had not traveled. Been nowhere near China. Of course, this further undermines the repeated assertions that it was all due to the Chinese government letting it escape from a lab, but inconvenient facts don’t stop our leaders from making their claims anyway. That much we’ve learned on everything from birther-ism to crowd size and more.

Yes… there’s a lot that we don’t know. But what I wager a lot of us would say that we DO know is that it seems foolish as can be to be disbanding the coronavirus task force. Having dealt with crises before… having seen how responses are managed… it is so important to have experts from a range of disciplines connected within a structured framework to expedite communication, information sharing, and decision-making. Even when the leaders at the top don’t always take advantage of the assembled expertise or follow their recommendations, there is value in those experts having a forum in which they can most effectively partner.

Apparently the administration feels that they can now dispense with that tool. I don’t know what makes them think that. It is inexplicable to me. And when, even with that support, the leadership and response to this crisis has been so uneven, what will it be like in the days ahead? What will it be like if we see a resurgence?

I could offer a common refrain I use… time will tell… but I won’t. I use that often because I know I’m no expert. I want to wait and see the evidence. I want to be open-minded despite my reservations. But I don’t want to be patient or reserve my opinion today. There is no need to rush to disband. We would be better served to wait until the task force members are bored to death because it is all resolved than act too soon. Disbanding the task force is another — in my personal opinion — of the “dumber than dirt” decisions we keep having to stomach.

You may not agree and that’s perfectly fine. You don’t have to. And maybe I’ll be proven wrong. I’d actually like that. But… lol… time will tell.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

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May 5

Social distancing does NOT mean you’re not busy. And today is a case in point. So I’m going to cheat just a little on my daily blog and steal a bit from Dr. Fauci’s recent interview in National Geographic.

Among the salient points (which I would have likely written about in any event):

Anthony “Tony” Fauci has become the scientific face of America’s COVID-19 response, and he says the best evidence shows the virus behind the pandemic was not made in a lab in China.

Fauci, the director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, shot down the discussion that has been raging among politicians and pundits, calling it “a circular argument” in a conversation Monday with National Geographic.

“If you look at the evolution of the virus in bats and what’s out there now, [the scientific evidence] is very, very strongly leaning toward this could not have been artificially or deliberately manipulated… Everything about the stepwise evolution over time strongly indicates that [this virus] evolved in nature and then jumped species,” Fauci says. Based on the scientific evidence, he also doesn’t entertain an alternate theory—that someone found the coronavirus in the wild, brought it to a lab, and then it accidentally escaped.”

Trump and Pompeo keep doubling down on this. Our allies don’t buy it… they have a different view akin to Fauci’s. The scientific community doesn’t buy it… they’re with Fauci too. But science and facts don’t matter to Trump and Pompeo, I guess. They just assert that they have plenty of evidence — which no one has seen — and make their claims. It reminds me of Joe McCarthy and his red scare witch-hunt in the 50s as he waved papers about that he claimed held evidence of communists throughout government… “evidence” that was nonexistent.

So why go to the effort? To create a scapegoat. To create a target. To find someone to blame for COVID-19, instead of acknowledging the failures we’ve experienced in coping with the challenge. The problems are NOT because China didn’t tell us enough or hid information. Even if they weren’t as forthcoming as they could have been (and there is truth to that), the intelligence community, and medical community as well, gave us plenty of warning. We just didn’t listen. We didn’t act. We didn’t lead. We didn’t have a plan or a vision. And it cost us. And that’s on the Administration. Not on China. No matter how much they would like us to believe otherwise.

Dr. Fauci also stressed the importance of continuing to social distance everywhere until the case counts start to fall in cities and states. The U.S. witnessed about 20,000 to 30,000 new cases every day in the month of April, suggesting the country is stuck in its peak. He said we have to expect the disease to rebound if we keep reopening early… the only question, he said, in another interview today, is “how many deaths and how much suffering are you willing to accept to get back to your idea of normalcy?”

The projection of likely deaths has now doubled — at least according to Johns Hopkins University projections — to over 130,000 by August. Virtually all of the increases are due to what most would characterize as “premature” re-openings. That is reopening before new cases fall to a manageable level and before adequate testing is in place.

Yesterday there were again 30,000 new cases and 1700+ deaths. They expect those deaths to rise to 3,000 a day by the end of the month perhaps. What level of death is acceptable to you? Do you believe that it will be worth it? That the economy will be “greater than ever” in no time because of it? Do you believe that everyone is “eager to get back out there?”

That seems to be what the President is betting on… it’s, at least, what he says. Color me skeptical. And worried. He tells us we have the “greatest and best” testing of anywhere in the world. No. We don’t. He claimed this morning other nations are watching us with admiration and excitement. No. They’re not. He asserted that the projections of deaths were based on “no mitigation” (handwashing, etc.). We’re mitigating, he said, so we won’t reach those numbers. That’s not correct either. That was not the assumption and those levels of daily deaths are likely.

But when it happens we’ll just blame China. Or the governors. Or the Democrats… who he also claimed want us to fail and want people to die in order to win the election. Of course, he’s not being reckless about getting the economy opened so that his political fortunes improve. Naw… he’d never do that.

I look at his various claims this morning in the span of just 4-5 minutes and either he is dangerously ill-informed, totally confused about the realities, or he is deliberately lying — or all of the above.

And so starts another day in the world of COVID-19.

So, I’ll get back to work. I will add a shameless plug here. It is Giving Tuesday NOW today. A day for international giving. A day where we can make a difference. Do something for others. Not for politics, not to score points… just because it is a good thing to do. One place where I know I can help make a difference is in Nepal. If you enjoy these daily ramblings and want to express your appreciation, perhaps you could make a donation — there are links all over my facebook page — and be a beacon of hope in a challenging time. Think about it. Thanks.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

May 4

As I’ve noted before, I don’t write this as a pundit or as a cheerleader looking for the sunny side. Nor do I want to be a doomsayer offering dire warnings. I just am trying to create a chronicle… to capture our ongoing discussions and evolving understanding of what may be one of the truly seminal events in many people’s lifetimes. A pandemic that could transform so much… that brings out our best and our worst… and that forces us to examine our society… and ourselves… in ways that are not always comfortable.

I offer that prefatory note because the narrative today will, again, be a cautionary one. A worried one, if you will. I don’t do it with intention but as a reflection of what is put before us.

It seems clear, as someone said this morning on the news, that it is no longer a question of whether we are reopening… just a matter of how. We all get that. We know the pressures that many in leadership positions are feeling. The restlessness that some folks are feeling… the economic hardships that many are experiencing. We know all the reasons why the impetus to reopen is so strong.

But still, we have 80% of the public, according to some polls, who are not in a rush. Who prioritize safety and health over the rush to reopen. So I have to ask why? Why are leaders so quick to make the choice that puts even more people at risk.

In fairness, it’s likely that even if we continued to have strict social distancing, folks would still get sick and continue to die. Social distancing slows the spread but it doesn’t get rid of the virus. The virus is patient, and it’s out there, and it’s waiting. But on the other side of the coin, reopening too quickly may lead to tens of thousands more deaths than we’d have if we waited, without any guarantee at all, that we’re going to solve the economic woes. Many argue that the economy is not going to bounce back overnight and we’re only going to exacerbate the ultimate recovery by starting too soon and then being forced to pull back. So does it make sense?

I’m NOT an expert. I just listen to the talking heads and try to make sense. But virtually all the talking heads who deal in fact and science are worried and the economists (aside from partisans of the president) are voicing lots of questions as well.

Even the President last night revised his estimate of deaths upwards again to over 100,000 possibly. Dr. Birx said they have “always believed” it would be between 100,000 and 240,000 deaths. (Then WHY did they keep touting models that said it might only be 60,000 by August, as a “breathe a sigh of relief” scenario?)

Other doctors are saying folks are taking their victory laps way too early. Baseball analogies keep popping up… things like “we’re only in the second inning” of this pandemic. Doctors are worried that although we’ve plateaued for now, the plateau is both persistent and at a high level of 30,000 new infections every day. They are worried that even as New York continues to see cases slide, Minnesota, Iowa, DC, Virginia, and others see them rising. Seventeen states are seeing numbers on the rise. Only eleven are decreasing. The rest are staying the same.

And then there’s the testing challenge. Again, all I can do is consider what I hear and read from so many sources. We are not testing enough. Period. And we do not have enough tests, no matter what Pence or Trump claim, to test at the levels we need in order to reopen safely.

Some experts suggest we need to be able to test every American every 14 days or so to manage and contain this. 600 million tests a month. Others say we might get by with “just” 150 million tests a month. Of course, we’re nowhere near that yet. I think we’ve done a bit more than 7 million tests in the past 9 weeks and our per capita testing rates are still less than many other developed nations.

Will we see a rebound if we rush to reopen and if we don’t have the capacity to track the disease? Will it be worth it to see us jump from 30,000 new infections a day to 50,000? To see our deaths rise from 1,500 a day (there were 1452 yesterday) to 3000 or more? (Those are ballpark figures, but a projection today fears the number will reach that level). What makes sense? I’m not convinced that those who are making the decisions know the answer to that question. And we pay the price.

So, if this is the second inning, then those of us who are older and more vulnerable need to make our own choices based on our best judgment. That served me well over the years personally and professionally and it will have to do once again. It’s up to us. Let’s be safe and smart. I don’t mind if my hair get’s a little shaggier or my beard a bit longer (I can do Santa gigs if conditions allow at year’s end) so long as we all get through this together.

Mondays. Sigh.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

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May 3

It’s Sunday. A day of rest. But there’s always plenty to do.

Vegan Dirty Rice and Shwarma-spiced Cauliflower Steak to prepare, so, I’ll try and keep this short — though I find that hard to do at times.

I’ve spent the morning working on Nepal and I’ll insert here a shameless plug for your support on the special day of international giving that will occur on Tuesday, May 5. Giving Tuesday NOW. We’ll be trying hard to find additional support for our work in Nepal. There, the economic devastation is already frightening and if this virus takes hold we’re going to see a tragedy of heartbreaking proportion. They’ve locked down their society for five weeks so far with more to come. They have no choice because they don’t have the capacity to manage a surge in cases. I worry that it may already be escaping their control. But we don’t know because they have only tested one-third of one percent of the population. So, lots to do… always.

Meanwhile, here at home, the number of new cases was higher than the day before. 35,000 plus. The day before it was 28,000. It’s a trend line worth tracking. And Georgia? According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, one day after reporting more than 1,000 new coronavirus cases in a single 24-hour period, data released by state health officials Saturday morning show the number of confirmed cases in Georgia increased by another 999. And, as of 7 p.m., a total of 174,800 people have been tested for COVID-19 in Georgia, and roughly 16.2% of those tests have returned positive results. So you tell me… did it make sense to reopen Georgia as broadly as the governor did? Does anyone think that this going to end well?

I know that people are frustrated, bored, and want to get out. It’s spring… summer is in sight. It’s time for “fun”… right? No. Of course not. But some folks are going to do it anyway. We have seen the protestors… waving their automatic weapons around. As if having a gun is a substitute for having a brain. Ugh.

They want their “rights.” So do I. I want the right to be free from idiots who put my family and me at risk of illness and death. I want the right to be free of selfish, spoiled and irresponsible folks who don’t understand that they are part of a community. Who don’t understand that their rights don’t get to be exercised at the expense of everyone else.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo today said it’s just about respect. We wear our masks to show our neighbors and fellow-citizens that we respect them. That we care for them. That we are in this together. We take care of each other. Or we don’t. Because somehow we believe that we don’t owe others respect if doing so interferes with our pursuit of our own interests… our own pleasure. Again, I say, Ugh.

Dr. Fauci has again warned that if states begin lifting restrictions too early we could see a rebound of the virus that would “get us right back in the same boat that we were in a few weeks ago.” And with it could come many more deaths than are currently predicted.

So I’ll keep wearing masks. I’ll keep on social distancing. I’ll keep on being careful. And I’ll keep on praying that the idiots out there… and that’s what some of them are… don’t make it far far worse for us all.

It’s time to cook! Enjoy your Sunday. Let’s hope for a good week ahead.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

May 2

I commented in my first blog post in early March that we were becoming intimately familiar with the coronavirus It was everywhere in the news… in our lives. Little did I know then just how well we would come to know this pandemic or that 53 days later I’d still be writing about it and that it would STILL be THE story that dominated our lives.

I hope, though, that we’re not becoming so comfortable with it that we take it lightly. We had 28,000+ new cases reported yesterday and 840 deaths. The pace is slowing it seems, and that’s good. But there is, of course, the worry that there could be a surge as we reopen in so many places without adequate testing or contact tracing in place. We’ll see. The striking thing for me today is that our total deaths already exceed 65,000 — but just ten days or so ago the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (relied on by the White House for modeling) was projecting we’d only reach 64,000 deaths by Aug 4.

They’ve adjusted the model. And in fairness, their model is based on assumptions that folks were going to comply with all the social distancing measures and not reopen prematurely etc. Obviously, not everyone is going that route and the number of deaths will continue to grow… the question is: how much?

So, what else does a tour of today’s headlines offer? Trump won’t let Fauci appear before the House next week, but will let him testify before the Senate. The Senate of course, is controlled by the Republicans. The House isn’t.

We are in the midst of a pandemic and the President won’t let both chambers of Congress, a co-equal branch of government, hear from our most respected national expert on the disease — only the body most likely to be more sympathetic to the administration. Explain THAT to me…. no, wait… don’t.

We know the answer. It’s about politics. About protecting the administration from criticism. If you’ve got nothing to hide, let there be open discussion with the experts. Let’s all learn together and figure out how to keep us all safe. But politics and gamesmanship matters more than leadership and public health. Not much new in THIS headline.

Another troubling headline? The Department of Education is still seizing the paychecks of folks in default on their student loans. We now have over 30 million folks who have filed for unemployment. Food banks are besieged. People are hurting. A moratorium on seizing the resources of those who are in default seems a no-brainer. Would someone please tell Betsy DeVos?

Meanwhile, roads in and out of Gallup, New Mexico, have been closed as the governor declared a state of emergency at the mayor’s request. They are trying “mitigate the uninhibited spread of Covid-19.” Yikes.

And Dr. Mike Osterholm, who directs the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota, said yesterday that the virus is likely to keep spreading for at least another 18 months to two years—until 60% to 70% of the population has been infected. Osterholm and CIDRAP are highly respected and he and a team of longstanding pandemic experts recommended that the US prepare for a worst-case scenario that includes a second big wave of coronavirus infections in the fall and winter. Even in a best-case scenario, people will continue to die from the virus, they predicted.

So, all this chaos swirls around us, but somehow, for many of us, life doesn’t seem that different. I know that for those infected or who have loved ones with the disease, it’s a different story. And those who are struggling are REALLY struggling — and that’s a sad and scary thing for them and their families. But for Leija and me, and for most of those we know, our lives go on. We have food, shelter, and entertainment.

We can do Zoom cocktails, chat with friends, write blogs, and bemoan the failures of leadership… but we don’t actually feel the pain that is being inflicted. I can’t help but wonder if it’s only a matter of time before we do. I hope not but I recognize that so far we are very fortunate. And for that we should be… and Leija and I are… very grateful.

So, I’ll continue with my life. I’ll do some work in the garden. I’ve got plans for the kitchen this weekend and I’ll walk the dogs. And I’ll be glad that we can continue for now to be safe in our bubble here on the edge of the Shenandoah Valley. But let’s not forget those who struggle. Those who are on the front lines. Those whose kids see mom and dad worrying about where lunch or dinner will come from. There is real pain and real risk out there. This isn’t just headlines or the story of the day.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

May 1

Happy May Day!

“Tra la, it’s May, the lusty Month of May
That lovely month when everyone goes blissfully astray
Tra la, it’s here, that shocking time of year
When tons of wicked little thoughts merrily appear…”

That, as many of you may know, is from the musical Camelot. I used to know the whole soundtrack. And it is a beautiful May afternoon and I hope I might be excused if my thoughts do go a bit astray… why not?

Why, I was so bold this afternoon as to want to throw all the social distancing rules aside and hug our grandkids and daughter and son-in-law when we stopped by to drop off one of Sofie’s presents for her 11th birthday today. How did THAT happen? It seems just yesterday that our first grand baby joined this crazy family. And yes… I wanted to hug them all. But I didn’t — and felt a bit put out that I couldn’t.

“Put out.” That’s a polite way of putting it. But that was just a reflection of a mood that was far from cheerful (aside from the birthday part of it, which was lovely).

It’s just one of those days. A day when I read the news and see so much that is ignorant, so many failures of leadership and so much that lessens our nation — a nation I served for almost four decades if we include my work in “retirement.” It just frustrates me no end to see us failing to rise to the challenges, failing to work together, failing to put our people first. The partisanship, the tribalism, the anger, all make me nuts.

And now our ineptitude in managing this pandemic. I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again because it gnaws at me. How can we, with our wealth and power, and with the depth of scientific and medical knowledge we have at our disposal, not have been in the lead on responding globally — as we did with the ebola epidemic — rather than struggling to cope to just not implode?. How is it that, our American exceptionalism notwithstanding, we are the world leader in the number of cases and deaths from this virus?

We can offer all sorts of explanations and excuses but I can’t help but believe we should have done better… much better. And after months we’re still struggling with testing, with articulating coherent guidelines and management, with the lack of an overarching national vision, and with leadership. What has happened to us?

And, instead of trying to address the questions, what is the administration prioritizing? Trying to blame China. Trying to prove that the virus came from a Chinese lab. The only thing is that all the evidence so far says… it didn’t. This has been looked at repeatedly… maybe there’s something we all don’t know, but so far the experts have concluded that the coronoavirus’s origins lie with bats and the wet markets in China… not in a bio-weapon laboratory.

But that doesn’t stop Trump and Pompeo from alleging otherwise. The President says he has seen evidence that suggests the Chinese created it… but he won’t share it. (Much like his claims about Obama’s birthplace and various other things — we’ve seen THIS game played enough to recognize it for what it is). Reports suggest that the President and Pompeo are pushing the intel community non-stop to go uncover the evidence of their theory.

Of course, if the boss wants his “facts” confirmed, folks often go out of their way to find those “facts” even if it means stretching the interpretation or building the case on assumptions and guesses rather than reality. And with Trump having put one of his most partisan supporters in as the acting Chief of the Intel Community, I will personally find it very hard to give credence to a sudden discovery of “new facts” that prove their President right.

That’s what happens when we politicize intelligence collection and disregard facts that we don’t like. Quite simply, insisting that the intel community go out and find the facts to prove the President is right, get’s it backwards. It puts the cart before the horse, as my mother would have said. In the community of professionals in which I worked, facts, intelligence, and evidence drove our understanding of reality and shaped our policies. Not the other way around.

So here on May 1st, there’s another verse from the “Lusty Month of May” that also seems apt. A verse that seems to guide many of those who should know better:

It’s time to do
A wretched thing or two,
And try to make each precious day
One you’ll always rue!

What will we rue? How about Trump’s renewed support for protestors, some armed with automatic weapons, who seek to intimidate and bully Michigan’s political leaders into acting against their best judgement as to public health and safety? How about Georgia letting 16 year old kids get their driver’s license by applying online without testing?. How about all the states easing restrictions even as the infection numbers are still increasing day-by-day in their states?

So little time… so many stupid things for them to do. It’s like they’re in a race to the bottom… who can be the most careless, thoughtless, or just plain dangerous to all? We’ll see who wins.

So happy May! lol. Don’t let my crankiness put you off your game. Go find a May Pole. Dance a little. Hug your social distancing partners or reach out to those you love and hug them virtually. Let yourself go… within social distancing limits… and enjoy the weekend.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

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