I copied a chart from the New York Times this morning. I often do it to get a grip on the bewildering set of statistics that mark this pandemic. It’s a chart comparing Covid cases in New York to cases across the USA.
In my mind’s eye, however, it’s a hiking trail, like the many hikes I’ve taken over the years up the mountains of Maine. The first hike, the New York one, seems on its downhill stage, the descent back home. The Rest of USA hike, on the other hand, shows no such thing. It’s a journey without an apex, of incalculable misery, loss and death still ahead.
On a hike, when the trip uphill gets hard, you coach yourself with assurances. Just a little bit more, and then you’ll be walking downhill. “Chin up, it’s going to get easier!” you whisper and think of the treats at the top. The joy of accomplishment. The M&Ms, a drink of water, a sandwich. You soak in the view, the broad spread of countryside, a vast sky, perhaps the sea in the distance, the giddy delight of an easier return trip.
But here, my little hiking conceit falls apart. There’s no view in a pandemic. These charts don’t show that we’re at the top. They could be small plateaus before an even bigger climb. The notion of a “top” simply means a day or week of the largest number of infections and subsequent deaths and our specialists are saying it’s up, up, up through August of 2020, with potentially 136,000 fatalities by then. As for the downhill trip, well, that’s another fifty-percent of suffering and loss.
It’s important to point out that when our fearless leader and his enablers say we’re in a “new phase,” as he did this week, he’s wrong. The new phase would be to take better care of the US, the 300 million. A new phase would be to do something a leader does. Ease the suffering, express compassion, be pro-active with health and economic initiatives (and by the way, they’ve done it in Germany and South Africa).
First, masks for everybody. Mayor DeBlasio did it at parks this weekend, the federal government should be doing it for a hundred million people. This would help teachers and students go back to school, and enable their parents to go back to work. This will make public transportation safer, workplaces less risky, and social interaction possible again.
Second, folks who have lost jobs need food stamps so they won’t starve, or worry themselves to death. The SNAPS program is already in place. It would also keep grocery stores and supermarkets in business all across the country. Sorry, Mr. President, one check with your name on it is not going to get people through the year.
Third, universal health coverage and guaranteed sick leave. We’re behind all of Europe on that one. If nobody hesitates to see a doctor when they feel sick, they won’t spread the virus with fellow workers and raise the infection rate again. This is how Germany nipped the virus before it spread.
Lastly, we need a national corps of health trackers to share PPE and help every community trace infections. It should be independent of political influence. If we can have an apolitical postal service, why can’t we have an apolitical health maintenance system?
This would get the economy going, and it’s something we could call the downhill phase; it would make getting to the top worthwhile, because otherwise we’ve got years of uphill to go.