Today was my son’s birthday. He was born in a hospital just outside the City of Toronto on March 31, 2003. This was the first day where hospitals in Toronto, and the surrounding area, initiated isolation and tracing protocols for a deadly corona virus that caused acute respiratory distress: SARS. Doctors and nurses wore N95 masks. You could see they did so uncomfortably, unused to this level of protection in open parts of the hospital. Patients and visitors wore disposable surgical masks. Protocol and procedure changed rapidly. It was utter chaos.
It was difficult to even get into the hospital while my wife was in labour. There were forms upon forms, hastily-assembled, and administered by awkward hospital bureaucrats. This was just to get us through the front door. When inside, and in the labour ward, it was worrisome that if I left to go home and get anything (during her 20+ hours in labour) that I would not be allowed back into the building. Quarantine measures were changing, seemingly, by the minute.
We were all fortunate that SARS blew itself out by the Summer of 2003. Even as cities like Hong Kong and Toronto faced a challenging financial recovery to their local economies in the aftermath, the global story of a deadly pandemic faded quickly. However, the stage was set for a bigger, badder, sequel.
What has changed in the past few decades? Countries who went through SARS, Ebola, MERS or the various strains of HxNx Epidemics and Pandemics — South Korea, Canada, and The City-State of Hong Kong — have done marginally better in the case of SARS-CoV2 (which causes COVID-19, or more generally referred to as the Novel Corona Virus). Even in the best response cases globablly, these countries have lost many of their elderly and immunocompromised citizens to the disease.
Countries who were spared previous outbreaks, however, have been woefully unprepared. Insufficient testing capability, a lack of clear protocols (i.e. a good national or even regional set of plans), funding, and personnel who specialize in this type of problem was a common issue. Furthermore, many of these ill prepared countries have an acute case of cultural individualism (this encompasses most of the democratic West). In most times, this is a positive attribute, but currently it prioritizes the immediate social circle, at the cost of of their neighbours, and farther up the scale, the nation.
The lightning-quick spread of social media, algorithm-dictated news filtering, and informational troll-farms (Fake News) of the past 10 years has amplified conspiracy theories and eroded respect for national institutions. The voice of big government and public heath bodies has been sorely diminished. Jonathan Swift, back in 1710 wrote, "Falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it.” This was later adapted by Roosevelt’s Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, who wrote: "A lie will gallop halfway round the world before the truth has time to pull its breeches on.” Eventually, this quote was just filed (ironically) on the internet as, ‘Smart Stuff Winston Churchill Said.’ No matter, for over 300 years, we are well aware that sensational B.S. gets traction with the credulous, and incredulous alike. This is long before scientific, spin-free, fact (if the latter ever arrives) gets its time on the world stage.
The United States is currently in a perfect storm of its own making. I predict it will be hurt the worst — yes worse than Italy or Spain, or China. China had the ‘benefit’ of Extreme Social Control, to impose a lock down in Wuhan, and beyond, to minimize the effect on its 1 Billion+ population. An unfortunate other side of the equation is that with the current government in China, we may never know the extent of the real numbers, due to State Media Control and other unpleasant Authoritarian measures.
Rest assured, however, the United States is going to be far, far worse. Boneheaded leadership that prioritizes political victories above facts. A massive and systemic defunding of all their key organizations to handle a situation of this kind. A public eduction system that has been on the brink for decades. A for-profit health care system that is reactionary to medical conditions rather than preventative or proactive policies. And, a population weened on reality television, conspiracy theories, a depraved worship of guns, erosion of labour laws, and more people than ever living paycheque to paycheque.
The slow asphyxiation of the middle class in America, as capital takes flight into the foreign bank holdings of the 1%, may now fully display its ugliness. Murphy (the owner and proprietor of that famous law) is sitting back with a Budweiser watching Fox News, with a closet full of toilet paper, and N95 masks. Now is the time for unity, not individualism, but the country has never been more polarized.
The lions are already running free in the Coliseum. They are eating the Christians, the Muslims, and the Gladiators indiscriminately, while the rest of Rome burns, and the college students bacchanal on the Beach.
As the 3rd-World Field-Tent Hospitals are erected on the most expensive parcel of undeveloped land in the world (Manhattan’s Central Park) there is no shortage of Uber and Lyft drivers, Amazon Flex delivery persons, and other gig workers who risk exposure and unaffordable future hospital visits. This, to make pennies for their corporate masters who have seen fit to not give them health benefits or any employee safety net. They corporate bosses use nearly all of the 25% (and higher) commissions to fight tooth and nail in courts around the United States and the world for the right to classify their Driver-Partners (i.e. employees) as Independant Contractors. The share-cropping practice of putting all the financial risk on the drivers has come to this: The first across-the-board life-and-death test at a time when workers’ rights are fully minimized. If you are driving, a generous use of common sense, and strict enforcing your own personal vehicle rules, has never been more important.
Some good news. Kind of. The FEMA deployments in LA and NYC are full steam ahead, and the Army Corps in the USA is an impressively massive machine. This will be all for naught, however, if the USA citizens cannot put down their “Give Me Freedom or Give Me Death” cultural attitude. Extreme personal freedom, in these times, compromises everyone else’s safety. Decades of ‘freedom first’ gun legislation on this does not give me hope. But then, sly NSA and corporate surveillance, raises all sorts of alarms as well. It will be a real needle to thread, to not surrender liberty at the promise of safety, while still preserving as much quality of life (or just life) as possible.
The official projections of 100,000 deaths for the USA alone, is appallingly high, when taken out of context. However, against the 50,000,000 deaths in the 1918-1921 H1N1 Pandemic (~675,000 of those in the USA) it seems like progress. That is until you consider the 100,000 a ‘best-case’ estimate (and a fluid one as models change). This only includes COVID-19 deaths, and there will be some ‘trickery’ on what is filed where; I have no doubt.
The strained infrastructure that prevents other surgery and health care, and lack of essentials in times of hoarding, will cause many more. And this doesn’t even address the mental health, homeless, opioid crisis and suicide rates climbing in times where people feel hopeless. This is currently Italy’s situation. The system got overwhelmed, and the death toll skyrockets, both Covid-19 and other serious non-Corona surgeries and treatments are put on hold. Italy has not even peaked yet!
Nonetheless, if the USA holds things back to ‘just a bad flu season,’ that would be a testament to the Trump Administration and the ever-diminishing notion of American Exceptionalism. And yet, this is an administration famous for its bald-faced lies, so all bets are off in most arenas, including data accuracy. History will judge who wins this war, America or China, on several fronts: The Economy, Big Government response & accountability, and Social stability going forward in the months ahead.
Perhaps other nations will arise to fill the void of Super Power in the aftermath. The Summer Olympics may be postponed, but every day I visit the global statistics of COVID-19: Cases. Deaths. Recoveries. And the more it starts to look like the Olympic World Medal Standings. China and the USA, the two super-powers morbidly ‘top’ the chart, each with their own extreme political pathologies. While Italy and South Korea having narratives that are 180 degrees apart. There will be many stories to be told after all this has passed.
As we celebrate my son’s birthday, my family is in the middle of our own 14 Day Lockdown. We are following to the letter, as we have seen what chaos in our otherwise highly professional hospitals look like. I give some small thanks, that my own country, Canada, had the good sense to have a (somewhat) robust national health care service. Fortunately, we do not have the worries of unknown medical bills or crushing expenses, as it is borne by the collective tax payer for the greater health of the country. Also, the average person has good access to education, and understands this: that there is a time for pushing back at policy and government advice, and a time for coming together in national unity. This is for the benefit of our fellow citizens, particularly the elderly, their personal support workers, and our health care professionals.
Even then, the Canadians, South Koreans, and Germans, who have fared better than most so far, are in for tough times ahead. Perhaps even Post-War Britain times. After the second World War, one of the chief architects of victory, the UK, required a stiff upper lip and lived on butter instead of jam. When you 'win' a global war, there is a long recovery period where the cost, the cost of victory, must be borne, even it if means aiding your own adversaries who suffered defeat. The United States (and Canada) has forgotten these lessons. We are about to be educated, as they say, in ‘real time.’
In the mean time, which may be many months, stay safe! Listen to fact based and scientific sources, and self-distance, isolate and quarantine where appropriate. Resist the emotionally-laced sensationalism and fog-of-war punditry offered by the media (Mainstream, Fringe, or Blogosphere - yes, even TikTok celebrities).
Tamp down the urge to work in the Gig Economy, if you can avoid it. Your health is not worth a few shekels in the long run. Neither is the risk towards the health of your parents or grandparents. Now is not the time for selfishness, or ‘proving a point’ to the Libtards, the Sheeple, or the Cuckservatives. Now is the time for sacrifice, unity, levelheadedness and empathy. Do not hug your neighbours, rather, gently nod from 2 metres away.