By Bruce A. Smith
The big question pounding in everyone’s brain this week is: When can I leave my house and get back to my life? Politically, it is the dominant subject and two routes are emerging.
One path forward is the safer bet via testing, tracing, and isolating identified Covid-positive people. This is the scenario championed by the break-away states forming coalitions led by Democratic governors, such as New York’s Andrew Cuomo and his neighboring states of CT, NJ, PA, DE, RI, and MA.
Specifically, these governors want to test everyone going back into the world. First to determine if they are carrying Covid. If so, then they will be isolated for fourteen days, and their prior social contacts will be traced. Those individuals will then be tested to see if they contracted Covid, and if they’re positive they go into isolation, too. Simply, the plan is to test, trace, and isolate.
Developing a counter-balance is President Donald Trump, who basically shrugs his shoulders on the question of testing. Publicly, he acknowledges the value of conducting widespread testing, but few believe his rhetoric that the country has plenty of “testing capacity.” In reality, the United States has very little testing available, neither the swabbing kits nor the lab reagents. More troubling, it appears Trump shrinks from the effort to produce the tens of millions of test kits necessary to be safe. It’s just too large a task for him to embrace or fund.
Hence, he infers that the country will creep back into some degree of increased economic activity – and he hopes for the best. His national “guidelines” recommend states wait until their rates of Covid hospitalizations decline for at least two weeks before relaxing stay-at-home orders, and he claims that many counties are at the level now.
As a result, Trump seems to be offering a tip-toe approach, sending people back to work in rural areas first, while closely watching the number of folks getting sick, needing a hospital bed, and going on a ventilator. If too many people start getting sick and flooding the hospitals, Trump will try to scale back the Go-Back-To-Work program.
It’s a crude way to measure the spread of Covid, because without prior testing the people who are sick will not show any symptoms for two weeks, and therefore will spread the disease throughout their communities. That’ll give us another wave of Covid-19 in mid-May, placing us back exactly where we were in March – needing to re-establish the stay-at-home orders with our hospitals jammed full again. In effect, the past six weeks of self-isolation will be wasted.
Trump’s plan is a huge gamble. In effect, the president is rolling the dice to salvage the economy and thus buoy his re-election chances. If he loses, a lot of people will die. That begs the question of when he will be held accountable. Will Trump ever face criminal charges for negligent homicide over the Covid fiasco?
Regardless, this week Trump said that May 1 was his target date, but some Red State Governors are chomping at the bit and won’t wait. Texas’ Governor Greg Abbott has announced he will institute limited business activity on April 24 despite the rise in his Covid cases this week. Nevertheless, Texas will open retail stores as drive-through or curbside operations, and restaurants can serve a few people at widely-spaced tables.
More troubling, the MAGA people won’t sit still any longer, either. This week saw giant demonstrations in Michigan, Ohio and Virginia, and all encouraged by Trump. Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan may have to throw those protestors a bone or two, such as letting them go fishing, allowing bait shops and gun stores to open, and authorizing state parks to receive them.
Already, people are stretching the boundaries of stay-at-home. This week I went grocery shopping and on my way to the Plaza Market in Eatonville I saw one family heading to Alder Lake with kayaks on top of their car. Additionally, the motorcycle guys were riding again – but only singly and in pairs – and not in a large crew, fortunately.
But I had the biggest smile on my face of the past month when Cuomo announced his seven-state consortium. Finally, a true leader is taking the reins and pointing us in the right direction, and by-passing Trump, I mused.
In addition to the East Coast group, California Governor Gavin Newsom formed the same type of coalition with Washington and Oregon. Several days later, a mid-western group headed by Illinois Governor JB Pritzker and Ohio’s Bob De Wine joined with Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky – states headed by both Democrats and Republicans.
With Trump’s indecision coupled with incompetence, these coalitions could elevate the governors – certainly Cuomo – to the de facto status of “Acting President.”
I like it.
Trump doesn’t, though, and called the governors’ action, “Mutiny.” The “new normal” of politics in the United States is perhaps best articulated in the meme from journalist David Frum, below:
But the elevated status of Cuomo, et. al. hinges on testing. If Cuomo and the governors can come up with the millions of testing kits required to survey everyone, then they will truly be running the country and not Trump.
Can New York and Cuomo develop all those tests? Unlikely, and Cuomo has repeated declared in his press conferences that he needs federal help in producing enough test kits to adequately monitor Covid. Otherwise, the governors will be forced to follow in the federal footsteps and let people go blindly back to work. It’s almost irrelevant if the Go Back starts on April 24, as it will in Texas, or May 1 with Trump’s blessing, or mid-May as New York and Washington state currently envision, if all that happens is the 2nd Wave is unleashed.
On the home front, I’m still waiting for my moolah. The $1,200 direct deposits were first announced to go out the week of April 6. Then it was announced the monies would be deposited the week of April 11, which was then pushed back to Wednesday April 13, along with an announcement that an app, “Get My Payment,” would be launched to assist us in determining when our money would arrive in our bank accounts. https://www.irs.gov/coronavirus/get-my-payment.
However, whenever I search the app, I get the announcement: “Payment Status Not Available.”
Yesterday, I read that 150 million payments will be issued as part of the stimulus package – 80 million via direct deposit, and the remaining 70 million in checks via snail mail. In addition, the IRS hoped that the 80 million would go out this week with the proviso that Social Security beneficiaries and SSI-Disability recipients would only receive their money by the end of April. Afterwards, the checks go out in the mail, along with Donald Trump’s name printed on them. What a putz….
Locally, everyone seems relatively healthy. The Pierce County Health Department has announced that 30 individuals in southern and southwestern Pierce County have been confirmed with Covid, with no deaths reported. That gave me the courage to go on a grocery run.
Courage is needed, I am finding. I had planned to go on Tuesday, but when it came time to depart, I got a doozy of a migraine, necessitating a three-hour nap. The Covid quarantine is a tough mental and emotional exercise. Today, my ennui and low energy was like a rock I was dragging all day long, and I didn’t start writing this article until 7 pm.
Some people have plenty of energy, though, and I was surprised to read in the NY Times last week that speeding tickets in NYC are up 20%.
Speaking of New York, my 95-year-old mother is still anxious about outsiders coming into her house. Mom called in a tizzy today asking me to dissuade well-meaning family members coming by for a visit, as neither she nor her caregiver have been outside for six weeks. No one has come in, either, as food is dropped off at the doorstep.
Mom also announced the first Covid death that has affected our family, a 76-year-old gentleman named Peter. He was a colleague of my father and a family friend.
“He was just here in the house back in November,” my Mom said. “So tragic. He was a wonderful man.”
But the curve has flattened, according to Governor Cuomo, and maybe the plateau is in decline. I’m not sure on the exact numbers for Long Island, but I figure folks will best stay indoors for another two weeks, at least.
Here in Washington, I am similarly perplexed. Our curve seems to be flattening, and WA only reported 11,000 cases this week, with about 575 deaths, which all signify a lessening of severity.
But Pierce County is iffy. I’ve gotten a notice daily from the health department that declares another 40-50 new cases in the county, along with a death or two. Current totals are around 1,100 cases and 30 fatalities. That doesn’t sound like a flattened curve to me.
Hence, I am very reluctant to head to a laundromat. As a result, I’m still washing clothes in the kitchen sink.
Further, Governor Inslee is asking us to stay at home until May 15, I think. The order has been changed so many times that I’m forgetting the details. Regardless, I and many others are beginning to weigh the risks of venturing into town versus continuing a strict quarantine. Some of my patriot friends are even cruising about, and having birthday parties – but they are small affairs, so they are at least paying lip service to the stay-at-home ordnance.
Nationally, I think we’re up to 35,000 deaths and over 700,000 cases – the most of any country on the planet. Last night, David Muir on ABC said the death total in the US for the previous 24-hours was the highest ever. Clearly, a lot of people have paid a steep price for Trump’s slow and stumbling response to the pandemic.
More concerning is the task of determining when it will be safe to be in the world. I accept that we’ll we wearing N95 masks for months, but can we do anything together? My theatrical director, Stephanie Brooks called this week to inform me that she is canceling the Resi musical. The theater had pushed the performance dates back to July, but we still have no idea when we can start rehearsing together safely.
Further, Stephanie and I discussed at length the many dilemmas facing theater: when will people be able to sit safely in a theater? September? 2021, when a vaccine is forecasted to be ready?
In the interim, Stephanie told me that she has viewed three different ZOOM-esque video efforts to present stage productions. She saw one production that was excellent, as the editor spliced numerous ZOOM contributions from solo performers into a seamless theatrical piece. That takes exceptional skill and diligence, which were lacking in the other two works.
Along those lines, I watched a ZOOM performance of some of my storytelling buddies from Fresh Ground Stories. It was okay, but not exciting and I haven’t returned.
I’ll be trying my hand at producing a DB Cooper ZOOM presentation next week for a group of King County librarians, courtesy of the Silver Kite Cultural Arts center in Seattle.
On a personal note, our two weeks of sunshine ended today – thankfully. We had to wash some of the pollen out of the air, as I was sneezing and blowing my nose like crazy yesterday. In fact, it’s been sunny for so long that I had to check the records. We’re having the driest April since 1956.
More troubling, weather officials in Seattle are claiming the western United States is in a Megadrought, and they attribute 30-40% of it to the warming effects of global climate change.
Stay safe everyone, and love to you all. And where the hell is all the toilet paper???
In the meantime, it’s safe to dance – just watch Jimmy Fallon and the Roots tell it like it is:
Covid Photo Gallery
TP is still in short supply and no one seems to know why.
Nurses having to use garbage bags due to the lack of proper PPE.
The Seder meal of Passover was celebrated last week, via ZOOM in most families.
Tensions are high at the President’s daily Covid briefings.
Wine consumption is up 60% nationwide.
9,000 health care workers are reportedly infected with Covid in the United States.