Our very recent future was a blank canvas on which opportunistic politicians projected gleeful doom scenarios. Speculation was served up as certainty. Grim was not dire enough a term. We needed a whole new vocabulary to do justice to the unfolding horror to come.
A last will and testament from my father in Mendocino County landed in my inbox, outlining protocols for his when they put me on a ventilator end of life choices. Ten days ago the county health commissioner predicted 1800 deaths, from a rural population of 100,000, when there were two cases in the entire county. Want to know how many there are today? One. Zero hospitalizations.
Our present is a War Against Facts in which the Clerisy, very much enjoying wearing the shoes of power, have doubled down on their edicts, extending them into June and enlarging their scope to include travel between residences, the closure of all parks and trails, stepping into the sunshine without a mask, or arresting paddleboarders alone on empty waves…and doing so as though the original predictive model remained valid.
In New York harbor, epicenter of Wuhan virus, the hospital ship USNS Comfort sits nearly empty, as does the 2500 bed makeshift hospital at the Javits Center. Total patients seen as of yesterday: 118. Last week was the peak of the bell curve. Discharges outnumbered admissions. Thankfully we did not come close to running out of ventilators. There was no ICU care in the hallways, no triage under a tent in the parking lot. The high-water mark was reached and the levees held with room to spare.
Neil Ferguson of Imperial College, London, the Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow of viral prognostication, posited 2,2oo,ooo death in the United States. Ferguson had a history of erroneous publicity-seeking disease modeling but this didn’t deter the media from airing his claims or lead to questioning governors in the U.S. who used his charts, the exact same chart for every state, to serve as a visual backdrop for shelter-in-place orders.
So we are now at 19,000 deaths in America, and will probably top out around 40,000, well within the range of a bad flu season. Wuhan never really took off in Los Angeles with, blessedly, only 242 fatalities in the county. Sprawl and auto dependency worked in our favor for once. It’s also possible the virus is not as lethal and more widespread than assumed.
Prudence: postponing Coachella
Caution: closing bars and restaurants
Folly: shutting down the economy
The running tally on the cable news chyron doesn’t differentiate between recovered cases, asymptomatic ones, those who have the flu, and the very small percentage who will need hands-on medical care. The hospitalization rate is the key metric, but one has squint to find it the furious gloom. A run on the hospitals is the only medical and politically justifiable reason for shelter in place. Once that threat passes we need to re-open the economy with all deliberate speed. In most areas of the country, it should not have been shut down to begin with.
Instead, we are treated to governors and mayors and functionaries declaring themselves regent, in an escalating competition of Simon Says, both in what they demand and how long they intend to demand it. This is not being conducted in a spirit of shared sacrifice, for those insisting on months-long lockdowns are not doing without a paycheck.
We have arrived at an inflection point in Democracy, amputating our arm to cure an infected fingernail.
The willingness of my fellow Angelenos to succumb to hysteria thus far is disheartening to me. There is a difference between Law and tyranny and good citizenship is knowing the difference. Stop wearing a mask when you go on a walk, people. We are not sheep. The more healthy folk are out and about, the sooner we develop herd immunity. Staying inside is only prolonging matters.
This Good Friday, instead of turning in our neighbor, let us celebrate resilience. When you get back out there, cough on someone. Do it for America.