John Colson: Running through the COVID-19 woods
Hit & Run
It appears that our president, who had been bloviating for months about how unimportant the COVID-19 pandemic is, at last has realized that if the virus continues to depress the world economy, including the economy of the United States, people might actually conclude that he should no longer be our president.
Since President Donald Trump has long assumed that every aspect of life on Earth is subject to his whims, his tantrums and his will, he undoubtedly is very surprised by this sudden realization.
Naturally, in his increasingly cautious public pronouncements about the pandemic, there is no mention of the fact that for months now he has insisted it is all a hoax, a Chinese bio-weapon aimed at him, or other, equally idiotic and fantastic schemes by foreign enemies of the U.S.
Interestingly, Trump’s so-called political “base,” comprising less than a third of our electorate and made up of the intellectually and emotionally challenged, have not entirely shifted their rhetoric to match his, though they inexplicably stick to their full-throated support for his racist, xenophobic, anti-democratic policies and outbursts.
My guess is that his most determined supporters remain firmly convinced that Trump can somehow turn back the clock to a time when white people ran everything and the non-white population of this country, impoverished and under-represented, stayed cooped up in their assigned places and did not challenge the white power structure very strenuously until much later.
But, back to the virus, which so far has shown itself to be non-ideological, non-partisan and non-discriminatory — infecting people across all racial, political and socioeconomic lines. Accurate data about the spread of the virus among the poor and the disenfranchised of this country, which some suspect is disproportionately higher than the infection rate among the upper classes, may never be fully understood.
The unfortunate truth is we are still far behind the rest of the world in testing for the virus, in per-capita terms, thanks to the dawdling and dishonest federal response engineered by the Trump administration, and despite Trump’s repeated efforts to convince everyone otherwise.
The administration’s cheerleaders are now locked into a new narrative: The virus has nearly been contained and will be gone, a thing of the past, by June, a premise that is greeted with skepticism by most medical experts and scientists. As long as we remain disastrously ignorant of the depth of the infections in our population, such predictions must be treated as fantasies.
If you look back at history, the so-called Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 to 1920 (which some historians now believe is inaccurately blamed on Spain) infected roughly 500 million people, a quarter of the world’s population at the time, and killed perhaps as many as 100 million. The lethality of that pandemic has been blamed on similar reasons as the ones driving the rapid spread of the current COVID-19 virus.
According to scientific hindsight, it appears now that the 1918 influenza pandemic was attributed to Spain largely because military censors among European allies refused to let the true facts of the pandemic be known, and only Spain (a neutral nation with no military censors in charge of the spread of news) allowed the real numbers to become public.
It also has been reported, in a Chinese study, that the disease may well have been circulating among European troops in general for months before it became a worldwide pandemic.
And finally, it is now known that the virus, which was widely believed to have died out in mid-1918, mutated and rebounded with new infections and even higher death rates in a secondary wave. That was followed, according to some historians, by a less lethal third wave that did not end until some time in 1919 or even 1920.
Some in the Trump administration have been calling for a reviving of the U.S. economy by Easter (Trump’s idea, now abandoned) or even by June (the newest target date), which implies jumpstarting the economy and putting everybody back to work and back to normal lives.
I believe that is an incredibly short-sighted way of thinking, mostly because we simply have no idea how many people have been infected and remain contagious, even if they have no symptoms.
It is exactly this kind of thinking that left the world open to the second and third waves of the 1918 pandemic, and I don’t think we want to repeat that disastrous outcome.
We are not out of these woods yet; not by a long shot.
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“How Green Was My Valley” is a beautiful and tragic novel that stands as a poignant metaphor for the way fossil fuels have defined the human relationship with energy.