As we enter the uncharted waters of a post-shut down America, I have a couple of questions: Is it safe to go outside? Where is it safe?
Like everybody else, I’m tired of spending too much time at home. Like you, I’d like to return to the world I knew back in early March, when I was free to come and go as I pleased without worrying if the next person I encountered was carrying a virus that could be my death sentence.
I also appreciate the fact that the economy can’t remain in hibernation forever. The damage to date has been significant—a lot of people on “furlough” are going to discover they don’t have a job to return to—and it will just get worse the longer it takes us to return to some semblance of normalcy.
So states are starting to reopen even though they have suspect data thanks to a lack of testing that works, the death total has passed 100,000 while infections continue to increase in some areas, and scientists warn of a second or third wave of infections without a vaccine or herd immunity.
We are asked to take some simple precautions: Wash your hands frequently, stay at least six feet from people in public, and wear a face covering when mingling with the public. But thanks to a president who only believes experts who tell him what he wants to hear, these simple acts have become controversial.
Ignoring the advice of the experts at the Centers for Disease Control, President Trump informs us that wearing a mask is just being “politically correct,” that testing is “overrated,” and that the coronavirus will disappear without a vaccine, which we should have any day now. Meanwhile, he wants every state to reopen ASAP, ready or not.
Most of this is driven by politics. Trump was all set to run for reelection on the strength of the economy, and is fervently praying (assuming he ever prays) for a “V” shaped rebound of the economy before November. (This is not to be confused with economists outside of Trump’s sphere of influence who expect a “U,” “W”, “Z” “L” or Nike swoosh economic recovery.)
Trump’s cavalier dismissal of science has prompted editors of the Lancet, one of the most authoritative medical journals in the world, to dismiss Trump’s “magic bullets” and urge people to put health ahead of politics.
That hasn’t stopped some of Trump’s acolytes from saying masks are un-American and that people who wear them are Communists. People attending reopen America rallies, such as the ReOpen Nevada County gathering in Grass Valley, don’t care about masks or social distancing.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, whose responsibilities include the CDC and other public health agencies, explained the situation this way: “I think in any individual instance, you are going to see people do things that are irresponsible. That’s part of the freedom we have as Americans.”
People don’t like social distancing either, as news coverage of Memorial Day weekend activities suggests. The same applies here. The Union ran a series of pictures last week capturing the reopening of our community, and several of them showed residents close by with no face coverings, as if nothing has changed from March.
Businesses are being asked to reopen slowly with restrictions on how many people are allowed inside at any time, and with a long list of sanitation and cleaning protocols to be followed. McDonald’s franchisees have been given a 59-page guide for sanitizing their facilities, and the state has a 12-page document (counties are free to add more requirements) all restaurants are expected to follow.
News broadcasts are full of video of diligent restaurant workers keeping facilities safe and sanitary for customers, but you have to wonder how long that’s going to last. Restaurants operate on thin margins and the added cost of new sanitary procedures when they can’t run at full capacity is a burden many of them can’t handle. Expect slippage from the survivors.
Venues where large numbers of people gather appear to be problematical as scientists accumulate evidence they are super spreader events. Mardi Gras festivities in Louisiana, a choir practice in Skagit County, Wash., and a meeting of drug company executives near Boston are among the one-off events scientists think helped give the pandemic a boost.
“Most cases globally, and especially most deaths, happen after super spreading events,” said Hendrick Streech, a virologist in Germany who published the first worldwide study of a coronavirus super spreading event. You should probably stay away from New York City—and from any unauthorized local church services.
One of the largest super spreader events in the country occurred at a church service in Louisiana, and recent unauthorized services in Butte and Mendocino counties have triggered a spike in coronavirus cases. That’s something to keep in mind as Trump pushes to resume religious services and many ministers are threatening to ignore local strictures and hold services as they see fit.
But, you are probably thinking about now, many of these problems will go away—or at least become minor ones—when we get a vaccine for the virus. Well, maybe. For starters, it’s not likely we’re going to have an effective vaccine in the next year or two—the record is four years for the mumps vaccine.
Then there’s a question of whether people will actually take the vaccine in sufficient numbers to achieve herd immunity—generally around 90% of the population. A new poll by Associated Press reveals that half of respondents say they won’t take the vaccine, citing safety concerns about a vaccine that has been rushed to market, and opposition to all vaccines.
Another poll conducted by YouGov for Yahoo News is even more scary: 44 percent of people who “voted for Trump” or identified as Republicans say they believe the claim that Bill Gates is pushing a vaccine that will implant microchips in people in order to monitor their movements. Only 26 percent of Republicans polled said they don’t believe the conspiracy theory.
Keep all of this in mind as you venture back into the community, especially if you’re a member of the age group most likely to die if they get COVID-19. There’s nothing to be gained by becoming a hermit, and life is not enjoyable when it’s weighed down by paranoia. On the other hand, you can’t discount the stupidity of selfish people who can endanger your health.