Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Coronavirus presents the threat of a "public pain" unlike anything experienced in modern U.S. history, and it likely will be around until late summer at least

Coronavirus has left San Francisco streets mostly barren

 Major League Baseball has suspended the start of its regular season for at least two weeks. Missouri courts on Monday (3/15) announced in-person proceedings, with a few exceptions, will be postponed until April 3. These decisions indicate, at least at the time they were made, that leaders in certain fields were clueless about how serious the coronavirus outbreak in the United States could prove to be.

That, however, seems to be changing -- with a sobering sense of reality setting in over the past couple of days. Even Donald Trump now acknowledges the outbreak could linger into mid or late summer -- and given Trump's demonstrated ignorance on the subject -- calling it a "hoax" just 19 days ago -- the virus could still be wreaking havoc well into the fall, or longer.

Why the change in tone? For one, a report from British epidemiologists on Monday says the virus, if not effectively mitigated, could lead to 2.2 million American deaths. From an article at The Intercept:

Without mitigation, the new coronavirus pandemic could kill as many as 2.2 million people in the U.S., according to a report from the Imperial College of London COVID-19 Response Team. Even taking critical steps such as social distancing of the entire population, isolation of the sick in their homes, and quarantining family members of the sick, the epidemic will likely soon overwhelm the critical care capacity of American hospitals, according to the report. The British researchers told The New York Times that they shared their findings with the White House task force on the virus “about a week ago.”

A disproportionate number of those who get sick and die will almost certainly be poor. In addition to a lack of paid sick time and medical care, low-income Americans often have another risk factor that could make the virus more deadly: long-term exposure to air pollution.
Even if that worst-case scenario never plays out, COVID-19 poses a threat unlike any most of us have seen in our lifetimes, according to a report at Axios. Reporter Bryan Walsh calls it "a new kind of crisis":

The coronavirus pandemic is a disaster with no modern parallels, with no escape and no safe harbor. This may be the most sustained period of widespread public pain since World War II.

The big picture: Even the worst catastrophes we've experienced — from natural disasters to terrorist attacks — have happened in one place, at one time. But global reach of the coronavirus, and the societal and economic shutdowns it’s triggering, will touch everyone, everywhere, for a long time.

The coronavirus is already forcing major changes to our daily lives, and that will continue.

* You could hear new urgency yesterday from President Trump, as he ditched the hopeful talk about a quick resolution and warned that the virus is truly serious.

* The crisis was once expected to last weeks or two months. Now even Trump fears a long, sad summer: "[T]hey think August. Could be July. Could be longer than that."

* Six counties in the Bay Area have issued “shelter in place” warnings, the strongest U.S. clampdown yet as a host of cities and states force bars, gyms and other public places to close.

* Without school, travel, public gatherings or even the chance to eat dinner at a restaurant, we’re already seeing the rhythms of daily life upended.

Even 9/11 seems to pale when viewed alongside what the coronavirus could bring:

As America came to grips with the extent of these social distancing measures, it’s natural to reach for historical comparisons. And those examples can offer the comfort that the U.S. has made it through dark times before. But we will be facing a new and different set of challenges this time.

* We’re used to seeing terrible events befall a city, or a region — not the whole country all at once, let alone the whole world.

* When that happens, we usually send supplies, material support and aid to the affected area — but there will be few such resources to spare during this outbreak.

* Unlike a terrorist attack, this won’t strike in just one place. Unlike a hurricane, there’s no high ground to evacuate to.

World War II might be the closest parallel, Walsh writes, and that thought should be staggering to many postmodern Americans:

It may be more instructive to go all the way back to World War II, which saw the strict rationing of consumer goods, full-scale mobilization of civilian industry, even "dim-outs" of New York's skyline.

* The American public, of course, rose to the occasion during World War II. The question is whether we can do the same during now, at a time when the muscle memory of sacrifice has atrophied. . . .

What’s next: A recession is likely — some say it has already started — and because a severe outbreak could force people to stay away from shops, gyms, restaurants, bars and travel for a long time, the economic hit could be enormous — affecting every sector of the economy for a long time.
* The rapidly spreading virus will strain America’s health care system. Even a moderate outbreak could easily require most hospital beds and more ventilators than the country has available — and, again, there’s no good way to borrow excess supply from another country, because they’re all going through the same trauma, or will soon enough.

The bottom line: There is no escaping the public pain to come. We're just beginning an endurance test that has no clear end.

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