About those numbers we’re all watching

Part of the fixation in watching the Covid-19 spread in the U.S. is in the suspense of discovering how accurately the experts’ projections hold up, especially in contrast to the deceptive and wishful thinking emanating from the White House and its cronies.

With the disease now in all 50 states and up more than 600 percent in the last week alone – or from 30 cases at the beginning of the month to 68,440 as of Thursday – the question becomes just how high and how fast those exponential numbers soar. You know, do our social isolation actions tamp down the rise or do continuing exposures fuel more spikes in the spread? To think, at the current rate we would have 2½ million cases in two weeks or 90 million by a month from now. Here in New Hampshire, the eventual infection rate is pegged at 50 percent.

You’re already familiar with the hospital overload potential. With 95,000 intensive care beds in the United States, most of them in regular use for heart attack and accident victims and the like, and a population of 330 million, there’s not a lot of margin to deal with.

For perspective, think what a serious cold does to you. I mean, sometimes it really zaps your thinking. Think of your workplace if even a quarter of your colleagues were out sick. Now extend that to every service you rely on. Uh-huh. Oh, yes, and what about those lingering bugs we seem to get, the ones that never quite go away like forever. By the way, a fever of 103 to 105 degrees is nothing I want to ever endure again. How about you?

And then, if our efforts really do deflate the dreadful scenarios we’re seeing, will a large portion of the public cynically dismiss the warnings as liberal hype? The disregard for the warnings has been disturbing enough, especially the part about infecting others even if you aren’t exhibiting symptoms.

The bigger health matter is not about the number of cases but rather the 20 percent of those that become life-threatening serious. Not just the deaths, either, but the potential for long-term harm. Permanent heart damage, for instance. We’re just now learning.

People under age 65 have been assuming it’s no big deal, but a figure out of France should be a wake-up call. Half of those in intensive care there were recently reported to be under 30. As for here? Welcome back from spring break. One more figure to keep an eye on.

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You know many of the other questions and uncertain answers we’re following as we watch the numbers.

  • Will the number of cases actually fall off in warmer weather?
  • Will the coronavirus mutate and come back hard in autumn?
  • Will it become like the common cold, something that returns year after year?
  • How much immunity will we have?
  • How soon will a vaccine be available and what will the side-effects be? Will the anti-vaccers refuse it or welcome it?
  • And then there are all the stories coming out of the “shelter-in-place” experience.

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In my circle, we’re still sputtering over the audacity of some of those who claim to be “pro-life” but now claim that the deaths of up to two million presumably older Americans is a small price to pay to “save” the economy. Remember, theirs is already a pro-military (not exactly a “pro-life” mission) camp that was all-too-ready to spout misleading anti-Obama advertising warning that “death squads” would rule important health-care decisions (totally ignoring the reality that insurance companies were already doing that) when it came to medical coverage. Now we see the true colors of these callous offiials. It’s been all about profits, not people, all along. Babies didn’t cost them anything. Honestly, they should be tagged anti-abortion. Pro-life is far more inclusive, embracing health care, housing, and education support.

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What’s surprising you the most in the Covid-19 developments? For that matter, what worries you the most?

Is this it?

The Covid-19 devastation, already spread around the globe, is poised to inflict even greater damage when it ravages Third World countries, or so we’re reading. The impact is much more than grim death tolls. We’re hearing predictions of the greatest economic depression in a century.

In the United States, the virus is what finally exposed Donald Trump’s house of cards to full view. Not just his own illusions but his party’s, too. You know, the failure to plan. Failure to take responsibility. Endless stream of lies and fabrications. His scorn for fact, truth, scientific reality. Ridiculing and blaming others. Inability to steer a course. And so on. Feel free to add to the list.

For the past three years, I’ve restrained from commenting much on the outrage after outrage being inflicted on our democratic society. With his hooligans and their fellow cultists being so impervious to facts, I sensed anything that might break through their shells had to come from the right. The polarization of the country predates Trump, anyhoo, just look at the Congress dead set on obstructing President Obama from doing the will of the people, regardless of the ultimate impact.

From my viewpoint, what’s seemed obvious is that only something catastrophic might break through their state of denial and bombast. I kept wondering what that would be. What would it take to allow civil conversation again, one based on fact and not bullying and bombast?

In my years in the news business, I saw how difficult predicting public reaction could be. Big issues are commonly greeted with a yawn, while some seemingly trivial account unexpectedly gets everyone stirred up.

So here we are, with a medical crisis Trump arrogantly derided as a “hoax” and then claimed to have “under control” now exploding exponentially before our eyes. As it begins to hit closer to home, even his supporters can no longer poobah the epidemic as “liberal hype” to “discredit” their fuhrer. Not unless they can explain Italy and Spain’s suffering as part of a conspiracy.

Not unless they can explain why GOP senators were informing their super-rich backers of intelligence findings about the brewing virus storm and quickly selling off millions in stock while telling their voter constituents to stay calm. (Isn’t that insider-trading?)

Not unless they can explain why the markets and employers and local and state officials of both parties have independently taken the drastic actions they have, contrary to White House proclamations.

He still doesn’t have a clue, does he? This is the man who offers big aid to China after turning down any help for the most seriously impacted states in America. (Sorry, you’re on your own, guys.) What!

One of the reasons he’s clueless is that none of his incoming staffers who attended a big meeting with outgoing Obama officials eight days before the inauguration took the ebola lessons seriously. At least one future cabinet secretary dozed off during the briefings and their worst-case scenarios. Another reason is that Trump promptly eliminated the emergency preparedness coordinating office Obama had created for cases like this. What Trump touted as streamlining proves to be reckless disregard for reality and an exercise of personal spite. There was no planning, period.

Fellow Republican Susan Collins, a senator from Maine, even prevented epidemic response planning from being budgeted back in 2008. There’s a pattern.

Here we are, after being stuck with Trump’s obsession to spend billions building a useless border wall but do nothing on pandemic prep. Like that wall will stop anything.

I long ago saw that incompetent managers and executives feel threatened by competent people working below them – the very ones who could make their bosses look effective, if given the chance. Do I need to say more?

Smart management is taught to be proactive, not reactive, but that’s not what we’re seeing here.

The illness itself is only the face of the storm as we get glimpses of even bigger economic, political, and social ills that have been long festering.

Oh, yes, high turnover is another sign of mismanagement. Two-thirds of Trump’s team at that epidemic meeting three years ago are no longer part of the administration. Who’s in charge, paying attention to details?

Wall Street may have been soaring, and a “correction” had been long anticipated though not expected to kick in till after the November election, but for many of the country’s working class, full-time jobs – especially those with benefits – have been scarce. Minimum wage rarely covers basic living costs, and health insurance premiums often eat up a third of that income while imposing high deductibles few would ever be able to pay without going homeless or, if hospitalized long, losing their jobs. Many of those minimum wage jobs, by the way, require “reliable transportation” from employees, as if the pay actually covers as much as a clunker to get to worksites far from public transportation. Steps to improve their situation has not been presented from the current administration, even while cutting taxes for the rich and corporations continues.

Well, some of that finally has been acknowledged in the proposed coronavirus aid package, at least for this specific illness. Maybe it’s a start. Those low-pay, part-time jobs are a huge part of the workforce, and if they break down, even for two weeks, watch out.

That’s the real economy.

I could say more, much more, but let’s leave it at that for now. From all indications, this drama’s just starting.

There’s no disputing that bodies are piling up, even in the USA.

As the pandemic comes into focus

No surprise, everybody’s talking about it. Finally. What can we bloggers even add to the awareness?

In fact, there’s so much coming out, it’s impossible to keep up. My only conclusion is that what we’re reading and hearing is already two weeks behind where the outbreak actually is, thanks to the delay in the appearance of symptoms while an individual is still contagious – and that the spread of infection is already more severe than those in the White House are willing to acknowledge.

On the human level, it’s not just the mortality rate – 2 percent? that’s not the Black Plague, as cynics remind us – but the possibility of so much of the workforce being incapacitated, as well, meaning people with high deductibles in their health care coverage and minimum-wage jobs that preclude them from taking any time away from earning their meager paychecks without being homeless.

On a more abstract level, think about the speed with which it’s precipitated the stock market “correction” that was predicted for sometime after the November elections but now seems to presage recession. End of the bull market that ran through the Obama years and all that. (Glad I closed my IRAs when I did. The last recession cut their value in half, and recovering that took longer than we want to admit.) Now the market’s down roughly 30 percent in a week, nearly wiping out all of its gains during the Trump administration.

In fact, it seems impossible to talk about coronavirus without politics and finances popping into the discussion. I’ll spare you those rants.

In barely a week or two, it seems, the illness has gone from being “out there” in Seattle or even the other side of New Hampshire and suddenly started appearing much closer to home and those we know and love.

It really cut into my consciousness when I did a double-take Tuesday night while listening to a classical program streaming on Harvard’s FM station, just an hour down the road from here. The student program host was thanking her listeners for their four years of support of her on-air work, saying that this would be her last show. What? This was episode two of a six-week Tuesday feature, she had four more weeks to go. And then the words, “with the closure of the university, I’ll be heading home,” meaning New York, which coincidentally was the focus of that particular episode.

What, closing Harvard? Well, by now you know how that decision has already spread to a lot of other schools. Pack up your dorm stuff and be out of town by the weekend. I was standing with a University of New Hampshire student yesterday when his smart phone went off, informing him he was going to have an extra week off after spring break. (At a religious leaders’ gathering an hour earlier I had heard that the governor had overridden the faculty’s plea for a longer closure, like for the rest of the semester.) Is anyone else hearing from some outraged students? (Details for the virtual classrooms to be announced. Ditto, refunds or even housing for kids left in the lurch. And who wants to be confined to boring home?)

Meanwhile, in our faith communities, we’re having to make rapid adjustments. No more handshakes to close Quaker worship, for now, or food and fellowship after. For others, it affects how they celebrate the Eucharist. And what about the Friendly Kitchen’s two dinners a week for an already vulnerable populace, prepared and served by ten congregations on a rotating basis? Do we make the meals takeout to reduce social contact? How do we react to public school closures and childcare issues, especially for working parents?

As for the lockdowns in nursing homes and senior housing? Turn around, and there’s another surprise.

Let’s not overlook the panic runs on the supermarkets, either. Before the outbreak, my wife had started cutting back on our pantry backup, but now she’s feeling we should be able to sustain two or three weeks of lockdown, so we’re stocking up again, just not in alarm mode.

Think I need to get some quinine water, too? Maybe look at this as alternative medicine?

My assignment was to make sure we’d be set for my nightly martini and the rabbits’ pellets, should we go into self-isolation or official quarantine. You know, keep everybody in this household comfy for the duration. Having the state liquor store touting a 16 percent discount on purchases over $150 helped with the decision. The Bombay Sapphire was already on sale. You know, isn’t this stuff we’d be using anyway, eventually?

What I didn’t remind her is that I’m not touching alcohol until April 17, Orthodox Easter – seven whole weeks of abstinence. (Would those beautiful bottles strengthen my resolve to live, should I be afflicted in the coming weeks? Ay-ay-ay.)

So here we are, obsessing with the developments. I wonder what we’re going to learn today.

How about you?

Now that the numbers are in

I’ve long worried about the influence of political surveys on the elections themselves. That is, any scientific purpose they claim still pollutes the subject they’re investigating. And that’s before we get to candidates who remake their image and message to fit popular opinion, even if it doesn’t change their behind-the-scenes policies one whit.

As humans, we like to be on the winning side, after all, and published surveys add pressure in that direction. On the other hand, the opposing camps just might react by ramping up their anger and energy in a drive for an underdog upset. In that regard, the survey findings are more like the betting odds given on a sports event.

These elections should be more than a game or an entertainment ratings number. They’re too important for that.

I was happy to see that in New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary, many voters stuck to their convictions. Nobody saw Amy Klobuchar’s rise coming, but many were impressed seeing her face-to-face or in what they heard from others who had. The other supporters we met were generally soft-spoken but firm in their decision. Frankly, I was usually amazed to realize we weren’t alone, that there were others who had come to the same decision. I’ll confess we were bracing for the worst when the election results started pouring in. Now we’re feeling some vindication, and definitely smiling.

The irony here, of course, that her climb to a third-place finish now puts her in a spotlight that is expected to sway other primary results down the line.

We’ll just have to see how it all adds up.

What we’re looking for in a potential nominee

Each presidential primary season, I’m amazed by the number of people who file to run in the New Hampshire race even though they have little or no political experience. Yes, we have them again this leap year.

They have no hope of winning or usually even adding anything useful to the conversation.

Even among the serious candidates, I’ve come to see that having good ideas is not enough to make for a viable president. A commanding presence, leadership skills (including an ability to listen and accept critical positions from your inner circle), and effective organization are also essential. Quite simply, is this someone with traction as a nominee?

Political experience is also crucial. Directing a major corporation is not the same as managing a public enterprise. Some states and cities have budgets and work forces rivaling big businesses, but the dynamics are quite different. I do wish some of the billionaire candidates, hopeful as they are, had chosen to run for a governorship or Congress first, get their feet wet and learned through OJT.

So here we are, shaking things out.