Forget about the old days. They are gone. Forget about the old ways of doing things. They are gone. You are facing things your parents never faced. Your children are facing things that you, as a child, never faced. Everything has changed. I mean that completely, categorically. The one exception is our belief in a return to normal. There is no normal. Unless you mean chaos and disaster. Unless you mean they’re normal.
There was a brief period when this country could have done something about the novel coronavirus now crawling over every nook and cranny of our individual lives and society. There was a time when it could have been minimized, even stopped, while we recovered from damage already done. That moment has passed. The pandemic is here to stay. Its individual and social impact is permanent. At first we talked about a lost month. Then about a lost summer. Soon, a lost year, lost decade, until finally, if we’re lucky and if we’re wise, we realize what we’re talking about is a lost generation.
“The first thing I’m going to do when the pandemic is over is give one of my friends a big hug.” That’s what my 9-year-old child said today over breakfast. I’m guessing your children, or grandchildren, have said something similar. I’m guessing they have expressed a longing for a return to normal, a longing you are powerless to make real. I’m guessing you felt the pain I felt but could not—would not—give voice to. Never in the child’s presence. New Haven’s school board decided against in-person teaching. Classes will be virtual. “You will never be able to hug your friends again,” I thought.
Nearly 100,000 children came down with Covid-19 in late July, according to a new report by the American Academy of Pediatrics. That number is likely to go up. The school year has begun in states whose governments refuse to mandate wearing face masks. Do not believe Joe Biden’s victory, should that happen, will mean going back to sane public health policy. These states decided to endanger the well-being of their own children to score political points. Moreover, 11 percent of the country won’t wear a mask no matter what, according to a recent Wall Street Journal survey. That percentage will triple, even quintuple, under a Democratic president. They will rally in numbers high enough for viral spread under flags declaring “Don’t Tread on Me.” Many will refuse to get vaccinated, whenever a vaccine is viable, which might take years, because they already believe vaccines generally are secret plots to harm them. Resistance to masks and vaccines will have the backing of the Republican Party and its billionaire donors. You thought the coronavirus was going to go away someday. Think again.
No one knows the effect on kids. Some exhibit symptoms. Most blessedly don’t. More certain is they give it to you, your parents, your grandparents—teachers, coaches, instructors, tutors—anyone spending time with kids. But again, no one knows. There’s some evidence of what the disease does to the heart. Professional athletes are getting sidelined. There’s more evidence of what it does to the brain. “There are also longer-lasting consequences for the brain, including myalgic encephalomyelitis /chronic fatigue syndrome and Guillain-Barre syndrome,” wrote Natalie Tronson. The University of Michigan neurologist gave us reason to be worried about more than death tolls. “COVID-19 will continue to impact health and well-being long after the pandemic is over. As such, it will be critical to continue to assess the effects of COVID-19 illness in vulnerability to later cognitive decline and dementias.”
The death toll surpassed 160,000 Sunday. The number of infections crested 5,000,000. That’s sure to double, at least, by the time we know who the winner of the election is (a process, as I said last week, that will drag on until 2021). Doubling is sure to happen, I have no doubt, because all things will be equal between now and then; and all things will be equal, because Donald Trump does not want to know whether he’s done a good job of containing the pandemic. He only wants his toadies to tell him that he’s done a good job. “With polls showing Trump’s popularity on the decline and widespread disapproval of his management of the viral outbreak, staffers have concocted a positive feedback loop,” according to the Post. “They present him with fawning media commentary and craft charts with statistics that back up the president’s claim that the administration has done a great—even historically excellent—job fighting the virus.”
The US is a patchwork. Thirteen and a half thousand school districts with 13,500 ways of going back to school amid a pandemic. The only safe way, however, is with a national response. “We need not only adaptive safety practices at the schools but also lower amounts of virus in each community,” Tom Bossert, a former White House homeland security adviser under Trump, told the Post. “A suppression-level effort to shrink and not just mitigate the spread of covid requires a national strategy.”
A national response is precisely what the president did not want. For one thing, he thought blue-state people were the only ones getting sick. For another, leading a national response would put him at risk of being wrong. And Donald Trump is never wrong. “Trump and several White House aides have instead continued to think that it is politically advantageous to cede the issue to the states to avoid taking ownership or blame for the issue, even though testing shortages are largely seen as a federal failure.”
This is Nero fiddling while Rome burns.