Covid-19 diary: Part 10

May 26, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
May 26, 2020

The United States has started to reopen after around two months in which vast swathes of the public have been strongly encouraged to stay home. I’ve looked on this partial return to normalcy with major misgivings.

As of Tuesday evening, according to data kept by The New York Times, the U.S. has nearly 1.7 million Covid-19 cases and nearly 99,000 fatalities; the latter number is almost certainly an undercount. Brazil is second in cases with more than 391,000. The United Kingdom, where government officials initially eschewed stay-at-home orders, is second in fatalities with 37,000. (The U.K. is fourth in recorded cases, after Russia.)

Federal leaders in the United States badly mismanaged the novel coronavirus pandemic, missing opportunities to review or renew planning for this kind of emergency, to ramp up the manufacturing of personal protective equipment, to coordinate the acquisition and distribution of PPE and to encourage state and local government to implement and maintain social distancing and other vital infection-control measures.

President Donald Trump seems insistent on doing the wrong thing at every turn, whether it’s appointing his son-in-law to a key position, encouraging citizens to protest stay-at-home orders, lying about the nation’s Covid-19 testing program and other aspects of the pandemic response, promoting a potentially unsafe drug as a possible cure for Covid-19 without evidence, and mostly refusing to wear a face mask when making public appearances in close proximity to others.

Trump has made plenty of other questionable decisions in matters both symbolic and substantive, such as golfing (twice!) over the gravest Memorial Day weekend the U.S. has had in recent memory; attacking mail-in balloting, which has a solid record in terms of election integrity and could be significantly safer than in-person voting under the current circumstances; and pushing North Carolina to certify that the Republican National Convention can be held in Charlotte with 50,000 participants this summer.

Stores and restaurants and barber shops may be opening, but there are plenty of Americans who will continue to stay home as much as possible. Since March 15, aside from walks to exercise myself or the family dog, I’ve gone out into a public place of business for a very limited number of reasons:

• Fueling my car: Four times.

• Using the bathroom: Three times, all on trips between my residence in Durham, N.C., and my parent’s house in the New York metropolitan area.

Grocery shopping: Once in New Jersey, twice in New York and once in North Carolina.

• Visiting the veterinarian: Three times.

• Shopping for hygiene supplies: Twice in North Carolina, once at a pharmacy and once at a medical-supply store.

• Donating blood: Once.

(The veterinarian runs were similar to fueling trips; I exchanged the dog with a tech in the parking lot and never went inside.)

A lot of these trips overlap, as you can probably tell. And I’ve covered my face every time I’ve been inside a public facility since the start of April.

The point here is that I’m not convinced the time is right to ease social-distancing and other disease-control measures. I’m certainly not interested in breathing air that might contain a virus capable of devastating my internal organs.

However, I sometimes have a tendency toward excessive pessimism. I had a chat this week with a friend who, while not an expert in these matters, has tracked medical developments that could curb the pandemic.

The world’s medical and scientific communities have responded to this catastrophe with massive research efforts, which offers some comfort. No one knows when a safe and effective vaccine might be ready for mass production — or how many yahoos will refuse to take it — but help is on the way. My pal, F—, mentioned that a few medicines have shown promise as a treatment for Covid-19. He’s also optimistic that convalescent plasma can help people fight the disease.

Moreover, as restrictions ease around the country, we don’t seem to have experienced any major surges in Covid-19 cases or deaths.

It’s too early to say whether that will last. And I’m still not going to rush out to be around other people without a damned good reason to do so. But there are a few signs of hope, however tentative, as we struggle to handle the Western world’s worst infectious-disease crisis since the AIDS epidemic.

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