Sunday, March 29: the Pope’s prayer for the world, the NY curve is getting exponential, Bill Gates & Bob Dylan say some things.
Standing before a wooden cross reputed to have saved Rome from plague in the sixteenth century, the Pope this weekend gave an hour long blessing – a prayer for the world – to an empty Saint Peter’s Square, a place where only darkness gathered to hear. More than eleven million watched, even as another 969 sons and daughters of Italy died that same day.
In Spain the number of dead per capita is now higher than Italy, three times that of Iran, and 40 times higher than China. Terribly, the army found elderly dead and abandoned in their beds at understaffed for-profit nursing homes.
I wonder what the pigeons think, with no one in the public squares across Europe and now, America. Where are they getting their food?
As of Sunday morning, the United States reports around 125,000 infections and 2,200 deaths but we have no data on how many people have been tested, or recovered, so the information is like a soap bubble drifting past, with a tiny demon trapped within.
I find myself concentrating more on the news out of NY than my own city; it’s the leading edge of the tidal wave hitting us now, and we’ll be able to glimpse the wreckage even as the wave heads for the west coast. The news is grim: Governor Cuomo, who seems more and more like a competent field general on the front lines of an actual war, talking to the public from warehouses and docks and field hospitals, reported big jumps in new cases in a day (7,200) deaths (237) and total infections confirmed (59,513). The mayor says the city has one week of medical supplies, and I wonder if that estimate accounts for the exponential growth of cases doubling every two days. Thoughts like this are like moths fluttering around, banging softly against a bare light bulb in my head. The lightbulb has the word “pandemic” printed on it.
A few years ago Bill Gates gave a TED Talk on our lack of readiness in the US for the next pandemic, an event he considered highly likely (“well over 50%”) and that was bound to be highly deadly unless we mobilized immediately. Reader, we didn’t. Today he gave an interview talking about the lost month of February when the US government failed to prepare, and laying out what needs to be (and is not being) done now: mainly organizing and prioritizing testing. It’s still not clear why asymptomatic NBA players are reporting test results, while healthcare workers are starting to die of the disease, still untested. If there is a better example of the 1% operating in a different America than the other 99%, I don’t know it.
Deborah Copaken is writing about her family’s experience with COVID-19 for The Atlantic; on the one hand, the article gives reason for optimism — she says she has had worse colds and flus. On the other hand, she is worried about getting sicker and needing to go to the hospital, something her doctor has strongly advised her to avoid except as a last resort. This might seem like something new and terrible about the disease but in fact it is the disease laying bare this not new, very terrible fact that American hospitals have become such dangerous places for antibiotic resistant viruses that surgeons have routinely been telling patients for at least the past decade (when four different surgeons said as much to my husband) that patients are better off getting out of hospitals as soon as possible, to avoid killer staph and MERSA infections. Staying out of hospitals is also the only way to avoid #3 on the leading causes of death, which is medical errors according to a Johns Hopkins study that the medical establishment does not want to become famous. If medical error is the third leading cause of death in the best of times…well, you get the picture.
In other news I listened to Bob Dylan’s Murder Most Foul today for the first of what is bound to be many times. I cried at the line, the soul of a nation been torn away. I don’t know why he released it at this particular time in history…but it feels like an elegy for for America, or maybe that is just the violin that plays under Dylan’s voice, violins cannot help but sound elegiac. Still.
To cheer myself up, I immediately re-watched/re-listened to this flash mob Ode to Joy performed somewhere in Europe, somewhere in time. It was filmed years ago, but during this pandemic it is especially poignant, seeing all these humans standing around, shoulder to shoulder, being human together. Already it seems strange, such willingness to stand close to a stranger without even a face mask. When the choir starts singing it gets me every time:
I have problems, concrete worries, deep anxiety like a throat full of insulation, a head stuffed with bees…many do, I know I’m not unique or special in this…but I feel a little bit better knowing somewhere, someone is playing a violin, someone is learning to speak Arabic, someone is baking the cake of all cakes. Life isn’t reserved for the garden; it grows in the sidewalk cracks too.
There is much fuss in the media about President Trump’s remark last week that federal aid is a two way street, and Washington and Michigan governors better treat him right if they expect help. Dr. Fauci addressed it in the Fauciesque way that allows comfort to be extracted from chaos, choosing words that limn the problem but focus on the solution:
“The reality is, not the rhetoric, is that the people who need things will get what they need, there’s the reality and the rhetoric. I know the spirit of the Task Force, and when people need things, it doesn’t matter who they are, we try to get them what they need.”
Dr. Fauci, telling us to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain
Rhetoric matters, of course; we’re living in a time that proves it beyond all measure. Never before has the truth of Marshal McLuhan’s famous observation, “the medium is the message” been more on display. There will be plenty of opportunity to hold people to account for their messages. For now, we take note, we look forward. The good news is, the future is less and less uncertain as the data come in.
A physicist friend (are all physicists doomed to be described thusly?) shared with me a great video by another physicist, Henry, called How To Tell If We’re Beating COVID-19. Have a look – it really helps you understand if and when we’ll be winning in the race to flatten the curve, and created by people who make math and science explainable to kids, so should be understandable no matter how science phobic you are, no matter how much calculus makes you cuss. Also, it’s cool.
Good things: I for one am looking forward to the national holiday for the unveiling of the American National Health System in 2021. There will probably be should even definitely be a parade, with every player in the Major League Baseball, and the National Hockey League, and the National Basketball Association just riding slowly past in convertibles or walking along in the sunshine, waving at folks. I bet if you ask them they’ll call themselves happy to do it. There should be marching bands from the Final Four schools leading the parade up Pennsylvania Avenue preceded by a wheelchair color guard, and row upon row upon row of healthcare workers, wearing garlands of olive leaves in their hair. And the sky should be lit by a fireworks show donated by the Chinese, ending in the symbol for good luck that breaks apart in showers of light in the night skies over our grateful upturned faces.
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