Monday March 30th: in which 15 days to slow the spread becomes 30; tears for Italy; ingenious solutions
Late yesterday the White House gave its daily coronavirus briefing. Although the president is not named in the task force, he starts every briefing with an hour of remarks that someone takes the time to script and print out for him beforehand, one of those little details I can’t help noticing, because it makes me picture everyone standing at the door, irritably trying to enforce personal distance spacing, waiting for some White House intern to come racing in from the printer room with copies of the remarks to distribute before walking out to the press briefing. Whoever is in charge of ordering office supplies, I hope they have plenty of ink on the ready.
Every time I see Ben Carson and Mike Pompeo standing stone faced behind the podium, I am reminded of the book The Fountainhead, of the characters Gus Webb and Peter Keating. These are the second-hand kings tasked with steering the great American ship to safe shores. (Rupert Murdoch is Gayle Wynand, I guess). I wonder if Alan Greenspan is watching these briefings somewhere, wincing, or if he still considers himself, somehow, an Ayn Randian objectivist.
Sunday’s briefing was notable for President Trump implying that there is some funny business going on with PPE. “Where are all the masks going?” he asked everyone and nobody in particular, elucidating “They normally need 10k to 20k, now suddenly they need 300k, how doest that make sense, are they going out the back door?” and recommending a reporter look into it.
A reporter inquired, do you think there is hoarding? To which the president replied, “No” but then immediately said “although some independent hospitals and chains are hoarding ventilators.”
He went on to say about New York’s hospitals that “There’s something going on that is worse than hoarding – someone should look into it.” Part of me looks forward to what is bound to be a Soprano-esque, full-on Joe Pesci-style response by Andrew Cuomo, who is emerging as the populist hero of his time for his crisis management. But a bigger part is just really bummed to hear unsubstantiated accusations flying like paint balls out of the president’s mouth; it’s not lethal, no one dies, but the splatter just ends up getting on everything. “Someone should look into it” is a really chilling thing to hear on shows like The Sopranos and Breaking Bad, a not-so-casual suggestion that is freighted with meaning.
The big news of the weekend: 15 Days to Stop The Spread has officially been extended, now ending on April 31st, and shutting down any talk of the economy restarting on Easter Sunday when he said “Challenging times are ahead for the next 30 days.” Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx – Uncle Tony and Aunt Deb, I’ve begun calling them – nodded vigorously in the background, looking relieved, the way parents sometimes do when their kid gets through a difficult round of a spelling bee (which reminds me, this is the perfect time to see Spellbound if you haven’t, it is a documentary following four spelling champions to the national spelling bee.)
“There is nothing worse than declaring victory before the victory is won,” declared the President, and somewhere George W. Bush tipped a beer and said Amen, or Mission Accomplished, to that.
President Trump emphasized that the peak in death rate will likely to be in two weeks but provided no data for that, and added a “by the grace of God” but did not similarly name any scientists like for example Dr. Fauci. (I think people would be fine with “by the grace of God and/or Dr. Fauci”). However he did emphasize, “we will learn so much” and I’m glad to hear that, amid the talk of a potential 1918-like rebound of the virus in the fall/winter it’s good to know preparedness has become a watchword. We can be prevent what we can plan for. Better late than never.
I wonder who writes the President’s speeches, because they include lines that even the president reads as though he’s never heard them, lines like “The strength of our people are our most important asset” which is the kind of thing big business HR departments say to you when it’s all hands on deck during the go-go times of soaring profits. But when times get rough, at least in the US, it doesn’t take long for consultants and CEOs to notice that the most important asset is also the most expensive one. Like Kohl’s today, announcing it is furloughing (whatever that means) 85,000 employees. Macy’s is following suit, furloughing most of its 125,000 workers.
Reading that news made me briefly remember working at large corporations, how it took so little for a rumor of layoffs to gain traction, how high the anxiety level is for those who are waiting to see what happens next. Once, when I was rushing down the hall for no reason except to get somewhere quick, a secretary signaled me into her office. “Will there be layoffs, what have you heard?” she asked in a low voice. I was startled there was any talk about layoffs, which I hadn’t heard; I’m just going to a meeting, I told her. It was an early lesson in why keeping calm is just better in general for everyone. Also in the importance of keeping your ear to the ground, as less than a week later nearly 8% of the company was laid off.
President Trump is not a microphone hog – during the briefing he invited four different CEOs to take podium. All of the CEOS thanked the president first for his leadership, (“Thank you for the incredible leadership.”). The CEO of UPS did not wear a brown uniform, more’s the pity, but she did call the company’s 495,000 “You Pee Essers” a “big brown army” that is ready to deploy at the state and local level and it made me feel good about UPS. I’ve always wanted one of those uniforms, too. For some reason they make UPS seem like a friendly place.
An important bit of news was that Battelle – the largest, private, non-profit research and development organization in the world – has now developed machines with the capability to sterilize 80,000 used surgical masks a day. There are two of them already in Ohio, and one in New York with another on the way. It’s crazy time, when the president is giving the kind of update I’m used to hearing from a weekly global operations team at a hardware company.
In an interesting demonstration of the power of Twitter, the governor of Ohio got super pissed at the FDA’s slow pace approving these sterilizers, calling them out in a righteous tweet storm…and in a matter of hours was triangulating directly with the President, busting through the red tape.
In poor beleaguered Italy, citizens have been under a nationwide lockdown for three weeks that was supposed to end Friday, but with the daily death toll at 812, is now extended for “at least two more weeks.
Good Things: I listened to a podcast by an ER doctor in New York they think is patient zero and the main thing I remember is his comment, “I feel for America.”
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