An unconventional future

ridicJournaling the coronavirus, Tuesday April 7: in which Idahoans won’t stay home; Wisconsonites vote; the NY death toll creeps higher

Today my husband made soup and bread, and after online high school my daughter practiced her guitar, she is getting quite good, I can recognize Tears In Heaven even through the closed door. It feels apropos with the rain coming down today.

In the US there have been more than 11,000 deaths, though many professionals say that number is surely an underestimation; the federal government does not expect to produce a final tally of coronavirus deaths until 2021. In San Francisco and Oakland, drive-thru coronavirus testing became available for city workers and anyone in direct contact with the public. Governor Newsom has been frank about being behind the testing curve, it’s good to hear a story that is consistent with what we are seeing on the ground, and see actual solutions being rolled out if not yet widely.  The National Guard has outfitted a 250-bed field hospital in the Santa Clara Convention Center.  On the local news they interviewed a scared-looking woman, her dad died on a cruise, and now her mom is sick in a hospital in Miami. In her voice you can hear how worried she is about her mom, who was just placed on a ventilator.  I think of my own parents, the same age, dad just recovered from a knee replacement, and anxiety paws my heart.

After months of shilly-shallying and hemming and hawing and just generally underplaying the whole virus thing, and even boasting of continuing to shake hands, the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is being treated for COVID-19 in the ICU. The next in succession also being ill, they have deputized the foreign minister Dominic Raab. It’s quite a sudden shift in tone. President Trump started his Monday presser telling us he had some CEOs call London something something something about therapeutics and brilliant people something something. It was hard to know what his point was, or care – it was the kind of boastful name dropping you hear at dinner parties with wealthy people like those in Bonfire of the Vanities, people who have been out of regular work too long and don’t realize how their conversation has changed from actual topics to a boring recitation of the important, successful, impressive and influential.

Britain’s foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, at a coronavirus briefing on Monday. Mr. Raab is now temporarily in charge of the government after the prime minister was admitted to intensive care.

photo by Pippa Fowles

Iran has lifted its nationwide shut down of businesses, even while reports indicate the disease is raging with more than 50,000 cases and 3,000 deaths. Al Jazeera reports at least six people die every hour in Iran from COVID-19.

On the east coast there is bad news and good news: in New Jersey daily deaths are soaring, around ~900 and rising. In New York the number of daily deaths hovered around six hundred over the weekend and it seemed like it might be slowing down, but sadly today they are reporting the highest daily death toll ever (731).  Governor Cuomo, perhaps inspired by the mayors of Lombardy making videos of themselves yelling that their unruly, won’t-sta-a-casa citizens are irresponsible, colossal idiots, has announced if you violate social distancing rules it will cost you $1,000 in fines.

I have a hard time believing he’d take a hard line on collecting on that, when no one can work, and even before the pandemic 40% of New Yorkers lived paycheck to paycheck with no savings. Threatening to fine them seems a little silly, why not threaten to take food away, or a roof over their heads? A $1,000 fine could be rent for the month, a family’s food budget. You can’t squeeze blood from a stone. Also – what do you threaten people with when they’re in the process of losing everything?  It’s going to be the question of our times, for a long time. Maybe the answer is, threats aren’t the answer.

Most Americans are sheltering in place but there are a few holdouts including Idaho, the last state to report a coronavirus case. Some of the state legislators even told people to ignore the guidelines for stopping the spread as infringing on their God-given right to die stupid avoidable deaths, so now Sun Valley Idaho is reporting more cases per capita than the whole state of California. In Wisconsin the governor tried to postpone the election but Republicans went to the courts and overruled, so now cheddarheads have to choose between a politician and their health in a pandemic. With only 5 of 180 polling stations open to serve a population of 600,000 voters, social distancing is going to be pretty much impossible while performing one’s civic duty. Stay safe, cheddarheads.


More than 8,000 ventilators have been sent.
We have thousands being built.
We’re ready to roll with thousands in the federal stockpile of 10,000.
We have people waiting to bring them wherever they are needed.

~President Trump

President Trump says “we’ve used the Defense Production Act so strongly and powerfully we don’t have to use it much actually,” a sentence I have to think about for awhile. President Trump is very adroit at doing a form of verbal chicanery my grandpa called “running with the hares and hunting with the hounds”.

There’s no details on how the DPA is being applied, except for 3M – recently a target of his angry tweets but now apparently making millions of face masks, gloves, face shields and respirators. The president thanked the CEOs of 3M and Apple and SalesForce as if they were doing him personal favors and who knows, maybe they were. At this point with all the corruption and firings and feuds and payback, I’m surprised someone isn’t actually creating a socially distanced line to a throne room, Ivanka in a Danaerys hairstyle, organizing with a clipboard, and with Trump sitting on a gilt, rare-wood-and-endangered animal hide chair exclusively from Horchow Collection, ranting about ungracious governors and dispensing favors to the flunkies in line like a sort of New World mad King George. I can easily enough imagine who would be in such a line, and how long the line would be. I can easily enough imagine the reasons even nice-seeming guys like Tim Cook and Marc Benioff might use as rationalizations to get online, ready to trade-in on the crisis PPE donations. As for how much the DPA has actually been strongly and powerfully used, it remains unknown.

bradyTo Sir With Love
Mike Pence was called a straight shooter and all of the governors were said to be very happy with him in a kind of all-Governor’s conference call which made the wonder, were they all in a Brady Bunch style grid? That would look cool, like a big governmental Bingo card. I’d love to be a fly on the wall during that call if only for the Zoom bloopers.  In spite of everything I admit it’s funny to think of 50 governors all sitting there besuited from the waist up and in pajama pants.

There weren’t any negatives in the call, the President said, were there? He twists around to eyeball the Vice President who says off camera no, sir, and the President turns back to someone in the press box and with an indescribable smile (so I’ve screen shotted it) and says “See? I told you.”  These briefings are feeling more and more like shows, the participants like people playing character versions of themselves.  It would be over the top but totally appropriate for them to get a theme song and maybe some graphics, like Quelling Coronavirus with Don and Mike!! only of course it will have to sound pompous and gold plated for the president to like it.

trump smile

The president assures us, “If the states aren’t happy then we’ll make them happy, they can call me directly.” Somehow I get the feeling he’s still pissed at Governor Cuomo, I’m not sure why.  Maybe the failure to effusively compliment – Governor Gavin Newsom got a shoutout, but not Governor Cuomo. The president mentions the Governor has asked for permission to use the big hospital ship the Comfort to treat COVID-19 patients and as he retells the anecdote you can hear how he relishes all of us thinking Governor Cuomo addressed him as Sir, which I don’t believe for a moment because if it were true they’d be replaying it 24×7 on Twitter and Facebook. President Trump doesn’t understand policy or pandemics but he understands publicity the way a plant understands phototropism.

There is definitely a sir theme to this sesh.

Thanks for All
The president was effusive in his compliments and thanks – to CEOs, to the Vice President, to Deb and Tony (as I like to call the good doctors).  Even Governor Pritzker is a very happy man, Trump declares with a trace of warning in his voice. He stands at the podium like a director whose just been awarded the Academy Award for best movie. “A lot of people are doing a great job. You’ve done great, Mike, you’re a special man, but you, the four star general, have done an incredible job!” He better be good with all those stars, Trump jokes, and I wonder if the General will hear that joke in his dreams.

A reporter asked the president for an update on the results of the second half of his physical. He says the second half will be done at the appropriate time and he feels very good and according to the doctor is in very good shape.

“We are doing an incredible job on testing, better than any nation in the world, they are admitting very strongly.”

Are you working directly with China on coronavirus? a Chinese reporter asks, and the president talks for awhile about big trade deals.  Another reporter asks, why no national stay at home order and the president becomes testy, insisting he’ll do it if necessary. What about the beaches in Georgia being open, the reporter asks (just 24 hours after Dr. Birx said “Now is not the time to go to the grocery store or the pharmacy.”) The president says he doesn’t know about that, will have to look into it, but the governor is doing a great job and is a great guy.

A reporter starts to ask about the acting HHS Inspector General Christy Grimm’s report about testing backlog, but the President becomes angry and cuts him off, insisting he won’t answer any questions until the reporter tells him when the IG was appointed (answer: 1999).

A reporter asks if there will be a second payment to citizens, and the president says “It’s absolutely under consideration.”

Senator Chuck Schumer has recommended a Supply Chain Czar, which has the President bristling. A reporter asked, well, who is in charge? The president had the VP take the lectern and talk and a lot of names came up, and the VP assured us he speaks to the people these names belong to every day. He says things like “They are an extensive team that looks at data and works with the requests that are coming in from the states” and the words pile on each other like soft serve ice cream.

There is an early mid-presser rambling rant against the Obama administration. I type as the president speaks, without though, sentences melting together, topics appearing in a realtime chain reaction word association: 

We inherited a broken system. We had no ammunition. They spent money like no one ever did, but they didn’t buy ammunition. The cupboard was bare. The testing system was broken and old. A certain person said this will happen but that person never did anything about it. They never did anything about it. We all know about pandemics but nobody thought it was going to happen. We did something. We have a ship. We’ve done things that are incredible. Chuck Schumer is a total light weight by the way. We have two admirals, numerous generals, the Army Corps of Engineers, FEMA, they’ve done an incredible job, people should respect it. Don’t worry about me, I will only get bad.  If I send a governor ten thousand ventilators instead of one thousand ventilators, if you call them up they’ll say “We’re not happy.” The Democrat governors and one rhino in particular are saying great things. It was a perfect call. 

The late-mid presser monologue also obliquely slams Obama, focusing on the need for infrastructure but not the Green New Deal I don’t care about the carbon footprint.  What we’ve done is so crazy, the direction this country has taken is SO SAD. We’re into the Middle East for $8 trillion dollars and if you want to fix a pothole on the highway you can’t do it because they don’t want to give you the funds. I’m totally opening to putting forward more money for our citizens. We had the greatest economy in the history world and our professionals came to me and said Sir we’re going to have to shut it down and I said, tell me that again. We had to close down our country. 

The president signs off wishing Boris Johnson well, calling him a fine guy.  The presser continues with the VP mentioning 50 major disaster declarations by the president, the fact that there is National Guard activation and money being distributed. It’s all repetition of points already repeated and I wonder if the reporters actually get sleepy – the room doesn’t seem well ventilated.  The decision about the Comfort is reiterated. The Javitz Center is mentioned again. He says “It will be a week of heartbreak and a week of hope.”

Again that “will be”, again that false assertion of unavoidable tragedy. These people really believe they could not have done a better job – or, at least, believe they can distract us from the job they didn’t do, with the job they are currently doing but not well enough. Standing there arrayed behind the podium they remind me of a museum exhibit, maybe Madame Tussaud will do a wax version of them and call it the tableau “Dunning-Kruger Display.”

Dr. Birx takes the lectern and thanks a lot of people including FEMA and military and modelers and states and hospitals talks about how different places “are really on top of the situation”, she talks about metro areas and rural areas and honestly we’re more than an hour into it now and it’s a lot of words and I get tired of paying attention. I perked up when Dr. Fauci came to the podium, citing data that equal good signs that our mitigation is starting to work. He complimented Washington state and California for doing a good job mitigating early and I really hope that means we’re not going to see the need for surge and flex like we’re seeing in New York.

One reporter asked if the political conventions are a good idea. Dr. Fauci gave a very measured answer that did not include a yes or no but reader, his answer was no.

The VP finishes the presser saying we’ll get through it with God’s help. He did not leave room for those of no faith like the Queen in her historic address on Sunday. Late last night, I woke to the moonlight streaming in between the window and the shade. It illuminated my husband, and the dog who is very happy at the closeness of his pack these days, and my bedside table where I pile books, candles, earrings, and things that catch my fancy like a jeweled turtle with a hinged shell that lifts to store my wedding ring, and a tiny unicorn my daughter kept near her bedside when she was five. Lately it’s where I keep my grandmother’s sterling silver rosary. I have no faith in religions, but knowing she held those beads through a Great Depression, and through the death of a husband and a child, makes me feel connected to her quiet, enduring womanly strength, and I fell back asleep holding it, shining in the moonlight.

Good News: For the first time since January, China reports no new deaths.

See past entries in Coronavirus Event




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