Holding on to the dream

wine heavenJournaling the coronavirus Thursday April 9th: the death toll rises again; the attitude of gratitude; the relaunch is coming

In the US, we’re at 400,000 infections, 14,000 deaths; we’re in the midst of the peak. Overnight, 799 New Yorkers died of COVID-19, another record.  Another New Yorker died from stab wounds to the chest, when her fiance chased her down and killed her for trying to break up with him. “She had terrible taste in men,” said a friend interviewed for the article, putting the blame squarely on the victim and proving the more things change, even with a fucking pandemic on our hands, the more femicide stays the same. Her name was Gabrielle Gottlieb, and please say it out loud and maybe wish her Godspeed.

More than 16 million Americans have filed for unemployment and I am but one of them; economists expect that number to be 20 million by the end of the month. Ninety-five percent of Americans are doing some form of sheltering in place. I am one of them, too. If you’re not, you better have a good reason, bub.

Some of us are depressed beyond measure that Bernie Sanders has dropped out of the presidential primary.  In a haze of grief for my country, I write today’s update. It will lack for verve but not honesty.

Yesterday’s presser was more of the same, but at least there was no rando let’s-introduce-the-second-wave-of-the-war-on-narcoterrorism shit. The themes of this presser/update are recurring:

1. Get Cuomo The sly digs at Governor Cuomo continue. “They’ll be using fewer beds,” the President says with an I-told-you-so shrug of New York revising its projections because that’s what you do with projections when the real data start coming in. Regarding ventilators, the president says “We’re not getting calls that they need them, so we were right on those ventilators too.”  It’s incredible, really; Cuomo said he wasn’t getting the help he wanted from the federal government and our president made the decision to jib and jab at Cuomo til the end of time. On his deathbed, he’ll be saying “They used fewer beds though, like we thought.” The President couldn’t and wouldn’t give New York what they thought they needed, so now for all eternity New York is a bunch of no-account grifters who were trying to sell equipment out the back door to make the president look bad, or something.

2. ImPrEsS tHeM WiTh BiG nUmBErs. We hear yet another recitation of the shipments of masks, gowns, face shields….big numbers repeated over and over, no context given, it’s impossible after awhile to know if these are the same numbers from yesterday, the day before. In some cases, like the national stockpile of ventilators, they are the same numbers we’ve been hearing for more than a week, just broken down differently to hide the fact that many of the ventilators are broken down, like the stockpile system itself was allowed to break down, because the Trump administration didn’t see the need to not let it break down, even as they say now “Who could have predicted this?”

More ventilators come on line Monday, and the president assures us they will be sending them to this state, that state, in fact “sending them to places just in case they need them”, throwing out the entire strategy of not being shipping clerks and triangulation on hospital reports and blah blah blah from Jared and Dr. Birx, now they’re just sending out on a ‘just in case’ basis. But hey, not to New York, those ventilator needs must be proven with a usage report which will be triangulated to form a mosaic to assess need and align supplies with the gaps blah blah blah. Governor Cuomo was right to just shrug, realizing “We are on our own.”

It is eerily dismaying, to hear the president of the most powerful country in the world willingly wasting his time droning out numbers in a rapid, singsong voice with no visual aids to help the audience track what he’s saying: 300 million new face masks were ordered and we’re thinking about another 200 million, he reads, repeating the figures a few times in admiration. Think of it, he marvels, hundreds and hundreds of MILLIONS! He pauses, maybe waiting for applause, or at least a murmur of Wow from the reporters, who he treats more and more like rally attendees.

oen slide

the miracle of powerpoint at Gov. Cuomo’s update

We’re told the number of new cases is stabilizing but provided with no charts or heat maps. “The numbers are changing rapidly and soon we’ll be over the top and headed in the right direction,” the president reads from his binder. It’s as if no one ever taught anyone on this podium that quantitative information can be visually displayed instead of just read/asserted. Over the top of what? Changing rapidly in what way? How soon?  Being in the press box must be a little like listening to a human magic eight ball, the answers are so nonspecific: we’ll soon see, it cannot be determined, it is likely at this time, ask again later.

Meanwhile it’s unclear if the masks and gowns being mentioned today are just a repetition of what has already been communicated yesterday and the day before that. Numbers are never contextualized. The most important fact about PPE is how unavailable it is, and how many infections and deaths this unavailability has caused – but that part is never mentioned.  Invoking Obama as the reason for this administration’s dearth of preparedness continues:  “We ordered 500 million masks and they’re going to be here very shortly and remember, we started off with an empty cupboard,” the president said.

A reporter mentions that the governor of Kansas has put in no less than seven  requests to FEMA for supplies from the stockpile with no response. Also, the reporter notes, Why did Colorado get 100 ventilators and not Kansas and the fifteen states with more COVID-19 cases than Colorado? The Vice President assures us he’ll reach out to the Governor of Kansas this evening to get to the bottom of this, remarking that “In the case of Kansas we are looking at their numbers everyday and we’re going to work our hearts out to make sure that as the coronavirus emerges, blah blah blah the people of KS who have done a remarkable job social distancing blah blah blah they may have enough we’re focusing on Seattle, California, New York blah blah blah New York, Detroit, Chicago, blah blah blah we’re going in that order.”

Dr. Birx takes the podium to amplify the Vice President’s verbose non-answer, talking about the “decision complex” for awarding ventilators. “I don’t think we knew that some states had lots of ventilators and some have less. I’m sure the hospitals fit into that model, the ones in Denver had less ventilators.” she says in a voice that doesn’t sound all that sure.

(Reader, they don’t have enough to go around is what all of this means, and states with Democratic governors are not first in line no matter what).

3. There will be drugs  …promoted as a cure, whether proven or not. The president talked about therapeutics, but it quickly became clear that the subject was introduced just to tee up talking about hydroxychloroquine and the marvelous impact it had on the patient we heard about for the last two days, you remember, the one who told her husband “I’m not going to make it, go get the pill the President recommended, what do I have to lose” and he did and she took it and it was beautiful and perfect like the letter and now she’s on the shows telling her story and he doesn’t want to go into all of that again (though he just did), but look into it, he urges watchers at home, all those future purchasers of hydroxychloroquine. “She’s done a great service taking it,” he tells us, and one has to wonder, service to whom? Also, zinc.

They say zinc, I wanna throw that out there.  ~President Trump

A reporter asks of the 29 million hydroxychloroquine pills, How systematically is your administration tracking this?

“We’re distributing in large amounts, I hope it works, I am not a doctor as you ave possibly found out but we’ve had some very good results including a woman I mentioned… (at this point I zoned out hearing the story for the third itme in 24 hours, sorry).

“Certain states and governments” are “asking” for the doses, “we’re delivering directly to those governments”.  Which governments, he does not say.

4. Gratitude, gratitude, gratitude. The president read from his notes a “thank you” to the front line workers, specifically calling out cashiers and clerks. “We grew up with cashiers and clerks,” he reminisces. “They’re in great danger!” he reads, but then walks that back a bit, perhaps thinking of hazard pay questions later from the reporters. “They are true American heroes, and they’re woking in conditions that are not ideal.”

The gratitude platitudes flow thick and fast, each of these statements is by a different person at the lectern, see if you can match the title (President, VP,  CDC, Dr.) to the statement:

“I just think the people of this country are fantastic.”
“We’re in awe at the strength of the American people. In AWE.”
“Let me just say again how inspired we are at the response of the American people each and every day.”

Each of the task force speakers make a special effort to call out/thank healthcare workers, teachers, delivery drivers and grocery store employees, and we are told that we can honor them by “putting your foot on the gas on strongly mitigating!” but I think many of them would feel more and better honored with living wages, hazard pay, and preparedness for the next pandemic so they have enough PPE. Not to mention a fucking test for the virus.

The gratitude does not do these workers any favors, because like all the numbers we hear, the gratitude is presented without context. We do not hear how hard their jobs have become, or how they are managing to do them. We do not know the illness and death they are encountering daily. For example the New York times reports 41 transit workers have died, with ~6,000 more sick or self-quarantined. Imagine being in a workplace where more than three dozen of your colleagues are dead.

Maybe the best gratitude would be to stop describing these people by the low wages enforced on them, and instead by their impact on the economy. Maybe it’s time time we define the essentiality of what their doing in real terms.

“I don’t need any more free pizza,” the EMT who makes $37,000 with no health insurance tells reporter Judy Woodruff. “I need to pay my rent.”

Daniel Cruz, a bus operator who tested positive for the coronavirus three days after he learned a friend and colleague died from the virus, says “I love my job, but I’m not looking forward to going back to work. I feel like we’ve been left to defend ourselves.”

They don’t need gratitude, or to be called heroes and GOATs. They need what they have always needed, to work a job that pays the rent and the bills and not be precarious. Wages haven’t kept up with economic growth for thirty years and we’re still fucking arguing about it, stuck in the stupid human trap of incrementalism when in fact the whole notion of a minimum wage should be jettisoned, and a system like the Alaskan dividend extended to the lower forty-nine.

Gratitude ain’t going to cut it.

5. It’s war  Reading from his binder, the president offered hope, sort of. “Hopefully we are headed towards a final stretch, we’re waging a medical war but also an economic war, we have to return to full financial strength.”

Terms like “new American valor” and “daring and determination” are bandied about and it’s enough to make you scream, because the only reason valor and daring are required is because our government left us in the lurch, unprepared for a pandemic we KNEW was an eventuality, a ‘when’ not an ‘if’ – other countries were ready, but in America we expect our citizens to quite literally die in the trenches uncompensated (there is no plan for hazard pay even now).

Whoever writes the president’s speeches has clearly been availing themselves of historical speeches of World War II, to ridiculous effect:

“No matter what obstacles we must overcome Americans will keep on fighting to victory and secure the glorious future our citizens so richly deserve.”

6. America’s relaunch  I like to watch “24 Hours To Hell and Back,” a reality show where a lustily cursing Chef Gordon Ramsay visits restaurants that have no business serving food to carbon-based life forms and rescues them from themselves. After sprucing up the front of the house and installing clean equipment and a freshly trained cooking staff in the back of the house, the errant restaurant is shakily relaunched, sometimes to great effect. Other times, you just know all Gordon has probably done is stave off the inevitable for a few months, maybe a year. Not everyone can be rescued from themselves is the lesson there.

As the talks about opening up America for business again, it seems he is picturing something much like a Ramsay restaurant relaunch, only for the whole country. I think he has a mental picture of all the businesses – the mattress stores, the corner convenience stores, the check cashing places and the smoke shops and the daycare centers and the pet food suppliers and the bars and restaurants and architecture firms and advertising agencies with their doors propped open and balloons flying and signs reading “Grand Reopening” in neon paint on their windows.

“I don’t want to say anything about beating it yet but I feel we will beat it and very substantially.”  ~President Trump

Reporters pester the president for specifics. “When are we going to open back up? April 30th, May 1? can you give us a specific date?”

The president says he’s not doing to do that because he had a date – by Easter –  “It was very aspirational, a very important day to someone like me and other people in the room, maybe all the people in the room. I was criticized for that. Some of these models are showing Easter will be a very important date anyway.”

“What has to happen to be safe to reopen the country?” a reporter asks.  A tonal shift in the briefings is underway this week; there is less pleading with America to follow the presidential guidelines for thirty days to slow the spread, and far more congratulatory language. Listening, it sounds like we are almost over the hump, that a return to normal is pretty much imminent thanks to the hard work of the American people.

“We have to be on the downside of the slope,” the president says, with no slope pictured anywhere for anyone to refer to.  “We can do it in phases like some areas much less affected, it would nice to open with a big bang! I would say we’re ahead of schedule. I think sooner rather than later.”

The doctors are less hyperbolic, but even they have a detectable air of relief, with the new models predicting a much lower death rate – at 60,000, it is about half that of the previous low estimate. There is a sense that they have limned the worst case scenarios, and know somewhat what to expect. We’re not out of the woods, is the feeling, but we now know what lurks within, and it can be dealt with.

One reporters asks, What if you urge Americans to go back to work and they don’t listen to you?

“Oh, they’re going to listen,” says the president with all the confidence of someone who believes his decisions are never questioned (like my dad, in fact). His tone becomes jocular: “Everyone wants to go back, they’re going stir crazy!  People want to sit next to each other at restaurants. We wanna go back to life. At some point we expect to be back like it was before.”  He does not mention the vaccine timeline.

Relatedly, the president squeezes in his daily mention of the infrastructure bill he wants to pass, which will as he puts it the same way each time “repair our  roads-and-highways-and-bridges-and-tunnels,” oh my.  One wonders if all those construction workers will be forced to wear red construction helmets with a white MAGA on the front, or maybe there will be a new slogan, like “Make America Relaunch Again”.

Off with their heads!
Welcome to the newest section of the update, in which we examine who the president is mad at today.

Highly paid authority
There is a long discussion of the salary of the Tennessee Valley Authority, which is eight or nine million, but no discussion at all of how much money the Trump hotels are raking in daily since his inauguration. “He has a heck of a job. He’s been there awhile right?” the president asks, and the implication he makes so often, and is being made here, is clear: this is one of Obama’s swamp team, right?  As the idea gains traction, the president amplifies his outrage. “Whoever the head is, they make a LOT of money which is an amazing thing. But when you want them to do something they are not there for us.” He shrugs his whaddaya-gonna-do-about-thes-swamp shrug.

“Actually he came on in April,” a reporter informs the president. “Are you willing to reduce that salary as part of an infrastructure bill?”  The president says yes, “By a lot.”

tad friend on Twitter:

WHO are you?
The Red Queen was a character in literature that scared me badly because while she couldn’t be taken seriously as a person, she had to be taken very seriously as a threat. Her casual murdery abuse of power left me breathless with fear, and I’d never dwell on the part of the book with the color plate of her face with its big angry voracious-looking mouth screaming “Off with their heads!”  The president’s vendettas are very much like the Red Queen’s. Yesterday’s vendetta was against the WHO, and I only wish I meant Pete Townsend and Roger Daltry because Roger Daltry once flew a blow up balloon in the shape of a pig over one of the Who’s concerts, a pig with a picture of Trump and the words “ignorant,” “lying,” “racist,” “sexist” and “Fuck Trump and his wall.” written on the side of it.

But it’s the World Health Organization the president is feuding with, because the US gives them more money than China and yet the WHO criticizes President Trump and it’s all very unfair. The president announced that “On  January 14 the WHO said there was no human to human transmission but there was,” he gripes. “They criticized me very strongly when I said we were shutting down flights from China, I was criticized very badly.”  He runs us through the budget numbers in paired comparisons, the US vs. China, for this year, last year, the year before, the year before that, remarking “The WHO has to get their priorities right, every country has to be treated properly. Because it’s very unfair.”

It’s not good, it’s not fair, not fair at all.  ~President Trump

On testing
The country’s future rests in its ability to test and its immunity to the virus, either through infection or vaccinations, according to Harvard epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch.  USA Today reports just three states – New York, Louisiana and Washington – have matched or exceeded the testing rate of South Korea, whose testing procedures experts hold out as a model for the world. In short, South Korea tested about 1 in 100 citizens; we’re still at about 1 in 300.

We’re putting in very heavy testing systems,
We have the best testing systems.
We’re testing more than anyone,
Our testing will be a big strength,
Other countries are calling to see what are we doing with testing
We’re doing so well.

~The President of the United States of America

Dr. Birx took the lectern to talk about a model of the models. She’s fond of the words triangulation and mosaic.  She assures us “I’ve spent my life validating models doing surveys and surveillance” and we’re doing much better than several other countries but you’ll just have to take her word for it, no data are forthcoming.

When she says “Our healthcare delivery system in the US is quite extraordinary” I have to put the presser on pause and go out for a run to burn off my rage.  Yes, Dr. Birx, it is quite extraordinary that our system can so successfully exclude 30 million people from it. It is quite extraordinary that if you fall ill tonight, and an ambulance is called, the EMT that will pick you up, this critical worker, will be a person who makes $2,555/month after taxes and without health insurance, is likely not to have been issued proper PPE because of the careless short-sightedness of this administration, and will get no hazard pay.  Extraordinary is as good of a word as any to describe that system, I guess.

The doctor  presents some data that is very interesting and telling, but sadly there are no charts to reference, and the information whizzes by in a blur of numbers.  Infection positivity is very high in New York and New Jersey – more than 40% of those tested are infected.  Other cities that are beginning to record high death rates also show high positivity rates – NOLA, Chicago and Boson ranging from 18-25%.

The Vice President is thrilled with the “low, steady numbers in California”; Dr. Birx reports positivity rates of just 9%. Everyone nods and agrees that these low numbers are due to continuous mitigation but I’m here to tell you where I live three of the six people in the building experienced serious illness that might or might not have been COVID-19, there is no way to know because there is still, in April, three months after the first case made US landfall, no way to get a test.

On the election
A Taiwanese reporter says, “We’re paying attention to the US election, we know that Bernie Sanders has dropped out….” He doesn’t get a chance to actually ask his question because the President has a habit of guessing where the question is going to go and offering a pre-answer rebuttal. It’s rude and annoying but it also signals pretty clearly whatever he’s worried about.

“But he didn’t really drop out,” says the President conspiratorially. “He said he’s going to keep his delegates and he’d like to get more, that’s not really dropping out, that’s a weird deal going on there. What is that all about?”

The President did not wait for any speculation from the reporter which is too bad –  speculation from Taiwan is bound to be interesting, considering how transparently they manage 1) their democracy and 2) the pandemic (Taiwan has reported one death from COVID-19, in a country of 23 million).  He warms to his gossipy theme:

“Why hasn’t Obama supported Biden a long time ago? It doesn’t surprise me. He knows something you don’t know. And I think I know. But you don’t know.  Last time, we got a tremendous percentage of Bernie people, Bernie and I agree on trade.”  Reader, I think we’re all going to know what the president thinks he knows, and it rhymes with Shmunter Shmiden Shminvestigation.

The President closes his portion of the presser with a rant against mail ballot fraud: “Mail-in ballots are in states won by the Democrats. I’m not going to stand for it. We should have voter ID” he says. But people like him and senior citizens should of course get to use absentee ballots, that’s totally different.

Mike Pence takes the podium flanked six feet right and left by Drs. Fauci and Birx. Already it feels like we’ve been in a pillow fight where all the pillows have been treated with a low-grade poison gas.

“We find ourselves in the midst of a very tough week,” he intones. In a breathtaking display of non-separation of church and state, prayer, faith, the Good Book, and conversations with church leaders are covered in the first five minutes.

The Vice President’s role in these briefings is to 1) repeat all the numbers of pieces of PPE equipment flying around the world and 2) emcee who gets to answer questions – it seems he has been put on red alert by the president to not let Dr. Fauci address certain questions from certain reporters.  He repeated the number of gloves on flights from Air Bridge, repeated the number of of national disaster declarations, and talked about “detecting resources”.

A reporter attempts to clarify the yet-again-repeated statistic of 500 million masks, asking, are they reserved only for healthcare workers? The Vice President says  “We are seeing manufacturers in America who are recognizing the growing demand by the American people and spinning up production by the hour.”  (which means, I guess, “yes.”)

As the Veep drones, I zone, wondering: the pandemic should give birth to all kinds of scientific studies, research, reports, preparedness. But this administration doesn’t seem to be fielding a team with the breadth or depth needed to launch such efforts, and it’s doubtful they’ll have the will, since (as they will see it) it’s a lot of bad news mostly their fault. Will the universities be able to paint the national picture, get access to all the data? Will anyone hold these people accountable?

Today Dr. Fauci is without his glasses, which is subtly disorienting (I had a boss one time who shaved his blonde mustache and it was the same). He pronounces data with a lingering r at the end, so that it rhymes with alligator,  which makes me smile for what feels like the first time in days and make a mental note to look up if he’s from Boston. He reminds us, “This past weekend we said it was going to be a really bad week, while hoping to see a change in daily admissions to the hospital and to the ICU – and we’re seeing that, a little.”

We are warned not to get complacent. We are reminded, everyone is just as susceptible as everyone else. We are assured, mitigating is the best tool to fight the virus.  We are told the health disparities suffered by our brothers and sisters in the African American community are something we should commit ourselves for years to undo because Dr. Fauci is a HERO.  No one follows up on the how of this but it’s out there in the world to be remembered and rediscovered. It can’t be unsaid or unheard, now.

Dr. Fauci has repeatedly wished that all states should have a state-wide mandate to shelter in place and slow the spread, but the president won’t risk telling the states what to do in an election year.  A reporter tries to pin Mike Pence down on this subject, but he wiggles deftly out of the trap:

“Every American is asked to avoid any gathering of more than 10 people as a way to slow the spread but we defer to our governors and we’ll support those local decisions.”

~Vice President Mike Pence on why it’s ok to go to the beach or church if your local authority says it’s ok, infection and death rates be damned

At the end of the briefing the speakers file out, social distancing accordioning as they proceed through the pocket door: Vice President Pence goes first, then Dr. Birx and the CDC guy. Dr. Fauci is last, and he hesitates and for one brief moment I expect him to lunge for the podium and tell us…what? “RUN!” maybe, or “God help us all” neither of which will do us any good, though many of us might find such anarchic impulses cheering, at least. The cameras remain operational for awhile; we hear the reporters murmuring as they depart, and we see now-masked workers breaking down the stage area.

Roger Waters of Pink Floyd wrote a poem to America when George W. Bush was elected to a second term. He thought we needed bucking up: with our current reality show president maybe he’ll write us a new song, something with a nice marching rhythm.

We always held in our esteem
The ones who hold on to the dream,
While the bullies
Pose and fiddle on the hill.

Good news: in New York the number of new hospitalizations are down, suggesting they are flattening the curve.

See past entries in Coronavirus Event

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