My family has been voluntarily quarantined for six days. My wife was frightened by the novel coronavirus first. We thought she was crazy, and made fun of her, but I soon was infected by her fear. At first I was just trying to be a good husband, and help present a united front for our kids, so they’d fall in line, but after some easy math, I got worried also. I hope I’m wrong. I hope this ends faster than we fear. I hope it takes fewer lives than I fear. I hope for all those things. I am, to a fault sometimes, a man of hope. But I’m afraid.
Here’s the math that makes me afraid:
In a normal year, about 25 million Americans get infected by influenza and about 34.5 thousand of those Americans die from the infection. That’s an estimated mortality rate of about 0.14%. The data that we have from more closed environments like cruise ships, and from other means of measuring spread of the virus tells us that the virus that causes COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) is at least twice as contagious as the flu. That means that we expect 50 million people to be infected by SARS-CoV-19 and develop COVID-19. As of now, worldwide, COVID-19 has a 4.2% mortality rate. Experts suspect that is on the high side, and that the mortality rate is inflated by a lack of widespread testing (fewer tests reveal fewer infected, so the mortality rate appears higher), but even if it’s half of that, it’s still 2.1%. That means that we can expect 1.5 million Americans to die from this before it’s all over (25 million get the flu, this is twice as contagious, so that’s 50 million with COVID-19; 2.1% of 50 million is 1.5 million). That is a lot of people dying from something new. It’s hard to not be afraid of that. To put that in perspective, the number one cause of death in America is heart disease, and that kills about 650,000 Americans each year. If the estimates are correct, this has the potential to kill more than twice that number.
So we are quarantined. We are doing this for several reasons. First, we want to make sure that we aren’t infected. We’re learning that it’s possible to be infected, without symptoms, and be contagious for as many as 14 days (although the average appears to be closer to 5 days). We want to be sure that nobody in our house is sick, and we want to be sure we don’t get anybody else sick. Second, we are very fortunate to have jobs that allow us to work from home. We are able to quarantine, helping to reduce the spread of the virus, without losing our jobs or income. We recognize that fortunate situation and feel obligated because of it to do our part so that the risk will be reduced for those who do not have the options we have.
So we sit at home, and watch the world crumble. We watch stories of people getting sick, including some we know and love (a family member is currently hospitalized after a 6-day fever accompanied by a sore throat and cough; severe breathing difficulty sent him to the hospital where he awaits the result of the test for SARS-Cov-2). We watch the economy collapse and hope it will rebound. We watch friends who are small business owners worry about their futures. And we watch governors take up the job of the government…all while the President of the United States fails us.
This blog has been full of stories of missed opportunity. I’ve watched from the beginning of his presidency and seen all the ways he could have risen to greatness. I’ve written about this here and here and here. For some reason, I keep thinking he will rise to some challenge. I keep hoping he will prove me wrong. Yet he never does. And yesterday was no different.
I watched the exchange in disbelief. I couldn’t believe somebody could be so heartless and callous. I couldn’t believe that a world leader could get a gift like that question, and fuck it up so badly. What do you say to Americans who are scared? It was a gift, and should have been an easy one. What do you say? Maybe: “I tell them that we are working every day and night to keep them safe.” Try: “I tell them that America has the greatest doctors and scientists in the world and they are focusing all their efforts on beating this to keep you safe.” But not Trump. Instead, Trump’s answer is “I say that you’re a terrible reporter.” A far cry from “the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself.” But Trump is a far cry from any great leader we’ve seen in our lifetime or the many lifetimes before ours.
To make it even worse, I was just starting to look past how badly he failed us in the weeks before. I was just starting to defend him and the federal government’s actions. I was pushing back against friends on Facebook and Twitter who were criticizing him and his administration. I was pointing to the experts at the press briefings who were reassuring, and saying repeatedly that if we took Trump out of the picture, and only looked at what his administration was doing, we’d have a lot to be happy about. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) who has very little love for the president was even speaking positively about the administration’s response. Then there was this. I still think the administration is doing good things. Better late than never. I still think there’s room for improvement, but I would have given it a B+ if we took Trump out of the picture. But this is too hard for me to take out of the picture. It’s too hard for me to keep this from overshadowing every right thing the people who work for him might be doing. I can’t help, more than ever, watching these people go out of their way to praise him and pepper all the good things they have for us with “at the President’s direction” or “under the President’s great leadership,” because I simply don’t believe that to be remotely true. I think it’s in spite of his horrible leadership and as advised by the adults in the room who know what they’re talking about. I wish I didn’t feel that way. I don’t want to be disappointed in my country and our leadership, but I am, and I suspect I will be, at least until November, hopefully not longer.