As the COVID-19 pandemic progresses, Our Land will be publishing a series of diary-style updates to capture this unique moment in world history. This is part one.
“It’s just the flu,” they said. “Just a dry cough and a few days in bed,” they said.
By “they,” I mean everyone who underestimated the seriousness of COVID-19 when the virus first appeared on the radar back in January. “It’s only dangerous to the old and frail,” they said, as if that somehow made it better. They labeled all of the closings and stay-at-home requests as liberal over-reactions. “When did America become so soft?” they lamented. Some of them even politicized the virus, calling it hoax meant to harm President Trump. The writing off of COVID-19 was rampant, disconcerting.
The writing-off of COVID-19 was rampant, disconcerting.
From the beginning, many experts warned that this thing could get out of hand. It isn’t a particularly deadly virus — the mortality rate, when it’s all said and done, will likely be somewhere between 0.5 and 2-percent (the flu has a death rate of about .01 percent) — but it’s high communicability means that a lot of people will get it, and a lot of people will die. The potential for mass carnage prompted Donald J. McNeil ( a science and health reporter for The York Times) to compare it to the 1918 Spanish Influenza, during an interview on The Daily at the end of February. The Spanish Flu, for the record, infected 500 million people and killed between 15-70 milion. McNeil said, in so many words, that he hopes COVID-19 will prove him wrong.
Fast forward to today, April 4, and there’s little evidence suggesting that McNeil will be proven wrong. There are currently 1.39 million cases in the world, with the death toll sitting at 61,000. In the United States alone, there are 278,000 cases and 7,400 deaths. And the situation is getting worse: there were 101,000 new cases reported worldwide yesterday, by far the largest one-day increase to date. More than 680 people died in New York over the last 24 hour period. Fourteen thousand people have been wiped off the map in Italy. Another 11,000 in Spain. Medical supplies are in short supply. Toilet paper is in high demand. Pretty much everything has been canceled or closed. People have been told to shelter in place for what will likely be months.
Even beloved celebrities have not been spared. John Prine contracted the virus and has a life-threatening case of pneumonia. Harvey Weinstein (OK, perhaps not so beloved) has it in prison. Boris Johnson has been hospitalized with respiratory issues. Tom Hanks contracted it, then recovered. Likewise with Kevin Durant, Sean Payton, and countless other household names.
To curb the spread — or “flatten the curve,” as it were — social distancing has become the name of the game. Indeed, that will undoubtedly be the defining phrase of 2020; it’s the prevailing mantra for the paranoid world we find ourselves in. To “social distance” means to stay indoors when you can, and to stay away from other people when you absolutely have to go into public. Six feet is the recommended buffer.
To curb the spread — or “flatten the curve,” as it were — social distancing has become the name of the game. Indeed, that will undoubtedly be the defining phrase of 2020; it’s the prevailing mantra for the paranoid world we find ourselves in.
This emphasis on isolation has turned modern society into a bizarro world, where life on the surface looks generally the same, yet something feels unnervingly off underneath. Cities are ghost towns. People loom around grocery stores, mostly in masks and by themselves, resisting the urge to make eye contact. Doctor’s office waiting rooms are a thing of the past, as patients are being asked to stay in their cars. It’s impossible to get a haircut. There’s no such going out to eat on Friday night or lounging around in a coffee shop on a Sunday morning. Staying home is the new going out.
Thankfully, we live in the age of the internet, which mostly means we can busy ourselves by sharing pandemic memes on Facebook. My feed, once filled with COVID-19 underestimaters, is now packed with videos, pictures and words about the virus. “I never thought in my entire life my hands would consume more alcohol than my mouth,” reads one. One video shows a husband enveloping his wife in saran wrap, with the caption “QUARANTINED AND BOREDOM = THIS.” Thanks to the web (do people still call it that?), we can also watch entertainers like Jimmy Fallon and Conan O’Brien host virtual shows from their homes, interviewing other celebrities while their kids occasionally (and often hilariously) run around in the background.
When we get bored with entertainment, we can video chat friends and family using Zoom, a company that’s perhaps the biggest “winner” of this pandemic, if winners can be said to exist during such a time. Indeed, true connection is what humans should have been using the internet for all along, but only now is it living up to its original promise on a large scale: it’s making us feel alone instead of separating us (which is what it usually does).
For those who actually have COVID-19 and are experiencing symptoms, however, the internet offers little respite. Nearly-unbearable body aches, respiratory issues and other ailments can last for up to two weeks, upon which time the virus has been known to descend into pneumonia. Only a small percentage of COVID-19 cases progress to such depths, but it’s happening often enough to warrant widespread shutdowns that aim to keep the most vulnerable — the Baby Boomers and their elders — safe.
The thing that makes COVID-19 so menacing for those at high risk is that it’s an invisible enemy. The virus can live on surfaces for several days, and a certain percentage of people who contract COVID-19 show no symptoms whatsoever. Moreover, tests in America have been laughably lackluster. They’ve been hard to come by in some parts of the country, and where tests are available, results sometimes aren’t available for up to a week. It’s been an absolute debacle, a master class on disaster unpreparedness. With all of these grim truths layering on top of one another, few Americans are still questioning the severity of the circumstances. All of those “when did America become so soft?”-type sentiments have all but disappeared from Facebook.
Even President Trump, who claimed that his administration had the virus under control back in January, has completely changed his tone. Grant it, the shift comes a few months too late, and the man-child’s signature ego-driven pettiness still regularly rears its ugly head (he threatened to withhold ventilators from governors who desperately needed them if said governors didn’t treat him nicely). If any other president were to act in such a juvenile fashion, they would likely be met with bipartisan backlash. But Trump sets new lows every day; none of us should be surprised anymore.
Despite the current president’s ineptitude, he at one point received an inexplicable 55-percent approval rating for his handling of the pandemic, which can only mean that the majority of Americans weren’t paying attention. His approval rating has since dropped under the 50-percent mark, which is where it should be, given the fact that he downplayed the danger of the virus for weeks and, in doing so, put millions of people at risk.
His approval rating has since dropped under the 50-percent mark, which is where it should be, given the fact that he downplayed the danger of the virus for weeks and, in doing so, put millions of people at risk.
To prove Trump’s abysmal response to this crisis, let’s take a look at these classic Trumpian quotes, in chronological order, as compiled by CBSNews.com:
Jan. 22; one confirmed U.S. case: “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China. We have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.”
Jan. 30; seven confirmed U.S. cases: “We think we have it very well under control. We have very little problem in this country at this moment — five — and those people are all recuperating successfully. But we’re working very closely with China and other countries, and we think it’s going to have a very good ending for us … that I can assure you.”
Feb. 23; 51 confirmed U.S. cases: “We have it very much under control in this country.”
Feb. 26; 58 confirmed U.S. cases: “When you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that’s a pretty good job we’ve done.”
Feb. 27; 60 confirmed U.S. cases: “One day it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.”
Feb. 29; 74 confirmed U.S. cases: “Everything is really under control.”
March 4; 217 confirmed U.S. cases: “Yeah, I think where these people are flying, it’s safe to fly. And large portions of the world are very safe to fly.”
March 6; 402 confirmed U.S. cases: “Anybody that wants a test can get a test. … The tests are all perfect, like the letter was perfect, the transcription was perfect, right?”
March 9; 959 confirmed U.S. cases: “So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common flu. It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year. Nothing is shut down, life and the economy go on. At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!”
March 11; 1,700 confirmed U.S. cases: “To keep new cases from entering our shores, we will be suspending all travel from Europe to the United States for the next 30 days.”
March 13; 2,700 confirmed U.S. cases: “We have 40 people right now. Forty. Compare that with other countries that have many, many times that amount. And one of the reasons we have 40 and others have — and, again, that number is going up, just so you understand. And a number of cases, which are very small, relatively speaking — it’s going up. But we’ve done a great job because we acted quickly. We acted early. And there’s nothing we could have done that was better than closing our borders to highly infected areas.”
March 16; 6,400 confirmed U.S. cases: “I’ve spoken actually with my son. He says, ‘How bad is this?’ It’s bad. It’s bad. But we’re going to — we’re going to be, hopefully, a best case, not a worst case. And that’s what we’re working for.”
March 24; 65,800 confirmed U.S. cases: “I would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter.”
March 29; 161,800 confirmed U.S. cases: “”The better you do, the faster this whole nightmare will end. Therefore, we will be extending our guidelines to April 30th to slow the spread. … We can expect that, by June 1st, we will be well on our way to recovery. We think, by June 1st, a lot of great things will be happening.”
March 31; 213,000 confirmed U.S. cases: “”This could be a hell of a bad two weeks. This is gonna be a very bad two — or maybe even three — weeks. This is going to be three weeks like we haven’t seen before.”
March 31; 213,000 confirmed U.S. cases: “But it’s not the flu. It’s vicious. When you send a friend to the hospital and you call up to find out, how is he doing, it happened to me. Where he goes to the hospital, he says goodbye, sort of a tough guy, little older, little heavier than he’d like to be, frankly. And you call up the next day, ‘how’s he doing?’ And he’s in a coma? This is not the flu.”
April 3; 278,880 confirmed U.S. cases: “I said it was going away – and it is going away.”
It’s terrifying that this man is the leader of the free world during the most consequential pandemic of the last century. SARS, ebola, swine flu and other biological threats have cropped up here and there throughout the years, but none posed as grave a threat to humanity as COVID-19. This virus will be the stuff of future history lessons, a generation-defining moment that everyone who lives through will vividly remember — a 9/11-level event. And our fearless leader through it all is Mr. Pussygrabber himself.
This virus will be the stuff of future history lessons, a generation-defining moment that everyone who lives through will vividly remember — a 9/11-level event.
The aforementioned 1918 Spanish Flu was the last major widespread biological disaster. Now here we are, 100 years later, confronting a similar fate. Grant it, chances of COVID-19 being as deadly as the Spanish Flu seem remote, considering significant advancements in medicine. But make no mistake about it, there will likely be much carnage in the coming months. All we can do is stay away from one another, ride it out and learn the right lessons, so we’re better prepared for the next time something like this comes around.
And there will be a next time.