The New York Times recently presented an informative piece comparing mask usage throughout the United States and the world. It paints a picture of a country where masks are being used primarily in the Northeast, West Coast, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, a handful of cities that border the Great Lakes and southern Florida. Despite a large swath of the United States not taking mask wearing seriously, though, the US as a nation is more likely to wear masks than many other countries, including Australia, France, Canada, the UK, and any of the Nordic countries. We wear them a little less often than does Germany, which has recently seen thousands of people gather in a protest against them.
The reason for the mask protests in Germany are born out of the same ignorance that can be found in America. People who have not been personally affected by the disease are tired of having to take uncomfortable precautions and are speaking out. They are prime targets for narratives saying that the issue is overblown, because it is what they want to hear. Such narratives are being presented, whether in the form of “we got past this, we don’t have to do it anymore” or “it’s just like the flu, it’s being used as a political hammer.” Those arguments aren’t exclusive to the United States, and they are used by representatives from all political groups. In the United States, however, the second example is often presented by the Republicans under President Trump.
The caseload in the United States is both worse and better than many present, because once statistics and figures are used advocates can spin toward particular results. Growth rate, cases as a percentage of population, survival percentages… these items are picked through and the data which supports a predetermined conclusion is used by people making arguments. Mindful of that, I’m not going to make any such case.
I don’t need to. There is only one number that matters, and that is the number of American dead. That number could reasonably have been curtailed at any point during this crisis. It has not.
No narrative line should be accepted which diminishes that. Nevertheless, such attempts are being made.
The latest effort toward politicizing the disease has been showing up on both sides of the aisle, lowering the expectations for an eventual President Biden and conjuring excuses for President Trump’s failures in responding to the pandemic. It is the argument that the disease will never go away, as recently presented in the pages of the Atlantic.
This attitude is likely technically accurate, but it is grossly misleading and potentially dangerous. Attacking reasonable hope in the midst of a crisis is abominable.
Few diseases “go away”. Ebola crops up regularly in Africa. We have a few cases of plague discovered in the US every year, as well as anthrax. The question is not whether the disease will disappear entirely or whether it will be knocked down to become a serious rarity.
This thing generally requires human hosts for continued transmission, like smallpox. For that reason, it’s actually plausible that it DOES go away, unlike those other diseases. It’s simply true that if it does happen, it’ll take months or years to be completely gone… again, like smallpox. The argument exists that it has the ability to transmit to animals… but unlike ebola, there have been no known instances (beyond potentially the first one, from a bat) of the disease jumping from animal to human. Without proper research, it’s impossible to say how long the disease has been around in the Chinese bat population; if it’s been there for a hundred years or more and this is the first significant transmission, it seems like a minor concern.
But because of the way it can sit in some hosts and not cause significant symptoms, it’s unlikely the disease will be fully knocked down, independent of the notion of animal transfer. There will be places where vaccines aren’t taken, whether due to choice or economic reasons, and it will likely spread out from there.
If we can limit this to localized outbreaks which are then knocked back quickly? The problems associated with it will be gone. And, really, nobody cares about the virus itself. They care about dying because of it, the lingering health issues from it, the lockdowns and the masks and the jobs lost. If that all stops, it doesn’t matter if the virus is still present.
Vaccine research is ongoing and has been showing signs of success worldwide. Even as there are strong indications of corruption in the United States’ governmental support for vaccines – leading to valid questions about the viability of such efforts – private US industry has been pursuing vaccines as have companies and governments across the globe. Our chances of returning to a semblance of normalcy within the next six to nine months remain very high.
It is the height of foolishness to become jaded or abandon hope now, after great strides have already been achieved in determining methods of transmission, treatments for symptoms, identification of related problems and vaccine development. Worse, it provides a bumper-sticker headline which seems to negate Trump’s ineptitude, suggesting that the disease was going to be here no matter what he did.