August is here. In many ways, it’s starting like every August we’ve had since we moved in here back in 1994. It’s hot, sunny, and, being a weekend, it’s a good day to get some work done around the house, and also a good day to relax.
But it’s certainly a different August than any we’ve ever had. The coronavirus has seen to that.
Models? We don’t need no stinking models!
Back when all this began, which was only five months ago but seems like five years, the computer models were predicting it would be pretty much over by now. In a blog post I wrote on April 9, less than four months ago–and it was snowing that day–the model published by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which was being widely cited in the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, showed that by August 4, which is two days away, the nation would have suffered 60,415 virus-related deaths, and the State of Wisconsin would have 424. The actual numbers, as of yesterday: 152,870 in the U.S., 947 in the state.
Even back then, when the models were fairly optimistic (wildly so, as it turned out), some people cautioned against putting too much faith in them. Circumstances change, and that could cause the numbers to wind up very differently. And that’s exactly what happened. So, everyone is asking, what were the circumstances? This thing should’ve been pretty much over by now.
The virus isn’t as dumb as we’d hoped.
I’m far from being an epidemiologist, but it appears from where I’m sitting that this virus has turned out to be a lot tougher than we anticipated. Certainly, getting a vaccine has proven to be harder than expected, although I read yesterday that the Russians believe they have one and are ramping up to begin nationwide inoculation by October. Over 100 companies worldwide are working on vaccines, and presumably one of them, hopefully more than one, will come up with something that works. If it is indeed the Russians who get it first, there will be a lot of crowing from Moscow about the supremacy of Russian science, although they haven’t done a lot of crowing in that realm since we beat them to the moon 51 years ago. But okay, they can crow all they want, as long as it works and they’re willing to sell us about 350 million doses of it.
This has been a very frustrating time for Americans, and one thing that’s causing problems with us is something I don’t think most of us want to think about: this virus has shown us that we’re not as smart or as tough or as organized as we’d always believed. We thought we’d take care of this problem in a few weeks, maybe two or three months tops, and life would get back to normal. Guess again.
There’s no doubt but that an awful lot of really smart people all over the world are working on understanding this virus and figuring out ways to defeat it. Unfortunately, the road to this point has been littered not only with false predictions but contradicting advice: Travel doesn’t need to be restricted, but then it does. Masks aren’t necessary, but then they are. Gloves are a must, but then they aren’t. Social distancing works, but if you’re in a political protest that the doctors happen to agree with, don’t worry about it.
The politicians who have to do something about this whole situation have not, in many cases, made things any better. Perhaps the worst part of this whole thing is that it’s happening in an election year. If this had all started in the spring of 2021, for example, it’s not a stretch to believe that the handling of the virus, and most especially the news media’s reporting of it, would have been much different. Indeed, some pundits are already saying that as of dawn on November 4, 2020, everything will be better–if Joe Biden wins the presidency. The virus won’t be nearly as bad, things will be seen as settling down, and so forth. The main premise at play here, it seems, is that the media has been using the virus to hammer away at President Trump; everything else having failed, it’s their latest strategy in a never-ending campaign to get back at the man who made them all look like fools in 2016. Once the election is over, this premise goes, the media will either be celebrating a Biden victory (and assuring us that wonderful days are ahead, presumably) or they’ll be licking their wounds yet again and starting the search for another narrative.
And so, the Summer of the Mask is here.
Everything in America has been disrupted. Thousands of high school and college athletes missed their final seasons of competition in spring sports like baseball, softball and track and field. Graduations were either postponed or held late–Rice Lake High School, our kids’ alma mater, finally held theirs on the evening of July 31, nearly two months behind schedule. The spring start-ups for the new professional baseball and soccer seasons were delayed until July, and the pro basketball and hockey leagues suspended their seasons with about a quarter of their games to go and are just now re-starting, in hopes of closing out their campaigns with some sort of legitimacy. Major League Baseball’s delayed start, in fact, is now in jeopardy just a week into the shortened season, intended for 60 games (out of 162). Some teams have had enough positive tests of players and personnel that many games have already been postponed, probably never to be made up.
Much more serious, of course, is the economic and social disruption that has been brought about by the virus and, especially, the politicians’ reaction to it. Businesses large and small shuttered, some of them never to re-open. Buying habits changed drastically. The school year of 2019-20 was finished virtually (and not very effectively, according to many teachers) and the new year may or may not start on time next month. The long-term physical and emotional impact of all this is only now starting to make itself apparent, and it’s not good. The scientists are divided about this, too: pediatricians almost unanimously say that keeping kids out of school will subject them to long-term harm, but the epidemiologists say it has to be done.
Will things ever get back to normal? The experts are not of one mind about that, either: When will life return to normal?
And now, we are told that wearing masks everywhere and avoiding large gatherings and being socially-distant (six feet, although some have said ten) is the only way to beat the virus, or at least keep it at bay until those Russian vaccine doses get over here. This mask policy has caused a lot of push-back in Wisconsin and elsewhere. Our governor, whose stay-at-home order was overturned by the state Supreme Court back in May on the grounds that it was an unconstitutional overreach on his part, has just issued another order requiring masks to be worn in public. It’s already being widely ignored, and most county sheriffs have said they won’t be enforcing it. We are hearing new terms like “mask Nazis” and “virus Karen” bandied about.
What do I think? Well, the science behind the effectiveness of masks seems a little dubious to me, but what the hell. I ordered a four-pack of gaiter-style masks. If I have to wear one, I figured, I might as well look at least somewhat stylish.
Nobody is excited about having to do any of this, but I think one reason there’s so much resistance is because we’ve been jerked around so much in the past five months, this just seems like one more big yank on the leash. And Americans do not like being leashed, not at all. Europeans don’t seem to mind it that much, and to be fair, Europe, with much less emphasis on personal freedom than America, seems to have been able to get a handle on the virus…so far, anyway. There are no guarantees; South Korea and Australia thought they had it contained, too, and now they’re both seeing new outbreaks, even without any visits from us troublesome Yanks.
But like a lot of people, I’ll wear one, even though I don’t like it and don’t think it will do much good. I hope I’m proven wrong, and that after a month or so of near-universal public masking, we’ll have the virus under control here and then that handy Russkie vaccine will arrive. Or, better yet, one of our own companies will have come up with one.
Because if that doesn’t happen, if we all mask up and stay socially-distanced and all of our summer and fall sports seasons are ruined, and businesses that can’t handle all this masking, like bars and restaurants and the entire travel industry, have to close their doors for good, Americans will be very angry. And, all of us angry Americans will be going to the polls on November 3 and the politicians who ordered all this, and who screwed it all up, will pay a price.