As I write this, nearly a month has passed since the beginning of the "lockdown," and life goes on. Since I remain housebound, and the media onslaught makes it impossible to not fixate on the pandemic, here are more observations:
For healthy and retired folks like myself, the lockdown constitutes a pretty minor inconvenience, at least within the context of the illness and unemployment that many others must endure. With the stay-at-home orders, my usual indolent lifestyle of sitting around the house reading, going online, watching TV, eating, and pestering the cat has suddenly become meritorious. I now find that I have been transformed into a model citizen, and am now considered an exemplar of civic responsibility. The duty to shelter in place plays to my strengths. I am mindful that the small nuisance of the lockdown and the required distancing and sanitizing are far easier than the ordeals faced by earlier generations. Relatively speaking, sitting at home is little to ask.
It is likely that the threat of the virus will be with us for a while, and it is uncertain where it will eventually lead us. Finding myself classified "at risk" as one of the "elderly" (gee, thanks CDC—wasn't 70 supposed to be the new 20 or something?), I have to be more attentive toward the risk than many. Hopefully, I will not end up a Howard Hughesian germaphobe, isolated and shuffling about with Kleenex boxes on my feet. And don't ask me about the jars.
A trip to the grocery store can be a bit surreal. With everyone in masks and maintaining a "social distance," we look a bit like agoraphobic bank robbers. My hat is off to the staff in the stores for working in these difficult conditions. I hope that they are getting paid more for this ordeal.
Of course, we are all grateful to the medical heroes who have treated and helped the victims of the virus, at significant risk to themselves. The term "hero" has become overused and diluted in recent years by application to the merely admirable, but here they have truly earned it. The pandemic has brought out both the best and the worst in human behavior, from the caregivers and those who keep things going, to those who spit at others and lick grocery store produce, and those who endanger the vulnerable by heedlessly gathering to party.
My first experience with Zoom was a meeting of a volunteer emergency responder group I belong to. It was a bit of a shock to realize that the interior of my home was on display to 56 other members. Next meeting, I will either tidy up my office or figure out how to use the concealing background graphics that the tech-savvy used. Still, I won't bother with pants.
And, predictably, our usual political fault lines have polarized the pandemic. At the moment, we have another relief bill being blocked to force the inclusion of unrelated policy and spending items, just as the first bill included $25 million to refurbish the Kennedy Center in Washington. Perhaps the Democrats plan to use it as a field hospital? Imagine the outcry if Trump refused to sign any relief bill unless it included money for the wall?
A lot of Democrats were upset when the Supreme Court refused the governor of Wisconsin's last-minute effort to delay their election for "safety reasons." Here is a proposal: Since the pandemic and safety concerns are likely to last for quite a while, why don't we just delay the November elections until safe? You'll be willing to delay your chance to throw out Trump in the interests of safety? Deal?
Sadly, our discussion of the pandemic has been tainted by race. Some are citing disparities in death rates as "proof" of systemic racism. I am no microbiologist, and had no idea that a virus could be sufficiently sentient to form racist intent. If we are using a "group victimization" narrative, I suppose the fact that the virus is killing proportionately more men and the elderly like myself, proves both "systemic ageism" and "systemic sexism." Who do we sue?
Even the desperate search for a cure has become polarized, and has become a matter of "belief" rather than science. After Trump gushed about the use of chloroquine as a possible treatment, the battle lines were drawn. Despite the fact that a number of reputable studies are underway on the drug, and it has a long record of safe use, the Democratic governor of Michigan threatened the licenses of any doctor who prescribes it, and some have blamed Trump for the death of a man who confused the drug with an ingredient in an aquarium cleaning product. Most of us in the middle realize that, while it is unproven and that any evidence of its effectiveness is only anecdotal, it has a long safety record and is unlikely to do any further harm. And as I write this, there are no officially recognized alternative therapies yet.
Those who hoped that the pandemic would at least provide us with a unifying and ennobling experience are likely to be disappointed. Δ
John Donegan is a retired attorney in Pismo Beach, who fancies himself as rather stylish in his new face mask, while those who endure his ranting appreciate the muffling. Send comments through the editor at email@example.com.