By Kenneth Tiven
It would be a comedy if it weren’t so painful and deadly. People stripping grocery store shelves bare of toilet paper and hand sanitizer.
The dreaded Coronavirus has brought the United States to a state of siege where the economy is crashing, people are dying and with it diminishing optimism among Trump advisors and pundits that he can be reelected.
You cannot gaslight a pandemic.
The states of New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey have ordered restaurants and clubs to only provide take away, no sit-down dining or entertaining. A few days ago, a drive into New York City and a walking tour indicated that the big Apple had lost something, as Broadway shows were closed and now the restaurant ban is in effect. The Broadway Show closings alone put nearly 250,000 people on leave, most of who do not get paid if they don’t work. Add in all the support businesses—restaurants, suppliers of services to the hospitality business and it becomes quickly obvious that without the bells and whistles, New York City is a very quiet and dismal place.
A Friday afternoon felt like an early Sunday morning, not much traffic, a few people jogging in Central Park, while others sit on the steps of closed Museums and Art Galleries.
On a warm March day the Columbia University quadrangle was empty. Usually it would have been filled with students relaxing in the 17 degree Celsius sunlight. Schools across America have been cancelled for the foreseeable future. Will there be graduation ceremonies in May? Doubtful and with it goes an entire subset of business services that make graduations festive, from caps and gowns, to all the food and drink served outdoors to the graduates and their families.
All of this was in stark contrast to New York City in the days after 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Then the resilience and bravado of Americans was on full display with flags and signs and a desire to rebuild quickly. Now an air of resignation elevated by fear is on display.
After all this doesn’t conform to the mythology of America—wide open roads and spaces, a go anywhere, do anything, wherever you want to sort of a place. And more distressing to some is that this is an unseen assailant that knows no class or geographic boundaries.
What we do know is that it has a higher fatality rate among elderly people, especially those with underlying health issues. For several weeks the President of the United States kept insisting that it was just like the flu. But it is not flu, it is a lung disease. For the most part the health experts assembled around Trump kept their mouths shut, with only their grim faces contradicting him.
The American health system looks particularly ineffective given the magnitude of the problem. There’s a lot of confusion about respirators vs ventilators. And it comes from a lack of understanding just how few hospital beds exist in a nation of 330,000,000 people. Respirators protect the doctors, allowing them to breath safe, filtered air. Critically ill patients require ventilation—hence ventilators, a shortage that directly results in death. Indirectly, the respirator shortage will result in infected healthcare workers, some of whom will die.
Memories and anger are long lasting when loved ones die and fail to make the graduation ceremonies. The impact both financially and psychologically is going to last a long time and change America forever. The question no one can answer right now is in which direction.
In the midst of such gloom, it was New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, never known to be an inspirational leader to provide a glimmer of hope. He delivered the strongest warning to date of any major America.
Politician on the severity of the crisis and without mentioning the president by name, rebuked Donald Trump for his response to the pandemic. He called for Federal action. “You cant have one state taking actions that are different from other states….this is like reverse federalism. This is a national pandemic and there are no national rules”, he said. So clear and decisive has he been about what needs to be done that the New York Times ran an article on him headlined “Andrew Cuomo is the Control Freak We Need Right Now”.