In 2013, UC San Diego professor/scientist Ajit Varki and University of Arizona geneticist Danny Bower wrote a book, Denial: Self Deception, False Beliefs and the Origins of the Human Mind. Within it they presented an interesting theory about human evolution. Their argument wasn’t so much biological as it was psychological. Somewhere in our past, we got beyond the idea of our own mortality and chose to live in denial of it. It was that naked optimism that allowed us to separate mentally from other species, who continued to operate in “lizard brain” mode, fearing death at every juncture. It was within this denial of reality that we became human. It was because of this denial that we became creative and communicative.
Unfortunately, this can be a double-edged sword, as lately many among us are pushing the envelope on this denial that makes us human. With COVID-19 infections rapidly popping up across the country, a significant percentage of the population is acting as if life is as placid as ever.
What is it about “shelter in place” and “social distancing” that you do not understand?
Yes, I’m looking you — person who went to the Santa Monica Pier this weekend, jogger that hit Runyon Canyon, tourist that took a day trip to Joshua Tree, college spring breaker who went to Florida, parent that took your kids on a play date.
Would you people be going out if you knew that there was an active shooter in your midst? No? Well pretend it’s so. Because there is, and he is really small. True, most of us will barely get grazed by a bullet, but there is a significant amount of the population, perhaps hundreds of thousands or a million souls who will pay the ultimate price. And if that projection isn’t sobering enough for you to change your behavior, you might just be a sociopath.
At what point does the general public take this seriously? Do they need to see mass graves? Have we really become this cavalier toward death? We are in the midst of an invisible forest fire, and many among us are choosing to walk straight into the flames.
To be fair, there are also many who are choosing to follow health and safety guidelines, staying home and only venturing out when absolutely necessary. Unfortunately, due to the selfishness and carelessness of those who aren’t following those guidelines, innocent people, many of them elderly, will suffer the consequences.
What is it about humanity that keeps us from acting until it is too late, but drives us to brawl over toilet paper? We won’t listen to the advice of experts, but we’ll swear by every crackpot rumor shared by your Aunt Cindy’s cousin who used to be married to a guy who was a security guard at the Pentagon who really knows what happened on 9/11. What is it about crazy that makes it so much more attractive than reality?
Speaking of crazy, each day brings us another Trump press conference. No longer able to hold rallies, he’s succumbed to performing a sort of daily presidential improv, featuring an interminable slew of obvious lies, outright falsehoods and baffling misrepresentations, where we have the “best” health care, everyone is doing the “greatest” job, Google is building a special website, we have way too many masks and ventilators and malaria drugs will save us all.
Of course none of this is remotely true and a few hours later the heads of various departments have to send out press releases gently explaining what the president actually “meant” to say. Not only is Trump’s behavior embarrassing, it’s also dangerous. An Arizona man died on Sunday after he drank chloroquine phosphate, based upon the president’s unsound medical advice.
Pro tip: Presidents shouldn’t be giving medical advice. They also shouldn’t be listening to FOX News shills like Steve Hilton, who feels a 15-day shutdown is too much for the economy to bear. “America will again and soon be open for business,” Trump is boasting. You can be quite certain that a deadly virus will remain open for business as well. This economic crisis ends when the health crisis ends, and this health crisis is not ending in 15 days. Don’t be surprised to see 30 percent unemployment soon. Trump cares about one thing, the economy, because he knows his reelection is bound to it like a pair of concrete shoes hanging off a pier.
Remember when this sort of clown car governance was just deeply concerning, illegal, inappropriate and quite laughable? Given a deadly global pandemic, you can add crippling anxiety and rolling panic attacks to that list. The entire country is in the midst of an emotional breakdown.
There is a reason that Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases looks like a hostage at the daily press briefing. That man deserves a medal for retaining his composure.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Trump of the pandemic over a month ago, but not wanting his “ratings” to flounder or the stock market to tank, he threw the CDC officials out of his office. Then he essentially did nothing and called the pandemic a “hoax,” until he finally saw the light. He now says he saw the light before they even turned the light on. Mind you, this is a man who stared at an eclipse.
Making matters worse, states are dependent upon supplies from the Strategic National Stockpile, managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, also gutted by the Trump administration. Then there is the CDCl, which saw their entire pandemic response team get pink slipped in 2018. That year saw $15 billion cut from the disease fighting operational budgets of the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Health and Human Services, National Security Council, the CDC, as well as other smaller agencies. Up until July we had an expert epidemiologist based in Beijing. Dr. Linda Clark was a key CDC employee charged with keeping an eye on potential outbreaks. The Trump administration eliminated her position. Had she still been in China, the CDC could have had a head start on learning exactly what was happening in Wuhan.
Now we need to make some tough choices. Truthfully, these choices really needed to be made weeks ago. We saw how the Chinese reacted. As first they denied and obfuscated, but once they understood the gravity of the pandemic they reacted in a quick, competent and draconian manner, locking down 100 million people, building hospitals in 24 hours and mobilizing their manufacturing sector to provide whatever supplies they needed. They’ve flattened the curve to where they are currently suffering less than 10 deaths per day.
Bottom line, we are on our own folks. We are moving rapidly toward a state of entropy. Consider any competence from the federal government to be an anomaly. It’s not like we don’t know what is going on. We see the current horror show taking place in Italy. No sense in panicking, but that is where we are headed. It’s no longer a question of if we can do something to prevent it, that check has been cashed. We missed our shot. Hell, we’ve hardly tested anyone not in the NBA. We will have 100,000 coronavirus cases nationwide by Friday.
Make no mistake, our politicians may not want to admit it, but a full statewide lockdown is coming. How such a thing could be enforced is entirely another matter. The Chinese locked down 100 million people with relative ease. We can’t even lock down spring break.
Every second we waste now will result in greater suffering down the road. Our failure to do what was needed could potentially turn a 30-day lockdown into a 90-day one, or longer. If we want to really stop this pandemic in its tracks and still have a country and an economy to come back to, we must do one thing. We must stop time. But how?
We shut down for a minimum of 90 days. We suspend the stock market. We suspend mortgages. We suspend rent payments. We suspend interest. We suspend car payments. We suspend credit card payments. We suspend utility bills. We suspend taxes. We ground all unnecessary travel. We establish universal basic income. We pass massive emergency aid packages to affected industries and their workers. We humanely gather the homeless and place them in refugee camps, and give them health, food, water, shelter, counseling. We form a national registry of all physicians and health care workers and place them under contract. We form a national registry all pharmaceutical and research laboratories and place them under contract. We mobilize all military assets to assist with health, safety, security, and you establish field hospitals. We use America’s remaining industrial might to immediately manufacture whatever equipment hospitals need. We contract Amazon and FedEx and use their infrastructure. We call in retired doctors and nurses and place them in non-COVID-19 roles. We mobilize medical students. People will still break ankles and need cancer treatments. We deliver necessary assets to the coroners and funeral industries, which will be overwhelmed. We make cable and entertainment channels and internet available to the general public, free of charge.
Only mission critical people should be allowed to go to work — meaning those who work to aid supply chains, provide food, utility, health, safety and emergency workers. The rest of us need to stay fucking home and only go outside to get food, supplies, or health care. No gatherings, everyone six feet apart and donning an N95 mask.
Once the initial threat subsides, we bring can life back to normal in stages. We keep a system of nationalized health care in place. We study this pandemic and establish global protocols so that we may handle this better in the future. Because it is going to happen again. The fact that there was no workable contingency plan in place for a global event such as this is astonishing. God help us if a meteor is about to crash into Earth.
March 2o saw 250 deaths across the United States, March 23 saw 582. Today, at the time of this posting (March 24 at 2 p.m.) the number was 663. In Los Angeles alone, we had 662 confirmed cases and 11 deaths as of noon. The math is not going in a promising direction. Yet.
This said, the greatest minds in the world are working feverishly on a vaccine. We can have faith in them. But right now we must deny this virus hosts to save lives. This is about flattening the curve and giving our health care workers and research facilities the time to treat patients and find a cure. We must aggressively take care of the health crisis first and foremost, and we must act now.
Roy Jurgens is a journalist, U.S. Army veteran, artist manager and political activist.