We are at war with an adversary whose predecessor and parallel is the unthinkable. The enemy is microscopic, a virus moving stealthily and omnidirectionally. So far, it has scored victory after victory seizing beachheads and claiming casualties wherever it has landed. But fighting it has been hampered by both a lack of weaponry---no antidote---and an absence of leadership that through silence, denial and mismanagement has allowed it to seize the offensive.
In just three months, Covid-19, the Coronavirus, has spread from China to more than 100 countries worldwide, killing nearly 6,000 and infecting more than 150,000. On Sunday past, it claimed 368 lives in Italy alone. The World Health Organization has declared it a pandemic, meaning the world is at risk.
“This is very global,” said Brenden Kendall, Associate Professor of Communication Studies at Denver’s Metropolitan State University. “This is an acute crisis that few of us have ever seen before.” What the scourge of Covid-19 does, though, is remind people of history’s previous pandemics that have ruthlessly and viciously swept across borders leaving a swath of death and suffering.
Microbe-sized enemies have periodically obliterated populations throughout history. The Black Death, also known as the Black Plague, killed 25 million people---about a third of the European population---across the continent in the 14th Century. The Spanish Flu or Great Influenza of 1918 killed an estimated 50 million people around the world. Since first being detected in the 1980’s, HIV/AIDS has killed more than 30 million people worldwide.
Because there is so far no vaccine for Covid-19---nor one in sight---there are only recommendations for guarding against it. The Centers for Disease Control says to wash hands often and practice social distancing. Call your physician if you exhibit signs or symptoms and self-quarantine. Do not, it says, go to the hospital or urgent care “unless you feel you are experiencing a medical emergency.”
The CDC also says watch older friends and relatives for signs of difficulty breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, confusion or inability to arouse and bluish lips or face.
In places like Spain and Italy, the current epicenters of this most recent scourge, whole sections of the countries have been ordered shut down. Residents have been ordered to remain inside and allowed out only to visit certain few places, including food markets.
In China, where the first cases of Covid-19 were identified, similar policies were enacted. But there, to ensure maximum compliance, government agencies tracked citizens using high tech tools, including through cell phones and facial recognition surveillance.
The Coronavirus has upended life in America in an almost unimaginable way. Last week, in just a two-hour period, all of America’s major sports---at every level---shut down. Schools and colleges, including Colorado’s, followed closely with immediate closures, extended shutdowns or plans to go on-line. Churches, temples and mosques cancelled services. Businesses, everything from grocery chains to bookstores to bars and restaurants, have altered hours. Even elections have been postponed. This invisible enemy has employed an almost surgical-like scorched earth warfare in a campaign of death and terror.
In New York, Mayor DiBlasio has ordered bars and restaurants shut down for all but take-out. Other cities have instituted bans on gatherings of 50 or more. No matter where you live, chances are that any routine practices outside the home will be impacted.
Also impacted are the lives of workers whose jobs are no longer. That will include hotels, casinos and restaurants. Congress is working on legislation that may ease the economic pain but there is no timetable. The stock market is also feeling the pain as is reflected in its sharp dives and feverish and sluggish rebounds.
“There is not a single element of American life that is not going to be touched,” said Kendall. “Think of all the people and organizations that you touch---literally and figuratively.” An example is public health’s effort to ‘flatten the curve,’ or reduce the virus’s impact. Workers are being urged to telecommute where they can, public gatherings are being limited to numbers barely reaching double digits and airlines are cancelling huge blocks of flights. Kendall’s wife has cancelled plans to visit an immune-suppressed sister-in-law. “I don’t want to be part of the problem.”
Where the nation would be had it responded with speed and resolve to the first reports of the virus will be for historians to figure out. But there will be a motherlode of data to mine, including nuggets resting near the top of the pickings that tell a story of inaction, at best, mismanagement, at worst.
After combing through reports of the microbe’s first strike in Wuhan and subsequent advances across the Pacific Rim, storytellers will place their focus squarely on Washington where reaction along with a plan for self-defense was woefully lacking.
In January, the President assured the nation that the virus was “totally under control.” But in subsequent weeks and months, there have been major problems with testing for the virus along with issues of substandard test kits, acute shortages of test kits and, finally, misinformation about who actually could be tested. Another glaring problem came to light when it was revealed that the White House had disbanded the pandemic office, the agency that had coordinated the Ebola crisis during the Obama Administration.
According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading epidemiologist, the charge of this viral attack might run for months if not longer. To date, fewer than 3,500 Americans have been identified as Covid-19 victims. There have also been fewer than 70 deaths. But it’s early. If it were a football game, we’re only in the first quarter.