The United States now has a death toll from COVID-19 of almost 200,000. Many epidemiologists predict that by Christmas, 450,000 will have died. Life outside my window goes on as if none of this were true. The children play together, the football team practices. As I live in the back of the school, I hear the shouts and cheers of games and groups of children. I drive by the local restaurants, and the parking lots are full on Saturday nights. Lester Holt is correct. There is a stunning loss of shock. As people die, nothing much has changed.
I am not keen on dying. I am not at the local restaurant on any night. But I have loosened my quarantine to include taking my scruffy dogs to the groomer, getting a massage, and shopping for groceries. I have seen friends, both of us with masks on and from a distance. Last weekend in celebration of my 69th birthday, I ran the Snake River. With masks on, my friend and I barreled down the foaming, roiling river. One wave was so large that it flung my friend in front of me onto the raft floor. I clung on for dear life, loving every minute of it. Sixty-nine years old, and I can still run rivers! It was an affirmation of life.
This morning I received a text from a friend. She wanted to tell me that she had tested positive for Covid. She is not feeling sick but noticed just yesterday that she had lost her sense of smell. Her test came back yesterday. Without thinking a lot about it, I texted the people I had contact with to let them know I had been exposed. All were upbeat and positive and assured me that I would be fine. Frankly, I don’t feel that way. I don’t feel fine. My back is screaming at me, and my joints ache but is it the chicken feed or COVID? On Tuesday, the day I was exposed, I lifted a bag of chicken feed wrong. I twisted and lifted. The moment I did, I felt a jolt down my legs and across my back. I have done this before, years ago, making a wrong move, I blew out a disc. It was immediately painful, in the ‘worst pain I have felt’ category, but there have been many of those. I hoped after the chicken feed debacle that I didn’t blow a disc this time. I don’t think I did. But now being exposed to COVID, I wonder, what is chicken feed, what is COVID? It is not possible to avoid this line of thinking. Tuesday was not a good day for my body.
Last night I watched as PBS did what they often do, shared pictures and stories of a few of the people who have died due to COVID. I thought about how it was such an interesting group of people, creative, kind, connected. I grieve their deaths.
How anyone with the information available can believe this virus is a hoax I don’t know. This line of thinking deeply dishonors all the 200,000 people who have died. We, collectively are no longer shocked. For the folks who believe the disease is a hoax, these people do not exist, no matter their stories, lives, families, they do not exist. There is something sad, and as Mr. Holt said, uniquely disturbing about this. They are throwaways, do not matters; they do not exist for the denier population. What is wrong with this?
When an alcoholic denies they have a problem, someone suffers. The alcoholic suffers, but it is not just the alcoholic that suffers. Their children suffer, their spouses and partners suffer, and if they hit you going 80 mph, you suffer. Part of the reason society in general struggles to have empathy with people who drink too much is that, in the back of our minds, we understand they cause pain to others. Their struggle affects all of us.
What about the virus deniers? If they refuse to wear a mask, if they attend large gatherings, if they insist on acting as if this disease is not real, don’t they cause real pain? If they spread the disease to the vulnerable, they do cause pain. I have heard people dismiss this by saying, “Most people don’t get seriously ill.” Except here’s the news about this, we don’t know who will get seriously ill. We have no foolproof way of guessing who will die. Two hundred thousand people who were not expecting to die have died. They didn’t know they were vulnerable, not for a certainty. And below that statement of, “Most people don’t get seriously ill,” is a shrugging of the shoulders. Almost as if their health conditions warranted their dying, almost as if they were somehow responsible for their deaths. This attitude is seriously, profoundly disturbing. This attitude displays a disregard for other’s lives in the most callous of ways. It is akin to saying, “Who cares? It is not my problem.”
No wonder Lester Holt is upset by this. I am upset by this. It is a wanton disregard for anyone other than oneself. The United States has given a fair amount of evidence that we are a country partly made up of selfish, entitled 15-year-olds. If a parent found out their 15-year-old was blowing smoke into the face of an asthmatic six-year-old, I bet they would censor the teen. Why then do they not see the parallel in their behavior?
To be clear, the lady who tested positive for COVID is a friend. She always wears a mask around me, as I do around her. In an area in which few wear masks, she has made a point to wear one and post about this on Facebook. She is responsible, and it still got her and may get me. Neither one of us deserve to be sick, both of us are older, and I have a target on my back having other health conditions. We are both conscientious, and we may both get very ill. She has vulnerable family members. We live in a community in which many are elderly or have severe medical conditions. If COVID dances around this community, and it will, many are at risk of dying. I have thought about this often. I look into the faces of the frail elderly, some who are now wearing masks, and hope for a good outcome.
It is somewhat like hoping for a good outcome with Climate Change. If nothing is done aggressively to stop fossil fuel emissions, the outcome will not be good. We already see the consequences with fires in California, Oregon, and Washington and with the floods in Florida and Lousiana. Whether it is fire or flood, we have received our warning.
Now what? Well, I wait. I see if I get sick. I debate about getting a test. I suspect I will as I want to know my status. I realize I could be asymptomatic, and I don’t want to pass this. I continue to wear a mask. I will lead my life as best as possible, I will take calculated risks, and with luck will outlast this scrounge of nature, I will survive this warning. But I do understand it is a warning as well as a fact. Mother Nature has served us all notice. Life on planet Earth is in for a wild ride, a larger and more dangerous ride than the Big Kahuna on the Snake River.
As for the folks who continue to believe it is a hoax, I do wish they would grow up.