Fear and Perspective

Fear, Dissonance, Wills, And Perspective


Leonard Zwelling

         We are in the middle of it right now, and despite what anyone out there says, we really don’t know when it ends or how. We don’t know what it means or what our response to it will mean for future generations. It will be one of those moments—Pearl Harbor, the Kennedy Assassination, or 9/11—only it will have lasted much longer.

         In the first of the two attachments from The New York Times (on-line), Anne Sauerbrey writes from Berlin about the German experience with the novel coronavirus. The German death rate is very low. It may be due to the fact that many of their earliest cases were among the young who contracted the disease on ski trips to Italy and Austria. The elderly in Germany self–quarantined quickly and thus have fared better than their counterparts in Italy. Of course the German health care system is probably the best in Europe and it may yet be taxed as the Italian system was and as some systems are being strained in the United States.

         That’s what the second piece is about. It is by Bari Weiss and also in The New York Times, print and on-line. The front-line caregivers of America’s large cities are being stressed to the breaking point. Although there are still many people out there who do not believe this is a major crisis or it is one manufactured by the media, in these pockets of concentrated illness, the doctors and nurses do not have the equipment they need to care for their patients. They don’t even have the wherewithal to care for themselves. Many are living apart from their families for fear of spreading the virus to their own kids. Many are, for the first time, making out wills and delegating caregivers for their children if both current parents die of covid-19.

         This may seem a little grim, but I think it reflects the overall sense that most Americans are forming their views of this outbreak from one of two perspectives—or from both. Everyone is frightened by what they see on TV, especially the scenes coming from New York. Carting off 13 dead from one hospital in Queens in one day is a grim reminder of what a contagion can look like. The doctors and nurses on the front line are also getting their view of corona from their own experience. The dissonance occurs among those not on the frontlines who are hunkered down in their houses, seeing the graphic images on 24/7 TV, yet experiencing little of the disease in their own lives. Loneliness, isolation and social distancing for everyone, but face-to-face with corona is for only the few.

         All of this I attribute to horrible leadership from Washington.

This article, also from Sunday’s NY Times, does a good job outlining the failures among the government agencies and their inexperienced leadership in the lack of the introduction of widespread and rapid testing that seems to be working in Germany.

Let’s make this even more complicated.

The American Cancer Society estimates that 1660 people die of cancer each day. At the time of this writing about 5000 Americans have died in total from covid-19 and that may include people with influenza as well or those who died with covid-19 not of it. I doubt there are a whole lot of autopsies going on in the hospitals at which these people are dying. This is not to say that covid-19 is not serious. It is. This is not to say that young people don’t die of covid-19. They do. I am just trying to put some perspective on the seriousness of this outbreak compared to one of the nation’s biggest killers, cancer. Add in automobile accidents and heart disease and you see it is the covid-19 outbreak ON TOP OF the other causes of death that make this a complex problem.

Covid-19 is serious. People are dying. In some of the larger cities, this is stressing out the health care systems. This is also likely to be protracted if the mitigation strategies employed have worked because they may not lessen the number of cases, but rather spread them out over time.

Books will be written about how the U.S. responded to the coronavirus. How we responded will also be compared to how other first world countries responded. From that we should learn how to do this better next time, how to be ready, how to look competent.

For now we can say: people will die. Fewer may die from covid-19 than die from cancer over the same period of time. This sense of urgency about the new outbreak ought to be brought to our research battle against cancer and the other major killers of Americans.

The final analysis that someone will have to do is: was it worth it to close the country for this? That’s for the historians to determine.

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