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The Failed States of America

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Like most of you, I am so incredibly angry and frustrated by the national response to COVID-19. The lockdown was necessary. And if we had given it a little more time, we might have been in a better place. Part of the reason for it is just to give us more time to find treatments. The recent discovery that a common and cheap steroid significantly improves survival rates in hospitalized patients is exactly why this is necessary.

But alas, we live in a disastrous nation. This is why I was pessimistic about our COVID response from the beginning. Obviously this nation was not going to do what it took to control it. Certain states might. Rhode Island was hit hard and fast. Our overall positive tests per capita remains third highest in the nation. That sounds bad. But, it’s more complicated than that. First, Rhode Island has–far and away–the best testing capacity in the nation and the most tests per capita. We have done a great job on this. We are double or triple the testing of most states. We have a 212,000 tests/million rate. The second highest state is New York at 182,000. The national average is all of 91,000. So we are showing more positive rates. Second, we have reopened all the way to the point that you can now have indoor dining at restaurants. And yet–our positive testing rate has stabilized at 2% and has remained there for most of a month, with hospitalization rates continuing to decline. Why? Because we wear masks. Masks are required inside any establishment and anywhere where you can’t social distance. Health officials are on the beaches enforcing this. You actually can have some semblance of normal life in COVID if you wear a mask. We are about to move to Phase 3 and there is reason to believe that if everyone still wears masks, we can do it without too much damage.

And yet, for the Failed States of America, such a basic move as wearing a damn mask is impossible. Now, the states of the South and the West which laughed at COVID as a blue state problem are getting absolutely creamed and the response is pathetic. We learned nothing and face the same problems we had in March. Meanwhile, fantasy thinking continues to dominate, with the belief that we can people back together, especially young people, without spreading the virus rapidly is again and again being proven impossible. The idea that we can have sports or K-12 or higher education without spreading the virus is laughable. Of course, life also has to go on. You have to have K-12. There’s really no way around it. And yet, the nation is completely unprepared to do what it could do to mitigate the problems of spreading the virus.

It’d be nice to live in a nation such as New Zealand or South Korea. But we do not. And we might as well admit it. The reality is that we are never going to have effective contract tracing in this nation. It just isn’t going to happen. A quarter of the population won’t get a vaccine. They sure as hell ain’t going to give their personal information to the government. I’m waiting for some yahoo to shoot a contract tracer for knocking on the door.

This is a nation that sees a guy blow away a classroom of 6 year old kids and gives a collective shrug. This is a nation where people discover the blown out brains of their children and say that this is a gun family and are still proud of it. This is a nation where people dying of preventable illness are on their deathbeds literally telling a researcher they would rather die than have the Obamacare that might have saved their lives.

What do you do with a country like this? The first thing you have to do is realize where you are at. It’s nice to believe that we can model good behavior by wearing masks, but we can’t because a huge part of the nation just won’t care and see you as a huge cowardly lib wimp for doing so, even as they might well die of COVID themselves. Some of us are fortunate enough to live in states where we have the government leadership necessary to mandate masks. Unfortunately, we also have Donald Trump as president for another 7 months at least. This is what people voted for, even if some of them are finally starting to see that maybe that wasn’t such a great idea in the end. We’d like to wish away Donald Trump and the epidemic he has unleashed on the nation through his malevolent indifference to the virus. But we can’t.

We really have two choices moving forward. We can shut it all down for as long as it takes, though that might mean years and that would have enormous implications on everything from child welfare to domestic violence to the job prospects of recent college graduates. Or we can open up to some extent, try to mitigate the problems to the best extent possible, but also admit that cases are going to happen and that we are going to press forward given the limitations of this nation. What is actually happening is that people are reopening, finding a bunch of inevitable cases, and then closing again. That’s not really tenable as a good option, even if that’s what is happening with sports and what will probably happen with higher ed and K-12. That’s really a bad planning mechanism. Or we can go full DeSantis/Trump/Abbott and just say we don’t care and let ’em die, which I think we can all agree is unacceptable except that we can’t agree on this because 1/3 of the population or more is right there with them.

Sadly, most of the actual good options are off limits to us because we live in this nightmare of a country. So given those realities, what do we do?

Update: Today’s positive test rate in Rhode Island: 1.3%. This can be done and be done right.

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