I sat at dinner, looking through the sliding glass door at a small woodpecker, seeming to hop up and down the side of a large tree in our back yard. A curious thought occurred to me: What do the birds think about the pandemic? And the simple answer I had was that they are blissfully ignorant as they go looking for whatever small bugs woodpeckers eat. They move through the world without an inkling of what the human population of the planet is currently experiencing.
I had read many years ago about the 1918 pandemic and am not really surprised we have found ourselves in the place the world now finds itself. Pandemics seem to have some inevitability on some irregular cadence, so here we are. But even with my knowledge of pandemics, I would never have expected the sheer speed and magnitude of the current crisis.
On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, I was on a small prop plane at Dulles International Airport that was about to push back from the gate for Pittsburgh. The doors were closed, and the engines started up, and then they stopped. I remember wondering if this had to do what we had seen on the TV before we boarded about a plane hitting The World Trade Center. We learned from the captain that Dulles had been closed.
I scrambled out of the plane, called the car service that had dropped me off at the airport, and asked them to turn around and pick me up. From the back seat of the car service home, I listened in shock to the radio description of the fall of the twin towers. When I got home, I remember sitting in from of the TV watching the replay of the collapse of the twin towers and thinking that the world we knew was never going to be the same.
I do not think we have fully assimilated how the world will change from the current pandemic. There is some notion about “when we get back to normal.” But there is no going back. We are already hearing a loudly proclaimed nationalistic tone from the President. He is doubling down on his “Made in America” mantra, and I think many people may listen to him.
I read earlier today that China makes 95% of antibiotics and 70% of the base materials for pharmaceuticals in the US. We have outsourced so much of the essential materials and infrastructure that we truly are a country at risk. In a crisis, we do not have the means of production to take care of ourselves in fundamental ways. I expect the drums of nationalism to beat louder in the coming days and a push from the President to bring production back onto American shores.
I listened on the radio today a speech by New York’s Governor Cuomo. New York believes it will need 30,000 ventilators in the next two weeks. FEMA sent New York 400 ventilators. Forbes.com notes, “Cuomo openly mocked a recent shipment from FEMA: “You want a pat on the back for sending 400 ventilators?” he angrily said at the press conference. “What are we going to do with 400 ventilators when we need 30,000?”
I’m concerned by the President’s ‘happy talk’ about the success of fighting COVID-19 when some of the worst is yet to come. I agree with the President that we need to figure out how to get the country back to work, but I strongly disagree with all his happy talk and self-congratulations of how well Trump’s government is leading us through this. The federal response has been nothing short of a disaster.
My Aunt Shirley, who passed away many years ago, would say as she grew older and weaker, “I just want to be a little bird and fly away.” I think we all want that so some degree. The world is a scary place to live right now, and it is likely to get more frightening as we see those currently infected with COVID-19 get sick. I believe the worst is yet to come as the death toll in places like New York State mounts. Aunt Shirley would pitch her voice like a small bird, as she made her plans to escape. Some escape would be nice right about now.