America's Plague Year Also Featured A Pandemic!

As the coronavirus pandemic continues on, with predictions that January is going to be even worse than what we've seen yet and the news that the initial phase of vaccinations will be far short of the target, there are already plenty of excellent analyses of where the US went wrong in dealing with the outbreak. The latest is in the current New Yorker, by Lawrence Wright, who identifies three points where the pandemic could have been, if not prevented, then at least better contained, with far less death and sickness. So we're not going to attempt anything like a comprehensive timeline of the pandemic; you can find those all over. Instead, I want to take a look back at some of the stories from the plague year that stuck with me for one reason or another.

Also, this tweet, a summary of the entire Trump pandemic response.

I've Got A Bad Feeling About This

One of our first inklings that maybe the coronavirus response wasn't exactly being run by steely-eyed missile men came in February, when we found out the State Department was making up coronavirus policy as it went along. More than 300 Americans had been taken off a cruise ship that had suffered a coronavirus outbreak, and which had docked in Japan while the virus kept spreading. The Americans were all ready to be repatriated, waiting on buses at an airport, except oops, it turned out 14 of them had tested positive for the virus, although they had no symptoms yet. (Back then, we still thought that meant they weren't infectious, but you'd think we could have at least entertained the possibility. Oops again.)

State had said nobody known to be infected would be allowed to board the two 747s — their interiors stripped of everything but seats — chartered to repatriate the passengers from the cruise ship, but ultimately, overruling advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, brought them all back and put them in quarantine. But hey, shouldn't there have been plans for such a thing?

We were so innocent then!

A week later, we learned that staffers at Health and Human Services were sent to airbases in California to help with Americans who'd been repatriated from Wuhan, without being provided with any protective gear. At times, the HHS folks, sans personal protective equipment, were working alongside CDC employees in "full gown, gloves and hazmat attire," according to a whistleblower complaint.

Oh yes, and the whistleblower, who tried to let HHS bigwigs know there were big problems, got reassigned to a job outside her area of expertise and told she'd be fired if she didn't take it. Yep, that's our terrific government response to a crisis, all right.

Some Vocabulary Words We Learned in 2020

  • Personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Social distancing
  • Respiratory droplets
  • N-95 masks (let medical personnel have them)
  • Flattening the Curve (we briefly did, then nah)
  • (The hell is a "coronavirus" anyway?)
  • Community spread
  • Asymptomatic transmission
  • Herd Immunity
  • Defense Production Act
  • Paycheck Protection Program
  • Case fatality rate
  • Hydroxychloroquine
  • 1918 flu pandemic (1917 if you're Donald Trump and heard a movie title)
  • Zoom meeting
  • Hybrid learning environment
  • WFH (work from home, not We're fucking hosed)
  • Superspreader event

Great Man Reassures A Troubled Nation, Stocks Crash

From the very start, Donald Trump made clear where his priorities were. When stocks dived after CDC scientist Nancy Messonnier warned that it wasn't a matter of if the virus started disrupting everyday life but when, Trump took firm action: He blamed the media for making the "caronavirus" seem worse than it was. 330,000 US deaths later, he's remained pretty consistent on that.

And then he held a presser that night, in which he downplayed the seriousness of the virus. With roughly 60 cases already reported in the US, he insisted over and over there were only 15 cases in the country, and those folks would soon be all better and there'd be zero cases, problem solved. Also, flu kills lots of people, so let's not get too worried about this. He even claimed the stock market dive had probably been caused by the previous night's Democratic debate, because Wall Street was worried one of those socialists might get elected.

It was all very reassuring, and don't forget, "Amity" means "Friendship."

Also, Rush Limbaugh passed along news from wingnut media that Nancy Messonnier is the sister of Rod Rosenstein, which wasn't even a lie, surprisingly! But it proved that the coronavirus was actually just another part of the plot against Trump. And by the end of February, we'd hit two milestones: America saw its first death from the virus, and Donald Trump took, briefly, to calling news of the virus a "hoax." Don't you dare say he called the virus a hoax — just everything the fake news and Democrats (which soon came to include the medical establishment) said about it.

The Shit Hits The Fan

Everything went crazy on March 11: These items are all from a single roundup: Donald Trump gave a speech insisting the virus was a foreign threat, the stock market tanked the next morning; the NBA cancelled a game, and then the whole season, after a player tested positive; Tom Hanks announced, from Australia, that he and his wife, Rita Wilson, had tested positive and were in quarantine; St. Patrick's Day parades got cancelled all over, and Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) did his very best to see if the virus could be defeated by rank assholery:

We started having lockdowns, and we heard about people in Italy singing arias from their windows and Americans applauding health workers and people pulling together because Jesus, this was serious. That lasted a few weeks, even!

Government? What Government?

But then Donald Trump decided it was time for everything to reopen, and we all know how that went. Loonies started parading around with guns, demanding the right to breathe sickness on us, because that's what the Founders wanted. In Idaho, Ammon Bundy and a bunch of astroturfy jerks held rallies and an Easter service where the virus could rise again.

Also, Trump decided, in keeping with GOP orthodoxy, that the federal government shouldn't deal with a national emergency, so states had to fight each other, and the federal government, to get supplies, because the federal stockpile belonged to Jared Kushner. Eventually, a whole bunch of coalitions of states joined together to buy scarce supplies, leading many to wonder what we should call these newly united states.

Wedding Planners, Unite!

And there was all that grift, like the actual wedding planner who got a $39 million contract to prepare food boxes for a USDA program meant to get surplus crops and meat to food banks. (Ultimately, the company only delivered two thirds of the food boxes it had contracted for. But it got paid 80 percent of the contract, or $31 million, so everything worked out well.) And then there were all those contracts for medical supplies that went to a bunch of companies that sprang up overnight, including a would-be arms merchant, a telemarketer accused of fraud by the Federal Trade Commission, and a seller of vodka in light-up bottles. The telemarketer guy went on to deliver "test tubes" that weren't actually medical grade equipment, but were in fact plastic tubes used in making soda bottles, which were completely useless as lab supplies. That company went belly-up as it came under investigation.

Also Trump was hospitalized for COVID-19, and almost everyone else in the White House got sick, and things just kept getting worse and worse. Eventually Joe Biden was elected and he picked a whole bunch of competent smart people to clean things up, and the vaccines started being rolled out, and we ended this post like a high school history class that never got past the Great Depression because it spent too much time on the colonial period and the founding. We never should have spent two weeks roleplaying the drafting of the Constitution, sorry, my bad, the end, Happy New Year!

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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