Early Days

My partner is about as comfortable with baseball as I am with cricket – which is to say, she’s made enough effort over the years to get the gist, but is not altogether at home with the sport – so when Dr. Ashish Jha explained yesterday on Democracy Now!:

So, you know, one way to think about this is, we are early in this pandemic. The way I’ve sort of often described it, using a baseball analogy, is that we’re probably in the top of the third inning of a nine-inning baseball game, meaning that we have a long way to go.

she turned to me to clarify: “What’s that in a soccer match? Like the 30-minute mark?”

Not a huge baseball fan myself, I briefly mulled – Does a baseball match flow from top to bottom or bottom to top? – before offering: “More like 20 or 25.”

So that’s where we’re at. In writing about the course of the pandemic, I’ve previously used a marathon metaphor, and it seems that Dr. Jha and I are of a mind in believing that we’re roughly a quarter of the way through this (so perhaps basketball would have been the better sports analogy). I first heard Dr. Jha speak a month ago on an excellent joint American Public Health Association and National Academy of Medicine webinar on testing. He self-identifies as “on the optimistic side” “among public health people” and went on to say, on Democracy Now! that:

I am pretty optimistic we’re going to have a vaccine. I am very optimistic that that vaccine will come in 2021. It’s very, very hard for me to see a vaccine being safe, effective and widely available in 2020. I just — I can’t quite figure out how that would happen. Obviously, again, love to be wrong, but I think sometime in 2021, and I’m guessing probably mid-2021 is my best guess.

He also thinks schoolchildren in the United States are likely to return to class, albeit with major pandemic-related modifications, this fall, which, given the current disastrous and deteriorating national state of affairs, strikes me as optimistic indeed. Contrast Dr. Jha’s perspective with that of historian Frank Snowden, who appeared on Democracy Now! on Monday, and you begin to get a sense of the diversity of views on the likely future course of this pandemic, even amongst well-informed experts. As Snowden put it:

I’m sure that we will develop a [COVID-19] vaccine, but I also fear that it may not be the […] magic bullet that people believe, that it will put this behind us, because the sort of features you want are, for an ideal [vaccine] candidate, like smallpox, a [virus] that doesn’t have an animal reservoir so it can’t return to us. A [disease] is an ideal candidate [for a vaccine] if in nature it produces a robust immunity in the human body, so people, having once had it, are totally immune for life. That doesn’t seem to be the case with COVID-19. So I expect it to become long-term with us. We’re going to have to learn to live with this disease. It’s probably going to become an endemic disease, and so we’re going to have to adjust […]

That’s a very wide gulf between Jha – the director of Harvard’s Global Health Institute – and Snowden – a renowned, now-emeritus Yale history professor who specializes in the history of pandemics (and by happenstance, was in Italy when the lockdown was implemented there, and has since contracted and recovered from COVID-19). Will we have an effective vaccine in roughly 12 months, and then face, as Laurie Garrett put it, the monumental challenge of implementing the “largest vaccination effort ever even imagined, much less executed”? Or will we simply muddle through – at immense cost in lives and social harm – like we do with the seasonal flu, until, a few years from now, we at last see the impact of the disease taper as more of the population comes to have some degree of immunity?

In India and Bangladesh, governments and populations are scrambling to prepare for the impact of Cyclone Amphan – “the strongest storm on record in the Bay of Bengal” – even as India records its largest single day jump in confirmed COVID-19 cases and, at the same time, new studies indicate the extent to which climate disruption is fueling increases in the frequency of major tropical storms. In northeastern China, some 100 million people are back under strict lockdown conditions in the face of a new outbreak of COVID-19, but back in the US, titans of finance, like Lloyd Blankfein, continue to advance a false dichotomy between reopening the economy and confronting the pandemic, when it has been obvious from the start that we can only effectively reopen the economy by confronting the pandemic.

Mayor de Blasio – who should resign – continues to “[push] hard against moving all homeless [New Yorkers] to hotels,” even as decency and good public health sense both stand in favor of moving those in need of shelter out of congregate settings, while – courtesy of Ross Barkan and his new project, The Cuomo Filesevery day brings new insights into the objective failures of leadership during the pandemic, and before, of our now globally popular Governor.

Yesterday, I linked to this New York Times article/graphic which shows just the extent to which the City’s “Richest Neighborhoods Emptied Out” in March hand April. Paired with this article/graphic from nonprofit newsroom THE CITY – which shows how, based on recently released City data, COVID-19 “has claimed scores of residents in some neighborhoods while other areas have dodged death” – the wealth exodus graph tells a stark tale. In fact, the areas of density in the wealth graph and the death graph appear more or less mutually exclusive, as if one was a negative image of the other.

To end in the spirit of uplift though – and of inspiration and strength for the long road, or the remaining innings, or quarters, or potentially unlimited overs (did I get that right?) ahead of us – I found this People’s Forum virtual event – “Disaster Capitalism in the Democratic Republic of Congo” – with Kambale Musavuli of Friends of the Congo especially great (and I’ll likely revisit it in more detail tomorrow). Additionally, the comrades at Science for the People will be hosting a webinar, “The Science We Have + The Science We Need: Internationalism in the Pandemic” this Thursday. I encourage you to attend.

Finally, if you’re in New York State and are legally able to and plan to vote, please request your absentee ballot. In a turn of good news for democracy in the United States, a Federal appeals court ruled yesterday in Manhattan that attempts (by the Governor and NYS Democratic Party) to cancel New York’s June presidential primary were unjustified. I’ll believe the Biden New Deal buzz when I see any evidence it has substance, but, in the meantime, anything we can do to push the presumptive Democratic nominee and the Party to the left – towards an embrace of a people-centric pandemic response, a Green New Deal or equivalent, etc. – will be welcome, and voting for Bernie Sanders on June 23rd strikes me as one clear way to apply the necessary progressive pressure.

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