Immediate Danger

Between 38 and 45 US states have increasing daily case counts of COVID-19. This disaster was avoidable, and its befalling us is a function of (failed and ill-conceived) public policy. As the New York Times recently headlined, “Months Into Virus Crisis, U.S. Cities Still Lack Testing Capacity.” A recent study of SARS-CoV-2 antibody prevalence in Spain (showing only ~5% seropositivity across the country) has thrown further cold water on the herd immunity strategy that we are now de facto pursuing in the United States, but in a tiny glimmer of good news, the very hardest hit parts of Queens (perhaps the hardest hit communities in the world) may have antibody positivity rates high enough to confer a degree of collective protection to their populations. Operative word is “may,” as the results underlying this supposition are unscientific and the unknowns manifold.

But you already know all of this, more or less. New York’s progress has stalled. The Governor persists in claiming, in his daily “NYS Coronavirus Update” newsletters, that, “The number of total hospitalizations continues to remain low,” but the fact of the matter is that the numbers have stopped declining and leveled out, just as have our daily confirmed case counts and percent positivity rates in COVID-19 testing. At the same time, we’re moving to further reopen the economy, gradually adding in riskier and riskier activities to our overall economic mix. This is a recipe for a disaster. Indefinitely delaying the resumption of indoor dining was the right choice, given circumstance (and bearing in mind, as I’ve written since early March, that we never should have been in this situation in the first place, because we have known for a century how to confront and contain epidemic disease), but as a case in point, here are headlines for two articles I came across yesterday: “Mayor de Blasio: Child care centers ready to reopen on July 13” and “Texas coronavirus cases top 1,300 from child care facilities alone“; one doesn’t need to be an epidemiologist to do this math.

The Federal Government has utterly failed to confront the crisis and is now flailing in paroxysms of cruelty, denial, and blame-mongering. Our prima donna Governor, on the face of things, has done a better job, but – even in the wake of his disastrous policy on nursing home readmittance – he continues to quietly do things like create “a Prison Nursing Home Way Upstate” rather than release elderly prisoners. The recent letter to the WHO from hundreds of scientists regarding airborne spread of the virus points to just how little we still know about the disease and its transmission, while anecdotal stories – like this one, from the Financial Times, about “The lockdown death of a 20-year-old day trader” – continue to lend personal detail to the contours of this tragedy, just as statistics give us a sense of the horrific scope of the consequences of the pandemic for the very poor globally.

In New York City, Benjamin Kabak opines that “The MTA Sits on the Brink of Fiscal Collapse”; much the same can be said of the City as a whole, and yet one gets little sense that either elected officials or the City’s population at large is in any way prepared to deal with that reality. (In fact, I fear that understandable, but single-minded focus on the NYPD budget has blinded many progressive/Leftist New Yorkers to the fact that the City is already in economic free-fall, and that this fact is likely to have dire consequences for all of our priorities in the absence of drastic action, and, most especially, massive Federal relief.) Here’s what the New York City Council – in its “Report to the Committee on Finance: Economic and Revenue Forecast for the Fiscal 2021 Preliminary Budget” – had to say, on March 2nd of this year, regarding “Risks to the Revenue Budget” from the “coronavirus” with which China was then “grappl[ing]”:

On the other hand, most forecasters see the economic impact of the virus on the U.S. economy to be small and temporary. As a producer and exporter of services, the New York City economy is likely to be immune to most of the virus’ economic transmission mechanisms. The one exception is the virus reducing travel for tourism, business and trade shows. Consequently, transportation, accommodations, and the arts and leisure sectors could see some impact.

Really great prediction.

I’ve just finished reading Volume I of William T. Vollmann’s Carbon Ideologies – No Immediate Danger – a grim and darkly humorous exploration of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, its ongoing consequences, and the culture of denial that has grown up in Japan, and elsewhere, regarding the threat of nuclear disasters to human civilization on Earth. The passage (from pages 509 through 511 of No Immediate Danger) which continues in the images below, begins, “We normalize our lives in order to diminish our pain. Most human beings…”

IMG_5857.jpeg
Don’t know what a micro-Sievert is?
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I didn’t either before reading Vollmann’s book!

The immediate dangers of climate crisis – as of future pandemics and the risk of nuclear accidents or nuclear war – are clear and present. There is a difference between predicting and foretelling. No one predicted, exactly, the COVID-19 pandemic, but countless journalists, writers, doctors, and epidemiologists foretold that a pandemic like it would occur within the time horizon which it occurred. We should feel the pain now of our badly disfigured world, live it, and act to transform it while we still have the chance. Otherwise, we can only expect to reap the consequences, which will be exponentially more pain for all, though, as always, unevenly distributed.

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