A grim mile­stone for COVID-19

Daily Camera (Boulder) - - Business -

If a ter­ror­ist at­tack took 200,000 Amer­i­can lives, the countr y would mo­bi­lize for war. Yet as the U.S. death toll for COVID-19 passes that aw­ful num­ber, the na­tion’s re­sponse is so frac­tured that it can be hard to tell any­thing is se­ri­ously amiss. The countr y could do many things to stem the dam­age wrought by the coronaviru­s, but the cur­rent grim mile­stone calls for a sim­pler and more nat­u­ral re­sponse: grief.

Take a mo­ment to re­flect on the enor­mity of our loss. If the pan­demic were a war, it would be the third costli­est in U.S. his­tor y. It has killed more Amer­i­cans than all our com­bined wars but the two world wars and the Civil War. That it has not yet eclipsed the blood­let­ting of those con­flicts should be of scant com­for t; give it time.

Bet­ter yet, don’t. It is past time for a clear, uni­fied re­sponse to this cri­sis. Each of the dead leaves a gap in our so­ci­ety, an empty seat at the break­fast ta­ble or a hole in the fab­ric of a fam­ily’s life. Even those who died with­out close friends or fam­ily deser ved the re­spect of their fel­low cit­i­zens, as well as the care and pro­tec­tion of their gov­ern­ment.

What many of them got in­stead, in­di­vid­u­ally and col­lec­tively, was in­dif­fer­ence. Even a mea­sure as sim­ple as wear­ing masks when out among the public has proved con­tentious and con­tro­ver­sial. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump could drain the fever out of the op­po­si­tion by set­ting an ex­am­ple and wear­ing one him­self; in­stead he most of­ten goes with­out, and mocks his op­po­nent, Joe Bi­den, for do­ing the right thing.

For too many Amer­i­cans, the sim­ple ex­pe­di­ent of wear­ing masks is per­ceived as a judg­ment call — some­thing done out of an over­abun­dance of cau­tion, or blind obe­di­ence to lib­eral dogma. Drive down Univer­sity Av­enue on the Minneapoli­s cam­pus of the Univer­sity of Min­nesota and you’re likely to see stu­dents do­ing what they tra­di­tion­ally do: en­joy­ing the weather and the con­fi­dence that comes with youth.

They gather with­out masks, with no re­gard for so­cial dis­tanc­ing. They are aware of the pan­demic, but too many do not ap­pear to take its dan­gers se­ri­ously.

And why should they? Trump and his sup­por ters have man­aged to ma­lign the sci­en­tists and marginal­ize the sci­ence. Ap­par­ently con­tam­i­nated by po­lit­i­cal pres­sure, the once-re­spected Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion has be­come a font of con­flict­ing sig­nals: The virus spreads via aerosols, and then it doesn’t; asymp­to­matic peo­ple who’ve been ex­posed don’t need to be tested, and then they do.

Pass­ing 200,000 deaths is an oc­ca­sion to con­tem­plate the abyss. This pan­demic shows no sign of dis­ap­pear­ing. Ed­u­ca­tions are be­ing dis­rupted, surg­eries post­poned, fu­ner­als and wed­dings and ca­reers de­ferred. The eco­nomic pain is wide­spread.

And a na­tional leader who can­not bring him­self even to wear a mask in the public in­ter­est should ask him­self why he wanted to be pres­i­dent in the first place.

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