The Next Six Months
[Part of this column was published in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune where I write a bi-weekly column for a still strong local newspaper. I am a resident of Florida, hence the reference to the state.]
We Americans have a very rare opportunity to actually shape our future for the next six to twelve months. There are few times when this can happen, When we know the realities, we have clear choices, and we all face a single enemy, in this case a deadly virus. What actually happens in the next six months will be up to us to a greater degree that at almost any time in recent memory. We can stand together to fight a deadly enemy, save lives and bring back the economy. Or not. We the pe0ple can shape the future. What an opportunity!
My previous column titled Dark Winter Ahead that we will have a dark winter ahead primarily due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The only thing I got wrong was thinking that America might top out at 135,000 new cases a day. Well, I am writing after two weeks of horrible virus numbers,and we have already hit 200,000 as a daily new case load, so I was off by 40%. This, of course, only makes the winter darker.
Time to End America’s Vision Deficit was about how, until recently, Americans came together to face common enemies, whether it was the Axis Powers in WWII or the Soviet Union in the race to the moon and the Cold War.
Remember 9/11/01? Of course you do! That was when 3,000 died in one day at the hands of Islamic terrorists, when several days later President Bush climbed the rubble of the World Trade Center, grabbed a megaphone and in just a matter of minutes united us against those that had attacked us and killed our fellow Americans.
If you were like me, you bought and proudly wore an FDNY hat for several years after that. We honored our heroes who went toward the towers. Today we honor our front-line heroes who are overwhelmed at all the hospitals dealing with virus deaths every day, often every hour. Close to 2,000 of them have died from the virus, often working with less than adequate PPE. We honor them by saying they are heroes.
Many of us, however, do not honor them. Every single front line health worker I have heard interviewed have all said the same thing: “please help us, wear a mask and follow health guidelines.” With these pleas from weeping, exhausted heroes, I just can’t understand why so many people will not wear masks.
In one day, there were 3,000 deaths of Americans and we all were changed by it, and our sense of being Americans under attack seemed to unite us. Last week, three days had almost the same number of dead Americans as 9/11: 2,777, 2,802 and 2,669. In the first five days of December, 13,289 Americans died from the COVID-19 virus, or more than four times the death toll of 9/11.
After 9/11, and up to this day, we have tolerated hours of waiting to go through TSA security lines. We unpack our liquids, take off our shoes and belts, empty our pockets and walk through a scanner. Often, we have to be frisked. This is much more personally intrusive, much more time consuming and yet we do it. The obvious reason for this difference is that none of us could fly if we didn’t go through TSA security, so we tolerate it. Yet many chose to not wear masks as it is an invasion of freedom. Well, for those of you who don’t wear masks, think about TSA lines. If you accept the government rule that you can’t fly without going through security, why would you resist a government mandate to wear masks? None of us want a terrorist on our plane. None of us want to get COVID-19.
We are under attack and yet we argue about masks. While our front-line workers are crying and pleading with us to wear masks and follow the health scientists, we argue amongst ourselves about mask wearing. What has happened to us these last few years? Yes, you can say President Trump as he doesn’t wear a mask and actually has ridiculed those that wear them. But that is an easy cop-out as we all have the freedom of choice, unless of course you need a politician to control how you act. How we as Americans stay divided and ignore those front-line workers is simply beyond me. The only real conclusion is that millions of Americans have chosen to be selfish and opinionated to a degree that we no longer can come together to fight the enemy.
Back to the recent date of Dec. 7, the 79th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. That day changed history. Within days we were in a declared war and within weeks tens of thousands had signed up to fight the enemy. Any idea how many Americans died that day? 2,403. That means that three days last week more people died in a day than died at Pearl Harbor.
We are all caught up in our opinions. We don’t honor our health and front-line workers. We moan about our “freedom” to not wear a mask. If we had been so selfish, we wouldn’t have won WWII, as the home front, the factory floors of Detroit, and unprecedented rationing were big parts of being the victor.
So here is what we know to be true as of this writing:
- The rest of December, and all of January, will be a time when 100,000+ Americans will die from the virus.
- IF 90% of all Americans wore masks, there would be 50,000 fewer deaths by March.
- The Trump Administration may have accelerated the development of vaccines through there “warp speed” approach, but withdrawing from the WHO means that to date there are seven vaccines in development around the world that America will not be able to get. In addition, it is been reported that while “warp speed” may have helped in the laboratories, the administration has no long-term distribution policy in place, leaving it up to the states.
- President Elect Biden will institute a 100-day mask mandate to slow the virus until we can get vaccines to millions of Americans.
- There will be logistical problems with getting us vaccinated to the 75% level we will need to feel safe. Reaching that 75% number before say August/September 2021 will be tough, particularly if people don’t trust the vaccine.
- We are watching the first few days of the vaccine and it is a time for joyful celebration. But, the math is daunting. There are 330 million US citizens. The needed threshold for actually moving to a post-virus America is 75% of the population, or 250 million citizens. Each person needs to have two shots so the number of vaccinations is 500 million. There are 15 days remaining of 2020, and the first quarter of 2021 has 90 days, so a total of 105 days until 4/1/21. To get to a 75% vaccinated level of the populace by 4/1/21 would mean that we will have to administer 5 million shots a day. That won’t happen. There will be supply-chain problems, allocation problems, and massive scale-up for distribution problems, at some time. I can’t see the operational capacity for 5 million shots a day. If we could get that number to 2.5 million a day it will take 200 days or sometime in late July-early August, with no supply chain issues. I simply cannot see getting to a 75% population threshold before the end of summer or early fall. September is a good prediction for when America can start to feel and act like we actually are in a post-virus country.
- A growing number of states and cities will go on lockdown between now and February.
- Gov. Ron DeSantis has not allowed any county or city to enforce a mask mandate. This means that the state’s number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths will dramatically increase in the next two months because of the holidays.
- Right at the time of Florida’s – and Sarasota’s – peak season of January, February and March, Florida will be a plague state. This will further kill tourism revenue because fewer people will travel to a state where the virus is out of control and the governor won’t implement a mask mandate. This will become particularly acute if Florida is one of the few states that refuses to follow the 100-day mask mandate. Unpatriotic and a virus hot spot. Why risk traveling to a state where there is no regard for public health?
Back to the premise at the top of the column: A unique opportunity to shape our future. If we want to have fewer deaths than we sustained in WWII – 420,000, over four years – we can wear masks, social distance and have a commitment to our neighbors, the elderly, the infirm and our front line health care workers. If we want to keep Florida as a place where people can feel safe to visit during season, we can all do what is needed and what is right, and do it now.
Or we can decide to act selfishly and dismiss science, in ways that the “Greatest Generation” should find appalling. We can bond and come together in a singular way to lessen death, suffering and economic loss … and feel good about it. Or we can refuse to fight with the tools we know can help us win this battle against an invisible and deathly enemy.
What our collective future for the next six months will be is up to us. We can join together for the common good, for saving lives, for a faster economic recovery, or we can act selfishly and make the road ahead longer and more deadly.
What are you going to do?