Reflections on a Pandemic

WARNING:  Strong and Salty language in use.  Unkind things are said in the unkindest possible ways.  Words not used in polite company are employed in appropriate ways.  Do not read if you are easily offended.  If judicious use of vulgar language is not for you, then piss off. I don’t care. Sometimes you have to be blunt.

Hi ho. So here we are, into the seventh month of a pandemic, no end in sight. Most of us are holding our breaths waiting for a second wave.

The United States… Well, let’s put it this way. Their handling of the pandemic has been nightmarishly bad. We can blame the Orange Narcissist, but in fact there’s plenty of blame to go around, ranging from badly mismanaged and ill coordinated pandemic plans at federal, state and local levels, politicization of the virus, and just an appalling amount of selfishness and stupidity among large parts of the population.

You could spend weeks dissecting everything the Americans did wrong. But so what?  America is a distraction.  It’s a distraction from how completely badly so many others dropped the ball.

I’m going to be blunt: There are a lot of dead people in Canada, because the people who should have been paying attention were asleep at the wheel. The same for Italy, for Iran, for France and England, Spain and Germany, Russia, Brazil, India, you name it.

Those people, the ones asleep at the wheel, do not deserve to be let off the hook. They do not get to point to America and say “Yes, we were negligent and sloppy and half assed, we weren’t paying attention, or exercising due diligence, yes the sins of our past caught up with us, and we weren’t prepared, we acted late and badly, and we lied to you some, possibly a lot… but hey, look at Trump!”

No.

Dear Bastards, you do not get to do that.

Can I call you Bastards? Because normally, you go by Ministers, and Department Heads, Doctors, Senior Bureaucrats, Deputy this, Director that, Chief something or other, etc., all very respectful titles. But here, I think you deserve a lack of respect.

Look, let’s go back to the beginning. This virus, we now know, seems to have crossed over into humans for the first time in late November, 2019. We have no idea who patient zero was. Some guy who got some sniffles, got better and forgot about it.

Then around December 2, 2019 we got the first cases showing up. Basically individual mystery infections, someone gets sick, can’t figure it out, they get better or they die. That happens.

It’s not until around December 14 through 18 that we get a cluster of cases around the Wuhan Fish Market that people start noticing. Fair is fair, it’s not until then that it would be reasonable for anyone to notice. And people in China did start noticing. There was an Ophthamologist that jumped the gun and got punished for it, which is ugly, though not uncommon. But he wasn’t the only one noticing. Physicians and bureaucrats were noticing, and while there were people in the Chinese government that really didn’t want to notice, things did happen. Samples were sent off to two different labs, and by December 20 and 27, the results were back – this was a brand new virus.

Alright, that’s December. So far, nothing to object too strongly too. The Chinese didn’t handle it especially well, but they didn’t do especially badly, they could have been more diligent, more forthcoming, they could have been less dickish to their own people. But… really, the bottom line is the competent side of things.

Let’s fact forward into 2020. January 1, the CDC and the WHO are informed. By January 3, the Chinese have over forty confirmed cases. By January 7, 2020, the virus genome had been sequenced and shared across the world. January 9, 2020, we saw the first death.

January 14 they’re still trying to figure out if human to human transmission is a thing. January 16, Berlin comes up with a test. January 18, China makes its big mistake – a Chinese New Years banquet celebration is held for 40,000 people. January 20, the suspected human to human transmission is confirmed.

January 21, the shit hits the Chinese fan, with literally hundreds of cases. It’s tempting to blame the Banquet, but the disease has an incubation period, so most of the explosion of cases may have been infections from days, even weeks earlier. The Banquet certainly isn’t going to help.

Over the next ten days, the Chinese literally lose their shit, we see a series of escalating and even draconian measures go into place, until literally four hundred million people are in massive lockdown, and despite measures which keep getting more extreme, the numbers skyrocket from first a few dozen, to a few hundred, then thousands, tens of thousands.

None of this should be startling to anyone who was paying attention back then. I remember watching and reading the news in horrified fascination as China went into massive lockdown. Whatever was going on there, it was not business as usual. China is a monolithic bureaucracy, a top down hierarchy that prizes stability above all things. The last thing Chinese bureaucrats want to do is rock the boat, they last thing they want is other people rocking the boat.

These were not the people anyone should expect to overreact to a little virus outbreak. These were the sort of people, the sort of state, the sort of bureaucracy that normally puts a lid on things, whose first lines of defence are denial, obfuscation and delay.

But there they were, running around screaming with their hair on fire.

What the hell? The entire world was watching the Chinese, the most stable, doctrinaire government on Earth, flipping out, and literally shutting down their economy and locking up their entire country, because this viral outbreak was so infectious and terrifying.

Wow! I mean, just:  Wow!

I was watching this on television and through news feeds, both astonished and horrified. And not just a little disturbed.

Which brings us to the rest of the world, and in particular, to the governments of various nations, their public health departments, their medical systems.

All of whom (with notable exceptions, South Korea, Australia, perhaps a few others) just kind of stood there with their dicks in their collective hands, chewing gum, and gazing on with bovine placidity. A lot of ‘ho hum, that’s interesting over there, ho hum.’

And here’s the point where I lose my patience. Because the Alarm Bells should have been going off loud and clear right across the world, sometime between January 21 and 31, and everyone should have been gearing straight up.

I’m talking immediate worldwide travel restrictions, particularly for Asia. Travel monitoring. Quarantining. Effective quarantine rules, quarantine support and quarantine enforcement. I’m talking alerts to every hospital and public health apparatus. Initiating systematic testing, and gear up for massive testing. I’m talking major commitments of time and manpower to aggressive contact tracing.

But what did we do? Apparently, through February and half way into March, the worldwide response was to hold dicks in hands and chew gum, placidly watching the wildfire rage, watching China’s extreme containment measures and… Nothing.

Apparently, the Iranians did nothing, because they caught fire by February 20. Well who knows, the Iranians, developing country and all that, maybe they’re just not on the ball. Then Italy catches fire a week later. Then France. Then Germany. Spain. England.

Are we seeing a common pattern here of entire countries caught with their pants down? Governments, leaders, cabinets, should have been on the ball. But apparently, it wasn’t being taken seriously.

Caught with their pants down, after apparently watching China melt down, but not doing much else.

What was it? Laziness? Incompetence? Negligence? The bovine assumption that it couldn’t happen here? Some kind of racism or perverse national prejudice – the Chinese were filthy and dirty and reckless with their unsanitary markets? The Chinese government was inept somehow? I don’t know.

All I know is that a lot of people who should have known better were asleep at the wheel. Or the ones who were awake and screaming weren’t being listened to. I’m sure that every administration had its lonely Cassandras pronouncing away, while the ‘serious’ people had coffee and focused on ‘more important stuff.’

And so forth, until by mid-March, it’s officially a world Emergency.

So I make that as six goddamned weeks of holding their dicks and chewing gum while the world catches fire.

Now at this point, someone may blather at me that the various powers that be weren’t doing nothing. There were various measures, like Trump’s half assed travel ban. There were meetings. There were memos. But let’s be honest, crap measures and half measures are no measures at all.

And there is no excuse. China treated it like a four alarm fire. That should have been the signal, the gun fired, everyone needed to be blasting out the starting gate, not stopping for a cappuccino.

There’s a lot of dead Iranians, and dead Italians, dead Frenchmen and Spaniards, and Englishmen, dead Belgians, dead Dutch, dead Swedes and Portugese, etc. etc., all of whom might be alive if their governments hadn’t fucked up.

Or someone may blather at me that it wasn’t a whole six weeks wasted. It was more like five weeks or four. I don’t care! The point is negligence. If someone’s defence is to try and shave a week or two off that negligence, well, to hell with them. Seriously, I consign thee to the fiery pits of hell. Eat my shorts while you’re down there.

And if someone wishes to beard me for my uncivil choice of language, or lack of respectful terminology for what must be termed manifest indifference, incompetence and negligence… then all I have to say is &@$#%@!!!$@>#@%. Because I really don’t feel like being polite or respectful when lives, my life, your life, all our lives are in the hands of people or institutions who fucked the dog. There are no do overs, the dead are not popping back to life.

Take some responsibility for your failures, all you pretentious arrogant shits.

There is literally no excuse. There’s no excuse for the palpable and absolute negligence of the British or the Swedish government in their cockamamie laissez faire approach which gave the virus such a buffet of their populations.

There is no excuse for Trudeau in Canada. Or Johnson in England. Or Macron in France, and so on. Whether we blame them individually, and we should. Or whether we blame their Cabinets, their advisors, whoever, and we should. The simple fact is that there was no excuse.

They failed. At a critical moment in time, they had a duty, they had a warning, and they failed. Had they acted properly and in time, or even with less delay people wouldn’t have died. It’s as simple as that. Tens of thousands of deaths would have been thousands. Thousands of deaths could have been hundreds. The thing could have been controlled.

Sure, mostly they’re all on the ball now. Good for them, and so goddamned what. When a building catches fire, the time to deal with is right now, not sometime after lunch when you can pencil it in to the schedule.

And then there’s the little matter of integrity.

Remember at the start of this, in February and March, April and May, when the public was told repeatedly that masks weren’t effective. Don’t bother with masks. It was all about hand washing and social distance, locking down. But masks? Nah. Not effective.

We, the public, were lied to by the people and entities we were supposed to rely upon and trust.

This was the statement of Dr. Fauci, the United States lead on Pandemic response, when asked about the advice given on masks earlier on by a Republican congressman:

“Okay, we’re going to play that game. At that time, there was a paucity of equipment that our health care providers needed. … We did not want to divert masks and PTE away from them to be used by the people.”

So they lied to the public.

I’m so sorry that he feels put upon. I’m so sorry that he feels that it’s a game. How dare anyone hold he and his own accountable for their actions. How dare we be so rude as to remark upon dishonesty.

Here’s another statement by Dr. Fauci.

“We have to admit it, that that mixed message in the beginning, even though it was well meant to allow masks to be available for health workers, that was detrimental in getting the message across,” Fauci said in an interview with Mary Louise Kelly of NPR’s All Things Considered. “No doubt about it.”

Mixed messages? Apparently that’s the polite term for lying to people’s faces. Just for the record, here’s what people were being told:

“As late as February 29, Surgeon General Jerome Adams was telling Americans on Twitter to stop buying masks, saying they are “NOT effective.”

That was the message, through February, March and into April.  I’m using American sources because they’re easy. But we were getting the same bullshit in Canada. We were being told the same things to our faces in Manitoba.

Now yes, I understand that there were limited supplies of hospital quality masks, and this was a concern.

That doesn’t justify lying. Period. Full stop. It just doesn’t.

And for God’s sakes, this was right at the beginning, practically out of the starting gate.  Seriously, this is practically one of the first challenges and the decision was to lie? What the hell?  I could understand maybe, far down the road, backs to the wall, clock ticking down, the bomb about to explode, that kind of desperation.  But day one?  Week one?  Month one?  What the frigging hell?

Two responses.

First, even without hospital quality surgical gear, masks could have made a difference. People could have sewn together homemade masks. I know people who are sewing masks right now. People could have used scarfs, face coverings, they could have improvised. Maybe these improvised masks and face coverings might not have been as effective. But they would have had some effectiveness, they would have made some difference. Instead, people were given aggressively bad advice and instructions, they were given lies, so they didn’t.

How much did that contribute to the spread? How many people got infected or transmitted infections because of that bad advice? How many died?

I’ll repeat that: How many people died?

I don’t think that this is a joke. I don’t think this is funny. We had a runaway virus at a critical point where it was about to go large, and medical professionals and health care leaders were lying and giving bad advice that had the effect of contributing to the spread of the virus.

I suppose that we can’t point to a single person or a single infection and say “this person got infected/died because of these lies and bad advice.” Or maybe not, I suspect if we went looking, we could find those cases. But statistically, looking at the progress of the infection as it spread explosively through February, March and beyond, it’s hard to make the claim that fewer lies and better advice wouldn’t have made a difference at a critical period.

Now on to my second point.

Here’s the thing about a lie. Once you find a lie, how do you know that they’re telling the truth about anything else. Dr. Fauci, the Surgeon General, all the rest of the health care establishment participated in a widely disseminated systemic lie.

Their excuse is that it was for a really good and important cause. Lying to the public was the best way to deal with the situation.

Because apparently, the public was not to be trusted? Apparently the public was too stupid to be told the truth. Or too venal or too self serving to be relied upon? Apparently, there was no faith in the public? We were all stupid peons, too obstinate to act sensibly? Our betters had to shield us from truth, and manipulate us for our own good?

That’s harsh. But that’s the message, rightly or wrongly. The people in a position to make decisions, to disseminate approved information, did not trust the public, and decided it was easier or more effective to lie than to engage honestly.

Okay. So how do we know that they’re telling the truth today? Or that they told the truth last week? How do we know what they’re telling the truth about? How do we know that they’re not lying now? Or that they won’t lie when it suits them?  They lied out at the starting gate, because it was convenient. So yeah, they’ll probably lie if that seems convenient again. They’ll potentially lie at any other point in the process.

Why should we, as the public trust them?

I suppose we don’t have a lot of choice in the matter.

But the reality is that the medical establishment, the health policy establishment has deliberately broken trust.

Integrity?

That’s gone.

Maybe guys like me go along with the professionals now. But now, I have to wonder, over and over again, at each point, is this the truth? Now I have to wonder about the next time? What happens when there’s a real vested interest, a motive, an advantage to lying to the public? Well, they’re just going to go ahead and lie when it suits them. That’s been established. I’m just going to have to take a leap of faith that most of the time they’re telling the truth, and that this or that piece of data or advice is honest and is not going to get me killed. I have to live with the likelihood that the next time it’s convenient to do so, or in someone else’s interest, that I may be lied to and lied to in a way that may increase the risk to my health and safety.

Hmm.  Not feeling good about that.

That’s me.

But what about other people? What about those people who decide not to wear masks, the ones who are lazy, or crazy, who think its a socialist plot involving Bill Gates and nannobots, or the ones who just don’t want to, or the ones who think it’s a civil rights issue. Most of them are well aware of the lie, and for at least some of them, that lie, and the breakdown of credibility or integrity was a deciding factor. They were told masks were useless, then they were told masks were important. Maybe they were, maybe they weren’t.

In some quarters, particularly in the United States, but also hear in Canada, masks have become very politicised. Maybe it wasn’t a good idea to throw gasoline on that fire. Maybe misinformation and lies didn’t actually help the situation. You think?

All those crowded beaches, all those crowded bars? I don’t blame the Surgeon General’s lie on that, not entirely, not even principally. People are going to be stupid and reckless. But at the same time, in all those people, somewhere in there is the awareness that they’ve been lied to. And perhaps, there’s a little less faith, a little more contempt, that makes them willing to take those stupid reckless risks. It’s a factor, maybe not the big factor, maybe not the dominant factor, but it’s in there.

Then we come to the deniers, the cranks, the minimizers, the conspiracy theorists, the crooks and the frauds with their snake oil, and the delusional with their herbs and crystals. Well, what a gift they’ve been handed. The establishment has shot itself in the foot in a self serving way. They’ve lied, and so they’ve placed themselves on an equal footing with the habitual liars and fools. The establishment has discredited themselves and in doing so open the door to charlatans, clairvoyants, ideologues and all the rest of the loony brigade.

And yeah, they would have all been there. But here’s the thing, they didn’t need to be helped out. They didn’t need that helping hand of a Health Establishment spreading bold faced, self serving lies of the worst sort.

On the scale of things, it almost becomes abstract. We’re looking at infections in the hundreds of thousands now, millions worldwide. Deaths in the thousands. We’re looking at a worldwide pandemic, and the struggle to contain it. What does it all mean?

There’s so much of this disease that we don’t know. We don’t, and can’t possibly know, for instance, the one year prognosis, because it just hasn’t been around that long. We don’t know about the risks of reinfection. We’re feeling our way through treatment. Months ago we were guessing at how long it lasted on surfaces and people were having serious conversations about sterilizing food containers and packaging.

In a situation as chaotic and fast moving as this, mistakes are inevitable. Bad judgments are inevitable. That’s just a fact of life. When you’re blindfolded and trying to cross the street, there’s a real chance you’ll get run over. There’s no blueprint, there’s no map, we’re just trying to figure it out as we go. I get all that.

But the people who were asleep at the wheel at the critical points, the people who lied… They’re not Old Pierre living by the side of a river, caught by surprise by the hundred year flood. They’re not housewives or soccer moms, or the rednecks in the tavern. They weren’t ordinary, untrained, untutored Gomers with no backgrounds and no knowledge.

These were people who were supposed to be trained and educated, including in ethics. These were people who were supposed to understand the metaphor how quickly a house burns down once a fire catches, how quickly a situation can run out of control. These were people who watched China melt down… and blew six critical weeks. These were people who were faced with a challenge early on literally at the outset and decided to lie. This is not acceptable standards of performance.

They didn’t do the best possible job.  Let’s not pretend that they did. We know from Australia and South Korea how it was handled better. They didn’t even do the mediocre job they were trained for. They dropped the ball, they dropped it hard in critical moments and in critical places… and here we are.

Now people are dead. A lot of people are dead. Almost half a million worldwide. Almost 9000 in Canada. Thirty five thousand in Italy. Thirty thousand in Spain. Forty-five thousand in England. Many, many more in more vulnerable places.

A lot more people will die. You or I may be some of those people that will die. As I confront my own mortality, I am not really enthusiastic about giving negligence a pass, or overlooking a lie. People are people, not superhumans, and perhaps we shouldn’t expect the extraordinary of them. But I do expect basic competence and integrity.

Fuck you Doctor Fauci, and fuck you Surgeon General Jerome Adams, and fuck you Justin Trudeau, Boris Johnson, Emmanuel Macron and all the rest of you bastards. Fuck you. I want to say that I am absolutely sincere in this sentiment, and that the “F—“ word has been selected with great deliberation after careful reflection and that it is absolutely appropriate to the situation.

So wear it with pride, gentlemen. You are not just deserving of it.

You earned that ‘Fuck you.

2 thoughts on “Reflections on a Pandemic”

  1. As usual, disaster has to strike first for people to really wake up. All I can do is hope that the government’s dropping the ball on the Covid 19 is that smarter people will arise and take over control. We need real leadership in the coming years and sadly, we’re not getting the best for the job. But I am optimistic that this will change humanity for the better in the long run, although in the short term, it’s still going to cause a lot of damage.

    Reply
  2. It was just so surreal. Back in late January heard about what was happening in China, and follow the news. By early February, I went to my office administration manager to see what safety supplies we had in stock. Back when H1N1 hit, we got boxes of masks, gloves, information sheets and even training on how to use this properly. We were given money to train our casual staff who work one on one with our clients (vulnerable people). Knew we still had some stuff left. I asked about it and was told we had boxes and boxes in the basement. I went to building maintenance to confirm that the hand sanitizer machines were working and be fully filled up. By mid February did a Coscto and superstore run for supplies. But hear nonthing from management on what to do or what to tell my workers and clients, even as the world was crashing around us. Sent emails after emails without a response. We were weeks into this when I finally got some instructions (which was not clear or helpful).
    Governments have been warned for years about this happening. Back in 1997 there was even a best selling book “The Coming Plague” by Laurie Garrett, warning about this. I actually saw a Youtude interview with Laura a few months prior to all this happening, discussing the possibility of a new plague and how unprepared we are. The alarm bells been ringing for years of this type of thing. No one was listening.

    Reply

Leave a Reply to Anna Cancel reply