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Updated: Nov 4, 2020

September 29, 2020

The friends we visited in New York recently, the ones we celebrated end-of-summer rites with, the ones we toasted (repeatedly) on their boat with a custom-blended fruity alcohol drink, yes, those friends: four out of five of them have come down with COVID.

Making it worse: two of the four have complex health conditions (in remission, one, and diagnosed early, the other.

We don’t live close by but I would, of course, drive over with a pan of lasagna, fresh fruit, food for their dogs, whatever they needed. Happily for them, none of the four feel bad enough to ask it of me — in fact, they laughed when I suggested it. And thanked me, and called me Italian.

Even if they'd said yes, I'd have had to just leave the stuff on the porch.

Like everyone else, we're trying to make do with the phone, texting, Zoom, FaceTime, whatever. All I can think about is the people in hospitals, how horrible it is for them. At least our friends are recuperating at home. At least they're recuperating.

Photo: Victor He, Unsplash

"It just makes you really tired,” one of them said today. “But I think I’m past the worst of it.”

Should be reassuring, but you hear how it can take that sudden bad turn backwards. You hear how it can linger for months, or cause organ damage. You hear a lot of awful things.

Trump saying months ago, “It’s the sniffles” still has the power to enrage me. But at the same time, many people don’t suffer the worst. Of course, that’s what I’m thinking about today, and what I’ve told myself repeatedly these past six months: even if I/you catch it, it might not be, you know, dire.

My friends got infected in South Carolina, where they were visiting a property two of them had recently bought. I’d been invited to come along, had badly wanted to go, but hung back because of the risk. While they were gone I kept thinking about them, imagining how great it would"ve felt to get out of the — house, town, daily routine. Seriously, any and all of those. But now, of course, I’m glad I didn’t go.

The fifth person in their group didn’t get sick. We joked it’s because she’s a redhead; or maybe she has it*, but tested negative because she has Type O blood. Since she’s the only one of the group who has worked outside of her home during the whole pandemic, perhaps she got it early on, didn’t realize it, and is now immune. Or maybe she just didn’t get it. Who knows. The group only got COVID tests, not antibody tests.

Who knows is, in fact, the key question here. It astonishes me how cavalier some people are, considering how much is still unknown about this virus.

Most days it feels like we know less than everything, but enough — enough to stay safe, at least. Social distancing, masks, interacting outdoors, all that. But those measures aren’t enough to stay safe for sure. The commonly-accepted belief that, for instance, “kids don’t really get it” isn’t true, for instance. We keep wanting to plug absolutes into our discussions, our decision-making, even our public policy. The problem is there are no absolutes.

We may be able to calculate our statistical likelihood of getting the virus, based on a multitude of data, but there are a lot of questions past that. And maybe science will be able to answer those questions eventually, but right now, it can’t. This is a novel virus.

So if you catch it, you don’t know if you’ll be among the unlucky people who still have serious symptoms months after the diagnosis — one of the so-called “long haulers” who now number in the hundreds of thousands. There’s no way to know whose virus will manifest as pulmonary illness, whose as cardiac, who may suffer cognitive impairment. There are so many different ways the virus expresses itself, so many systems it can invade.

Most of all there’s no way to know for sure who will get severely ill — despite being young, or having no co-morbidities, or being an athlete — and who will get it mildly, brush it off, and be a member of the “it’s like a cold” group.

For me the uncertainty itself is a warning. Since we don’t know so many things, why take a chance?

Like, if there was someone trying to get into your house in the middle of the night, it would be helpful to know if he was armed, or big, or high, or bent on revenge, or even was a he. But mainly you just want to know how to keep him (or her) out, right?

But there are people who seem to find the uncertainty reassuring. In the not knowing, maybe, hope can be found. Not hearing the breathing on the other side of the door, not seeing the glint of a weapon, is maybe persuasive that the person out there is not that bad. Maybe doesn’t really want to hurt you, or at least, not hurt you that much. Or maybe is already gone.

Maybe it's all how you look at it.

Photo: Thiago Matos, Pixels

I’d love to leave it at that, but now, eight months into this nightmare, that’s too simplistic, too neutral. We’re all being forced to take a stand now.

OK, so it happens that these friends of mine, five New Yorkers, traveled to a place where there is a, yes, Republican governor. Today there are 2,665 cases of COVID in that state, which surely is a low estimate, since reopening there has proceeded enthusiastically despite July figures that showed South Carolina actually outnumbering all but two other places in the world. (The other two were also U.S. states — Arizona first, and Florida, second. The country of Bahrain was #4.) It’s hardly news that our nation, under President Trump, and with the endorsement of conservative media like the Fox Network, has politicized this virus to the point that entire states of people are committing something very akin to possible suicide/homicide. Not that the residents of those states want to die of the virus, or infect others so that they will die of it. Just that they willfully keep choosing to believe their party and its leaders instead of:

  • All public health agencies, both national and international, including the WHO, the CDC and the NIH

  • More than 90% of news media

  • University research studies and other non-partisan research groups

  • The medical community, including that in their own communities

  • The scientific community

  • Authorities of many different kinds (state, local, national)

  • The international community (inflating its COVID numbers to banish Trump from office???)

  • Dr. Fauci

We are fighting for our own lives against people mulishly, selfishly, aggressively and viciously determined to maintain their own truth, as told to them by their own cult leader, who is the only source they will believe.

Because of those people, my four friends lie ill tonight with a virus that hopefully they will heal from and will leave them healthy when it passes. Yes, they could have caught COVID-19 in New York, where all of them live. Goodness knows there have been plenty of New York cases and deaths, and continue to be even now.

But the difference is, in New York people are trying hard not to get it. New Yorkers are cooperating with local authorities, by and large, who themselves are obeying the guidelines set by public health experts. On the street, most people are compliant with safety measures. And no one I’ve heard of believes the virus “isn’t that bad.”

My friends live in what was the epicenter of COVID-19 for months and didn’t catch it. They went to South Carolina for two days and came home sick.

If the whole country were more like New York, maybe we would not be leading all other countries in numbers of COVID cases and deaths. Maybe we would not be carrying the virus home from states that could have learned from our example this spring, and spared themselves and us the ongoing misery of this illness.

Or if you don’t like the New York example, what about Italy? South Korea? There are plenty of places that were hit hard and were able to lower their numbers through cooperation, following direction, and common sense. Why can’t the U.S. do those things too?


* Our 5th friend later tested positive, too. No one is sure why her virus took longer to appear in tests. Because she believed herself to be negative, she took no precautions at home and infected her sister and their elderly mother. All three are recovering and seem to be OK.

October 28: One of the friends who was to have undergone surgery today for early-stage cancer was forced to postpone the procedure after she tested positive for COVID-19 again. She has been testing negative repeatedly since her first "recovery".

November 5: she continues to test positive and still has not been able to reschedule her surgery.

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