By Stump Connolly

            On the Saturday Joe Biden was declared the winner of the November election, my neighbors gathered outside on the sidewalk celebrating, as they usually do, with a cocktail. Since the Covid-19 crisis began, this is what passes for a social occasion on our block because all the bars, restaurants and entertainment venues are closed.

         Over the summer, we gathered there almost every evening, our kids running in and out of houses, dogs lapping at our feet. One neighbor, a laid off chef, brought appetizers. Others brought work they were doing from home. And we were all mask less since, as they say in school, we were with our cohorts. We spent so much time together we thought we were immune. Everything was okay because we never left our block. Until it wasn’t. Patrick tested positive.

         When I joined them, they were all wearing masks. “These are our Biden masks,” my neighbor said. “We all just want this whole thing to be over.”

         A second wave of the Coronavirus has indeed swelled. On Election Day, 100,000 new cases of Coronavirus were diagnosed in America. Two weeks later, that number was up to 150,000, and it’s not because we are testing more, as Trump claimed throughout the campaign. The hospitals are bursting at the seams. The death toll is over 250,000. Doctors and nurses are exhausted. Nobody feels safe anymore, cohort or not. Somebody has to do something.

Enter Joe Biden

         Enter Joe Biden. The nightly news these days alternately opens with grim scenes from hospital ICU’s or the foolishness of Trump lawyers going to court to challenge the election returns. Thank God Biden has kept his eye on the ball. His first meeting after his election was with his Coronavirus task force, a loose confederation of immunologists, infectious disease doctors and public health experts, including Rick Bright, the former head of vaccine research Trump fired in May. They are working out a plan to confront the spread of the virus, and I somehow have confidence it will work because they’ve been working on it quietly for months.

         They will take office – That may be the only way they will get one – on the fortuitous news that not one, but two vaccines are out of clinical trials, and both are 95 percent effective. These are the vaccines Trump was counting on to pull him out of his political trough before election day. But they come with a serious dose of seriousness, the Biden team warned.

         Even under an emergency order, the first batch will not be available until the end of the year, and it’s likely the drug manufacturers will not be able to manufacture more than 10 million doses a month. The first will go to doctors, nurses, teachers, police, fire fighters, and so on down a list of essential workers. But the general public will not see them until April or May.

         President Trump has boasted that he has the whole U.S. Army mobilized to distribute them. As soon as the FDA gives the go-ahead, he seems to think Army trucks are going to pull up to the loading dock, drive the vaccines out to every little town and hamlet, and throw them off the back like they are tossing out paper towels in Puerto Rico.

         But its not that easy. One of the vaccines has to be transported in refrigerated cases set at 94 degrees below zero. Both require two doses, a primary and a booster, so doctors will have to maintain records on who got what when. And the whole task won’t be completed until there are shots in the arms of 330 million Americans.

         The complexity of the problem is a key reason the Biden team is frustrated by the President’s refusal to open lines of communication with his Coronavirus team during the transition. A slip-up anywhere along the line can push back distribution a month, or two, or maybe never if people are so freaked by President’s pronouncements they won’t take it.

“I take no responsibility”

         For President Trump, this whole Coronavirus thing is China’s fault. (It’s always someone else’s fault.) If China had contained the virus to Wuhan last December, none of this would be happening. Then it was the Democrat’s fault. The outbreaks were only happening in blue states run by incompetent Democratic governors. (Never mind that their airports are major ports of entry for travelers, and their cities have high concentrations of vulerable Black and Latino communities. And his “Warp Speed” vaccine would have been ready by Election Day if a “deep state conspiracy” in the Center for Disease Control, the FDA and National Institute for Health wasn’t working to slow its approval.

         For Trump, it was always about his re-election. For a while, he went along with the idea he had a Coronavirus Task Force working on the problem. But he didn’t have the slightest idea what that entailed, even if his uncle was a professor at MIT. It’s like a really bad flu, right? Can you inject some kind of bleach to kill it?

         He balked when his health advisors told him in March he had to shut down the greatest economy in the history of the world. Can we re-open on Easter (April 11) so people can go to church to thank God, and me, for taming the virus? At that point, there were 500,000 diagnosed cases, resulting in 20,000 deaths.

         When his task force pushed the shutdown out to April 30, with a phased reopening based on certain metrics, he encouraged some Republican governors to ignore them.

        “We can’t let the cure be worse than the problem,” he said.

        By the middle of June, Trump was tired of this whole mitigation strategy. He stopped attending Coronavirus Task Force meetings, leaving it to Mike Pence to tell him if anything important happened. He openly challenged Dr. Fauci. “He’s got this high approval rating. So why don’t I have a high approval rating?” And he replaced Fauci at his press conferences with Dr. Scott Atlas, a radiologist who doubles as a Fox news contributor. Atlas is a proponent of the “herd immunity” theory that, boiled down to its essence, means if you just let everyone get infected, there will be no one left to infect. Problem solved.

The Mask Less Campaign

         Trump wanted to get back on the campaign trail. He’d taken heat from the press for not wearing a mask. But on the campaign trail, strutting around stage without a mask outside at regional airports rallies, he could see his supporters loved him for it. “Wearing a mask is an individual decision,” he told them. They roared their approval. You can’t roar if you are wearing a mask. And they stood together in throngs, as if their idea of social distancing is not stepping on each other’s toes.

         He promised them the worst was over. “We are rounding the corner . . . We’ve done a great job on Covid but we don’t get the credit . . . There will be a vaccine before the end of the year and maybe even before Nov. 1 . . . We’re doing great. Our numbers are incredible . . . I think we’ve probably done the best job of any country . . . If you take the blue states out, we’re at a level I don’t think anybody in the world would be at.”

         On the day he held his first rally in Oshkosh, 5 million Americans were infected by the disease, and 170,000 of them died.

        But Trump relished the idea he was out with the people while Sleepy Joe was campaigning from his basement. He mocked Biden for wearing a mask. “I don’t wear a mask like him,” he said. “Every time you see him, he’s got a mask. He could be speaking 200 feet away and he shows up with the biggest mask I’ve ever seen.”

         The mask was a symbol of Trump’s defiance. It was the leading indicator of which side of the Great Divide in America you were on. Do you want to get the economy moving again, or do you want to make America healthy again? Biden’s response was that you couldn’t get the economy moving until you vanquished the virus.

        Trump kept up the drumbeat right into the first presidential debate, where his recklessness came crashing down. He skipped the mandatory Covid test (and maybe a few others before at the White House) and came down with Covid himself.

The Superspreader

         It’s likely he picked up the virus three days before at a White House ceremony welcoming Amy Coney Barrett as his new Supreme Court nominee. About 300 prominent Republicans attended. The White House did a perfunctory rapid-response Covid test as they entered, so only a few wore masks.

         In the following days, it was clear the White House was a cesspool of viral germs. Hope Hicks, Trump’s longtime personal assistant, was the first to test positive. Then Kellyanne Conway, Ronna McDaniels, Kayleigh McEnany, Chris Christie, Sens. Mike Lee (Utah) and Thom Tillis (N. Carolina), Robert O’Brien, the national security advisor who first warned of the virus, Melania Trump, and his son Barron. There were others whose names were not released.  Trump’s valet, his congressional liasson, the Marine who carries the football for him, three White House reporters, and 130 Secret Service agents who had been out on the campaign trail protecting the president.

         When Trump’s condition worsened, he was taken to Walter Reed Hospital where a team of doctors administered a mix of experimental drugs. Two days later, he emerged for another photo op staged during the Nightly News Hour. A helicopter set down on the White House lawn. Trump walked up to the steps to the balcony, paused, turned, and ripped the mask off his face. Then he did another take for a TV commercial.

Give Me a Break

         As I walk around Chicago after the election, there’s a sense of relief that Trump is gone, or almost gone, or will be dragged out of the Oval Office by his heels if he doesn’t leave.

        The Coronavirus is raging more than ever. Twelve million people are now infected, over 250,000 dead, and hospitals once again are over-stuffed with patients.

       The president hasn’t appeared in public in 12 days. He’s consumed in this doomed mission to prove the election was stolen from him. But at least we can be grateful he’s not sputtering his nonsense about turning the corner or promising a rubber band rebound in the economy. We need some respite from that. We’re exhausted. A strong dose of reality, not the television kind, is just what the doctor ordered.

A Dark Winter

         “We are entering a dark winter,” Biden said in the last days of the campaign. It was not the most inspiring slogan, but it was true. And that is the best reason to trust him moving forward.

         Nobody is going to flip a switch to end the pandemic. No magic bullet vaccine will save us. The pandemic will not be over until there are 330 million doses in the arms of every American.

        Meanwhile, we have to keep wearing our masks, keep our social distance and honor our neighbors with kindness and compassion.

        The Coronavirus will never go away. It will re-emerge in a new form next year, and we will need a new vaccine.

         Our best hope is that it drifts into the background of a newly energized America, and for that, we should honor the new president’s contribution by calling these silly pieces of cloth over our mouths Biden Masks.

         They’re the symbol of a united country, many people from diverse backgrounds taking common sense steps together to safeguard the nation.

 

 

 


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