I was on my way to our farm in Berrysville when I passed through the five-points intersection of SR 73, SR 247 and Muntz Street, and for some reason that intersection triggered a mental metaphor: America has had an accident at the intersection of public health and our economy that resists being cleaned up.
The mash-up at the current events intersection has no traffic lights (regulations) that seem to be working and no tow trucks (vaccines) that seem to be available to clear the intersection.
Bear with me for a moment while I extend the metaphor. This Hillsboro intersection has five lanes leading into it. It seems to me that we also have five lanes that are exacerbating the “mash-up.” Let me count the lanes. We have a novel virus that will optimistically take months if not years to resolve by vaccine. We have the collateral damage to the economy in terms of unemployment, failing businesses, declining GDP and tax revenues. And then we have the catalyzing effects of divergent and conflicting leadership, political polarization, and smoldering culture wars.
Thinking about this evidences a more complicated situation than just a nasty virus. How did we go from “this virus is totally under control,” to it being in all 50 states in a matter of weeks? And then, by the way, how is the U.S. doing with the challenges of this virus compared to other developed countries with “first-world” health care systems?
Johns Hopkins University in Washington, D.C. worked the data and printed a chart (wp: June 22) that showed a seven-day rolling average of new cases in the U.S. (27,000) compared to all of Europe (4,000), and that was before the new surge in the U.S. starting July 2 of 50,000 cases per day. On June 26, Arizona alone had more reported daily cases than all of Europe. German public broadcasting launched a story entitled, “Has the United States Given Up Its Fight Against the Virus.” Switzerland’s conservative newspaper, The New Zurich Times, editorialized that the “U.S. increasingly accepts rising COVID-19 numbers.”
According to a report in Newsweek (June 26), “population estimates by the E.U. and the U.S. Census Bureau, indicate that about 446 million people live in the E.U. and about 329.8 million people live in the U.S. While the U.S. has reported more than 2.3 million cases since the pandemic began, all 27 countries within the E.U. have reported roughly half that many cases, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
All this raises serious questions about how the U.S. health care system, our leadership, our polarized politics, and our festering culture wars have handicapped or knee-capped our national efforts to get control over this national enemy.
Short of a vaccine, what matters most in this mash-up at the proverbial intersection is how quickly can we clear enough of the intersection so the economy can predictably begin to recover. If we keep recycling restrictions, reopenings, restrictions, re-openings, or no restrictions, we will continue to spiral down while Europe and China spiral up.
I refuse to believe that Americans, writ large, have given up and are effectively saying, “Let’s just let the virus do its thing, no matter the impact on our schools, our economy, our teachers, our doctors and nurses, our nursing homes, our parents and our grandparents. And then there’s the destressing, so-called “Covid-19 Parent Trap”: That is, you can have kids, or you can have a job, just not both.
And, good Lord, I can’t believe it helps our national pride for our European allies to ban the travel of American citizens to the European Union; but, that’s another intersectional mash-up far across the pond.
Bill Sims is a Hillsboro resident, an author, and runs a small farm in Berrysville with his wife. He is a former educator, executive and foundation president.