Collateral Damage from the 2020 Pandemic (Armageddon Rant #2)

In no way do I intend to trivialize the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic that has swept the globe this year.

We’ve experienced 70 million worldwide cases and an estimated 1.6 million deaths so far. The biggest tragedy of my lifetime, and one that will be mostly forgotten by future generations, or ignored, just like the Spanish Flu of the early 20th Century (which claimed 40 – 50 million lives) or the Plague of Justinian of the 6th Century (30 – 50 million). Even the HIV/AIDS pandemic, which is barely forty years old and has caused 25 – 35 million deaths, is treated as something out of the history books, no longer considered as large a threat.

Sure, we still talk about the Bubonic Plague (or Black Death) of the 14th Century, which killed 300 million people, give or take. But, the passage of time has taken some of the sting out of it, don’t you think? Did you not laugh at the “I’m not dead yet” Monty Python skit? I did. I probably will do so again the next time I watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Here in the US, we’ve had nearly 16 million confirmed cases and, as of yesterday’s totals, nearly 300,000 deaths. Drilling that down further, my adopted home state of Arkansas claims 180,000 of those cases and 2800 deaths. Here in central Arkansas, in my tiny 664 sq mi county (16 sq mi of that water), with a population of an estimated 126,000 people, we’ve had 6475 confirmed cases and 74 deaths.

I resisted the temptation to write “only” 74 deaths. Although that number pales beside the 1.6 million worldwide total, it’s not a paltry sum if any of that total includes you, a loved one, or just someone you know. Plus, because I’m a skeptic and can’t help it, I believe the total is even higher than that, both here close to home and worldwide. At some point in the future, hindsight will result in a higher, less precise estimate. I’d bet on it.

The past is the only reliable predictor of the future.

I can’t find the origin of this particular aphorism, but it’s one that has served me well for decades. But, I don’t require the lens of history to state, unequivocally, that people will ignore or forget the COVID-19 pandemic and the lessons we should be learning from it because they are already doing it.

Occasionally, I have to leave my house these days, even though I’m committed to protecting my wife’s compromised immune system by remaining in isolation. I use curbside pickup for the groceries and basic human supplies that I can’t order online. Sometimes, I even pick up a drive-thru fast food meal. Occasionally, I will drive with no particular destination just to get a change of scenery from what is increasingly an interior shot of my home.

Yesterday, I made a detour through a shopping center located a mile or so from my house. The last Target store I worked at is located there. As I drove past, I saw that the parking lot was packed with people out doing their Christmas shopping. Most of the people I saw were wearing masks, or putting them on as they entered the store, but there was no real social distancing going on that I could tell. The scene made me uncomfortable, especially when I considered the ever-rising hospitalization and death rates here in Arkansas.

I don’t intend to come across as Chicken Little here. I am scared. That, I will freely admit. This thing won’t kill all of us, but it’s going to continue to kill some of us. Even the vaccine won’t prevent that. Some people I know are dismissing the threat, saying that it mostly kills the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions. They see the numbers from a different perspective. So far, in the US, this virus has killed 1.9% of the people known to have contracted it. Less than 2 out of 100 cases. Because these people may not be high-risk or elderly, they don’t see the virus as a real threat.

I’m almost ashamed to admit that I’ve sailed through many flu seasons while working with the general public with this same sort of attitude. Sure, on occasion I got sick, but I always survived. Exposing your immune system to all the nasty germs and viruses out there will result in a stronger immune system. I believed this. Then one year I came down with mono and wrecked my immune system for at least a year afterward, causing me to catch every illness that came down the pike. I felt like a vulnerable bag of blood, bones and organs.

I got better, thankfully. But, I never forgot that feeling. We all go through life feeling blithely invulnerable until we are proven wrong. I’ve survived a lot of things that could have killed me during my life, but I’m now convinced that I’m going to die one day.

Probably.

There’s also a contingent out there that believes their faith will protect them from the virus. I am not about to denigrate anyone’s faith, be it in God, Allah or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. But, I refuse to believe that any supreme deity will use a global pandemic to sort out the faithful from the unfaithful. I also reject the notion that everyone who has died—young, old and in-between—did so because their religious faith was lacking. I find that line of reasoning offensive. In fact, it’s unreasonable.

You already know I like aphorisms. Here’s another one for you:

God helps those who help themselves.

Whether or not God takes the time to get involved in my miniscule life, I believe in the “help yourself” part wholeheartedly. Have faith. Enjoy the comfort that your faith brings you, but still wear your safety belt in your car and a helmet when you ride your bike. And a mask when there’s a global pandemic that’s going to kill people who live near you, if it doesn’t kill you in the bargain.

Otto von Bismarck is given credit for this quote:

I’m not discounting luck, but, with all due respect, I think Otto was wrong. Fools and drunkards, in and out of the USA, are also susceptible to this insidious virus, and, statistically speaking, represent at least a fraction of the death total.

There’s another faction out there as well. I don’t want to over-generalize here, but many of the members of this group were upset over the results of our recent presidential election (the ones who have finally accepted the results, I should add). These misguided folks believe that the government has no right to tell them to wear masks, or to refrain from creating giant virus incubators in restaurants, bars and churches. Some go so far as to make statements that suggest the viral pandemic is a vast global conspiracy.

I love a good conspiracy theory as much as the next guy. I find them highly entertaining at times, and they often make more sense, through twisted logic, than reality itself. When one believes in the truth of the conspiracy theory, however, they cross over into the realm of delusional thinking.

The conspiracy nuts are still out there. Now, the anti-vaxxers are crawling out of the woodwork to join them. I mean, those who weren’t already counted in their number. I don’t think these people were considered a variable in the equation when the initial predictions about the spread of COVID-19 were made. During the Black Death, do you think there were people who denied the existence of the plague, or did the bodies piling up in the streets convince them all? There are, so far, no bodies piling up in my town. Not in the streets, at any rate. Is that what it’s going to take?

When I sat down at the computer to write this post, I had a different plan. I was going to write about how the pandemic delayed production on several television series and movies, and how it led to the unexpected cancellation of three television shows that I have enjoyed watching.

GLOW, a Netflix original about ladies wrestling, was supposed to have one final season to wrap up its various storylines. Instead, Season 4 was unceremoniously cancelled.

TruTV had ordered a third season of Andrea Savage’s hiliarious sitcom I’m Sorry, but instead cancelled the show due to the coronavirus.

ABC did the same with Stumptown. The series was beginning to find its sea legs towards the end of its first season, and had been renewed for a second. But, the cancellation meant that Cobie Smulders and Jake Johnson are now free to pursue other employment, and the saga of the sexually fluid Dex Parios has come to an end. At least with this cast and on this network.

More unexpected collateral damage. I believe I’m about to be fired from a job for the first time in my life. I’m considered to be an essential worker at the US Post Office, and because neither my wife nor I have been diagnosed with COVID-19, or have been explicitly ordered to self-quarantine by a doctor, my employers want me to come back to work now. I received a certified letter about a week ago telling me as much.

I know I sound like a hypocrite. I’ve certainly taken advantage of people working in grocery stores, fast food restaurants, warehouses and various delivery services, including the USPS, during this pandemic. And, I’m grateful for them.

But, I’m not going back. Not yet. Or ever, I guess, if the other shoe drops as I expect it to. The risk is higher than ever, and I don’t think I’m at the offer I can’t refuse point.

I know, cancelled television shows—and even losing a job—seem like insignificant events when compared to a deadly pandemic. If you’ve lost anyone close to you, my thoughts are with you. I was initially going for a more lighthearted tone when I began thinking about this post. But—and I really can’t be surprised here—I soon found myself racing down another tangent and another Armageddon rant. Odds are, these aren’t the End Times. Things will get better. If I brought any of you down with this, I apologize.

2020 has not unfolded anything like what I expected a year ago.

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