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Search and rescue: the pandemic diaries

Over the coming weeks, as we struggle to put the pandemic in our rearview mirror, I’d like to share with you a potpourri of my thoughts and reactions to events, some bold and stage center, others simply noticed out of the corner of my eye.

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I’ve come to realize that with the former president gone, the urgency of now has lightened considerably. The Biden administration has got this. And though I remain convinced that the Republican Party, in the pursuit of power before policy, has become fundamentally anti-democratic (e.g. nationwide voter suppression), I judge our institutions to still be robust.

So, to continue, find below some recent observations:

I recently watched a news clip of the Texas Rangers’ opening day baseball game. The stadium was filled not with cutouts, but with cheering fans. Social distancing was laughable, masks all but nonexistent. In the midst of a pandemic, with yellow and red lights still flashing, it was again 2019.

I was gobsmacked. What were those people thinking? Is the risk still not self-evident, are contagious and lethal variants not increasingly present? Is this an example of crowd-size denial, a refusal to acknowledge the presence of COVID-19 long-haulers, those who are chronically ill months after “recovering”? And we’ve all seen the stark images of critically ill patients, surrounded by doctors and nurses, the chilling sound of ventilators, a grim white noise, in the background.

Ditto those spring breakers, crowding with impunity onto beaches, saturated with a youthful conviction of immortality. Consider: as of April 5, it has been reported that only 20 percent of the country has been fully vaccinated. And scientists estimate that we need between 70% and 90% immunity to put this journey to an end. For us. The world must follow.

Of course, we’ve been told by the CDC to wait, just a little longer. Continue to wear masks, social distance, wash, rinse and repeat. Then, hopefully, sooner than later, we can travel and socialize with abandon, aerosolize the heck out of spaces, enclosed and open. Hug and shake hands.

One last point about the pandemic that came to light recently: Thinking back to March of 2020, when the novel coronavirus was affirmed as a pandemic, the nation looked to the likes of Dr. Deborah Brix, regarded as a consummate scientist and public health official, and named the White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator.

In a recent CNN documentary, Dr. Brix candidly revealed the extent of the previous administration’s failures and malfeasance, unexpectedly saying, “There were about 100,000 (deaths) that came from the original surge. All the rest, in my mind, could have been mitigated or decreased substantially.” This was an extraordinary statement, a stunning admission that some 450,000 Americans might have survived had she, and others, not validated, through their silence, the denials and lies perpetrated by the White House. For reasons still unclear, she overrode her science-based convictions regarding the danger, and carried on, compounding what would be a national tragedy, one of irreparable grief and loss. Resigning in full-throated protest was always an option, though never chosen.

Lastly, turning to the “words matter” department: In the context of the $2 trillion American Jobs Plan, the Republicans have taken umbrage not only at its cost, but at President Biden’s bold redefinition of the word “infrastructure.” The GOP’s dictionary narrowly lists infrastructure as bridges, roads, ports, and airports (construction or repair). Just the tangibles. Biden’s plan insists that our economy has changed as have those of our competitors (e.g. China). Of course, infrastructure will include repair and construction of roads and bridges, etc.; however, it should also be reimagined to include broadband, electric cars, clean water for school children, high-speed rail and care for the elderly and disabled.

This is the moment to act. The debate will continue.

Chris Honoré is an Ashland Tidings columnist.