No ankle bracelets. No vertical bars. No knuckle-dragging guards. No orange jumpsuits, but still… it feels like house arrest.
It might just be cabin fever, but for the past week M and I have been cloistered a scant five miles from Kirkland’s Life Care Center – epicenter of the American coronavirus scare – just over there, dead center, across the lake.
We’re making the best of it, but it’s already getting old. Experts predict it will get worse before it gets better and that means we could be prisoners for the long haul. The best information is that we are one step down from the most vulnerable population – older, but “in good health with no underlying conditions such as cardiopulmonary disease, obesity, or diabetes.”
It’s not prison, but these past few days as we slipped out for an afternoon walk we felt like inmates must feel when they get their hour in “the yard.” Next thing you know we’ll be putting scratch marks on the wall to mark our days of incarceration.
It’s not all bad of course; I remember that Joseph Conrad used to have his wife lock him in his study so he couldn’t escape, and in the same vein I’m getting more writing done too. In the last week we’ve seen a dozen documentaries about everything from The Windsors to Jeff Bezos and become experts at how to order home-delivered groceries from Whole Foods.
We might be over-hyping it, but we ARE in the heart-of-the-heart of virus country, so we’ve decided to limit our contact with the wider world. No theaters, restaurants, or shopping malls, no bus to the office and no gym.
We fill our days with a lot of Netflix and Prime Video and we read. I’m working on Jill Lepore’s These Truths: A History of the United States and Willie Nelson’s It’s a Long Story: My Life while M catches up on our pile of New Yorkers.
My guilty pleasure and relief valve is tennis, which I justify because the facility is large, the number of people small, and good ventilation with plenty of Purrell. Donald Trump may not cancel his upcoming campaign rallies, but you know this virus business is no “hoax” when the Indian Wells PNB Paribas tennis tournament, one of the biggest events on the tennis calendar, is canceled two days before its scheduled first matches. All the players are there. Two weeks worth of tickets sold, and spectators who have traveled from around the world. It’s a big deal.
It’s not as if America has not faced a viral contagion in the past, and many of the same factors are in play today. The 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic killed more than 20 million worldwide and 675,000 in the US, and President Wilson like Trump was notably silent on the issue and had no strategy to mitigate the damage.
Then there were HIV/AIDS (1979-Present), SARS (2002-2004), MERS (2012-2014), Ebola (2013-Present) plus Asian Flu, Zika, etc. It makes no sense that a country as advanced as the US doesn’t have an emergency plan for ramping up an anti-virus campaign. Granted, the particular pathogen can’t be anticipated, but it seems like gross negligence for FEMA, CDC, and NIH not to have had a crisis plan ready to roll out when a new pathogen appears? Isn’t that their job?
As a pilot and lawyer, I’m accustomed to having a checklist to guide me through challenging situations. If the Pentagon has contingency plans for nuclear war, isn’t it reasonable for the federal and state governments to have contingency plans for a Black Swan health event like coronavirus?
On Friday Trump blamed the Obama administration for handcuffing his ability to respond, but his handcuffs were waiting when he fired the entire pandemic response team in 2018 and cut funds to the infectious disease arm of the CDC. He’s looking for a scapegoat, but it isn’t Obama. The goat responsible is loose in the White House and it’s orange, two-legged, morbidly obese, and walking the halls with a serious comb-over.