NOTES FROM AN ISLAND Day 206 – October 8, 2020

Two hundred days on the island have come and passed – two hundred! The pandemic that was supposed to be gone by Easter has consumed Memorial Day, Arbor Day, the Fourth of July, both Mother’s and Father’s Day, Labor Day and both versions of Patriot’s Day. It looks to be a Halloween specter and an uninvited guest at the Thanksgiving table as well.

There have been some positive signs along the coronavirus trail. The death rate, albeit still horrific, has stabilized in many parts of the world although infections have gone up. Either we are getting better at managing the virus or the virus is learning to live with us. Although the early autumn surge has again put hospitals under stress, there has been a breather of sorts in many of the hot zones – recharge, regroup, restock. On the imminent horizon is an accurate and inexpensive rapid test which may at least allow better tracking and isolation of active cases. And the vaccines appear promising, although they will most assuredly be a spring arrival.

What hasn’t changed is the cavalier attitude of much of the nation towards the deadliest pandemic in our memory. I had harbored hope that the number 200,000 would be shocking, but we have become so numb to others outside our vision that the number seems abstract and distant. Even at a time when every American knows someone affected by the disease, possibly with death or incapacity, but certainly through financial hardship, we as a nation have not admitted how seriously we are threatened. Americans don’t talk about threats unless it is to rally their political bases. The John Wayne/ Clint Eastwood “strong, silent type” gives a grimace-like grin and turns towards the danger without expressly calling it out. Danger is beneath our notice. And therein lies the problem.

The virus is not an ‘enemy’ per se. It has no intelligence, aside from the shrewd calculating of its RNA functionality. As such, it does not care if you grimace or grin or wail or scream. It simply is a fact of nature, like the wind or the smell of grown grass. And, as all viruses, it is ubiquitous. It is inside and outside, up and down, over and out. We can’t turn and face the danger because it is around (and in) all of us.

By framing coronavirus as an enemy we can fight, we have placed an imaginary border between it and us – a sort of biological Maginot line, where French troops massed their weapons and focus as German troops nimbly skirted the region and overran from the rear. We are none of us waiting for the coronavirus to arrive. It is already here – everywhere. If we imagine the virus is in front of us – somehow “out there” like the plant-based monster in “The Thing” we can hunker down and feast until it arrives. But if the beast is already among us, then we need to always be on alert. We would need to use precautions all the time and not only when the sirens sound.

We should not be terrorized by the prospect, but we should be very wary of it. Masks up, everyone. Respect social distance. Let’s find a way to keep two hundred days from becoming 365. And 200,000 becoming an order of magnitude more.