On the menu today: Certain elites have simply opted out of quarantine rules; wondering how much our news environment should be able to shift to non-virus news; the CDC says you’re less likely to catch the coronavirus from touching objects.
One Pandemic and Quarantine for the Elites, Another for Everyone Else
Our fight against the coronavirus is slowly and steadily improving, but . . . we’re still a long ways away from out of the woods. From the numbers on Worldometers, 1,552 Americans succumbed to the disease Tuesday and another 1,403 Americans on Wednesday. We’re trending down significantly from the roughly 2,500 per day at the beginning of the month, but . . . that’s still about a half a 9/11 per day. We’re diagnosing about 20,000 to 30,000 new cases a day; we were above 30,000 new cases per day for most of April.
The economic aftershocks have been calamitous. There’s never been a higher demand at food banks. Our kids are still out of school, and across the country, summer camps, programs, and other activities are being canceled. Schools aren’t sure if they will reopen in the fall, meaning that this just-barely-adequate-if-we’re-lucky “distance learning” may continue, in a situation that Michael Brendan Dougherty observes leaves parents with all of the costs of homeschooling but none of the benefits. Most kids haven’t seen a non-sibling peer in person in two-and-a-half months; the plan, I guess, is to continue this isolation through most of the rest of the year. In any other circumstance, we would consider that child abuse. In just about any other hardship that can befall a child, they still get to see their friends!
We’ve still got giant problems to work out. It’s one thing to reopen society in a way that accounts for a contagious virus; it’s another thing to reopen society in a way that accounts for a contagious virus and lawyers that are eager to sue people. The CDC says swimming pools should be safe as long as people take the usual social-distancing precautions outside the water, but across the country, cities are deciding to keep their public pools closed. The restaurant and bar industry, the movie-theater industry, the hotel and tourism industry, theme parks, airlines — all of them are desperately trying to figure out how to stay afloat with a small fraction of their usual customer base. Removing the government restrictions is one step, but people still need to feel safe using those businesses before they’ll come back in significant numbers.
Everybody’s enduring hardship in one form or another. Well, almost everybody.
From the beginning, we’ve seen evidence that the wealthy and well-connected could more or less buy their way out of the inconveniences and hardship of quarantines. This April story by Vicky Ward at CNN stuck with me:
Last week, a Washington, DC-based media executive who is used to attending 200 cocktail parties a year decided that he could take talking to his microwave no more.
In contravention of the city’s shelter-in-place executive order, he secretly attended two different dinner parties in Georgetown, an affluent DC-neighborhood.
When he first told me this, I assumed I had either misheard or misunderstood. “Virtual dinners right?” I asked. “No” was the reply. These were the old-fashioned, in-person sort.
Each time, he explained, the host’s instructions were the same. For both dinners, he entered through the back gate of the property, so disapproving neighbors would not see him. He was told in advance that neither he, nor any other guests, could take any photographs or talk about the party.
The first dinner was hosted by a movie producer. A group of four listened to music and sat under heated lamps six feet apart in the garden where they were served dinner. According to the executive, none had been in contact with anyone who had suffered Covid-19 — as far as they knew. All had been isolating.
At that dinner party, the food was prepared by a live-in chef, who was masked and gloved, and then served by the producer’s wife.
At the second party, held over the weekend at the home of a Democrat political operative, one of the guests brought the food: “lamb to belatedly celebrate Easter.” In attendance were an ambassador, a city councilman and a well-known lobbyist. The night was balmy and they all sat outside for hours.
“People did not want to leave,” the media executive told me, speaking on the condition of anonymity, to avoid being Covid-shamed — a new shorthand term for people behaving with apparent indifference to the safety of others. “But everyone had been cooped up for so long, there was much to discuss.”
I’ll give you a moment to cope with the shock that a Washington-based media executive, a movie producer, a Democratic political operative, a Washington city councilman, and a well-known lobbyist and their spouses believed the rules didn’t apply to them. At least the ambassador could hide behind diplomatic immunity. (Where’s Roger Murtaugh when you need him?)
Apparently, quarantines are for the little people. If quarantines are optional for the wealthy and well-connected, we should not be surprised that they find them much more tolerable and worthy of extension than everyone else.
Last week, the New York Times reviewed data and concludes, “roughly 5 percent of residents — or about 420,000 people — left the city between March 1 and May 1. In the city’s very wealthiest blocks, in neighborhoods like the Upper East Side, the West Village, SoHo and Brooklyn Heights, residential population decreased by 40 percent or more, while the rest of the city saw comparably modest changes.” If you are wealthy enough to own a second home, you have another place to go if you deem the risk of remaining at your current residence too high.
Today in the New York Post, David Marcus unleashes a furious rant that his home city’s strict quarantine rules are choking the life out of the city:
Beloved haunts, storied rooms, perfect-slice joints are shuttered, many for good. The sweat equity of countless small-business owners is evaporating. Instead of getting people back to work providing for their families, our mayor talks about a fantasyland New Deal for the post-coronavirus era.
Open the city. All of it. Right now. Broadway shows, beaches, Yankees games, the schools, the top of the freakin’ Empire State building. Everything. New Yorkers have already learned to socially distance. Businesses can adjust. The elderly and infirm can continue to be isolated.
One other indicator of the divide between those who are minimally impacted by the pandemic restrictions and the rest: Have you noticed how a portion of the news environment is moving on from the pandemic, even though our daily lives have not?
Are News Institutions Getting Tired of Covering the Coronavirus?
I go back and forth on how much the focus of the news should shift away from the pandemic, and how quickly. In normal times, the Michael Flynn unmasking revelations and arguments would be front-page news, day after day. You can tell that much of the world is eager to argue about Matt Lauer trying to return to public life, or how mean Alison Roman was to those poor celebrities like Chrissy Tiegen and Marie Condo. Jonathan Safran Foer takes to the New York Times to instruct us, “If you care about the working poor, about racial justice, and about climate change, you have to stop eating animals.”
You can see how many people are itching to return to the familiar culture-war fights — Kamala Harris introduced a resolution declaring use of the term “Wuhan virus” racist. The Atlantic unveiled a new special section on conspiracy theories, although I still haven’t found an article discussing the cover story in New York magazine asking whether Donald Trump has been an asset of Russian intelligence since 1987. The Washington Post warns that southern states are being reckless in how they’re reopening.
(Connecticut has now reopened retail stores, offices with an encouragement to continue working from home, university research programs, and outdoor zoos. I await the Washington Post feature story on how new clusters of coronavirus spread could soon flare across parts of the Nutmeg State.)
I’m not saying that non-coronavirus news doesn’t matter at all. But you’ve probably noticed that this newsletter turned into nearly all-coronavirus, all-the-time in March and hasn’t looked back. Sometimes I miss the old familiar political news and discussion, too. But the pandemic and its aftershocks are the biggest story in the world right now, one that shoves all other news — even traditionally big stories such as a presidential election or North Korea — into the background.
I wonder if coronavirus fatigue is driving increasing servings of silliness in our news diet.
For the past two months, one of the most dangerous places in the world has been a nursing home in New York state. Chris Cuomo teased his brother, New York governor Andrew Cuomo, about the size of his nose with a giant nasal-swab prop. I remind you this is CNN in prime time, and not Saturday Night Live. The brothers’ bickering was cute at the beginning of this pandemic, but we’re now approaching the end of its tenth week.
Don’t Touch That! . . . but It Probably Won’t Kill You
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention adjusted its coronavirus guidelines slightly Wednesday, emphasizing that the virus spreads easily from person to person but “does not spread easily” in other ways, such as touching objects.
We would get through this ordeal easier if everyone in positions of authority could be a little more honest about what they know, what they think they know, and what they don’t know. I’ll be honest: I thought, based upon what we were seeing, that spread in places such as the New York City subways was driven in large part by people touching the same objects — poles, handrails, buttons, turnstiles, etc. Apparently, that was a smaller factor, and the primary factor was just people coming within six feet of each other.
ADDENDUM: Advice from Nicholas Kristof that many are sure to ignore: “The odd thing about reporting on the coronavirus is that the nonexperts are supremely confident in their predictions, while epidemiologists keep telling me that they don’t really know much at all. Some of that epidemiological humility should seep into public discourse.”