Daryl Grigsby: The pandemic — America’s mirror
It has been several months since the world and the United States have faced the deadly coronavirus. In many respects, the pandemic represents a mirror through which we can see with clarity the kind of nation we are. The pandemic has — in a profound way — highlighted both the strengths and the weaknesses of our country.
Foremost among our strengths is the courage of our people. The courage of our health care professionals — from university-trained doctors to our lowest paid home health worker; from nurses, lab technicians and hospital administrative and custodial staff — has been remarkable. Our medical community is not alone as parents, teachers, bus drivers, food service workers, grocery store staff and thousands of others continue to risk themselves and their families to keep our society functioning.
Our nation’s compassion is another strength. I recently spoke with staff at a Catholic Community services organization who told me the generosity of Catholic volunteers has been incredible. Their compassion is not isolated as many other organizations and individuals, faith based or not — give countless hours of uncompensated service to others.
Conversely, our national weaknesses are leading to thousands of unnecessary illnesses and deaths. The United States, with about 4% of the world’s population; is home to 15 to 25% of the world’s total COVID-19 illnesses and deaths.
Why is that? Are we unhealthier, more impoverished, medically inept or lacking financial resources? I believe it is because our national flaws have exponentially exacerbated this pandemic disaster; The United States suffers disproportionately from this virus because our weaknesses are exposed and exploited by a virus which thrives on human disorganization.
From my perspective, we have four weaknesses which contribute to our dire current condition. 1) Confusion about federal and state responsibility; 2) individual rights more highly valued than the common good; 3) weak social safety net; 4) systemic racial inequality.
Regarding federal responsibility, it is obvious that a national crisis requires decisive leadership from the federal government. Instead, each governor, mayor and county executive is working without decisive leadership from the federal government. It is my understanding that two years ago the President disbanded the Pandemic Task Force — the group that would have lead us through this crisis. The president first blamed Obama, then claimed we would be in church by Easter, and then pronounced COVID-19 would magically disappear. Governors are forced to decide state by state what should be mandated by the federal government. The virus ignores state lines. The federal response is truly hampered by a president who ignores science, avoids responsibility, and touts cures with no foundation in reality. His statements and actions are appalling.
Regarding individual rights — I am stunned that masks are now a divisive political issue. Scientists the world over produce volumes of evidence that masks limit viral transmission. Yet, thousands of our citizens vehemently defend their right to go maskless, touting “the government can’t make me.” To me it’s immaterial whether Gavin Newson can make you wear a mask. The issue is — if a mask can protect the health and life of clerks, bus drivers, restaurant workers — and their elderly parents and children — that should outweigh your freedom to not wear a mask. People are risking their lives so you can shop, if you can’t wear a mask to protect your fellow citizens our society borders on barbarism — “hurrah for me, and too bad for you.”
The nation’s social safety net is tattered when compared with other industrial nations. A friend told me recently that in her city people were denied COVID-19 testing because they were uninsured. I have family in other countries — who are not even citizens of those countries — but have more access to health care abroad than millions of American citizens have here.
Inequality speaks for itself. The disparate impacts on Hispanics and African Americans is stunning. In some cities black and Hispanic COVID-19 infections and deaths are 5 to 10 times that of their white counterparts. Inability to isolate, pre-existing health conditions, inability to work from home, all these and more have been cited as reasons. Whatever the reason, our racial inequality is intolerable. If the virus wasn’t enough, white police and vigilantes kill blacks for jogging, sitting, standing or sleeping.
It is my hope we will look deeply at ourselves, build on our strengths, and collectively work on our flaws. It is imperative because thousands are dying because we ignore and tolerate our nation’s failures. This is not a political issue but a moral imperative.
Daryl Grigsby lives in Nevada City.
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