Awaiting the human effects from the novel coronavirus feels like waiting for the arrival of that so-called “atmospheric river” that inundates Southern California occasionally: dark clouds pile up, stillness mutes the city’s sounds, and we expect at any moment the first drops of what will eventually become a torrent. In the case of coronavirus, the torrent promises to exact a human toll, likely nowhere to a greater extreme than in our most vulnerable communities.
Reports from China, South Korea, Italy, Iran and the state of Washington suggest that we will see that toll written most tragically on elders, the medically fragile and, particularly in cities like Los Angeles with vast, distributed homeless populations, those who, by dint of precarious circumstances, live unprotected and difficult to reach in encampments and shelters throughout the region. Few would be silly or sightless enough to suggest that total containment of the disease in the United States any longer poses even a whiff of possibility. Rather, we’re already becoming aware that efforts at slowing the storm’s arrival have one key underlying premise: avoid overwhelming all at once the hospitals and supplies that critically ill people will need for their very survival.
We’re an enormously go-it-alone society, resistant to anyone – especially bureaucrats, cops and autocrats posing as leaders – who strut in all puffed up and invoke our traditions of autonomy and independence in ways that work against our best interests. Stipulated: our prevailing spirit of extreme liberty accounts in many instances for the vast creativity and risk-taking that fuels invention and entrepreneurship in commerce, our academies, and many of our social institutions. It also leaves us – when big storms pile up and guarantee we’re about to be pummeled – wondering whom to count on about what’s the right thing to do to keep ourselves safe, let alone spare an excess of additional suffering among those least able to watch out for or fend for themselves.
Awaiting the coronavirus storm, I find myself inspired and reassured by truthful voices willing to put facts on the table and tell it like it is. Speaking to a retired Los Angeles County Supervisor recently, I learned that Dr. Barbara Ferrer, much in the region’s media lately in her role as head of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, “is the real deal.” Just listening to her speak on the radio or television and experiencing her dignified air of candor and calm attests to Dr. Ferrer’s genuine concern about keeping our local population informed and protected to the greatest degree possible. At the federal level, Dr. Anthony Fauci – the celebrated immunologist who helped shepherd America through the AIDS crisis of the 80s and beyond – represents a voice of towering honesty and reassurance among a cacophony of prattling careerists and ludicrous clowns intent on covering their own insecure asses.
Our extreme, oft-entitled disposition to go it alone and insist on the same from others gets in the way when enduring difficult times means having some frank facts at hand conveyed by people with a touch of empathy. Equivocal voices that paralyze critical, timely decision-making and action can’t stave off the inevitable cloudburst fixing to drench us in a flood of confusion, or, worse, chaos. You’d think that would be so obvious, right?
Storm clouds over Highway 97 near Valentine, Nebraska by diana_robinson (CC BY NC-ND 2.0)