Distance and Patience and This Moment of Time

The frustrating thing for me during this moment of time that we’re in is that I don’t think it’s quite sunk in to some folks that this virus doesn’t care about politics, or the economy, or in fact any human concern at all. It doesn’t care about anything. It just wants to spread, and will take any opportunity it is given to do so, to rich or poor, conservative or liberal, to any person regardless of their situation or circumstance or makeup.

And it’s really good at spreading — better at it than flu or many other communicable diseases — and it’s really good at hurting people. Right now we think its mortality rate is slightly above 1%, but I think equally important is that we estimate 19% of the people who get it will need to be hospitalized. That’s pain and fear and money and weeks if not months lost to recovery. Much of that avoidable, if people remember that this virus doesn’t care about politics, or the economy, or any human concern at all. It just wants to spread.

Now, let me speak of a particular human concern. I have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars (and, uh, possibly more) in the stock market in the last few weeks. I certainly understand how people might panic to look at it. I also know that historically speaking, the market will recover in time, as it did in ’87, and in ’08. It’s a good bet that if I’m patient I will see that money again.

If we rush to put this virus on a timetable that it cannot and will not honor, we will kill and hurt people who do not need to be hurt, and who do not need to die. I will see my stock market gains again, in time. I won’t see the dead again. They’ll be gone forever and every future moment any of us could have had with them lost.

It won’t just be the old, although that would be bad enough. Young people are dying of this too. People who are immunocompromised are dying, and so are people who were thought to be perfectly healthy. The virus doesn’t care who you are, what you want or what you believe. It doesn’t care who you will miss, or who will miss you. It doesn’t care that those lost will never be seen again.

The only weapons we have against this virus right now — the only weapons — are distance and patience. Right now we’re practicing the former, but we’re fighting against the latter, in ways both small and large. This virus doesn’t care if you’re patient or impatient. But if you’re the latter, it will take advantage of that to get to you, and it will use you to get to others. Please be as patient as you can, for as long as you can. It matters for you, and for the people you care about.

I understand some of you reading this will want to make political arguments, or argue about what we know about the virus, or (in the US, at least) make the very real point that money is running out for so many of us. Your points may be good, or they may not be, but I’m not going to argue any of them with you right now. I will simply remind you of what I said at the beginning: This virus doesn’t care about politics, or the economy, or any human concern at all. It just wants to spread. That’s it. That’s all. It will, if you let it. And won’t, if you don’t.

62 Comments on “Distance and Patience and This Moment of Time”

  1. Science is kind of like hitting a cinder block. You may think you deserve to be able to break it. You may firmly believe that it should be broken, but it’s still gonna hurt. Science, and native intelligence, tells us that we should do the things to lower our risk. To do otherwise is just trying to break that cinderblock with your forehead.

  2. For some reason, I’ve been reminded of the old Bradbury story about a couple of people (who lived way out in the emptiness, prospecting) who come to town, and they were usually quite welcome because they brought tales of the wide open and empty spaces, and were guaranteed an appreciative audience.

    They discover that because an epic season of sunspots, all TV and radio have been off the air for months, and the townspeople have had no entertainment except themselves. And the last thing they want to hear about is the romance of the big wide empty world. They want entertainment. They want gossip. They want stories that haven’t repeated a hundred times to themselves. They want to get back to normal.

    Not that the present situation is really analogous to that story. The point is that things have definitely changed. It’s been a nationwide – in fact a global change – and just like the people in that story, we all want to get back to normal. But it’s going to be a while before we do, and we’re going to remember when it changed for a long, long, time.

  3. My father-in-law is convinced this is a democrat conspiracy and that there is little risk, if any, to the U.S. population. It’s amazng what you get watching Fox News. My wife is concerned his stubborness will kill him.

  4. Thank you. And believe me, up here in Canada, we are not pushing it off. We could go further, but… I work at the RCMP, and every single person who can work from home is. The IT people are working their asses off, making sure that they can support all the VPN connections. Only front line members are out there.

    Unfortunately, I have a neighbour who is all “fake news!” About this. He says that it’s all to cover up that the banks were all about to go under. Yeah, right.

  5. #1. We are absolutely doing the right thing right now with the shutdown and distancing. We don’t know a lot, so we are buying time and making sure we don’t overwhelm our health care system. This is both smart and prudent.

    #2. Economic cost is human cost. What it isn’t is immediate human cost. We can’t hold our breath and stay underwater economically forever. That will translate eventually into immediate human cost. So, asking the question, recognizing that there is a trade off here is not verboten. We don’t want this to go on any longer than it has to.

    3. There is potentially some good news.

    Epidemiologist Neal Ferguson is the man behind the Imperial Model which predicts 500,000 deaths in the U.K. and 2 million in the US if we do nothing. This data and this model is what our response is based on and the origin of the “flatten the curve” strategy. New Scientist is reporting that he has revised his model downwards by a factor of 20. Instead of 2 million dead in the US under the do nothing scenario, he now thinks it would be 100k. His model changed because the disease appears to be a lot more infectious than first thought with far more Asymptomatic cases. https://www.newscientist.com/article/2238578-uk-has-enough-intensive-care-units-for-coronavirus-expert-predicts/

    One could interpret irresponsibly to ignore the seriousness of this issue. If one is tempted to do so, I would point out that when models are getting revised by 2000% it usually means we just have really bad models and don’t know what we need to know.

    On the other hand, it is also reason to be cautiously optimistic about our situation.

  6. Thanks, John.

    It is possible that I will spend my declining years working at a Starbucks if my retirement investment doesn’t eventually rebound (it will, I have faith, but). However, at least I’ll be around for my declining years. Which I’d like to be. I have stuff to write. Rushing everyone back to work in order to “save the economy” sounds like a recipe, not only for national suicide, but chaos AND national suicide–two great tastes that go unpleasantly together. If we rush this thing it’s going to be bad. Which is to say, worse than it is already.

    Stay home. Be well.

  7. As introverted as I am, I feel like I was *born* to self-isolate, and even I find this hard. But as you say, we need to be patient.

    One of the most frustrating things I find about suggestions that we try to return to normal BEFORE we have this under control is the thought that, if we are going to open up and let the virus spread unchecked, then *why did we do this at all?* (We could have killed ourselves and each other a lot faster, if that was our goal or if the only concern was economic.)

    The only way to make the present separation worthwhile is to let it do its work, to contain this virus. When there’s effective treatment, a vaccine, and/or true containment – and not before – that’s when we can joyfully reunite in person and return to normal socializing. Until then, the responsible thing, the only thing, is to ride it out and take advantage of all this technology we have that lets us share our lives even at distance.

    God bless and good health to you, your family & friends, and readers – regardless of age, creed, political affiliations etc.

  8. Great thoughts. The hardest part for me in thinking “what is really the best course here?” is that there’s a pretty wide gap between the realities of people who can think:

    “My 401k is loosing a ton of value, but no worries because time horizon, and fortunately I can still manage to pull in a paycheck or live off my other savings during social distancing”

    and those who are stuck with:

    “I have no savings, and I can no longer work because of shelter at home orders, and my kids can no longer get a decent meal at school because it’s closed, and we are literally going to be starving in three days, and I hope we don’t get evicted when I don’t make rent next week.”

    And while group 1 shouldn’t worry about the economy, because it’ll work out for them in the long run. It’s tough to sell that to group 2, whose only hope is that federal relief comes faster than anyone really expects it to.

    It’s tough for me to take a hardline stance on “shelter in place, don’t go to work, it’ll work out in the end”, because I’m very squarely in group 1, but I know that the vast majority of Americans are in group 2.

  9. As a friend says. You don’t have to believe in the virus. It believes in you…

  10. Regarding 401k plans:

    There are so many companies that make and own so much stuff in the broad stock market.

    If we say that value is arbitrarily 10 gazillion, and then divide up shares of stock in our 401k so that we all know our proportional ownership and relative wealth, and then a week arbitrarily say that the value is now 6 gazillion, then, nothing has actually changed. We have the same wealth and it is owned proportionally.

    It is important to keep this in mind during market corrections (though it is not exactly as simple as I’ve made it, it is very much largely true)

    If the market is down 30% and you are only down 20%, you proportional ownership has gone up and you are doing well.

    Corrections of 10% or more have happened about once every 18 months for over 100 years. Bigger once come once every 5-10 years. On average it takes 18 months for the market to hit a new high from the bottom point.

    Don’t panic, don’t sweat it. The correct answer every single time there has been a correction was to hold on and buy more if you can afford to do so. I can see no reason why this time is different.

  11. I suspect “normal” is going to be all different now… we can’t “get back” to it. We’ll have to figure out what it’s gonna be.

  12. Laid off from my job this week that I have had since 1992 as the store I have managed had to close due to this. And, yes, I am angry, disappointed, etc. Wish there was another answer. But can’t fight windmills that don’t even know you exist. Luckily, I am an old, cheap dude who squirreled away most and, as a result, have plenty of funds to survive. Still, sucks. And, yet, this we shall overcome. 4th quarter is gonna rock. There is a reason the $ and the 4 are on the same key.

  13. Everything old is recycled again. Like this blues song by Eddie Smith, written about the 18-19 flu epidemic. Something called the “1919 Influenza blues.” Note, I take the line “It was God’s almighty plan, He was judging this old land” with a pound of salt. I *do* believe that the way we as a society — especially the 1% –have treated the least among us.. the poor, the disabled, the LGBTQs, the African-Americans, the Latinos of all ethnicity … some of us have a lot to answer for.


  14. Every time I hear someone say about working or staying home that “It’s not that simple,” I think of this. That the virus doesn’t care about your financial situation or your job concerns. I get it, I really do, you can’t take a loan out for dinner, and you need the things your job supplies you. But really, the virus doesn’t care. It really is that simple. I’m sorry, but it is. You either do what you have to do, or you don’t and reap the consequences. I wish it were otherwise, but it ain’t.

  15. My wife and I are not suffering because of this crisis. We do miss the opportunity to personally visit friends and family. Other than that, we take this as an adventure (including the possible hazard). The people who say that this is a liberal hoax are in for a rude awakening. Because, as has been said, the virus doesn’t care about your politics. It is a time where intelligence is rewarded and ignorance (arrogance?) punished.

    So stay safe.

  16. Every time I hear “cure is worse than the disease”, I hear someone saying that those who canNOT survive the virus is one less unproducing person the system is expected to support. We need to remember the people saying things like that, that are arguing for reopening instead of trying to support those of us who are *trying to do the right thing for everyone*, and treat them accordingly because they tend to be the people actually not providing us with anything other than abuse.

    The other people we need to remember are the ones who are not treating it seriously, who insisted on going out and partying as we had other countries already showing what happens when you treat this thing as something “that happens to someone else” or “it isn’t that bad, it’s no worse than (insert illness here)”.

  17. I am lucky that my husband is in an essential industry and currently still working, while also being in a position that leaves him at low risk for catching the virus from coworkers. We are lucky to have a little bit of 401k we can borrow from if things get difficult, plus being Union, he has generous sick leave & vacation time, and excellent insurance should it be necessary.
    But we are still very firmly in the working class with no savings, and always one emergency away from financial disaster.
    But you know what? I’ve lived under the poverty level before, I’ve recycled cans so I could afford to buy bread and toilet paper. I’ve been homeless. I’ve been on food stamps, I’ve gotten my meals from food banks and soup kitchens.
    I can TOTALLY survive all of that.
    As a vulnerable, high risk person, I DON’T know if I can survive Covid-19, even with top notch medical care & a respirator- neither of which may be available if I get this. At 53 + respiratory disease, I am terrified I would be one of those left to die if ventilators are scarce enough that doctors are forced to ration care.
    I will take poverty and homeless ANY FUCKING DAY over sending people back to work prematurely & sending this disease spiraling out of control.

  18. I’m really not sure where Alfonzo gets that interpretation of the article, because Neil Ferguson is the academic who persuaded the UK that “do nothing” was going to result in large numbers of unnecessary deaths. In particular that under that policy he expected UK health care facilities to be overloaded at least 8 fold during the peak of the epidemic.

    It is the lockdown strategy that he has advocated, and it is because the UK government has adopted it that he has drastically downgraded the expected number of UK deaths.

    The new scientist article specifically says it’s based on reducing the virus transmission by social distancing.

    One sobering comment from the UK government predictions of “do nothing”: 80% infected, and half of those infected during *three weeks* during the peak of the epidemic. In the UK, that’s about 1 million cases *per day* (and in practice it would probably be about 3-4 million cases on the absolute worst day). Now think about “18% need hospital treatment”, because with those numbers, they’re not getting it.

    Yes, all these figures are in flux, and everything could be upended if we find there’s a huge cohort who get Covid without ever getting ill enough to register in tests. But until we know that, the worst case scenarios for do nothing are truly horrific.

  19. The GOP has always sacrificed Grandma for Wall Street. Just never seen them be so blatantly sociopathic about it until now.

    GOP healthcare plan has always been “dont get sick, and if you do, fuck you”. Just never seen them be so blatantly sociopathic about it.

    And those GOP who think the whole thing is all blown out of proportion, fake news, well, they’re still risking lives for Wall Street, they’re just being a bit coy about it.

  20. Dear Alfonzo,

    You read that article in New Scientist exactly wrong. Ferguson says the opposite. Reread and try again.

    Further, after reading the Oxford study, this is a HUGE “if.” IF their model is even correct (it has not been validated by real-world data yet) and IF the most optimistic scenario is correct, then and only then do you get to a happy conclusion.

    We humans have a bad tendency to take good news uncritically (think cold fusion). If the Oxford study was predicting 50% of humanity would die, you and the New Scientist would be a lot more skeptical.

    (For the record, New Scientist is not what it used to be– they frequently engage in uncritical thinking and clickbait.)

    Epidemiological data in the US is strongly suggesting that 65-80% of cases are asymptomatic… but the same data say those cases are infectious. Putting that in qualitative terms, unless most of the population has already been infected, a high asymp rate means a lot MORE people die, not a lot fewer. Unless we stamp out the infection.

    Also, still unsettled– can you get it again, after you’ve gotten it once? That is, does immunity to one strain confer immunity to others? It doesn’t for colds and flu. This is neither of those, no matter what some ignoramuses have been suggesting. Still, it’s a known thing for respiratory illnesses, so we need an answer to this.

    pax / Ctein

  21. 1) Coronavirus CoV2 sort of sounds like the Terminator. And going to hang out is like naming your friends Sarah Connor.

    2) “At first, to last.”

  22. One of the difficulties with framing a response to the pandemic is that most people really are not comfortable with fairly straightforward mathematics; say that something is increasing exponentially and a glazed stare is the almost invariable response. That in turn provides assistance to both snake-oil salespeople and scientists who think they got the analysis right; either way people prefer the message to looking at the basis on which the message was calculated.

    Here in the U.K. we have had a series of quite drastic changes in predictions; each one has been promoted by politicians who say this is the science, but fail to add that scientists disagree with each other and that the competent ones change their views when the data changes, even if their original view was wrong anyway. The situation we now have where the Prime Minister and the Health Minister have both acquired the virus, and the Chief Medical Officer has all the symptoms of the virus, suggests that they have not been taking their own advice about risk reduction.

    And the optimistic outlook from Ferguson which Alfonzo mentions above has turned out to be false; we have nothing like the number of intensive care hospital beds, and nothing like the number of ventilators, needed to deal with the percentage of patients who have serious problems from their infection. That is why the Government is turning a London convention centre into a hospital with space for between 500 and 4,000 patients, and desperately searching for ventilators. Similar centres in other population areas are expected to follow; London is a global city and thus we get hit first.

    Please take it seriously. My daughter is a consultant physician in an Acute Medical Unit, with inadequate personal protective equipment because of the shortage of it, at the very tip of the sharp end. The only thing that I can do to help her is to stay home and isolate myself very carefully so that she doesn’t worry about me. Down the years she has seen some pretty horrendous things but this scares her, just as it scares her colleagues, and since these are not people who scare easily we would be well advised to do everything we possibly can to protect ourselves by self-isolating, buying time to find treatments and, if we are very lucky, a functional vaccine in 18 months time.

  23. This is going to be far worse than the Great Depression, and the country did not recover until the 1940s. Many of these businesses are not coming back. Millions of jobs evaporated. We will regret our solutions, but it is what it is.

  24. Amen! There’s plenty of time for “but Trump!” or “but Democrats!” when this is done (although it would be nice if we didn’t have to go back there). And it needs to be heard at all levels.

  25. Well, those who break the social isolation and go out too soon are risking their lives. Those who stay inside and isolated are more likely to survive. If one group says “Go out, you don’t need social distancing,” they will see a larger reduction of their numbers. It’s a self-defeating strategy. Although, in the end, everyone suffers to a lesser or greater extent because the numbers of confirmed cases go up everywhere.

    On the positive side, here in New York, Governor Cuomo is showing much appreciated leadership. He is getting hospitals created faster than I would have imagined possible. They built a 1000-bed hospital last week in less than a week. It’s mind boggling.

  26. Sadly, we live in what is probably the stupidest country in the world. Couple that with raw greed and it’s not a good look and doesn’t bode well.

  27. Ctein:

    I guess what is missing which I could link to if you like is Ferguson’s previous estimates under the Imperial model which previously predicted 500,000 dead under the do nothing scenario. This is a reduction by a factor of 20. It’s hard to consider this as anything but good news.

    I don’t wish to be irresponsible and I’m aware of the danger of people interpreting good news as meaning “see, I told you, this is nothing, let’s all get back to work,” and then ignoring all the social distancing guidelines, endangering everybody.

    As I pointed out, models can be wrong and subject to revision. Also, certainly, there appear to be other issues with this virus that make it scarier than most people think, I.E. the cytokine explosion that destroys lungs, and the unusual severity of infection in health care workers.

    Still, the current narrative is that this is going to be very bad. I absolutely think we are doing the right thing at this time due to our very imperfect knowledge, and I am glad to see that virtually all in positions of prominence are on the same page. The fact though is that we don’t know as much as we should know. When you have consensus agreement (which is very prudent and correct in this case,) it nevertheless makes sense to consider the counter factual, because data supporting such will tend to be ignored due to confirmation bias.

    This is such a data point.

    (I am a huge fan. Sequel?)

  28. I can’t stay home because I work in a nursing home. I am absolutely terrified for myself and my residents because I know a lot of them will die when we get this virus. I say when not if because it is probably inevitable that we will get a case. I have just been going to work and then coming home and staying in once I’m home.
    Please stay safe everyone and the only people you should be listening to right now are the medical experts.

  29. Ctein:

    As it turns out, I am completely wrong and you are completely right.

    Ferguson himself has cleared up the confusion on this in a recen twitter thread.

    I am truly sorry to have spread bad information.

  30. > It doesn’t care about anything. It just wants to spread,

    yeahbut, collectively humanity behaves the same as CV, mindless growth. thus the relentless oncoming 6th Anthropocene calamity.

  31. I recently (like last weekend) found out that my great-grandmother died in 1918. The recorded cause of death was childbirth, but almost everyone who died in 1918 had at least been infected by influenza. She had had at least 14 recorded pregnancies, with 6 or 7 (depends on which of her children you ask) live births before the one that killed her. Only a few places, such as Gunnison, CO, remained unscathed from the pandemic known as Spanish Influenza, and only then by a level of xenophobia and territoriality that is unsustainable in the modern world.

    Shortly, COVID-19 will have many who follow my great-grandmother. The numbers today are nothing compared to what they could be. We have met the plague that combines the exact qualities of infectiousness and lethality that was feared with SARS, MERS and Ebola but never could quite develop among them. (SARS wasn’t quite infectious enough, MERS was to lethal but not infectious, and Ebola was a little to lethal but far to infectious to become a pandemic.) We can only hope that by breaking the chains of transmission that we prevent a similar global catastrophe.

    (Yes, it’s personal to me. I work on the business side of healthcare, with many close friends who work in the clinical/patient care world. Finding out that I have a personal like to 1918 only solidified my resolve to #FlattenTheCurve.)

  32. Thank you for a reasonable, humane approach to our current tragedy. I’m trying very hard not to be angry all the time about the failings of people we look to for guidance in government. I’m successful far less than I would like. Your words go me a bit closer to my goal.

  33. [Deleted because of bullshit racism. If you think you can repost without the racism, try again. Hint: it’s called “coronavirus.” – JS]

  34. Those who think that it’s better to sacrifice grandma than the economy are not only monsters but also morons. If we try to go back to normal too soon we’ll have a death count in the thousands per day. And they think the economy will just go along with death numbers like that? No that will tank the economy worse than the current shelter in place.

  35. Btw kudos to Alfonzo. Everyone gets something wrong now and then. The adults admit it.

  36. Dear Alfonzo,

    I’d have been happier if you’d been right. Truly.

    But, thank you, sincerely thank you.

    I’m afraid I’m paying way too much attention to the fine details. I’ve got a sweetie in Minnesota who’s managing a proposal for a mass-testing schema and runs stuff past me for a sanity check. She’s also feeding me latest best-estimate epidemiology numbers, which are constantly changing and have fairly large error bars on them.

    A particular source of trouble is that we know for certain that the number of cases is underreported, because of limited testing and the majority of the infections being asymptomatic (although infectious).

    Equally unfortunately, the number of deaths is being underreported. This is not because of any malevolence on anyone’s part. Rather, it’s because a death that isn’t tested for covid-19 is simply reported as massive respiratory failure. There can be many, many causes for respiratory failure.

    Consequently, we are trying to build models from extremely incomplete data, and filling in the holes in that data is as much art, experience, and intuition as anything. This is why equally competent, knowledgeable, and well-meaning researchers can come up with very different numbers.

    In a normal circumstance, the prudent thing to do would be to wait for better data so that our limited resources and instrumentalities could be applied most effectively. The problem in this case, of course, is that if we are not in a best-case situation then waiting makes it much, much worse.

    There is no optimal solution. There isn’t even an especially good one.


    Changing the subject — thank you for being a fan of our book, but John and I are not planning a sequel, I’m afraid. We’ve discussed it on and off but the problem is that neither of us has a good idea for a story. We both have a strong aversion to sequelitis. We don’t want to write a book because readers want to see more of the characters, we want to write a book because we have a good story to tell. So far we don’t.

    Related to the topic at hand, though, we had been discussing (on and off, mostly off) writing a medical thriller — a realistic plague novel about how modern society really would react to a plague that, over the course of the book, wipes out a significant fraction of the human race. Turns out there is nothing out there quite like that — there are lots of post-apocalyptic novels and there are lots of novels about realistic responses that prevent a plague. But what changes happen in the world during one that you can’t stop?

    Needless to say, that novel is never going to get written.

    But David Gerrold and I have a manuscript out for consideration, a natural disaster thriller. So, who knows? You might yet get to read more of my deathless prose.

    – pax \ Ctein
    [ Please excuse any word-salad. Dragon Dictate in training! ]

  37. Dear Mr. Scalzi,
    Thank you for the voice of reason and calm that you’ve used in this post. I really appreciate the simple, clean tone and the (obvious) advice. Pleasantries aside, I believe that most of the damage that this pandemic will do isn’t caused by the pandemic itself, but rather by policy makers who either overcommit to ending social distancing early, or by people who can’t take this seriously. Anyway, the most obvious effect to me is that I get extra homework from my teachers(I’m a freshman in high school), and that zoom conferences are way worse than regular school. I actually was one of the people who initially said that it wouldn’t be too much worse than the seasonal flu, until I started looking at statistics. Anyway, the main point is that the virus itself is something that we can dampen the effect of, like global warming. It just remains to be seen whether or not we’ll choose to. Hopefully our current president won’t attempt to head back to normal at Easter. Thanks for the reassuring information in this post, and the endless hours of entertainment I get from reading your books (All of your books are amazing, except for God Engines, sorry). Good luck avoiding COVID-19!

  38. Definitely kudos to Alfonzo.

    We all get stuff wrong. Not all of us are big enough to admit our mistakes.

  39. While I definitely agree that a society-wide shutdown is the right choice right now for so many reasons, and I agree with your reasoning that the virus doesn’t care and patience is required, it seems that many people are dismissing the economic downsides as just damage to stock portfolios, or the greedy 0.1% not getting the returns they are used to, or people being unable to do frivolous things like go to the bars or the beach. This isn’t the case.

    This crisis is much easier for the wealthy and introverts with knowledge-economy jobs. There is going to be real widespread damage out there to so many other people who don’t move in our circles. Poverty and job loss cause deaths too — to suicide, mental health problems, drug addiction, lack of food and shelter, homelessness, and other health ailments. This downturn will affect women, the less educated and people of color particular hard. I thought that progressives were supposed to be concerned about these groups, but they aren’t often mentioned in these discussions.

    For instance, yes, we could keep our kids out of school for 18 months until a vaccine happens (although we don’t know for sure if we’ll ever have one), but we know that wealthy kids will continue to be educated by wealthy parents and that poor minority kids will be left to watch TV. The poorer children will fall behind and remain behind for the rest of their lives. This will increase inequality exponentially too.

    So let’s be more honest that there will have to be trade offs between our health and the economy. Not right now; definitely not right now, when the world has to let the health system catch up. But eventually. Otherwise we are just shifting the damage onto people who are even less able to afford it and to younger people who will pay the costs of this damage for decades and decades to come.

  40. I’m staying home (we have a lockdown in force here) but sending good wishes to everybody at higher risk, all health workers and all the other people on the front lines, which includes people who work in pharmacies and grocery stores and delivery services. Stay safe, everybody, and thanks for your contribution. Yours, too, John.

  41. JJN

    I recognise and share your concern. However, being poor is an underlying condition which, like other underlying conditions, points to a likely severe infection and a higher probability of death. Poor children may be at lower risk than poor adults but they likely live in a poor household; it seems to me to be important to recognise the increased risks to all in that household. Trying to help them not to die now is vitally important; at least that way those kids at least have a chance to survive to the future.

  42. A lot of people are going to die of something else because the pandemic has monopolized or depleted the health care in their vicinity. This is NOT the fault of the health care workers or of the shutdown, but it is another cheerful log we can throw on the fire of knock-on effects.

    It also occurs to me that this is too on the nose. A 21st Century problem whose optimal solution is most people doing nothing while a few people feverishly work themselves to death.

    We now have people on Fox (not the majority, but still) floating ideas that are way closer to Marxism than anything Bernie suggested. People in the mainstream media who moaned about finding 26 T dollars (when they knew it was more like 5T net of current costs over a decade) are now angry that the Congress cannot shake more than 2T from the country’s couch cushions in a week or two.

    Revolutions arrive because the material conditions give rise to them regardless of any advanced planning. Sanders was trying to offer gentle reform. Now we know it was too late regardless. Some big changes are coming. Whatever label of politician you supported before this, hold them to making the right choices for everyone, not just your team. Hold them to addressing long term issues, not just frantically fixing a few things and hoping everything else magically sorts itself out in the future.

    This is not the last frelling crisis we’ll see in the years ahead.

  43. The only points I would make:

    1. The choice some are trying to put before us is a false one. Yes, the measures being taken now are directly impacting the economy, and thus 401Ks, etc, but NOT taking those measures now would also have a catastophic impact on the economy.

    2. “The only weapons we have against this virus right now — the only weapons — are distance and patience.” Absolutely true. In order to begin to reopen, we need more weapons – in particular, availability of rapid testing and effective tracking and containment strategies to fight the inevitable and many local outbreaks that will happen once we begin to reopen.

    3. The extent to which this apolitical threat is being viewed through political lenses is chilling.

  44. Stevie:

    This too is a good point. I haven’t seen stats on income vs. COVID mortality, but you are likely right. Hopefully more and better data will help us make good decisions in difficult areas such as that.

  45. Note to Ctein and others contemplating similar medical thrillers: most of the plot elements you’ll need are in DeFoe’s “Journal of the Plague Year”. While it’s been centuries, “the more things change…”

  46. I think there is another piece we need to worry about. Mind you as a Canadian, my perspective may be different than most.

    My wife is a veteran operating room nurse. Her hospital normally runs 10 operating rooms per day. As of Monday next, they’ll be down to one, and deploying the staff to other duties.

    So, when your appendix ruptures, or you fall and break your hip, or you crash your car, your surgery will, at best be delayed, and at worst, not done.

    A side effect we’re probably not thinking of.

    A let’s give some kudos to the ER nurses and docs, the cleaning staff, the paramedics, and even the staff in the local supermarket. They are putting their lives at risk to keep the rest of us safe and fed.

    So stay at home and watch all the stuff you always meant to watch on Netflix. And of course, catch up on your Scalzi

    Stay well.

  47. Ctein:

    Obviously the author’s world is his and he can’t write a story that he doesn’t believe in. This reader feels that the world of Saturn Run wouldn’t just let Sandy fade into the backdrop. Perhaps he left something else floating around up there.

    Anyway, sorry for the confusion and I truly appreciate the clarification.

  48. It should be no surprise, yet surprised one still is to see globally, nationally and locally people behaving no differently in this medical catastrophe than they did in the middle ages or in Justinian’s time, or even earlier in many times and many places.
    1 — the ruling class hides the information because it is bad for business;
    2 — it does nothing as the cases and deaths mount up; business remains freaked out insisting anything that interferes with it is breaking all god’s laws; anyway it won’t hurt [i]us[/i};
    3 — blames a not-us entity for it, and terror attacks on those perceived as among that group rise exponentially, including sometimes burning down where they live, and thereby then burning down even where the attackers live (See Constantinople during Justinian’s time, London etc.);
    4 — it does too little and too late;
    5 — misinformation and superstition spread as quickly as the virus,
    6 — an enormous portion of the general populace ignores safety measures either out of assholery or denial — or [i]poverty[/i];
    7– Ruling classes everywhere every time do nothing about what they know help prevent such wide scale catastrophes, no one prepares for one occurring, no one has intelligent response beyond exhausting the very people called upon to do the response.
    Once again proving the adage information doesn’t make people smart.
    To which in the age of the death-hate cult and fnoose we add, it makes people even stupider.

  49. Exactly right.

    I did go grocery shopping today, for the first time is slightly over 2 weeks. I hope not to do so for another 2 weeks. Maybe more, depending on how bad things get.

    I was careful, I think. I wore gloves. The grocery store had plastic gloves which I switched to. I used my Lysol wipes. I washed veggies I purchased (in soap & water! but then rinsed). I did what I could. Despite all of that, the fact is I ventured out and now I could get it. That’s how it works. The most minor slip is all that’s needed.

    Anyone who isn’t taking this thing seriously should rethink. “Only” 1% dead and ~15-20% hospitalized is a BFD. This is not “just the flu.” Not that the flu is even “just the flu” as people don’t generally take that seriously enough. But we’re talking something, what, 5 to 10 times deadlier than the flu (depending on what # you go by, and which flu year you’re talking about, and all that). This is a real bastard, and we need to do our best.

    As for politics, well, I think certain things are obvious and I don’t need to belabor them here.

  50. lynnindenver

    I couldn’t, not in two trillion years, have said that any better.

    I may be callous in saying this, but if covid 19 does nothing else, it will cut a swath through the stubborn and the stupid of this nation.

    They want to party and drink on the beach? Fine. When they fall ill, that’s where they should recuperate, in tents pitched on the same beaches to which they flocked and frolicked amidst widespread death and illness.

    The “covid 19 is a lefty construct” virus patients should be compelled to live in isolation on campgrounds where they can rant to the trees, animals, and their fellow selfish idiots about inconvenience, police states and liberal hoaxes.

    As they ride out the symptoms on their thin and holy sleeping bags or unpadded bedrolls, they can think about the lives and livelihoods they endangered as they blew off urgent pleas for social distancing.

    They don’t get to endanger the lives of healthcare providers and first responders when they contract the virus in the act of stupidity. They don’t get to take up space in hospital beds or suck on ventilators because they made a global pandemic about themselves and their ideology.

    Some of these people believe that women wanting abortions want free of the consequences of irresponsible or amoral behavior. Well, I can’t think of anything more amoral or irresponsible than moving about public spaces and risking countless lives because the folks ringing the alarm bells are your political and ideological opponents.

    More importantly, healthy people, especially those who prepared accordingly when news of the first cases in the US broke, shouldn’t have to compete with such people for food or supplies.

    I understand the importance of patience, but being patient with those who would endanger me and mine because it suits them and theirs is a serious struggle.

  51. My wife is a nurse who’s just been moved to the coronavirus overflow unit at her hospital, so this has become even more personal for us. She’s going to get the virus because there simply isn’t enough PPE for all the nurses at this point in time. (As an aside to that point, the Surgeon General should be taken out and forced to serve, along with all of the feculent pieces of monkey dung currently working at the FDA, on the front lines in a hospital suffering from coronavirus overload.) That’s going to be the really scary time when we start seeing the healthcare providers falling ill because the hospitals are prioritizing appearances over employee safety. My wife, when she was on door duty checking people coming into the hospital for symptoms, wasn’t allowed to wear a mask because that was too scary and sent the wrong impression. That story is being repeated all over the country.

    On the politics side, I can’t decide who is more annoying to me right now. On the one hand, I have a number of MAGAdiot friends who are firmly convinced that this is merely a plot to destroy the American economy. On the other hand, a number of my progressive friends are absolutely and loudly certain that the reason Trump is considering stupidly ending the shutdown is so that the pandemic will continue long enough for him to declare martial law and cancel the November elections. Both groups are so wrong that it makes my head hurt and makes me want to seek solace in a really stiff drink or 12.

  52. Sigh. Ain’t conspiracy theorist’s grand?

    To be honest, though, I dismissed the “they want to eliminate all of the sick and elderly” theory, right up to the moment I came across this little gem:


    No one could have told me that any elected official on either side of the aisle would openly advocate for endangering and possibly killing the elderly population of this country and not get laughed out of my sight. Even knowing some of the repugnant things that have and continue to be done by and on behalf of this nation, I, between bouts of said laughter, would have gently suggested they loosen their tinfoil hats.

    I’d hazard a guess that such theories come out of the need to explain the unexplainable.

    For instance, how has a high-income, fully developed nation like the United States of America become one of the most infected nations of them all?

    Why weren’t we testing at the same capacity as other nations?

    What prompted our government to reject the test being offered by the WHO?

    What should we make of the confluence of problematic responses, mainly the delegation of federal responsibilities to governors, the pushing of malaria drugs as a panacea for the virus, the president’s refusal to implement wartime measures, the tension between the president’s characterization of the pandemic and those of epidemiologists and other medical professionals, and yes, his decision to reopen the country in the middle of a global pandemic.

    Surely, the leaders of this nation would have taken this threat to national security seriously, all the way back to December, when news of the outbreak in China surfaced.

    A leader, notwithstanding his or her political party, would take decisive action to ensure that Americans were protected, up to and including making damn certain that medical professionals, first responders, and other “essential” employees had every iota of the protective equipment they needed.

    I’m not onboard with the martial law theory either, but I do find some things rather curious in deed.

    So much is up in the air right now, and I can see how trying to pinpoint something, anything resembling a reason might birth such outlandish suppositions.

    TL; DR: I think many among the martial law crowd may be struggling to cope with the fact that governmental greed and ineptitude are just as prevalent against the backdrop of widespread pestilence and death as they were in peacetime. No one wants to believe that the current and impending chaos is happening for no reason at all; there has to be a method to all of this madness.

  53. Dear rmichael,

    Indeed! The story, of course, is always in the details and the telling.

    There are surprises in real life. The ability to sequester a third of the world’s population, to get a significant fraction of uber-independent Americans to cooperate *before* we have people dying on every block… well, I’d never have predicted that. That is most heartening.


    Dear Alfonzo,

    I’m afraid the one character we’d never bring back would be Sandy. He was an unhappy compromise and neither of us are especially comfortable with the result.

    On the other hand Crow and Fang-Castro make a pretty interesting pair, doncha think?

    pax / Ctein

  54. Sarah-Marie,

    I assume that the behavior of someone like Trump, as crazy as it is, has some explainable motive behind it. We are all aware of his greed and racism. I recently learned that Trump found out that his golf courses are shut down. Opening them by Easter, to stark making money, was a goal of his proposed schedule. At the same time, Trump has been dragging his feet and preventing actions that would be useful at this time.

    Then we have all those business owners that want to bring employees back, so that the businesses can stop losing money. It puts all the risk on the workers. One company wants to dock the workers who are working, the amount of the federal stimulus checks they get.

    And many of the wealthy (e.g. Koch) want people to go back to work, in hopes that the stock market will recover sooner. Nowhere in the GOP are we seeing politicians who’s first priority is helping citizens get through this emergency. They want to gamble with worker’s lives.

    Ayn Rand would chuckle with glee at the opportunity to eliminate all the “non productive” burdensome people (old, sick, etc.). One republican politician said that old people should go back to work and be willing to sacrifice themselves for sake of the economy.

    These people couldn’t care less about the welfare of ordinary people. Some have even hinted that the ordinary worker isn’t even a “people.” Based on all this, one can only assume that Trump and the GOP would like to eliminate poor workers, the old and the infirm to “decrease the surplus population.”

  55. I agree, and am perfectly, painfully aware of the Texas Lieutenant governor’s position on the elderly, hence the video I included in the above post.

    Again, I’m not at all convinced that Trump can even pull off the whole martial law/suspension of 2020 election thing. From what I understand, governors retain that power, congress would have to approve it, and there’s a little thing called the Posse Comitatus act that would put a stop to such an action.

    If anything, he’ll gather the same forces he did in 2016 and get reelected.

    Still, the Randian, social Darwinist motives behind the movement to reopen the country coupled with all of Trump’s efforts to encourage the spread of covid 19 raises critical questions about the end goal of the end goal you suggest.

    My point is, given what we’ve seen over the past three years, I don’t blame that particular circle of conspiracy theorists for making the leap, especially when you consider the persistent erosion of the laws and institutions that are designed to limit his power.

    Also, knowing what we know about this president, do we really, really expect him to leave office if he isn’t reelected? Who’s going to make him leave, the same people who followed the law during the impeachment trial?

    if he is reelected, do you put it past him to employ whatever strategies necessary to remain in power, especially with the rule of law in tatters?

    In terms of the pandemic, is a sick and/or dead workforce going to be any better for the economy, especially when said sick and/or dead aren’t all going to come under the heading of expendable?

    More importantly, what are the implications of enabling a possible societal collapse via the unwillingness to provide “essential” workers with the tools they need to avoid the fate of the” targets”? Trimming the metaphorical fat makes sense, but what of the postal workers, police, firefighters, E M Ts, doctors, nurses, and other essential employees who may fall ill or die as a result of his “response”?
    Send the unskilled laborers, elderly, and infirm to their graves, but keep the important patches of the societal quilt intact so that the “right” people survive.

    That’s what’s unexplainable. Did he and his cronies just not think that far, or do they lack the intellectual capacity to think that far?

    Is the endangerment of essential workers a kind of cancer removal strategy? More specifically, are the infected essential workers part of the “good tissue” that must be removed?

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