Get Me Out of Here, Fast: Escape from D.C.?

Newspapers tried to act responsibly, by reminding readers that we were at a critical stage in the course of the virus’ spread, in a truly Hippocratic manner, by suggesting the possible scenarios for the novel coronavirus’ outbreak and potential spread; the contrast between the nation among leaving the outbreak to spread across the nation, introducing some social distancing as a control measure, and instituting nation-wide curbs on social contact was eloquently offered as three roads in a wood in a front-page data vis, as the chief executive itched markets to reopen by Easter, as if adhering to an unchanged calendar of religious celebration to normalize a calendar demanding to be viewed purely in pandemic time.

The alternative images for the social controls enacted by national policies suggest the crucial points of coronavirus infection as a national problem.

Three Alternative Models of Coronavirus Infection, March 21 2020 :
No Restrictions; Some Control Measures; Strict Curbs

The declaration that Sunday would be a National Day of Prayer seemed the best that we could hope for, as Trump seemed to regain his stride, or his sense of his true audience, in beseeching Americans to continue, to look, as we have “throughout our history . . . to God for protection and strength in times like these . . . . to turn towards prayer in an act of faith,” in the belief that “Together, we will easily PREVAIL!” The call that cast Trump as the head of a mass church occurred as worship at churches, cathedrals, synagogues, and mosques were went online, or, for parishioners near my house, found them to be simply closed.

At the same time, among the evangelical community, online talk grew among Baptists, Pentecostsals, and evangelicals hoping to not have to defer Easter services–as if the religious calendar could trump the infectious disease. One paster even planned a massive outdoors Easter celebration, to “gather and lift up Jesus Christ” outdoors, in a “blowout service,” rather than going online: public safety be damned.

But securitization was the dominant rhetorical model to react to the coronavirus among authoritarians, who rehabilitated models of national readiness and securitization. Schengen, for what that call to unity was worth, was hardly Schengen anymore, borders closed to non-residents for thirty days in hopes to stop the virus’ spread, ending the border-free status of the twenty-nine countries, by March 17 save essential travel. The temporary reintroduction of border control grew after Austria and Hungary had closed their borders; Austria closed its border to Italy on March 11 and Hungary followed by closing borders to Austria and Slovenia on March 12, as a domino effect cascaded to the Czech Republic, Lithuania (March 14), and Poland (March 15) after which Schengen was no longer Schengen at all. Trump invoked the southern border to all asylum seekers–even at the risk of turning the closure of the southern border for nonessential travel in his address as if it was a remedy–turning away people without clean living conditions, healthcare, or shelter. The most vulnerable set the coronavirus into global circulation, increasing transmission risks–while blaming them for its spread.

Such an authoritarian militarization of a national response to the virus rests a misguided policy of “voluntary return” to shoot displaced into transborder limbo to nominally forestall viral communication, boasting of plans for “invoking a certain provision that will allow us great latitude as to what we do,” in blocking communicable disease to enter the borders of the United States, as if the domestic emergency was due to needy migrants. The emergency decision to close immigration courts across the nation as the coronavirus spread by executive order leaves than a million cases in limbo, and place them in greater jeopardy of infection.

Refugee during awareness workshop on Covid-19 at camp for displaced in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province, near the border with Turkey. Photo: AAREF WATAD / AFP / NTB Scanpix

Travel bans became a way to process the global pandemic by containing the national units, and introducing the very national borders that had weakened considerably over time that came back with a vengeance–even if the analogy to a military response was less than clear.

Collective practices of social distancing were literalized as bulwarks against fears of the coronavirus crossing borders, as governments tried to enact policies to assuage growing fears by suspending land, sea, and air travel, as fears of the virus migrating spread globally, even as clear data of rates of infection, periods of incubation, and health policies were not understood.

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But border closures created security–and a sense of progress, as if to compensate for an absence of data, or good health policy, if the logical reaction of fear based on the ballooning rates of confirmed infections–even if Trump seemed, almost pathologically, to not want statistics to be revealed, less the sacred cow of the markets be disturbed, and the need to expand unemployment insurance and health care in this emergency be apparent. Warned by big corporations that any government outlay would be disastrous fo the nation’s markets, we seemed to have entered an acute grotesque schizoid phase of reaction, where the nation’s inhabitants were being asked to take a hit for the sake of the economy, and the agility of the free market was trumpeted as the best reaction to a global health crisis.

March 25, 2020/cartogram by Ben Hennig/WHO COVID-19 infections

The call to prevail provided little sense of guidance, again, as Trump would instruct governors to fend for their own in locating ventilators, ramping up hospital beds, or guaranteeing health care, as he insisted this was not his responsibility, local counties turned to their own policies of “shelter-in-place” orders, to remedy growing fears of the absence of any vision for a national health policy–a state of siege that recalls the construction of the first fallout shelters that sprouted in American cities in the early 1960s seamless with Cold War fears, fully equipped by FEMA with bottles of water, Civil Defense crackers, and radiation meters.

We seem to be told such border closures will help, even as the global spread advances internally in most countries, but borders are focussed on as if to mask needed medical resources and anti-contagion policies.

March 20, 2020 Partial or Complete Border Closures due Spread of COVID-19/Al Jazeera

By ordering folks to remain at home and shuttering all businesses, California public health administrators in Alameda, San Francisco, Santa Clara, San Mateo, Marin, and Contra Costa counties, the instruction to do our part to keep everyone healthy expanded the sort of work-from-home policies that Silicon Valley–those policies, which began in tech, with Amazon, Google, and Microsoft, may well have encouraged Washington state policies, and surely set a sensible model in place for collective containment of coronavirus’ spread.

By the time that Jay Inslee ordered a two-week shut down of restaurants, entertainment, and recreation, numerous states had, to be sure, in response to the danger of overwhelming public health systems and undersupplied hospitals, as states and localities issued different orders to shelter-at-home and self-quarantine, in preparation for a trying time for public trust.

States Implimenting Coronavirus Stay-at-Home Order/New York Times, March 25

Some states–as Florida, where a preponderance of COVID-19 Cases were reported–resisted declaring statewide Stay-at-Home orders through the very end of the month, at which time the state had clearly become a hot national spot to an extent that endangered its many elder residents–even as Louisiana had issued a stay-at-home order on March 25, following the relatively quick declaration in the city of New Orleans. (Governor Ron DeSantis explained that the White House Task Force told him it wasn’t a good idea to do so–as if he had to be told! Watching works right Watching works right enter hello this is Dennis hello this is Dennis oh it’s coming along comes call oh it’s coming along comes call that what did you know it’s just that I want to sleep what did you know it’s just that I want to sleep

What can explain this obdurate resistance? There was a clear echo of the regional resistance of the Western Climate Initiative, a collective of states electing to self-regulate carbon emissions as Trump rolled back Obama-era regulations and the U.S. Climate Alliance, going it on their own way with a carbon-pricing network. Indeed, the nucleus of that very group seemed to be the basis for statewide orders, with the addition of the northeastern and midwest states where public services stood to come under increased stress.

As infections are communicated, such policies may be band-aids–or depend on regional affiliations to make up for the absence of a unified national policy, turning states into effective “petri dishes” for the coronavirus, depending or relying on local alerts along all media possible, even as our leader issued continued demands and considerations on social media that seemed to not be looking at the map.

2 Comments

Filed under borders, Coronavirus, COVID-19, data visualization, national borders

2 responses to “Get Me Out of Here, Fast: Escape from D.C.?

  1. Such a good post!!! So insightful and spot on and horrifyingly true!

  2. Painful to read but well-observed.

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