17. Poor mapping led to an insufficient awareness of the risks of transmission, and of how to best contain the virus whose spread could have been better documented in its transit through and communication to bodies. The problem of asymptomatic transmission through aerosolization of the virus in any act of speech, only restrained by spatial isolation and social distancing. Yet the resistance to a top-down directive from the executive is clear, as states have become the major implementers of policies as cases of infection grow and place stresses on public health safety. The guidelines only specify physical isolation to stay at home for those with health conditions may place them at increased risk. We turned to the hope of mapping the course of the disease in the nation, hoping to mark time in a national drama we don’t have a clear endpoint to, as if we can expect an open-ended conclusion over the month, that will put the worst behind us.
The slow progress of stay-at-home orders of the sort first issued in California–and even not that uniformly adopted in the state that contains a large agrarian economy–and a large group of separatists in “the State of Jefferson” to the north!–after mid-March–that tallied the smallest degree of a reduction of travel in California’s counties, excluding its most least populated, as compiled by the New York-based geolocation start-up Unacast. And in the face of current crises in coronavirus testing across the state and limited test kit supplies, the suggestion in Unacast data of lack of adhering to shelter-in-place directives have led to renewed calls for caution, and remaining in home, across much of the state, in order to continue to ensure the curve of COVID-19 infections declines.
Yet such surveillance-based images of these regions of a small reduction of travel–including the agrarian Imperial Valley in the south and the farmlands of the Central Valley, to be sure, but also the isolationist north, reveal the sites that are farthest from the perception of a dire global outbreak, and it seemed the sense of a self-imposed distance from the globe, or an illusion of distance that seems to have incubated across all fifty states to a certain degree during the first three years of the Trump Presidency, nourished from the earliest days of the 2015 Trump campaign, that were rooted in sewing deep doubts about the feasibility of global accords or policy, the encouraging of the independence of states’ rights, and a profession of individual responsibility and autonomy that in the context of a global pandemic approaches libertarianism. Since then, the diffusion of new costs of growing counts of infection in non-metro areas where stay-at-home orders were absent raises huge questions.
Largely rural hold-out regions across the nations have taken the “liberty” of shrugging off top-down orders, suspicious of the logic of top-down government associated with stay-at-home orders, as a result of the devaluation of leadership and rejecting the intrusion of government prescriptions on local life. Yet isn’t it also the case that all concepts of traditions, ‘local life’ or custom. are destined to be thrown out the window in the face of a global pandemic whose epidemiological reality is unavoidable, if it is perceived by some through the lens of deeply pitched science wars? The logic of local rejection, so craftily amplified at each instance by the Trump campaign, echoing the fault-lines that Russian operatives perceived, according to Robert Mueller, as fault-lines to be exploited in American public opinion, seem eerily resilience in response to COVID-19.
The resistance to self-isolation expresses a fraught reading of the global, through lenses of the local, disarming for its indulgence of stubborn resistance to epidemiology. These are the folks who praise the design of Drew Oliver’s Giant Microbes to take the outbreak to market a stuffy–ostensibly for “educational” ends as “science products”–and order them online. The marketing of the stuffed animal take the virus as just the latest iteration of the media’s favorite charmed stuffed figure, as if with little sense of the scale of its global impact, cast as a novelty toy of the moment.
For we have no real sense of the scale, proportions, or mortality rate of the still unknown virus, offering something of a divide of skepticism about the potential extent of its danger as a public health threat.
The depth of a divide, so obstinate in the face of a global pandemic, seemed quit cruelly to countermand hopes for a united or collective response to the spread of infection and replication across state lines of the sturdy–and so far unmated–single strand of RNA of SARS-CoV-2, a microbe that is so easily contracted. Quarantine was described on some social media sites as “going medieval,” to be discounted as a media hysteria, the origins of inoculation from small pox were indeed likely “medieval,” if inoculation is to provide a way of containing the virus’ spread.
While smallpox provided an early case of inoculation, the immunity that was gained by Bostonians who had lived through the 1690 and 1702 waves that arrived in the port city created limited immunity when a quarantined crew contracted smallpox in 1721, leading Reverend Cotton Mather to fear by late May, “the grievous calamity of smallpox has now entered the town,” marking the arrival of the bacillus that he had earlier imagined might be protected against by inoculation physicians refused to practice but which, in 1714, he vouchsafed his “Negro man, Onesimus,” a Guamante from Southern Libya, explained to the Puritan minister the very process the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society advised as traditional in the Ottoman Empire; the Puritan minister noted in a public letter he learned form Onesimus, prior to reading the Royal Society report, explaining the preservation of immunity in North Africa may have reflected practices standard in sixteenth-century China transmitted to Constantinople, in a time when the circulation of global disease was more easily mapped, but remedies were more openly exchanged as well.
Early eighteenth-century anti-vaxers through bombs into the study of the puritan Mather, as he implored skeptical physicians to adopt the method as the “avenging angel” of the 1721 smallpox epidemic as it swept Boston, among the deadliest of the eighteenth century; accredited doctors angrily opposed Mather’s ideas, as Mather prayed before high heath rates, before Edward Jenner developed a vaccine.
18. We haven’t yet come to broken windows, but the skepticism of vaccination Mather described was long situated in American anti-intellectual tradition Richard Hofstadter described, which resistance to “Shelter-in-Place” orders seems to continue the tradition of anti-inoculation agitators who confronted the disease that was imported from the New World. The only such orders have been issued locally, a divergence among local and regional policies seems the poorest possible reaction to the spread of a virus that knows, of course, no boundaries, and whose infection has no clear relation to jurisdictional bounds. The range of paranoia about tracking the epidemic–or offering digital tools to track its progress–has been tied to a secret agenda of globalists, akin to the Protocols of Zion, of a health care conspiracy that has a precedent in how Bill Gates suggested at a recent World Economic Forum modeling a simulation to respond to the eventuality of a possible novel coronavirus, as if the global pathways of the spread of the virus were incriminating–given the alert he raised of the all too real eventuality of its emergence.
The readiness to peg responses to the virus in a contrast of different world-views is deeply troubling, and has echoes of the demonization of globalists in much of modern right wing populist news feeds. Is this a resistance to even accepting the vulnerability of Americans to a global disease, and a fear of submitting to the recommendations the World Health Organization placed on the global pandemic?
A weird, American genealogy seems to haunt the resistance to national “Shelter-in- Place” orders, despite their kinship to Cold War langauge. As COVID-19 traveled globally with unprecedented velocity in an age of globalization, it persists in being perceived at purely a local level, suggesting the dangerous nature of the peculiar polarity of regional and global in an age of global pandemic. And despite the existence of clear hotspots of infection that we have been assiduously tracking, as if confident in the data that they aggregate, the real danger and actual threat of outbreaks of COVID-19 occurring anywhere in the country makes it difficult to invoke cultural differences, or even economic divides of predominantly agricultural regions from the urban areas where orders for sheltering in place emerged in mid-March. While the atmosphere of fear and crisis has provided ample space on social media among the right to assimilate the apps to arguments that “digitally tracking Americans every move has been a dream of globalists” or the desire of globalists to “depopulate the earth” and control its citizens in nefarious ways, the COVID-19 epidemic has been argued to be an evil pretext to track, monitor, or certify those who receive vaccinations or are found to have antibody counts as a pretext for surveillance.
Whereas California Governor Gavin Newsom first issued statewide directives to shelter-in-place on March 20, 2020, as an imperative to “meet this moment,” the intransigency to changing relations to place in a top-down manner met with steep resistance from many pockets of the United States by March’s end that create a terrifying sense of disunion in the face of the disease’s still poorly mapped spread.
For Chinese-American geographer Yi-Fu Tuan, “place” was the most human of attachments, a fundamental value of the human experience defined by security, rootedness and grounding. The resistance to a policy of “sheltering in place” has been argued to be un-American in many areas of the expansive space of the south and so-called midwest and southwest. As Yi-Fu Tuan saw human rootedness in “place” as a polar relationship to the expansiveness of “space,” such a transhistorical opposition is almost undermined by the spread of the virus across the globe, and the currently overwhelming nature of the fearsome specters that haunt the nation, from food shortages to the 42 million Americans who receive food stamps unable to do grocery shopping online, risking exposure to the virus, to curtailed legal access for migrants and refugees, to lack of adequate health insurance for so many in the face of the global pandemic, how to keep elections safe and open to all during a pandemic.
19. The panicked sense of a need to confront these fears, given the lack of a narrative coming from government, no doubt contributed to the sudden spike in popularity of Steven Soderberg’s Contagion to come to terms with the virus by rehearsing the deaths of 26 million, including Gwyneth Paltrow. As the film rose on Netflix from 270th popular to most watched film, on no account of its dramatic benefits, folks turned to the screen to ponder its images of mask-wearing Americans confronting a virus that exploded from Asia to claim American lives. They could not but smile as the procedures of social distancing and mask wearing, so unfamiliar, were replcated in the drama, whose script-writers had consulted CDC officials and advise to devise a corrupt CDCin its plot.
Is the film the only script by which we were compelled to fall back on, renting the film out of a deep narrative frustration that we feel when confronting the disease? Or is the script of a viral outbreak an image of the horizon of expectations for Americans, or as the test case of how bad a pandemic can get in a public health catastrophe, is it one of the scripts that Donald Trump seems to follow, or measure himself against?
Stephen King, who maintains an active social media presence, was kind enough to reassure the public that The Stand, King was absolutely not a parallel to life, reminding followers, “No, coronavirus is NOT like THE STAND. It’s not anywhere near as serious. It’s eminently survivable. Keep calm and take all reasonable precautions.” Those hungering for the sort of apocalyptic nightmare would have to wait, even if the symptoms the disease were tough. We would get through it, and we will. But, King noted, the way things are out there with zoonotic diseases, we could expect, without too much invention or fictional chops, that “there was going to be a virus that was going to communicate to the public at large.” This might seem a video game on the interactive maps, but this is the nature of globalized life. And as we spend increasing amounts of time on screens in our daily life, we continue to experience an accelerated transition to the screen, the medium of choice to experience the impact of the novel coronavirus on our society, and on what to do as we shelter in place.
Resorting to family zoom conferences, diaries of what we cook and eat or how many bread recipes we can perfect, improvised ways of coming to terms with hunkering down before the spread of the coronavirus whose pathways of transmission, period of incubation, or indeed possibility of reinfection we have little sense, as we map the “source” of its transmission from New Year’s parties for the Year of the Rat as the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 that had adapted to humans killed 170 victims.
The airborne spread of the disease is not communicated fully in the global spread of the novel coronavirus that had already progressed around the western and eastern hemisphere by late January, while few public health practices were in place and we maintained a fictional sense of security that we would not be touched so easily by a deadly virus whose contraction seems easily able to occur in aerosolized form.
“Contagion” (2011) met a narrative crisis for a global narrative albeit to bridge continents that could describe the rapid global diffusion and spread of an illness through respiratory droplets, shed by folks otherwise asymptomatic, to which we had no clear response save panic. The eery similarity of the advice diffused in the film to what CDC provided–social distancing, washing your hands, avoiding to touch your face, the main vector of the disease’s transmission–were not only eerily familiar, but we watched the impossibility of the nation’s leaders to react to the disease’s spread, as if to familiarize ourselves with the lack of any national strategy to monitor COVID-19’s spread. The “uncanny” nature of the film was surely not coincidence, as the movie’s scriptwriter was struck with the lack of national pandemic preparedness when researching the movie that all the scientists he spoke to had rather alarmingly alerted him.
20. But it was difficult to assimilate to the maps of our national geography that had been a privileged category of spatial analysis in the Trump administration. The founding book of human geography began from the alert that a geographer trained as a climate sciences asked about how we perceive, structure, and evaluate the natural and man-made environments, and the psychological and cultural relations to the enviroemtn that allowed “topophilia” to bridge human and physical sciences. Yi-Fu Tuan began to consider the bonds between people and place in Berkeley, he composed much of it in in the arid landscape of New Mexico, living with an unprecedented experience of an expanse of space in an environment he almost felt increased the acuity of his senses, increasingly appreciating the arid, open space of the desert, whose low elevations, low rainfall and high summer temperatures he remembered late in life for their austerity of flat horizontality and arid planes that he felt distilled perceptions of space to a new level of acuteness.
Much of the open space in this once barren land has since disappeared–if far less severely in the desert–but its open area in large part remains.
–strikingly distinct by its low development and population density. And the current spread of infections across the state of California, indeed, suggest an eery contrast to the nature of development that is a metric less for crowding, than of the repurposing of land, and the loss of open space.
If the distribution of population across these sparsley populated “red” states–the Republican sort, not the sort characterized by a loss of open lands–suggests a clear basis for the differences in relations to the experience of COVID-19 as it enters our environment and neighborhoods, the lack of clear correlation to the uneven implementation of Shelter-at-Home policies by local authorities and population is striking. Yi-Fu Tuan was sensitive to the rise of attitudes to the security of place for a man who matured as an exile, at home in multiple spaces from Australia to Manila to New Mexico, to Wisconsin, where we briefly met, and I heard him rhapsodize about how climatology had led to recognition of the virtues of its austerities as an unexpected immersion in space; his optimistic study was less interested in the topography of disease and of quarantine, or the new notions of place and space that emerge with fears of contagion. It is difficult to retain Yi-Fu Tuan’s preternatural sense of optimism and confidence in humanity–and the persistence of security in a sense of the rootedness of place.
While we want to retain a sense of optimism before the novel coronavirus, the danger of not having a narrative to understand the disease’s spread and the importance of defining our relation to its spread within our environments–rather than to view it as the imposition of a retraining order of a local government, or an artifact of big government.
We are in need of a better narrative to process the viral outbreak that makes better sense of our own slow reaction to it, the unavailability of testing kits in our apparently prosperous society, save for few, and the inability to define a national strategy in the face of a disease whose outbreak was fictionally predicted with eery similarity eight years ago, save the almost identical warnings for social distancing with the difference that we get to see how one storyline plays out in the film–and in other pandemic films–as our own storyline is desperately confused. For even as we are unsure of our vulnerability as we stay at home in Northern California, we watch films as we can only hope for better news that will not result in a similar upending of the social order, and find a resilience and resourcefulness that we fear or suspect we may lack.
But the film’s popularity also anticipated a failure of national governance, and indeed the failure of most national guidelines to limit the pandemic’s spread. The shelter-in-place orders suggest a new notion of place that began from the rapid shift in data counts of infection in the Bay Area, however, but have shifted the sense of space across the country. But if they began among six counties, in similarly worded directives, quickly crafted after Trump displayed his lack of readiness for providing an assuring national vision as he addressed the nation on March 11, over the weekend Santa Clara faced a tipping point in the exponential growth in the number of cases that it reported–closing all non-essential businesses, in an attempt to preserve the public peace by best practices.
At the same time, to be fair, the national map offered many variations of closures–schools seemed the basic meeting grounds of potential viral transmission for many, but the stringency of the shuttering of businesses in the Bay Area was still a stand-out on March 17, 2020, and largely as the curve of cases reported was exponential–and the data available to warrant a shut-down on a scale that was unprecedented, following the adoption of working from home policies by some of the largest employers of Silicon Valley–Microsoft, Apple, and others–that set a tone for the region, and morphed into regional stay-at-home orders that continued to be issued as they became our new normal.
Yet from the Bay Area, it was increasingly apparent that most of the nation feared or felt unnecessary any similar measures of public safety at the time, even if none resisted measures of public readiness.
21. The relation to the environment seems different in different places, however, and orders of “Shelter-in-Place” that seemed the best chance to contain the virus’ spread were far less readily adopted in other sites. Is this another way to register attitudes toward place Yi-Fu Tuan started to excavate so that it might begin to be mapped by a human geographer?
Yet maps shape diseases, and Yi-Fu Tuan was committed to find and discover continuities in the attraction to place, more than the ways mapping a concentration of disease aree so critical in shaping ideas of its contagion. seems to have encountered that polarity between place and space in the study of climatology of the desert this quite cosmopolitan exile who moved as an elite exile from his upper-class Tianjin family with unbounded optimism from Australia, to Manila, to Oxford, to Berkeley to the harsh open spaces of the desert. Late in life, he recalled how he came to appreciate and love the austerity of these unpopulated regions of the state, whose trying austerity of unprecedented unfamiliar barrenness of the semi-arid region of severe winters, freezing streams, low rainfall, was not empty space, if unmarked by place, became a landscape whose flat lines he appreciated and admired.
As we attempt to adhere to a guideline and etiquette of social distancing, the polarity of space and place less evident than fear of a lack of security. Meanwhile, the President’s daily addresses sketched a different parallel topography of disease, less tied to statistics, more tied to the preservation of safety in an imagined America. Indeed, the durations of emergency orders shifted dramatically across the map, as did the range of news maps explaining their implementation not as measures of safety, but akin to a pandemic panic that had not yet hit Utah, whose governor “want to make sure the economy doesn’t tank either,” raising the hoary totem of the economy as if it were a person that “coronavirus preparation” seemed more accurately shown as “pandemic panic,” with notion that there were some “hardest hit states,” but Utah was just not yet in need, and take-out and drive-in options for eating left “preparation but not panic” the mantra in late March, as stay-at-home orders spread.