Shelter-in-Place?

24. Was the true crisis the broadcasting of a steady stream of disinformation on a global scale? In response to declaration of a global pandemic, Trump assumed preternatural gravity punctuated by oddly flickering thumbs, and seemed further removed from the nation as he was cloistered in the Oval Office than he had yet, as he tried to assume a rational tone, without concern for the geographically limits in the scope of orders to “remain at home” or “shelter in place” as a means to contain the virus. After the apparent dissonance of his first public address on the novel coronavirus he had long dismissed, he seems to have relished the huge popularity of the platform of news conferences airing regularly despite their continued inaccuracies.

Few would expect the with the national health network in shambles, COVID-19 could accord Trump the primetime spots cable news coverage provided rallies full of rousing half-truths and slurs in the 2016 election, despite continued inaccuracies, falsehoods, and distortions diffused daily. But Trump has sustained for several months a rather terrifyingly 90% appeal among Republican viewers, detecting no disconnect between his distortions and trust, dependent on the health directives and information from which they are starved, and buffeted by the terror of such infographics, even as a meager 14.2% of Democrats sustain acceptance of almost daily addresses that continue regular airing on CNN, Fox, MSNBC and streaming on ABC, CBS, and NBC.

President Trump, benefitting from a huge assist from FOX commentators, had early opted to rely on a narrative of familiarization he is uncannily unsuited. He tried from the start to politicize the terms of reacting to the coronavirus, as if betting on the primacy of a political divide in understanding maps of infection–much as did his friends at FOX, offering a national filter for global news, and his friends at FOX obliged in a narrative counter to reality, a skeptical reaction to authoritative scientific reports, creating a muck of alleged uncertainty that one has come to associate with the Trump Presidency, and its undermining of reasonable conclusions, and suspicion of an underlying agenda among scientists and the educated–as if demography and epidemiology are suspect sources.

Like them, Trump assimilated the global spread of cases of COVID-19 early into a drama of political partisan divides rather than diagnosis, refusing to self-isolate or advocate such a policy, as surrogates defined it as only the latest “fake news,” a “new hoax” of the elected officials who really were seeking to undermine public trust in the chief executive yet again. The President’s minimization of the dangers of infection or knowledge of the period of incubation of a “stealth” virus transmitted by folks not presenting visible signs of illness proved a major difficulty for Americans to develop diagnostic consensus about its health hazard.

Does the disinformation of such “coronavirus updates” undo the reality of maps of contagion the news simultaneously provides, fracturing the nation into parallel realities where 6.2 million tune-in for a briefing that hopes to make sense of a national crisis were spin seems to a “live” cable broadcast, We were for a long time back in the land of attacks on experts, distortions on public health, and the dangers of inadequate information. In an age evolution was demoted to the status of “just a theory” and carbon emissions doubted to exercise atmospheric impacts, as if all data visualizations were massaged to serve other interests, and are “rigged“–a term that is itself often cast in scare quotes, to invoked a sense of crisis in which we are losing out “invisible actors pulling the strings behind the scenes,” but distanced to prevent accountability for who is rigging what.

The fears of infection quelled at Trump rallies, with seeds of doubt as to its gravity planted by FOX commentators on health from Dr. Oz to Judge Judy, it is hardly surprising that scientific consensus was undermined, and assimilated to other influenzas, until the United States came to top the charts in coronavirus cases–not a good thing!–and as the National Institute of Health called Americans to diminish all personal interactions dramatically, America fractured yet again in state responses to the disease,–as if the distribution of coronavirus cases in late January was a plan of action to prepare to confront the disease that spread with global population flows.

The media narrative of doctors, health agencies, Public Health Officers, and governors sounding an alarm was in danger of being countermanded by a President who found less crisis in the assurances of national security.

The crisis of COVID-19 seemed difficult to map, prepare for, monitor, or perhaps, increasingly, even imagine, save in national terms. It had been assimlated to information flows, removed form the course of infection. The range of symptoms at which COVID-19 passes through the body is less easily mapped than the critical days that marked Hippocratic stages of disease. But the Hippocratic course of the disease was similar to the course by which those infected presented symptoms, yet we were turning a blind eye to the danger viral communication, and the importance of individual isolation, at great cost.

CDC didn’t serve the nation well here, as the states reporting cases–or, rather, confirmed tests for–COVID-19, a variety of virus related to SARS, and perhaps best known not as a new beast, but SARS-CoV-2, were radically and dramatically undercounted by federal agencies who had failed their job in providing the testing needed to ascertain the outbreak of a highly contagious virus that seemed to be concentrated in the far west–Washington State was an early site of outbreak–and by early March we came to realize had been circulating in California, without being registered, from early February, if not January, when it arrived on our shores in cruises operated by Carnival Cruises, as we prepared little for managing the potential lack of respirators that the impending pandemic on a scale never seen seemed destined to demand.

Were we particularly, and spectacularly, badly served by disease maps? Or was the divide between red and blue states somehow underlying the reception of the impending epidemic? The disease timestamped by 2019 in its vintage was the disaster of 2020, SARS-CoV-2, was already a national crisis, but not mapped as such in the fifty states. The false safety of the map of infected coasts may have suggested the quiescence of public opinion in the broad, red, swath of states Trump had so unconvincingly won to catapult his candidacy to victory. But CDC did a bad job applying itself to synthesize local tallies, and by mid-March, the “reported cases” that it depended on states to provide, often without the equipment to do so, were terrifying, even if they were dramatic undercounts: late March brought cases in New York to approach 35,000, with 135,738 testing positive in all fifty states, of which 1,000 had died from SARS-CoV-2 in New York alone–and the state lacked hospital beds with about 8,500 hospitalized.

The numbers from two weeks past seem to no longer make sense, with disquieting regularity: they suggest the scope of the extremely tragic extent of undercount that prevented accurate mapping of its progress or adequate national preparation, and lulled many into false naysaying that seems tantamount to claiming ignorance bliss.

March 19, 2020/CDC Choropleth of Reported Cases of COVID-19

Incredibly, those identifying as Republicans seemed to vote against concern for coronavirus, making the problem of creating any national consensus about the virus’ spread almost impossible–and seem to show light blue reaction to the Coronavirus outbreak in their midst, based on what they knew, or were told about it. Even if CDC has the facility or ability to provide more than undercounts of test cases–or provide the tests for the virus with the efficiency demanded, rather than outsourcing them to corporations, so that samples were sent cross-country to be analyzed, from New York to California; the low temperature of the hot button issue across the nation was striking, with many red states Republicans seeming agnostic about the pandemic affecting them.

It is by no coincidence that this overlay of red and blue states seems to invert the usual use of a division of political fault lines. But it is hard to remember that a lack of concern, or a lack of alarm, existed among Republican voters only in the centers where the first outbreaks had presented themselves, and folks were facing immediate alarms in a local manner, that made them cross party divides, while much of the nation, most alarmingly, seemed to think the infectious disease would not travel.

In a time of tremendous geographic mobility, when interstate travel had barely decreased, Republicans seem to have viewed mobility from the vantage point of interstate travel circa predating the construction of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, or even the late 1840s.

Terrifyingly, national resources were slow in being mobilized, as long after the use of military metaphors to describe the nation “in a state of war,” the President resisted invoking  the Defense Production Act to order ventilators or N95 masks, trusting the free market and listening to corporate allies in the face of the global pandemic–before the blaming the private sector for the cost of converting their factory production and hiring needed workers on the head of a dime in national emergency conditions–and the difficulty of global sourcing of needed parts at a time we depend increasingly on international trade and foreign-made parts.

The atmosphere of agnosticism had of course discouraged organization of a quick response. After minimizing any risk to the nation, it was hard to do the 360 that the situation had always demanded, with government institutions as the CDC offering artificially low datasets often of low-quality data, offering undercounts in a time of national emergency. And so we see the troublesome divergence in the urgency of the Coronavirus and public practices of protection against infection.

This was perhaps to be expected. And never before have the words of a “Shelter at home” order have been removed so quickly from context, taken as top-down impositions on Americans who desire free movement, as “we’re Texans and we’re used to our independence and freedom, and I hate taking that away from us”–as the Mayor of Waco regretted his decision to issue an order urging sheltering at home in the city.

The divides of adopting the Shelter-at-Home policy in the nation were dramatic and radical, echoing a blue v. red split, in eery ways, in enacting the implementation of “stay-at-home” orders that began in California, Washington, Illinois, Ohio, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut in full across twenty one of the fifty states.

21 States with Stay-at-Home Orders, March 28 2020 /New York Times/March 28, 2020 (interactive)

25. The “incomplete virus shutdown” divided the country on a rural-urban divide, as much entirely on partisan terms, but pops out at the viewer; six Republican governors issued “stay-at-home” directives, compelled by circumstances to take their responsibilities to protect regional health seriously; many others seem to have showed an intransigence issuing such orders, which the chief executive not only put off but seems to have questioned, having asserted in January 22 when he instructed the nation not to worry as “we have [the issue] totally in control,” telling the nation from Davos by trying to mute worries as it boiled down to but “one person coming in from China. Was he muting fears that it would be similar in scope for federal intervention to SARS, allergic to international accords and involvement with WHO, or just showing a remarkable ignorance of infectious diseases he could not admit? Trump’s eagerness to threat to subtract funds from the World Health Organization, blaming the global agency for global health organization for being “China-centric” as if it were corrupt and America’s relation to it in need “of review” given a history of “faulty recommendation” not to resort to the closure of borders or travel bans from affected areas as ineffective in promoting public health. (Trump has vaunted his closure of borders as securing the safety of Americans in successive addresses from mid-March.)

26. T he question of compliance to such directives, is, of course, a pressing question and will increasingly be one as the patience of sheltering in place extends in time as the new normal. Sheltering-in-place directives on a state-based level were in a sense a clear reaction to an absent national vision. Such orders of course depend on consensus; the suspicion that they emanated from a vision endorsing big government was rammed through the news cycle for moths, identifying them as akin to propaganda and outright disinformation, as Trump oddly insisted he “trusted” Chinese authorities’ counts as accurate, based on their “really good relation,” as if personalizing a global crisis in all Trumpian grandeur. As the ramping of the US-Mexico Border Wall continued into April under the logic of stopping “the virus” from entering the nation from Mexico, the hardy RNA strand’s replication was opportunistically mapped, as if to substitute ‘virus’ for ‘migrant,’ clouding the geographic transmission of the hardy RNA strand that was replicating in Americans’ bodies.

The virus that was identified as “Chinese” was treated as a matter of state China was managing, and was, Trump announced to a rally in Michigan in January 30, “a very good ending for us,” casting the disease in a purely national perspective, and by mid-February offering prognostications that by April it will be going away, as if it was part of a news cycle, and on February 23 something that “in this country” was, lest you forget, “very much under control.” Assurances that CDC officials were amazed at how much the President preternaturally “got it” passed as a basis for enjoining public trust. The recent charges that the virus was foisted upon America from Chinese Laboratories, a theory given new credibility by Mike Pompeo and Donald Trump, in ways that seem designed to circulate on social media, are even more insidious in their attribution of the virus to the Chinese government itself: apart from giving nationality to a non-living entity, claims made without any evidence, save a reluctance to open a viral laboratory to journalists during a pandemic, becomes a basis to assert before a tele screen “enormous evidence” that the virus was designed in Wuhan–a charge that seems designed to mask the well-known decision of the Trump administration to cut the budget of any long-term staffers in the CDC offices in Beijing, including officials who were trained epidemiologist, Dr. Linda Quick, who’s worked closely with Chinese disease control agency.

Reducing CDC’s Beijing office to “a shell of its former self,” in a sign of subtracting America from a growing global conscious on world health, together USAID’s Beijing office, where American and Chinese worked on programs from multidrug-resistant tuberculosis and malaria, shuttered since 2019; the departure with Dr. Quick of NSF officer Dr. Nancy Sung, who worked for four years to coordinate China’s NSF office in science policy and virology, where she was tied to Chinese scientific communities, before being removed to Virginia to the Office of Polar Programs. Pompeo’s bluster seemed an attack not only on science, but on the confusion of economic alliances or foreign policy with pressing global problems of public health and scientific collaboration that could have accelerated the response to the novel coronavirus we currently wage within our shores..

27. Yet the local picture looked different on the ground, as state orders and country directives, issued on March 17, almost immediately after Trump’s self-congratulatory address to the nation offered no sense of direction, or public assurances to maintain public safety, spun the nation onto regional directives, as if improvised to compensate for absent national guidance.

California may be as a separate Republic. Gavin Newsom was quite open when he suggested that opening up California likely to bring infections to more than half of the state–a 56% infection rate that would be roughly equivalent to 22.4 Californians–it was not a surprise that many parts of the nation regarded such policies and directives as if it had a hidden agenda which merited healthy suspicion. Newsom’s people affirmed he was only “being honest about the threat of the virus and its impact on the health and welfare of Californians,” it is almost as if the mention of “welfare” by the Governor brought charges of suspicion. But the dangers of a huge risk on public health systems were increasingly clear for many who saw immediate evidence of such an outcome unfolding in the horror show of unmet health care demand in New York City.

Even as the numbers of those infected with COVID-19 were recently found to be undercounts, and seriously underestimation of infected individuals of upwards fifty to eight five times above official counts based on the adoption of antibody counts, rather than clinical testing of those with symptoms. A new low-end estimate of 48,000 infected in Santa Clara county in Silicon Valley is double the numbers that were estimated for the entire state recently, and estimated 2.5%-4.2% of residents who carry antibodies to the pathogens, opening fears of increased asymptomatic individuals infected with the virus, in one of the eight strains currently in the area.

April 10, 2020: Dark Red, 0.1% confirmed infections; Carmine 0.05-.-1%;
Red, 0.02%-0.05%; Pink 0.01%-0.02% infected; Light Pink, 0%-0.01% infected

28. It is not difficult to see the difficulty of seeing the possible dangers of relaxing policies of Shelter in Place. Was it a surprise that the startup Unacast, a geolocation startup that originated in Norway, but is based in New York, has used its geolocation data to “grade” each county’s or state’s residents by their compliance? The startup used geodata from data suppliers collected from smart phones with option policies, rather than proprietary data of Facebook or Google, to track movement as something of a proxy for compliance, across all fifty states. The result was a map into which one could drill down to county level to ascertain compliant, using kelly green to rank regions by the highest letter grade–giving residents of just New Jersey, Vermont, Massachusetts an “A” as of March 25 in a  “Social Distancing Scoreboard” based on total distance traveled as an index of compliance.

 “Social Distancing Scoreboard

The most recent survey of the nation shows some improved. To be sure, folks may like to travel farther to stock up on groceries–and the distortion of the heightened traffic of FedEx, Amazon, and Instacart are hard to be easily filtered!–but the picture of limited compliance is probably not off. But it is scary to note the poor grades for residents of Wyoming (F), Idaho (D), Montana (D), Iowa (D), and New Mexico (D) conform to the image of the west, as well as lower population density and reported infection rates; poor grading of most of the nation (C), from Florida–where no policy of sheltering is declared–to the entire southern block mirrors a political divides in disturbing ways, but of course may transcend it.

The systematic assignment of grades in this “scoreboard” suggests a surveilled state and metric of compliance, the drilling down of scores demands being seen as a basis for enabling a collective benefit. Indeed, the sense of deep pockets of resistance to sheltering reflects not only regions where shelter-in-place orders were not adopted, but redoubts of chrome-headed resistance. But the states merited an improved in performance by the month’s end, as shetlter-in-place orders arrived, especially in the Northeast: if Colorado still failed, falling grades across southern block sounded an alarm about low rates of national preparedness, most conspicuously in the farming states and, for a time, across the entire south, along almost terrifying fracture lines that mirror a lack of trust in Democratic governors who publicly voiced criticism of Trump’s near daily addresses of assurance of national readiness. For a bit, disunion seemed terrifyingly close, and the open spaces of state resistance to the imposition of consensus guidelines, independent of the policies of shelter-at-home, set a poor benchmark for preparedness, independent of the accuracy of publically reported data of infections.

New York Times, March 31 2020
Unacast “Social Distancing Scoreboard” (March 31, 2020)

–but eerily reinforcing the imposition of statewide orders in late March.

New York Times

29. But perhaps the state-by-state bucket is not the cleanest way to lump diverse political tendencies: the case of California is a great case in point, although the map also reveals the problem of maintaining compliance across the state; the reported cases and ICU admissions grow on a more populous coast..

The correct reading of such a national distribution makes sense only in terms of the known cases of infection–an uneven quality dataset, to be sure, telling as a way locate known contractions of the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, read as a record the success of curtailing transmission by early April, two weeks after the first shelter-in-place orders were imposed–by which time the first lowering of the curve in the state of California had been noticed–even as confirmed cases globally surpass one million.

April 3, 2020/Mapbox

Geolocation data from cell phones can offer a detailed composite image of compliance with stay-at-home data within the areas relating to where such orders were declared; rather than using states as buckets, indeed, the greater compliance in areas of higher population density encourages.

Pockets of chrome-headed obstinance mirror sites for cutting oneself of from the common good, from regions in California like Ukiah that are more removed from the grid, as well as rural regions where people are less likely to stay put, and more dependent on motion for work–and often without access to the very work-at-home options predominantly associated with white collar worksites. Rural workers engaged in work deemed essential are more apt to travel as in the Central Valley, even as the states are asked to self-quarantine. Is it time to expand shelter-in-place directives in the state with fargreater urgency?

New York Times

But the deep resistance to remaining at home in specific countess striking, both in southwestern Texas, Montana, Wyoming, and Arkansas is evident, removing themselves from the nation and national grid. Are such spots, if more rural, where fewer viral contraction has been confirmed, petrie dishes in which cases of infection will fail to flatten?

And it was in the heart of the heart of the country of no stay-at-home orders, the Old South with the partial exception of Kentucky, that normal travel remained the same in many counties, that seemed to have seceded from the panic that gripped the nation that was listening attentively to dangers of outbreaks anywhere in the continent, absent orders to shelter in place nourished flourishing pockets of business as usual:

Normal Travel in Counties outside Shelter-in-Place Orders?

30. The adoption of geolocation data to monitor coronavirus infections is not unique: South Korea’s success in containing COVID-19 may be tied to their use of an app to track tens of thousands of quarantined people by alerting authorities to those who left home, and a special bracelet for those placed in quarantine; Israel early adopted geolocation data as a proxy to monitor infection. The ease of obtaining such data raises the freaky possibility st reported last week that the Coronavirus team, headed by Vice President Pence, has approached Google and Facebook, and probably IBM, Apple, and Amazon, to access anonymized geolocation data to combat the coronavirus: an official with the Science and Technology Policy admitted they were “encouraged by American technology companies looking to leverage aggregated, anonymized data to glean key insights for COVID-19 modeling efforts.” Indeed, current needs to track the routes of those who were in contact with COVID-19 infected individuals as we transition out of the status of “Sheltering in Place” demands a tracking of populations that is unprecedented in scope.

11. As if in a parallel universe of sorts, others obstinately tow a line of oblivion. Perhaps the divide cannot be mapped geographically, and is better visualized outside state sovereignty, indeed, as the county-by-county level, the terrifyingly meaningless unit so haunted by the 2016 Presidential election, even though it seems foregone that it is along state lines that we are creating Petri dishes to await impending public health disasters–a fragmenting of the Coronavirus shutdown that is an echo of the divides of the nation, and a chilling image of the nation’s inadequacy in managing the current pandemic’s global spread. And we know that it is perhaps the same landscape, terrifyingly, of a lack of jurisdiction, that the breakdown in health insurance might be said to occur, creating an image of national fragmentation that is terrifyingly along party lines.

AXIOS/Incomplete National Coronavirus Shutdown

The very states that failed to shore up insurance exchanges as federal health law was being systematically undermined as rates on exchanges spiked sought to recreate the individual mandate to register for a health plan, expanding Medicaid to make up the looming “health gap” in 2018 also maps to the stay-at-home orders to reduce person-to-person contact.

Kaiser Family Foundation Analysis/Pew Charitable Trust ©2018

We are reminded of what we all know in the backs of our minds, and have seen in multiple other infographics in recent years. These national “holes” or lacuna are almost waiting to present themselves as real health crises for many who cannot afford long-term hospitalization, overwhelming health care systems and emergency rooms. There has been a strikingly significant decline in enrollment, after the chaotic disturbance of the medical marketplaces in many states for the Affordable Care Act, and the marked decline in insurance marketplaces drills down a bit to reveal even scarier data–and suggest why the imposition of state-at-home policies are so urgent.

n

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, State Marketplaces (2018)

That is the current state of the union. If many believe in the inevitable arrival of a vaccine, some forty-five percent of Americans are skeptical about vaccination, and some fear less than a third of Americans would rush to be vaccinated for COVID-19, even as deaths mount, and only 75% would gain the vaccine.

With most of the nation confident, in a weird paternalistic sort of way, in the arrival of a vaccine, Trump, as if to assuage public concerns, and appeal to a base, announced a “game changer” of a traditional sort that would give him a chance to rebound nationally. The woefully unprepared President announced imminent availability of an untested pill of a variety of quinine-based anti-malarial of deep American familiarity–chloroquine–that is closely related to and evocative of the oldest of trusty medical cure-alls, a cure from the bark of the cinchona tree that was prized as a tonic by doctors before it recognized as antimalarial in the 1850s. He didn’t mention that he had invested in the company distributing it, but boosted the tonic of Chinchona root–

–but a plausible panacea as it is produced by a company in which Trump invested, and whose profits might be boosted by buying it in bulk.

The promotion of such a hack panacea is designed not only to assuage public doubts, desperate for good news in an uncertain age, but boost a drug that he hoped would offer a source of public inspiration, and provide a windfall of sorts, if only by ensuring it would be “available almost immediately” and “to large groups of people”–even circumventing any public health organizations by boosting a crowd-sourced clinical trial to buy it in bulk! The promotion of distribution network managed online by Oracle as a “game changer” seems designed to circumvent medical expertise, but sold the latest snake oil by allowing the federal government to obtain “large quantities” of an unproven drug. In promoting the panacea, Trump sounded more like Big Brother than we have ever seen, boasting of remedies that do not exist as if they were almost truly “ready for use.”

But by the end of the month, as COVID-19 infections grew in more visible ways, the period for sheltering in place expanded. The expansion of “shelter-in-place” policies had grown to at least thirty states, in only a week, and an increasing share of the nation, as states’ governors decreed full or partial orders migrated to some degree all but least populated states, as the specter of infection spread from the coasts to the interior.

Predictably, and all too tragically, the sense of pockets of resistance to any order to stay-at-home, as statewide orders became framed as “lockdowns,” led to anti-social distancing movements to boil over in many states.

12. After a potential candidate for national office, Governor Gretchen Witmer, became a target for Trump’s ire, having issued a stricter stay-at-home order in early April, restricting non-essential travel in the state, Witmer became a target for attack on the state capitol’s steps. Protestors of libertarian that adopted slogans calling for a “re-opening” of the economy grew, as did rallies in downtown Raleigh, NC, on April 14, adopting the Gadsden flag; in Michigan, outside the state capital before a Governor who extended Shelter in Place edicts, or Denver, CO; or Columbus OH, where Mike DeWine –without face masks and flaunting social distancing, as if they ere unconstitutional infringements on liberty: the lack of the Governor’s reaction to the beliefs of their constituents was celebrated as a legal act of civil disobedience, not a public safety threat.

ReOpen Colorado” Rally in Denver, CO. April 19 2020 on Capitol Steps/Jason Connolly/AFP

Protestors crying “Give us the Data!” or bearing placards reading “The Models Were Wrong!” recapitulate charges of things being “rigged” when all but essential businesses were shuttered in a state to reduce person-to-person spread of COVID-19 as not based on “good data” or justified by “the numbers,” that echoed the authority of expert judgment.

Protestors at Colombus Ohio Statehouse as Gov. DeWine Delivers Public Update on Pandemic

The license to give rise to fears of a “rigged” world that benefits some to the exclusion of others suggests the fear of state-based responses to the Coronavirus, and the infringement of individual liberties in the name of a public good and public health: the “real virus” is capitulation to public authority, these flag-waving protestors affirmed, giving voice to suspicion of a “cult” in liberal neighborhoods of fearfulness of the disease’s spread. The bizarre confluence of gun owners and militias protesting against social distancing edicts suggested the recreation of libertarian alliances

April 15, Lansing, MI/Paul Sancya/AP

The President has been shoring up his base, endorsing such protests, as if energized by these crowds that have recongregated to oppose Democratic governors, often with much of the regalia sold and distributed at Trump rallies–“MAGA” hats and “Trump/Pence 2020” signs, as if to destabilize the local edicts of governors, as if afraid to turn his back on the wave of populist attacks on social distancing and shuttering of non-essential businesses, as if to tar the opposite party with the blame for a crisis he has mismanaged. The audiences protesting Shelter-in-Place orders increasingly appeared in Lansing armed with AK-47’s, AR-15’s, eerily akin to the folks who seized public lands in western states, ready to fight with federal authorities, as if they needed to engage in combat to defend hard-won local rights.

There was something eery in the exultant echo of a Virgilian maxim as if it were a precept of ancient medicine–“aegrescit medendo,” the course of treatment worsened the illness–that is confounded with the Horatian precept, “Aequam memento rebus in arduous servare mentem”–maintain a calm mind amidst difficult affairs. The difficulty was as evident as the lack of levelheadedness. An absence of any adequate federal help for small businesses has fed discontent in multiple states, from Ohio to Kentucky to Virginia to Texas, occasioned by the lack of any national policy on sheltering in place has led to a dissensus, was however fanned as a cause for discontent with business as usual. Among FOX messagers from Laura Ingraham to Jeanine Pirro, and alt right social media groups, demanding lockdowns to be lifted, even before testing has occurred. President Trump has told the nation that twenty-nine states are “in the ballgame” of opening for business again, and compared those protestors of Shelter-in-Place policies to Rosa Parks as heroes of civil disobedience.

The twisting of terms as “liberty,” “civil disobedience,” and “rights” in response to the stop-and-go disorientation of “re-opening” the economy, independently from epidemiological realities, disorients. This is not by accident, it seems. If it compensates for the absence of authority of the state, in its magnification of distrust of authority it echoes the distortion of public language by the Third Reich, and distortion of Romaniticism that it afforded to the state: the distortion of language escalated to better effect with each further ratcheting of emergencies, that the professional philologist Victor Klemperer turned his academic attention after he was fired from his university position–but allowed to live in circumscribed peace with his Aryan wife. Klemperer’s study, an exercise in rationality that was pursued in wartime and only published in printed form in 1947, Lingua Tertii Imperii, tied to the Promethean aspects of modernity in the virulence of its outrageous twisting of rational language–and the very extremity of its racial hatred, achieved by distorting words’ meaning or coining new terms of hatred in official speech.

13. But if not based on hate, it is based on a lazy thought process–distorting the meaning of pandemic, public safety, national security, or the role of government.

Not listing the names of the senators who endorsed opening up their states for business,, but brandishing overly vague assurances “It’s going to happen relatively quickly” in the chosen twenty-nine, Trump played a three card Monte of raising expectations of this bare numeric majority of states, while offering no actual grounds for doing so aside from that they were playing with his scheme. Playing dirty with bad data, the President contradicted his own health advisers’ statements by broad collectives left purposely vague, assuring his audience “America wants to be open and Americans want to be open,” minimizing potential future dangers, and shifting blame, yet again.

Failure to adopt any position of leadership in the Coronavirus pandemic has encouraged its purely local reception. An absolute inability of Trump to create a position of consensus to respond to the disease, or keep his own messengers in line, has given rise to insurrectionist libertarian insistence on “re-opening” the nation’s economy, born from frustration and lack of comprehension, and an almost reptilian mind, fostering and enabling fragmented policies of “re-opening” the nation. Such claims have raised the specter, to be sure, of a second wave of coronavirus infection. As if to juggle the fears of a Tea Party-style go-it-alonism, three consortiums of state governors have taken it upon themselves to maintain the peace: most recently, in the midwest, a bipartisan group from Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, and Kentucky linked hands to help the local economy, under the apparent aegis of Governor Whitmer, to negotiate health care, labor, and education, with no national policy guidelines emerging a month after a state of emergency was declared. The alliance improvised to forestall abrupt “reopening,” seems a gambit to assuage rumblings of discontent: it was a response, to be sure, to prospects of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts–the expanded tristate area whose rates of infection and mortality are often groupsed–to declare a common public health policy, and a declaration of west coast states California, Washington and Oregon to do the same, as cases of infection seemed on the decline.

But the lack of consensus that the President seeks to foster is a dangerous game, one of trying to serve his interests by fostering dissent in the face of attempts of preserving the public good. It is a game of destabilization of public authority in the face of the pandemic, incredible to believe, a case of increasing the uneven topography of health care in America and increasing the risks to our own security. The inability to admit error, or even to be honestly engage the medical authorities in his team, are part of the picture: but the inability to admit that evacuating established policies is not the best policy lies at the heart of the problem we face.

1 Comment

Filed under Coronavirus, COVID-19, data visualization, global pandemic, Shelter in Place

One response to “Shelter-in-Place?

  1. Pingback: Our Unclear Path Forward: Contagion Advances | Musings on Maps

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