The lack of any master narrative about the virus was apparent. President Trump, grasping for authority as a true authoritarian playbook, argued the situation demands force, as his removed son-in-law, the dauphin Jared Kushner, spun 60,000 deaths from COVID-19 as a “great success story,” as if to challenge the nation’s personal narratives with a monolithic storyline of a disconnect from communities which were ravaged by hospitalizations. In claiming his father-in-law created a “pathway to safely open up this great country,” Kushner radiated overconfidence as he painted a future as rosy as the marble atrium of Trump Tower, even when the figures didn’t add up. It was akin to Trump’s 1993 proclamation, after huddling with bankruptcy lawyers to obtain new lines of credit, having had “the most successful year I’ve had in business!”–much reprised over the next decade.
The dauphin Jared not only used a spilt infinitive, but painted a split reality: claims Trump was doing “things right” with coronavirus testing plummeting to 30% percent, over twenty-five million unemployed and further furloughs coming, and one million infected by the coronavirus and 60,000 dead in a month, hardly fit narratives that suggest “great success.” As Vice President Pence followed identical talking points, in a few months, assuring folks “we slowed the spread, we flattened the curve, we saved lives,” we sensed a mismatch not only to any map in news media, but to the actuality on the ground, encouraging cognitive dissonance to a widespread crisis of public health by assuring Americans rather than “a much better place.” The sense that Donald Trump hadn’t been reading the President’s Daily Brief, or PDB, as early as January, of an infection that had spread to over a thousand people in China, before an outbreak of a novel coronavirus was reported to the World Health Organization on January 3, or before China sequenced a draft genome of the virus a month after the first outbreak, on January 11, calm was radiated through June.
The steep inequities on which that split reality was fractured was reinforced in how Trump recast protests against police violence as the work of terrorists–or socialists–and unrest that threatened a status quo. The mischaracterization of protests to mask their objection to racial profiling and the policing of a color line mirrored the masking of disproportionate damage in inner cities and among people of color in the first waves of the coronavirus infection, hospitalization and mortality rates, and the landscape of inequity that mirrored an uneven topography of health care in America, that had been more than apparent to many in the emergency rooms of hospitals where so few were white, before the CDC began tallying racial disparities, or citing “longstanding systemic health and social inequities [that] put some members of racial and ethnic minority groups at increased risk of getting COVID-19”–as the gaps in disproportionate mortality and hospitalization rates among all age groups broke down along racial lines, revealing, as any moment in social crisis, a systemic inequity long before data visualizations published on July 5, as if echoing how Frederick Douglas alerted many, as if they needed altering, in Independence Day celebration in 1852, questioned causes for celebration among enslaved not extended the franchise or right to participate in the promise of democracy the Constitution set forth–and the unfair three-fifths clause.
The disturbingly disproportionate rates of infection among minorities lacks attention–and their concentration over many contiguous counties–
–demands peeling back of layers, but the doubling and near tripling of CDC-reported rates of incidence coronavirus congregated around population hubs, including the greater Minneapolis area, in striking ways.
Perhaps it was no surprise school closures accentuated inequities–of dangers of a failure to connect to students, for reasons of economics or technology or priorities, a failure to meet nutritional needs long accepted as a mandate for the public school system, or the possibility of mental stability and socio-emotional learning, whose costs may be accentuated in increased depression, suicidal thoughts, and destructiveness? The damage caused by school closures has been more under the radar, and far less visible than the mortality rates from which the nation is reeling, but whose effects may be felt long down the road.
Most of the nation was unable to process where the nation was in relation to the epidemic’s spread, but the absence of congruency confirmed only a long-lasting narrative of social abandonment. There was indeed something like a national war of narratives continued in maps, as maps told different stories–and radically different histories–of a nation and its state of health, as the narrative of social abandonment and a public health crises was denied, massaged, and reorganized from the White House, as it attempted to manage the political narrative of the virus, and the increased social abandonment that was the result of decaying and undermined public health system was apparent–and, increasingly, the abandonment of the nation was somewhat emblematized in the closures of schools, and absence of funding not only for a public health response but for schools. Although kids were less likely to be a vector of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 than they would be in influenza, the persistence of modeling viruses as “the flu” led to a precocity of school closures, disrupting many family lives, and curtailing options of educational retention or progress, as few knew after a few months why the schools were shuttered–or what option other than shuttering schools were. Many have already scheduled reopening by mixed virtual and in-person operations, but suspension and evacuation seemed–akin to an actual war–the default reaction, perhaps in imitation of Chinese shuttering of state-run institutions in Wuhan–but quickly affected large numbers of students–so many that the metric and scale of mapping school closures quickly shifted from students to states from March 13 to 18.
–to entire states where schools were shuttered due to COVID-19–as panic spread of a lack of any coordinated government response on federal levels–
–and gained increasing national uniformity, without any clear model for continuing instruction, creating dynamic learning situations, or assisting the many families who depended in many under the board, improvised, or silent ways on public education. Even as debate was focussed on the children of “critical workers” or the “essential workforce,” and emergency responders, the shutting down of the entire education industry and those who depended on public schools, as well as private ones, left the nation limping as we approached summer.
The national war of narratives continued in maps, as maps told different stories–and radically different histories–of a nation and its state of health, extending to the labelling of the anti-policing protests to domestic terrorism, in ways that seemed set to expend force on a domestic theater, but not for education or health care. Yet while the infection was in need of curtailing, children are only able to account for 2% of COVID-19 cases, and seem to transmit the disease far less than others–and are rarely hospitalized, as they are far younger; the continuation of schools in Australia and New Zealand suggest that children rarely pass on the infection to other kids or teachers, and the mechanics of transmission was perhaps poorly understood as the reaction to earlier fears of pandemics–from the age of SARS or H1N1, or H1N5, were rolled out, without attending to how SARS-CoV-2 was contracted or had spread. Most importantly, perhaps, keeping schools open was a basis for monitoring kids, and focussing their attention, as well as engaging their minds, in ways that the schools were struggling, in part as government had done little to encourage.
A need for orientation was the increasingly pressing story of COVID-19, which point-based maps perhaps poorly showed. For the sense of an absence of leadership was more apparent for some time: intense social distancing practices adopted as an efficient top-down if radical means to curtail transmission of the novel coronavirus in China, where sevenfold decreasing of social contacts successfully contained the coronavirus, had been rarely adopted in the United States. Distancing was a public health strategy successfully adopted in Italy, where Chinese experts had arrived, but stubborn refusal to adopt World Health Organization protocols or potential foreign help mapped onto a home-brewed failure to enact social distancing in the highly mobile population that had enabled infections to spread beyond the actual CDC tally in the United States; we moved through months with no sense of when testing would occur, or become widely available in areas of need: as health services are viewed as a good regulated by markets and providers, there was not even a clear sense of testing protocols or practices, as states were left to fend for their own private contractors, often residing out of state, and no clear abilities of a turnaround in tests or test kits were provided.
The lack of a national health care system, eroded in the previous thirty years, was betrayed in the lack of any ground game. President Trump revealed the hope of testing to the nation as if game show prizes in a Reality TV show, rather than a public health disaster–addressing the nation from a lectern with a detachment from governance of the situation on the ground, as if seeking to foment dissensus. The practices of testing widely that was suggested met disinterest from the President, lest “when you do more testing, you find more cases, and then they report our cases are through the roof,” as if it was disadvantageous–suggesting a lack of interest in creating consensus that has yet to be understood, revealing a strikingly limited attention span to anything but registers of perception, even in public health.
While we are before a new disease, which we do not grasp in its pathways of infection fully, or its vectors of transmission, and mitigating factors, and lack the vaccine we will probably need to contain, we may feel, as historian of science Lorraine Daston put it, in “ground zero of empiricism,” and all in the seventeenth century, vulnerable to a disease far less dangerous or deadly than Yersina pestis, without adequate explanatory categories or diagnostic tools. But the disorientation of facing the disease disrupted the nation, and the current news that Gilead Sciences hope to charge hospitals $3,120 per patient with insurance to be treated with six vials of the drug suggests that Trump encouraged the inequity of any treatment or response to COVID-19,– triggering fears of a spate of unaffordable drugs in a pandemic will be driven by a profit motive in Trump’s America.
Trump is fond of using military metaphors of describing the coronavirus as a war, but was reluctant to ensure statistical datasets central to how military mapping tools provided a new sense of regarding the legibility of a map as a public repository of meaning, in earlier disease maps, to articulate arguments about the public good: growing levels of the public tabulation of mortalities linked to specific causes of death and their locations in a city provided a manner to present maps as a way to confront an epidemic such as cholera on a massive scale. Its paths of infection were the subject of the famous medical map by Dr. John Snow’s map, that south to present data to doctors as a way to embody the disease in clear cognitive terms, and rebut the theory of infection by effluvia as “Asiatic cholera” was transmitted in London, from “pollution” that was inherent in water,–here also shown in bars in relation to pumps–
unlike the images of miasmatic infection spreading into low-lying areas from the River Thames to congested areas overcrowded with London poor–
–if we were not worried by miasma transmitted among the crowding of the urban poor from effluvia emanating from river Thames, spread by endemic absence of cleanliness among urban poor and laboring classes, we were hardly able to process the spread of COVID-19, rules of its containment.
From the first bubble maps of COVID-19 infections in New York City, to the maps of “hot-spots” by mid-April, we watched waves of mortality, mostly focussed in cities like New York, but spreading into the Tri-States area, and then blooming in Miami and New Orleans, we watched “hot-spots” grow, often without orientation to the vectors of transmission.
As early as February 15, before Trump made any announcement save a denying entry of ships carrying COVID patients in the US territory of Guam, as the Philippines, Taiwan, Jamaica, and the Grand Cayman Islands–outbreaks of infections had blossomed in several cities in the United States, infections had spread across much of the nation, and we could barely trace the mutations of the pathogen already present by March 15 all fifty states.
We possess limited statistics, alas, to track the pandemic whose airborne transmission is not easily mapped by analogy to flu, and whose mutations seem of different levels of danger–and interact with different morbidities, wiping out many older populations as seen in northern Italy–over a quarter being elderly in Lombardy, which has the highest elderly dependency ratio among developed countries–and even more in the populations of the institutionalized in prisons, old age homes, hospitals, and internment camps. The amazingly detailed county-based counts of cases and testing that are daily tabulated for the country provide alternative views of looking at risk, but we perhaps payed less attention to the routes of transmission, and had little evidence from which to work, with limited testing being performed, and few testing facilities able to process the complex tests of swabbed samples, despite the readiness of our nation to on-site on-demand service.
Despite the adequacy of our point-based mapping skills, we may be distracted by the flies of dots of mortality and infection rates, in large part as fear of providing too many tests might fan the flames of insecurity, it seems, as widespread testing might promote in the general public and in our financial markets. As a result, we have created the most dangerously deceptive scenario in which the United States seems to be committed to projecting confidence, even if it is the global epicenter of the spread of the highly contagious pandemic.
We need a far finer-grained map of the country, whose layers called attention to the dangers of places where social distancing is not easy to maintain–like ocean liners, Wuhan markets, urban areas more crowded, and with less access to open space. It increasingly seems that the uneven geography to which the choropleths we have inherited from old models of data visualization are spectacularly blind from levels of class, uneven health care, exposure to pollution or overcrowded living conditions, that they, indeed, seem to naturalize in their appeal to a miasmatic notion of disease transmission or effluvia–common to many of the first statitistical data visualizations of cholera, like the London maps developed by Richard Grainger, and Dr. John Snow in the 1850s.
We had much harder time embodying COVID-19, as its infection was so diffuse, and the pathogen so contagious, but pathways of contagion multiplied in a linked nation where intense pathways of travel blurring space to conceal the huge stratification of society by divisions of wealth.
The uneven geography of the nation should not be bleached from our own choropleths in an attempt to explain or communicate the topography of infection that is increasingly apparent. It was clear that Trump was little interested in testing or counts, from prohibiting ships with passengers were infected with coronavirus to dock, to insisting the count of fifteen infections would soon decline–rather than grow from twenty-one to the thousands and beyond two million.
Although it is clear closures of school can delay epidemic spread, reducing “peak incidence” up to 60%, the benefits of eliminating the contact network of populations was sacrificed long after the national emergency was declared, as undetected infections were many times greater than confirmed cases. But the closure of all schools in twenty-three states by the second weekend of April curtailed the school year, upending grading policies, assignments, and exams, that upended any interactive learning experiences as all activities migrated online into virtual form, as the nation hunkered down without retooling graduation or educational guidelines but suspending instructional hours, educational resources or support for the remainder of the year.
Especially terrifying in this second, and perhaps as profound, landscape of a lack of national policy, is the lack of any coherent attention to the students who suffer from an absence of schooling or networks of socialization. Both seem discounted in the advocacy of private educational corporations that has been promoted from the Presidency of George H.W. Bush, and his early Education Secretary, Margaret Spelling, which promoted the code words of “school choice” and “standards and accountability” as good business practices of redefining the role of government in the pragmatics of education that have created the current state of play in public schools and have cascaded across time: for in fashioning himself as an “Education President,” despite the skepticism of educators, encouraging corporate- sponsored teaching modules and reading tests to restructure public education, the mandate of No Child Left Behind, animates the ubiquity of Zoom, teleconferencing, and remote learning, as a Ghost in the Machine of distance learning that has eroded expectations for interacting creatively.
Indeed, the effects of the Bush Presidency have extended far beyond his term in office, as they were rooted in a compromise among party elites to open the door to private investment in education, that were the roots of a virtual landscape of the online education that seems arrived from Silicon Valley, promoted by the talking points of online remote education and the architecture of removed instruction, an infrastructure of disconnection that is echoed by evangelists of wireless interconnection by Bluetooth, whose very vision of an interlinked landscape almost designed to exclude many.
While bluetooth is not foregrounded in remote learning, the very notion of a remote interface is embedded in the technology: and the hierarchy of communication in a disembodied experience of remote learning is in a sense paradigmatically structured in the hierarchical remove of Bluetooth remotes. For while the problem of replicating a hierarchical relation of learning and instruction in remote learning tools risks a remove that minimized actual interface, the Bluetooth devices promote a smooth remote operation of frictionless efficacy and passive interconnection absence in the best classrooms. It is almost haunting that Bluetooth still promotes with tone-deaf blindness a master/slave architecture as better enabling communication to an array of “slaves” from one device in a piconet, over a scatternet. The disconnects accentuated across remote education ays that would dishonor the name of the Scandinavian King Harald “Bluetooth” Gormsson, ruler of Denmark and Norway, son of King Gorm the Old and of Thyra Dannebod, whose tenth-century monarchy united warring factions in Scandinavia to a harmonious land of concord, a much of the same land and islands that developed a model functional health care system in the Age of COVID-19. Bluetooth technologies sought to inaugurate a concord of the interlinked, but by a concord of objects in interlinked space, more than health-care, the unity the Viking King Harald Bluetooth created among Danes, Scania and Viking was preserved in the historic Curmsun Disk, rediscovered in the wake of World War II, a map of Scandinavian unity in its cross with four dots bound by an octagonal ridge, offering a precedent from cross-border unity, dating c. 960-1125 AD, during King Harald’s rule.
If the ability for remote diagnoses is invaluable in confronting COVID-19, Yet on a level of educational inequities–and this is the essential subject of this wide-ranging post–the record is far more mixed, and the stare of the tenth century ruler might well shame us in its simplicity.
For DeVos has systematically undertaken, in the cover of a lack of formulation of health policies, a not hidden sustained and concerted efforts to promote distance learning solutions as schools shuttered during the pandemic. By actively seeking out and developing contacts with school officials, state governors, and school district leaders, she seems to have exploited national vulnerabilities while offering no road map to how public school policy might develop in the face of multiple stresses that the pandemic has unexpectedly introduced, abdicating any role on providing guidance for reopening.
As decisions fell to often divisive district boards who are asked to struggle to formulate plans with uncertain funding and state support, leaving many schools open to later accusations of a filature of management, the lack of a national policy worked to the advantage of education businesses; De Vos’ greater attention to preparing to foot the bill for the future development of charter, private, and parochial schools to pick up the pieces where public schools “failed” seems to have been conducted behind the backs of public school principals and teachers: it stands to be senselessly and insensitively disruptive to networks of support public schools provide.
If the glyph on everyone’s computer is not without alphabetical content, but a brands ancient runes, the signature of two initials of Harald’s Oath of Scandinavian unity, committing to the equanimity of his faithful rule–
–that the corporation Eriksson, who pioneered the technology of linking devices by wireless, adopted to advertise its service, in a brand emulating a pledge to link devices in harmony and concord absent from the uneven topography of access to education or medical services today. It may be time to ask for true leadership, or speculate what would Harald “Bluetooth” Gormsson say before increased inequities of distance learning.Continue reading