We got a call from my Dear One’s children today. The nursing facility in Pennsylvania where his elder daughter lives, despite having been quarantined for six weeks, is now reporting cases of COVID-19. M is sixty-four and frail: a lifetime of poor nutrition, drug use and mental illness has left her with severe osteoporosis and unhappy relations with her family. I am a latecomer to this dynamic and my heart goes out to all of them.
Behind Locked Doors
COVID-19 arrived in America at a nursing home in Kirkland, Washington. The first victim was not “patient zero” but patient zero returned to Seattle from China on January 15; by January 19 he was hospitalized and sixty people with whom he had been in known contact entered quarantine. By February 26, Ash Wednesday, the Life Care Center, just twenty-five miles from where patient zero was in isolation, recorded an alarming level of respiratory illness. As of April 2, thirty-seven people in that community had died. By April 19, New York State identified twenty-two Long Island nursing homes or assisted living centers accounting for 271 deaths from coronavirus. Experts argue that the number is low. Louisiana has forty-seven long-term facilities on its COVID-19 “cluster list.” Michigan has 450 nursing homes but refuses to name ones dealing with outbreaks of the virus.
“Rights” vs. Survival
Recently a friend shared a post from FuckDonaldTrump on Facebook. My shock and dismay was not at the crude language but at the image of this smug young woman claiming the argument that we have made since the 1960s for health care and reproductive rights. “Our Bodies, Ourselves.” Now that battle cry has been misappropriated and distorted to support Trump’s effort to put the finances of the wealthy above the lives of countless Americans who can claim no wealth, no social privilege. “My Body, My Choice” says her sign as she rallies for “Trump 2020.” The “no sign” prohibits the mask that has been saving so many lives; she is not arguing for her physical autonomy.
She argues for the “right” to put her own life at risk and in doing so put other and much more vulnerable lives at risk. “It’s okay,” she says, “if I get sick or become Typhoid Mary in the age of COVID-19.” Like the jacket flaunted by FLOTUS Melania Trump that bore the legend, I REALLY DON’T CARE DO U?” this attractive, narcissistic woman is advertising her indifference to the world at large, confirmed in her beliefs by a president who passes up no opportunity to demonstrate cruelty and express his disdain for humanity.
Hordes protesting in Maryland, Detroit, Virginia and elsewhere prevented ambulances from getting to hospitals and bellowed at the constraints on their movements imposed by governors. They refused to wear the masks that, along with social distancing, are a proven defense against contagion. In Annapolis, where the Republican governor of deep blue Maryland has been at the vanguard of mitigation efforts, a high-school student asserted that Governor Hogan should “listen to students” and take their demands into consideration in making policy. She said she didn’t think it was “fair” that graduations and proms would be canceled; after all, they had “worked so hard.”
Life Is Not Fair
There’s disappointment and then there’s whining. Being deprived of the pomp and circumstance of graduation and glamour of the prom is not “unfair.” No student is entitled to these events. What is “unfair” is the fact that many parents cannot foot the bill for a gown or rented tuxedo, a limousine and costly tickets to a dance. Yes, many graduating seniors worked hard to earn those diplomas; many didn’t. The diploma and an academic record that will earn them a spot in their college of choice is what they worked hard for. An education is the just reward for diligence and discipline. If students are deprived of opportunity because of the color of their skin or the inadequacies of their school, then that is truly unfair. Not getting to go to a prom? Not so much.
Being a resident in a continuing care facility, disallowed from contact with family and friends, knowing that the COVID-19 is lurking in the respiratory tracts of fellow inmates and being carried by the selfless and heroic staff caring for them into the nooks and crannies of the building?
Well, now, that, indeed, is unfair. And not just to M.