Friends from Nepal and Moldova have been contacting us to check on how we’re doing as the pandemic spins out of control in the United States.
I went to those two countries as a Peace Corps Volunteer to provide training and insight from an American. Now they and others look at us and see crowds defying public health guidelines in bars, on beaches and elsewhere, and a death toll topping 140,000. It’s humbling.
Unlike the majority of developed countries that responded to the pandemic with discipline and a respect for science, the United States has acted foolishly and incompetently. Why should anyone take us seriously again?
Millions of Americans have behaved responsibly, even heroically. Doctors, nurses and other front-line workers have been risking their lives to help others. Many teachers will soon return to their classrooms. Others are continuing to sell food, collect trash and perform other essential tasks, often for low wages. Neighbors are helping each other.
Yet the situation is worsening, and it’s our own fault. Especially here in the South, many governors rushed to reopen their states before it was safe. They defied health experts who correctly warned what would happen. N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper has been among the exceptions, largely resisting pressure to reopen too quickly.
Paul Krugman of The New York Times says we shouldn’t blame this failure on our American culture being “too libertarian, too distrustful of government, too unwilling to accept even slight inconveniences to protect others.” The bigger factor, he says, has been President Trump denying the pandemic’s seriousness. His decision to “trade deaths for jobs and political gain” led many local leaders and others to act irresponsibly.
Both factors, culture and politics, have surely played a role, and health officials could have done a better job of communicating messages and winning public trust. In any case, here we are. I know Champa and I have been fortunate to ride out the crisis in a comfortable home but I am angry about how many of my fellow Americans are now suffering, especially people of color. Our hospitals are overwhelmed. Businesses keep closing. This didn’t have to happen.
I keep thinking back to the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam, which I visited just before the pandemic spread out of control. Anne and her family remained quiet in an attic for more than two years before the Nazis discovered them. Here in America, by contrast, millions of people have been unable to last a few months before they insisted on partying. Even now, they reject something as simple as wearing a mask.
One of the three Peace Corps goals is to “promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.” It’s ironic our country had to evacuate its Peace Corps Volunteers worldwide just when it needed more than ever to be learning from others.
[Top photo: The hospital entrance in Ilam, Nepal, my first post as a Peace Corps Volunteer.]
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6 thoughts on “Humbled by the Pandemic”
I enjoyed your input on Peace Corps Connect, about the challenges facing Pcs, recruitment and policy.
Margaret Sheridan, chicago
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Thank you, Margaret!
Well said, David. Our leadership here in NE have done pretty well but now we have a Trumplican Governor rejecting face mask policy of our mayor in our capital. I hope we can survive the rest of the year. Stay safe. Loved seeing the MedPark pic… they likely saved my life.
Thanks Craig. Fortunately, my own visit to MedPark was for something less dramatic. You might enjoy my earlier blog post about it: https://notexactlyretired.com/2017/09/24/happy-patients-by-design/
You are very balanced in your comments, David. Like you, I am frustrated by those who consider wearing a mask too troublesome in these challenging times. Common decency and consideration of others seem to be victims not only of the pandemic but the current regime. I can only hope that come November there will be changes approved that will help us correct this misguided course we have been following for a few years.
Thanks Margaret. I try to not let the frustration overwhelm me. Like you, I know we are better than this and can return to our better selves.