COVID’s Legacy: Less Science, More Authoritarianism
New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo holds daily media announcements and briefings at 633 3rd Avenue in Manhattan. (Photo by Lev Radin / Pacific Press / LightRocket via Getty Images)
Science asks questions and accepts the answers. Superstition is when belief leads people to do stupid things without evidence. Which method is better for authoritarians and bullies? The latter, of course, is what drives America’s COVID response.
About 11 months after the coronavirus makes so little sense. Masks have become a political talisman, and health policy a way of solving political problems. False dichotomies like “life or money” tarnish people’s ability to make thoughtful decisions. Instead of working together, we fear each other as porters. The urge to panic has not been replaced by an equivalent urge to vaccinate. We face economic and social consequences that we still do not understand.
Precautions vary widely. In New York, the more expensive the business, the lower the COVIDiocy. High-end retailers have someone at the door scolding the exposed, demanding hand sanitization and gleefully enforcing social distancing. Economic staples like NYC’s hopeful holes bodegas have cashiers with masks under their chins and the kids who steal ding dongs screaming in bad Spanish.
The highest expression of COVIDiocy in NYC is the museums, all of which were grouped together by the Museum of White Guilt during the Trump years with special exhibits of lesser-known color artists or trans-something featurettes. Forced by guards whose behavior is a standalone exhibit on fascism, they stick to the 25 percent capacity rule, even though their rooms are large with 20-foot ceilings.
The “capacity” of a public space is based on fire regulations, a calculation of how many people can safely get out of a fire room. It seems to have little to do with the volume of air or how air is handled in the room, which may be directly relevant to COVID. Wouldn’t it literally depend on which direction the wind is blowing, how far apart people are? I couldn’t explain why a capacity of 25 percent was chosen. why not 18 or 41.5 percent?
But while museums are obsessed with only allowing limited guests, there are no such rules on the subway that some may apply to get there. Trains run with any number of people who want to board as they please. There are staff mopping the floor to defend a largely airborne disease but none to distribute passengers among the cars.
You’d think people left to their own devices would be better at being people. In my apartment building with around 300 residential units, there are some who simply haven’t left the building in the past 11 months. There are some meerkats who set off with caution. Paper towels are used to open the drying door in the shared laundry room. Many have given up speaking to anyone and see each of us as potential angels of death in the halls. As Joe Biden’s chief advisor on COVID said, even our children are “like mosquitoes carrying a tropical disease.” It’s a miserable way of life.
Most of the people here wear their masks, but even there it doesn’t make sense. You’ll see “masks” made by stretching a T-shirt over your nose, as well as fresh surgical masks and stained paper masks. Some masks fit well; Most have gaps on the sides where unclean air is exhaled. Some have valves to spit out unfiltered breaths. A neighborhood family has matching respirators for mom, dad and two small children that are suitable for a Chernobyl picnic, such as characters from the 1950s “Our friend the atom!” Educational film.
Making every effort to get people to wear something symbolic, like an old stained mask, and putting little to no effort to enforce the effectiveness of these masks (e.g., handing clean ones everywhere) is the pretense from action without action, 9/11 security theater. Politics.
Likewise, it makes no sense why vaccinating Americans is not an urgent national 24/7 task. New York warns older people (58 percent of all COVID deaths are people age 75 and older) but doesn’t offer them vaccines. Why is the National Guard not outside the way it was in March, this time with needles? Meanwhile, the White House in Biden has no idea how many doses of vaccines are available. New York City doesn’t know how many teachers it may have vaccinated. Why can no one say when I / my grandma / my children will be vaccinated?
Nobody seems to know. The same voices that screamed that they didn’t have enough fans and PPE and ICU rooms are now quiet. Who is worth living in is a public decision of enormous importance that is made in absolute secrecy. Whoever receives the vaccine in NYC is in the hands of the Racial Justice and Inclusion Task Force, chaired by the mayor’s wife, not a doctor. The goal is to make sure that “hard hit” areas get the shots first. But somehow their list skipped the hardest-hit, Brooklyn Orthodox Jews who refused to obey mayor’s dictates in early COVID days. It includes exclusive vaccination sites in public housing and black churches and allows them to prioritize their own appointments to exclude non-neighborhood members. Nothing says empathy in a crisis like a small political deal.
Why is it so hard to know what is going on in other places like Sweden that have taken a light weight approach to bans? Most of the mainstream media have concluded that Sweden has failed and just like us it needs to be banned as regrets. If you look at the global COVID deaths per 100,000, Sweden doesn’t make the top 10 bad. Within Europe, Swedish deaths per 100,000 are below those of other nations that have resorted to more draconian social measures.
Has Sweden failed? Some Swedes are still alive and their society has minimal impact. Would a lock have helped? We could benefit from asking the same questions about Florida and New York. Despite its tougher lockdowns, the death rate per 100,000 in New York is twice that of Laissez-faire Florida, one of only two states with more than 20 percent of the population over 65. The rate in North Dakota is almost the same as Connecticut, although we generally blame rednecks for rednecks who are too stupid for science and don’t talk about each other. Is someone trying – Bueller? – even to weigh the deaths per 100,000 against the secondary harm of bans, suicides, increased drug use, economic problems, etc.? Or do we just “believe” in something based on red / blue and defend it to the last mask?
Depend on science, people say before ignoring it. A recent study through Stanford actually looked at non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) to control the spread of COVID, such as: B. Mandatory home stay orders in 10 countries including Sweden. The study concluded (from science!) That lockdowns and the like “have no clear, significant positive effect on case growth in any country”. In fact, in some places, the study suggested that lockdowns made the spread of COVID worse, as people became more concentrated among the few companies allowed to open.
Of course someone will google a contradicting study, but the lack of discussion on these subjects is appalling. The MSM’s success in politicizing the debate, as they did in the Iraq war, viewed as disloyal as fundamental issues, has resulted in us going into darkness without the light of science.
Why is it so important to us to harass people in stores and not do things that, without question, save lives? COVID is real, but an underreaction to the vaccine seems just as dangerous as the virus itself. It’s almost like politicians don’t really want COVID to end. Making people fearful is how governments build their power; frightened people usually demand that someone have more control over them. Rules that make little sense and are roughly enforced by bullies are great training for more authoritarianism. This could be the legacy of COVID.
Or maybe that: In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo, citing COVID, canceled six special elections in favor of his political allies by decree, canceled the presidential primaries so as not to embarrass Joe Biden with too many Bernie protest votes, and expanded his budgetary powers. It now determines when people work, go to school and how they can spend their free time. He holds life and death vaccination decisions in his own hands. Its power to detain sick people without trial is a vote of the state parliament.
I am so glad that we fought back fascism. Imagine what that would be like.
Peter Van Buren is the author of We meant well: How I helped lose the battle for the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people, Hoopers War: A World War II novel in Japan, and Ghosts of Tom Joad: A 99 percent story.