Enough is enough! This is not 'the big one'

In this unprecedented time of COVID-19, park workers in America are cordoning off playgrounds and removing basketball rims.  Michiganders are told by their government that they cannot visit neighbors and relatives, with a penalty of up to $1,000.  In Indiana and other states, worshipers of all faiths are restricted to no more than ten people gathering while hundreds at a time "gather" daily at tens of thousands of large retailers across the country.

In my home City of Lakes, Minneapolis, Minn., at the beginning of April, when students had already become restless in their homes and were practically begging to return to school, city officials announced the closure for the summer of six dozen pools, beaches, and water parks.  They cannot "guarantee" the public's safety (who can?), but they sure can guarantee the deflation of any kid's hope for a normal life. 

And now Dr. Fauci, whose words and pronouncements are affecting 330 million American lives, has stated, "I don't think we should ever shake hands ever again, to be honest with you.  Not only would it be good to prevent coronavirus disease; it probably would decrease instances of influenza dramatically in this country."  Perhaps we should make a wholesale change of our culture and bow like the Japanese from now on.

Enough is enough!  This is not "the big one" or the pandemic of all pandemics, but somehow, we have been treating COVID-19 as if it were.  Amid the real tragedy across our great land, we should still be shooting baskets, visiting friends and family, attending worship, and even shaking hands — as we wash them several times a day.  It's been 30 days of "selective" quarantine.  As many have sheltered at home, tens of millions of Americans, like me, have left home every day to work, shop, volunteer, and visit with others.  During our nation's partial quarantine — and that's an accurate characterization — losses of life are very real but not unprecedented or catastrophic as mistaken models led us to believe.  It's time to get back to normal life immediately and over the next 30 days.

I am grateful that our leaders made the decision to restrict travel to and from infected countries and have ramped up medical resources.  I am grateful that my 87-year-old mother is quarantined at her senior living home and is well cared for and safe.  I acknowledge the seriousness of protecting people with pre-existing conditions and of everyone washing hands and staying home if you have a hint of sickness.  And even as some family and friends are on the risky front lines as health care workers, I think our common sense and the data tell us we are going to be all right.  We do not have to drastically restrict and change our daily lives. 

What we are experiencing with COVID-19 is not the great flu pandemic of 1918 that killed tens of millions.  This is not WWII, or the Vietnam War, or a nuclear attack, or another 911 act of terrorism with two major wars to follow.  What we are experiencing with the coronavirus definitely is quite comparable to a bad flu season or the H1N1 pandemic of 2009–2010. 

Various experts and talking heads have told us we cannot accurately or fairly compare these three sicknesses and killers.  I disagree.  They have important differences, but they are all global and contagious and cause mass sickness, significant hospitalizations, and tragic death.  Please acknowledge with me: COVID-19 deaths are not more tragic than seasonal flu deaths — or gun violence deaths, or suicide deaths, or cancer deaths, for that matter.

According to the CDC, about one sixth of all Americans, or 50,000,000 people, contracted H1N1.  There were about 275,000 hospitalizations with up to 18,000 deaths, including 1,100 children and 7,500 adults aged 18–64.  Seniors were not hit as hard by H1N1 as they are with COVID-19 now.  The worldwide statistics were massive with approximately 300,000 deaths.  Can we ask ourselves, were these episodes of hospitalization and death any less important or tragic than what we are experiencing today?  Why didn't we institute social distancing and the wholesale shutdown of major industries in our society, especially with the greater threat to children than we are currently experiencing with COVID-19 (only three children in the U.S. have died from COVID-19, according to the CDC)?

As for the seasonal flu, the CDC website for 2019–2020 projects there will be about 48,000,000 illnesses, 22,000,000 medical visits, 550,000 hospitalizations, and 43,000 deaths.  In harsher flu years, 60,000–80,000 American lives are lost, which is now looking quite comparable to COVID-19.  How do we justify these annual war-like losses without drastically changing our daily routines as we have done now? 

One month ago, on March 12, a line was drawn in our country when the NBA suspended its season, probably knowing that President Trump was going to declare a national emergency the next day.  From there, the domino-of-closings accelerated across the country.  Look how far we have descended as a country in just one month, with tens-of-millions out of work, and residents being restricted in daily life like in a repressive communist regime or like we will be under nuclear attack at any moment — and this is not an exaggeration.  We are stuck in a zombie limbo wondering how we should proceed as a nation. 

So how do we draw a new line to begin a domino-of-openings across our great land?  I think it's as simple as stepping up to an old line: one NBA team needs for its players to publicly assemble for practice without masks and gloves, go to the free throw line, dribble the ball, and start shooting.  They could even do some high-fiving. That line, those players, and those shots will be inspiring to all Americans and to the world, regardless of a plan in place to formally restart the season or to jump to the playoffs.   

Governor Greg Abbott of Texas is expected to issue an executive order this week on the reopening of businesses.  How about concurrently, Mark Cuban and the Dallas Mavericks show everyone how simple, safe and inspiring stepping up to the free throw line can be as a team?  The Mavericks' first practice, post-COVID-19-suspension, will lead to other NBA teams practicing, and other professional sports leagues practicing, and then college and high school teams.  Then watch the optimism and domino-of-openings spread across the country. As abruptly as major organizations and industries shut down last month, they could just as quickly start back up this month.  We all need to get on with our lives and repair the unintended damage that was done to major sectors of our economy and society. 

The death toll from COVID-19 has surpassed 22,000 and is still rising. Over 17,000,000 Americans have filed for unemployment in just the last three weeks, and our society and futures are in great peril as that number continues to rise.  Just ponder this for a moment: for every American citizen who has died tragically from COVID-19, 770 other American citizens have lost their jobs — and this sordid ratio will soon top 1,000.  Is this how we mourn and honor our dead by creating a much greater tragedy for years to come?  Are we becoming the weakest generation?  I hope we wake up and choose hope and energetic teamwork over fear and paralysis. 

Here is our straightforward and urgent calling:  Healthy American citizens, neighbors, and extended families should discontinue living six feet apart from each other.  This is quite arbitrary and distressing, and it has to stop.  All healthy Americans need to get back to working, schooling, bartending, flying, cutting hair, buying and selling homes, attending concerts, and playing baseball, as soon as possible.  And yes, shaking hands and hugging too.

Joe Skelly is a thoughtful American citizen who cares tremendously about his family and country.  He is a jack-of-all-trades, master of none, having worked in sales, publishing, broadcasting, nonprofit service, and overseas teaching.  He can be reached at jskelly4651@yahoo.com

Photo credit: Thomas Lifson.

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