The Virtues – And the Evils – Of Doing Nothing in the Age of Covid

10 mins read
Photo by Edwin Hooper on Unsplash

I really want to go back to work.

But not if it puts others at risk.

Let me explain. I own a small law firm. I started the practice in 1997 with just myself and a secretary. Over the years we have grown to 17 people: 5 attorneys and 12 support staff, working out of 6 offices.

Seventeen families, including my own, depend upon me to do my job competently. And while that is a burden which can weigh heavily upon me, it also motivates me to work harder. Because while they rely on me to run the business properly so that they can earn a living and take care of their children, I in turn rely on them to make our office successful so that I can support my own family. We have developed a wonderful symbiotic bond that I suspect is not unusual in a small business, where personal problems are treated less like a “human resources issue” and more like a family member asking her relatives for support.

That’s why, approximately two weeks before Governor Cuomo issued his edict to close the state, I scrambled to make certain we could all work remotely, spending well beyond our budget in order to do so. It’s also why I pledged that if any employee became sick, they would receive full salary while out, if we are economically viable. And it’s why I vowed that their jobs will be protected so long as our doors remain – virtually – open. Thankfully, I have been able to live up to these promises.

I have closely watched how the President has treated the coronavirus crisis. Initially, instead of taking measures to prevent the spread of the disease, he significantly downplayed its severity. He asserted, despite dire warnings about thousands of people dying, that this was a hoax being perpetrated on America by the Democratic party. He issued an absolute denial of responsibility even though he disbanded the pandemic team which could have prepared us for this virus. He ignored multiple, urgent warnings from medical, political and logistics experts that we desperately needed massive amounts of testing, personal protective equipment for hospital workers, respirators and ventilators.  He has even repeatedly tried to blame the Obama and other administrations, despite the fact that we are more than 3 years into his term, and he once famously claimed that despite all of America’s ills, “I alone can fix it.”

In short, the federal government’s response to this emergency has been abysmal. We now we have hospitals across the country in desperate straits, with some building temporary morgues to handle the profusion of COVID related deaths. We are perilously short of life-saving equipment. And yet, every day the president seems more interested in sparring with the press and promoting himself than trying to resolve the crisis.

The White House originally estimated that the death toll in America could range from 100,000 – if we do everything perfectly – to perhaps 1,200,000. The numbers are staggering. As of this writing, over 41,500 Americans have lost their lives due to COVID-19. Yet, the president had the unabashed temerity to suggest that if 100,000 Americans die, his administration would have done a “very good” job. Truly astounding. Over 1,000,000 dead? I can’t possibly imagine a tragedy of that magnitude.

And there is one person hugely responsible for this: Donald Trump.

He had ample warning that this might happen. Before Trump took office, the Obama team took future Trump appointees through a pandemic exercise so they could be prepared for our current crisis. Trump’s team seemed uninterested. In November of 2019 US Intelligence agents warned the administration about COVID. On January 5, it was the World Health Organization. The CDC issued their own alert about the disease on January 8. On January 10, former Trump Homeland Security Advisor Tom Bossert also sounded the alarm.

And if you think it would’ve been the same under a Democratic president, consider this. On January 27, Joe Biden wrote an op-ed outlining the steps this country needed to take to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Five days earlier, his advisor Ronald Klain said the same thing.

Instead of following their advice, Trump held rallies and played golf, while claiming that the virus would miraculously disappear.

Certainly, Trump isn’t to blame for the COVID outbreak itself. But we can only wonder how many lives he might have saved if he took the threat seriously.

Yet, as this insidious illness continues to spread through the country, we are told that there are some things we can do to lessen its effects. Wash our hands. Avoid touching hard surfaces. Practice social distancing. And, if at all possible, stay home. Several states have followed New York’s example and ordered all businesses to close, except those designated as “essential” to the community.

It is this last piece of advice that causes such consternation among our political leaders. The conundrum is easy to understand. If most people who contract this sickness will experience only mild flu-like symptoms, how can we order companies to shutter their businesses and force people not to earn a living – BUT – if we allow people to perform their normal activities, even if everybody engages in voluntary social distancing and uses other precautions, models have predicted millions could still get sick, and perhaps over a million will die.

Naturally, the president wants states to rescind the restrictions. He wants to boast about a robust economy, because this will probably aid his reelection efforts. Yet he wants the states, NOT the federal government, to perform the testing to ensure we can return to work safely. While he offered guidelines to help states determine whether to reopen, he immediately undermined them by lauding protesters (some of whom brandished confederate flags, swastikas and weapons) who defied emergency stay at home orders. And rather than work with the World Health Organization to fight the disease globally and prevent further spreading, he decided to cut their funding because he claimed they were too supportive of China during the infancy of this crisis.  Of course, Trump ignores the fact that he ALSO effusively praised China’s efforts at the beginning as well.

At best, the president is sending mixed messages about returning to work. At worst, he is encouraging people to defy directives that individual states have enacted to keep us ALL safe, and to return to “normal” life. So this leaves us with a choice: do we listen to the experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci and our state governors when they tell us to stay at home? Or do we follow the president’s call and defy state edicts, hoping that we are lucky enough not to get sick, or that we will only experience mild symptoms if we do?

I, for one, am not willing to take the risk. Not even if I am guaranteed that, should I become infected with COVID-19, I will remain asymptomatic. Because the question is not whether my own health will be compromised, as I am not yet 60 and have no comorbidities which render me particularly susceptible to the coronavirus. Rather, it is whether I transmit this disease to my family, all of whom have asthma. Or my partner, who has a heart condition. Or my office manager, who is undergoing treatment for cancer. Or my Senior Case Manager, who requires surgery. Or any of the hundreds of people with whom I come into contact during a regular week, and their families, and the people with whom THEY come into contact, and THEIR families, and on, and on, and on.

So I will stay at home, with my family, and do nothing.

Because my inaction might save lives.

Unlike the president’s inertia.

Which has already condemned thousands.

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