Coronavirus Hits Home.

Things Are Getting Real…

To be, or not to be, that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer. The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles. And by opposing, end them. (*see more at Poetry Foundation)

By William Shakespeare
(from Hamlet, spoken by Hamlet)

Given the current state of our Pandemic, many people around the world are feeling overwhelmed and stressed out. How some people handle it differs immensely.  Do you take a break from time to time until the feeling of helplessness passes or do you try to relax and find ways to reduce your stress? For some people, their feelings become so overwhelming that they think about the state of their life.

In William Shakespeare’s popular play Hamlet, the main character Hamlet gives one of the most popular soliloquies in all of literature, speaking his thoughts aloud, where he experiences deep feelings of grief and loss following the death of his father. Hamlet was distraught about overcoming the growing pains of life. This coming of age story seems strangely familiar to what many people around the globe are experiencing and feeling. Today’s world is eerily and similarly distraught, in various other ways.  

There are a number of different interpretations of Hamlet’s speech but the basis of the message remains the same – where Hamlet questions the need to live or die. And it’s an unfortunate reality today that there are many in this world who are in contemplation of that same question – whether life is worth living. I know it sounds extreme to most of us, but in reality, it is happening. It’s a growing crisis. The National Center for Health Statistics recently reported that the suicide rate across the U.S. increased 35% between 1999 and 2018, the last year with complete statistics. The Coronavirus is sure to be an imposition on suicide numbers going forward, but the real connection remains uncertain until the future arrives.

Know This.

If you can get through the day by sharing some love or a few laughs, then you have a lot of living ahead of you. Don’t even think about giving up.

I saw a meme today that reads: Imagine a world where Cinco de Mayo falls on Taco Tuesday only to be ruined by a virus named after a Mexican Beer.

Here on Guam, we have been rather fortunate in that our beaches and parks have remained open (but not for group gatherings).  My wife and I have been taking advantage of that from the beginning and we apply that fresh air and sunshine, combined with exercise, to help us cope. Others in many places are not as fortunate… like the Philippines, where senior citizens are on complete lockdown in many areas and cannot leave the confines of their house.

If you have read any of my posts in this blog over the last 8 years, you already know that being a serious writer is not one of my accolades. I actually find researched, technical writing to be exceptionally boring.  Through the seriousness of it all, I have used humor to navigate through all the confusion. Come tomorrow, it will be one month since I sat down and wrote anything. Like a fat man at a hot dog convention, I have been all consumed with this virus.

With our travel plans to return home to the Philippines derailed, and the lockdown imposed upon us, I have had little motivation to write. Like many others, it has been the Coronavirus that has taken up a credulous amount of my time.  When the news of the virus broke, the initial precautions of washing hands came early. Then came social distancing. Panic followed shortly thereafter. Then came the lockdown. While some people found solace with the added couch time watching Tiger King, others were out hoarding toilet paper and hand sanitizer. I was sucked into the Covid-19 rabbit hole looking for as much information about this silent killer as I could. Not because biology was a favorite subject of mine in high school, but because all the hype was directed at my demographic. “If you are old, you will die” is the message that was conveyed early on.  My wife and I, like many others in the Senior Citizen sector, were initially concerned. It was scary to think the Grim Reaper might be on our doorstep. I read tons of papers, articles, and news stories trying to sort out the most accurate up to date information. I watched many, many videos online. My online subscriber list is totally and currently unmanageable (and being trimmed).  I’ve learned a lot.  What I did learn is to NOT trust the authorities on pandemic matters… something just never felt right with me. 

I’m by far no expert on the subject matter of infectious diseases, but I almost guarantee you I can now hold an intelligent conversation about High-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) and how it compares to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), both which are life-threatening forms of non-cardiogenic pulmonary edema that occurs in otherwise healthy people… just like 2019-nCoV acute respiratory disease (Covid-19). I can also discuss the good and bad about the Health Care System in Keyna, Africa. Take your pick.

What prompted me to arrive at this level of cognizance? Well, in addition to my age, it was also because my good friend and long-time racquetball partner back home in Mississippi fell victim to the Covid-19.  An otherwise healthy 62-year-old individual, who is physically active on and off the court, almost lost his life. Just today, after spending over 3 weeks in ICU, he was released for physical therapy. He had been intubated for almost three weeks, in a drug-induced coma, and now likely has permanent lung damage. If he could fall ill, so could I or my wife. Both of us are reasonably healthy for our age and have NO comorbidities. It seems those persons who got sick early on paid an early price (IMO) –  that which came with somewhat experimental (hey, let’s try this) treatments. Many died through the learning process. I say experimental because it was during the first days of treating this unknown virus, the entire health industry was feeling their way through finding the right treatment… like a blind person looking for a black cat (sorry, I don’t ascribe to PC). Ventilators were thought to be the gold standard for saving a life, and the world scrambled to collect them. That turned out to be systemically wrong.

Glued to the news

From the “presumed” onset, when the virus was first announced by the Chinese on Dec 31st, nobody knew anything about it. And the Chinese damned sure didn’t volunteer any information. It appeared quickly and spread just as fast. Within a couple of months, it had spread to at least 185 countries and regions around the world.  It appeared to be very contagious and deadly. Many of the world’s governing bodies initially reacted to this virus with an abundance of fear and caution, and fearfully so. When coronavirus showed up in many parts of the world, it was immediately trailed by fear and anxiety. In the U.S., it triggered panic-buying of toilet paper – why?… that still remains unknown. Then there was a surge in sales of firearms and ammunition. Schools closed, businesses shuttered – and then came the stay-at-home orders. There are ongoing concerns about the increased use of alcohol, social isolation, and domestic abuse. At home, and around the world, the disruption in medical systems may prevent people with chronic mental health conditions from getting the therapy or medications they need. Skyrocketing unemployment rates and a looming recession (possibly depression) add even more stress.  But we all know this.

And now we find ourselves down the road some four months later, with tons of data and new information pouring in from around the world. Everybody it seems is conducting research on Covid-19.  Doctors and experts are voicing new opinions and are updating outlooks almost daily. We now know that most people who fall sick with Covid-19 will experience mild to moderate symptoms and recover without special treatment.  And we also know that we need to protect the elderly and those with comorbidities.

We are seeing the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel (for weeks now) and yet, entire economic sectors remained shuttered. Some lockdowns are being extended. The few that are opening up are doing so very slowly. We are now at the point where the incremental loss of civil liberties has turned people’s fear into anger. Look what is happening in Lebanon with banks being burned. This being done by a rioting secular population because of government missteps in handling the COVID crisis, in addition to not providing financial help to the people as promised.  Okay, the U.S. is not Lebanon, but I’m just trying to paint a picture here. In the Phillippines, local authorities have turned their little power grab into torture sessions in the streets, with minors and seniors alike for quarantine violations (fb video).  We are beginning to see a new set of problems in many parts of the world, which will lead to public revolt if not addressed soon. Real Soon!

California Protests (4/30/2020)

The Power Grab.

Today is day 45 of the shutdown and if the last two weeks have proven anything, it has been the failure of some leaders to recognize when to make a good decision. Pandemic numbers have been improving now for weeks, yet in the United States, thousands of people are being subjected to legally enforceable quarantines… for the most part. Some governments have had difficulty balancing public health and civil liberties. Many of these lockdown measures are now being legally challenged. Some rules just make no sense. And just as some authorities begin to relax some of these draconian restrictions, people appear to be at the tipping point.

Here on Guam, we’ve been no stranger to the illogical decisions like the instituting of “roadblocks” to curtail non-essential travel (who really determines what is and is not essential?).  Generally speaking, anyone on the road during this crisis is an essential traveler as everything had already been shut down except grocery stores and pharmacies. I’m not sure where the Governor thought people were driving to, but all she did was inconvenience those travelers that had a ‘right’ and ‘need’ to travel.

The “roadblocks” were later renamed “checkpoints” in an avoidant attempt to maintain the constitutionality of it all. The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects against “unreasonable searches and seizures” and when police stop a motorist—whether during a routine traffic stop or at a checkpoint—it’s considered a seizure for Fourth Amendment purposes. But because the rules that apply to vehicle stops are different than those for other types of searches and seizures, the term “checkpoint” was again changed to “Information Stop” where police and National Guardsman would stop all vehicles to inform them of “Proper COVID Procedures” – like we didn’t know anything about washing hands and wearing masks.

Legal challenges quickly arose shortly after the first few inconveniences to motorists and “essential” travelers alike. It didn’t take authorities long to double up on the manpower needed to open an additional lane to “commercial” vehicles, which drew even more scrutiny about the misuse of government resources. Burglaries were on the rise and police were being saddled with handing out COVID Pamphlets instead of policing neighborhoods.

It might have been that one Emergency Room nurse called to duty who was delayed by 40 minutes at each of the two checkpoints on her way to the hospital that set off the alarm. A suit was filed for an injunction but before that could happen, the nuisance stops were finally taken down by Executive Order. A local legislative session quickly derailed a Bill that would have given the Governor additional (overreaching) powers during the pandemic. We remain under our current lockdown mandate until May 5th (or 4 more days from the date of this writing). And we still have not received any Stimulus money yet!

Concerns mount as more public officials flout lockdown rules.

Across the U.S. we are witnessing authorities who are challenging the wisdom of their own lockdown orders. Take the NYC Mayor Bill de bla… bla… Blazio for example who shuts down all gyms but is found working out in one. And there is Chicago’s Mayor Lori Lightfoot, a Democrat, defending a haircut she received recently despite all the salons being closed. Oh, and did anyone notice Vice President Pence NOT wearing a mask while visiting the Mayo Clinic recently (in defiance of Mayo Clinic rules). Then there was Beaumont, Texas Mayor Becky Ames who was photographed wearing a face mask as she visited The Nail Bar, which should have been shuttered due to the mayor’s own lockdown order.

Quarantine violators detained (Philippines)

Then you have Authoritarian and Totalitarian leaders that are going to extremes. Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has warned he would order the country’s police and military to shoot dead anyone “who creates trouble” during the lockdown. I recently watched a video where a man not wearing a mask was confronted by National Police and he was eventually shot in the back and died (Quezon City).

It has become obvious – if you’re privileged you get to do what you want; there’s no quarantine for you. If you’re a politician or leader you can jog where you want, get your hair done, or play golf at your country club (Obama). There are probably hundreds of examples of how our great public officials have their own sets of rules because they feel they are above their minions. Whatever happened to “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander?” This is the disconnect that leads to anger and protests. It’s the belief among the elite that only they can make good decisions; everyone else should shut up and obey. All that said, powerful people do and should have privileges in life and I don’t hold that against them. But not when they are hypocrites.

Where Are We Headed?

In the rush to respond to Covid-19 and its aftermath, tech companies, governments, and international agencies are employing unprecedented levels of surveillance, data exploitation, and misinformation, with few safeguards. They have created exemptions in data protection laws to share data and have all put forth measures to help contain the spread of the Coronavirus, many based on extraordinary powers, only to be used temporarily in emergencies… or so they say! It is essential to keep track of them. When the pandemic is over, these extraordinary measures must be ended and held to account.

Some people remain scared. Some feel the response to the coronavirus is hyped. Then there are the tin-foil hatters who think this is all a scam. Me personally, I believe the virus is real and it can be deadly. I also believe that there was so much misinformation in the beginning that caused unnecessary panic. I fear that the pandemic WILL become politically weaponized that could change our future forever. And it could… unless We the People do not allow it to happen.

It could be true that COVID-19 will go down as one of the political world’s biggest, most shamefully overblown, overhyped, overly and irrationally inflated and outright deceptively flawed responses to a health matter in American/World history. One that was carried largely on the lips of medical professionals who have no business running national economies or governments.

For one, I sure hope people can eventually see it for what it really is… another virus.

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”Frank Herbert, Dune

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