A sequel to this piece.
The People (P): What’s happened now?
Answer (A): It’s over.
P: The virus? The virus is over?
A: It isn’t over, but it’s done.
P: It’s done? How is it done?
A: Did you see that video of the bear in the pool. The one in the zoo? Frolicking like a toddler, splashing about. I laughed quietly, then I told my friends I laughed out loud.
P: Sure, but—
A: And sharks! Apparently there are more of them now?
P: Yes, but—
A: That got me thinking about manatees. I wonder how the manatees are doing. They’re big and they live near water. No, in water! Wait. Are those the ones with the big noses? What am I thinking of?
P: Can we just concentrate for a second? We’re hoping to get some clarity about the virus.
A: The what?
P: The coronavirus.
A: You’re still talking about that?
P: We had 25,000 new cases in the U.S. yesterday. Fifteen hundred die every day. Every two days we lose more people than we lost on 9/11.
A: Okay, but let me counter that with, um, it’s getting tedious? Two months is a super-long time to think about anything, and we’re like going on three now? So I’m thinking it’s a little repetitive? And even boring? And did you hear about that little kid in California who stole a Lamborghini?
P: That’s not—
A: Wait, no. He stole a car to drive to California. To get a Lamborghini. Was that it?
P: Listen. That’s not important now.
A: That kid was five! What a rascal. But questions remain! Like, are there no Lamborghini dealerships in Utah? Seems like there’s an opening for an enterprising—
P: Can we focus for a second?
A: Focus on what?
P: On the virus!
A: We’re still talking about that? You’re proving my point. Anyone ever tell you that you have a morbid streak?
P: Because we’re in the middle of a pandemic! We’re at the start of a pandemic!
A: Who says we’re at the start?
P: Every scientist.
A: Okay, but they’re playing soccer in Belarus and nightclubbing in Seoul, so who should we believe? And something about Sweden? And what about the Constitution? Especially the part that says you can’t infringe on our right to bowl in Georgia? I mean, who can sort it all out?
P: Anyone. Any child can sort it out. We have to get serious. We have a long way to go. But if we create a highly coordinated national system of testing, tracing, quarantining, behavioral discipline and shared sacrifice, we might save hundreds of thousands of lives — not to mention those of tens of thousands of healthcare workers whose exposure and risk increases exponentially every day this continues to spread.
A: Okay. I hear you. But what if we maybe… didn’t do any of those things?
P: Wait. What?
A: Okay, spitballing here, but what if we sorta mentally teleported to the end of the pandemic, when people have died, sure, sadness, of course, tragic, very bad, so bad, not denying it’s bad — but meanwhile we still get to go to rodeos and eat sushi and also roll balls toward pins to make bang-bang sound?
P: You’re talking about just ignoring the deaths of 800,000 people?
A: Ignoring, no. No! Not at all. But maybe we don’t shove the whole death part in everyone’s face so much? Who can trust science, anyway? The president, who I’m thinking is a scientist? He said it would go away, and it totally didn’t. And then we hear llamas will cure us, but now even that’s in doubt? It’s bewildering.
P: At least fifteen hundred people are dying in the U.S. every day. Multiply that by 540 days, minimum, until we can find and distribute a vaccine. That’s 800,000.
A: But what if it’s only 720,000? That means 80,000 lives have been saved. By our president!
P: No. That’s not—
A: Can we focus on the positives for a second? We have the most deaths in the world, by far, and we’ll surely end with the most, but we also have the most tests. Such beautiful tests!
P: See, we’re off-topic again.
A: Did you hear that the man who makes pillows is coming back to the White House? He’s got some photos of puppies.
P: The problem here is focus.
A: That’s what I’m saying. You’re over-focused, and that’s getting you all sad and mad and upset and worried. I think you need less focus. You’re probably checking the statistics every day, seeing how many cases there are in Michigan and New Jersey and the mortality rate in California. That can’t be healthy! Did you hear Drake has a new mixtape? And Diplo has a baby!
P: We have to stay focused to save lives.
A: Or… or… We could forget about the dying until the dying’s over! That’s what the majority of the country’s already done. They’ve seen that their town or county only has a few hundred cases, a dozen or so deaths, so they’re thinking that even with 800,000 people likely to die, it’s spread out enough that it no longer matters. With 320 million people, we can handle a death count of just shy of a million.
P: That’s unconscionable. People are willing to look the other way as a virus takes more than all the Americans who died in every war we’ve ever been part of — combined?
A: Hey. I’m just the messenger. The calculus has been done. COVID-19 is already heading to our dim basement of our minds, where we put things we don’t like to think about anymore, like mass incarceration and the Iraq War.
P: But if we could just hold our attention for a few more months at least, so much suffering could be avoided.
A: I hear you. I do. But at this point, we’ve got only a few options. One would be a coordinated and coherent government response befitting the dignity of the United States, home of 385 Nobel Prizes. The other is more celebrity deaths.
P: This is a lunatic nation.
A: Even just one actor would get everyone’s attention. Or… Or… Hey. I just had an idea. What if we make a new plan, where we promise to focus on the virus and the 800,000 deaths once a week? Would that please you?
P: It would be a start.
A: Great. Once a week, we have a day where it’s all about the virus and death and we remember the pandemic and all we’re not doing about it. We can call it Coviday.
A: Right. On Coviday, we’ll feel bad about the limitless suffering, and we’ll mourn all those who died needlessly.
A: We’ll think of the frontline workers, and we’ll hope nurses and doctors themselves don’t succumb to the disease the federal government is doing so little to combat.
P: Yes. Thank you.
A: We’ll sew masks, and we’ll deliver food, and we’ll even make a two-foot sidestep around the older people while we jog without masks, exhaling billions of asymptomatic virus-droplets into their air and causing them great stress while also endangering their lives.
A: And that one day, we’ll even think, briefly, about the catastrophic consequences of electing a petulant, intellectually spasmodic, preternaturally paranoid, untrusting and untrustworthy, perpetual human-failure-machine to run a government with the power, the actual power, to prevent or allow the deaths of millions.
P: It’s called Coviday?
A: Yup, on Coviday, we’ll think about democracy and governing. We’ll ponder whether there’s a difference between someone we watch on a reality television show and someone who should lead one of the world’s great democracies. We’ll ponder whether a mature nation of 320 million people should treat the choosing of a president with the same prankishness we treated our high school elections, when we regularly put in office the person least qualified and least temperamentally fit, just to express our disdain for the whole endeavor. And we’ll ponder whether there’s a difference between high school and the White House, whether pretending to fire people on TV is the same as running a government of 20 million dedicated public servants, and whether the rest of the world will ever take us seriously again if we consider ourselves, and the work of government, a joke.
P: So one day a week we’ll think about this.
A: Think about what?