What Happens Next?

Sometime in the winter of 2019, a new virus originating in “a wet market” — an outdoor market of ramshackle stalls, where shoppers can buy the meat from animals like bats and rats — kills unknown thousands in the provinces of China. From there, it hooks a ride with a businessman on a plane to Italy, where it multiplies through the shoe stores of Milan and the museums of Florence. There, it gains new strength and takes the redeye to New York City where it finds a happy home in the packed subways in Manhattan, the crowded synagogues of Westchester, and multigenerational apartments of Brooklyn.

In response, an entire planet covers its faces with cloth and retreat to in their homes for months. Businesses close, children miss school, grandparents die alone in the hospital.

After a while, some people, especially those who have an image of themselves as bravery-championing, freedom-loving, authority-quesioning, buckle at the restrictions, including their leader, a controversial president who inspires deep love in some, deep hate in others. This president fails to take precautions and, in a highly photographed event, spreads the virus to dozens of political luminaries.

Now, we’re just 30 days away from a highly charged election that already had the potential for disaster, if large numbers of mail-in ballots make the outcome unknown for two week. And the president is in the hospital. I believe that he is gravely ill. He is demanding to return home and continue his campaign, even though he is still shedding virus and highly infectious. We don’t know if the medical professionals will let him go.

This is the best novel that I’ve read in years. Greek hubris everywhere! What’s going to happen next in this tale?

Will Trump bow out of the election and let Pence take over, since he won’t be healthy enough to participate in rallies or debates? What about the mail-in ballots that have already been cast? Since Trump appears to be a super-spreader – a human illness missile – how many other people are going to get sick? Will the hundreds of people that he interacted with before his trip to the hospital get ill, resulting in an infection snowball that impacts the entire country?

If the outcome wasn’t so serious – our very democracy, the lives of hundreds of thousands, mass poverty and unemployment, isolated children and old people, suicidal teenagers – I would be be enjoying all this. It’s truly an amazing tale.

25 thoughts on “What Happens Next?

  1. “ Will Trump bow out of the election and let Pence take over, since he won’t be healthy enough to participate in rallies or debates? ”

    I thought at the beginning of the pandemic that Trump might bow out because the pandemic meant he couldn’t do all the things that are fun for him. But I forgot about Twitter, Cameras, and simply flouting the rules.

    I’m guessing he’ll go with rule flouting, but, I don’t know how he feels. He might feel miserable, which is not identical to being seriously ill. Folks say he was tweeting this morning, which might mean he’s feeling better.

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  2. I read the Wall Street Journal opinions this weekend and they were mirroring the “it’s not surprising that Trump would get COVID” messaging (well except for Noonan, who wrote that it was surprising.

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  3. The 2020 writers watched too much Game of Thrones, is my theory.

    Here in Ontario our Trump-lite Premier Ford finally went back to form and in Toronto we are about to hit a really bad Covid wall – hospitals are starting to get close to capacity, contact tracing is overwhelmed, and across Ontario testing had to be slowed down. It only takes a little bit of government false optimism or inattention and things go south quickly. My husband is on a back country retreat that I’m now angry about and I may pull my kids out of school this week.

    I hope that the reality of this virus hitting the highest levels of US government causes a shift in that aspect at least, even if I also hope the election results in a change in government after the last 8 months (and frankly, for me, before that.)

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    1. It seems that in every country we see that any attempt at reopening leads to a resurgence. (E.g., France, the UK, Canada.) Political leadership, whether it be centrist technocrats, populist but educated conservatives, or woke daddy’s boys, doesn’t seem to affect the result much.

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    2. I hope you turn it around in Ontario, where the upward trend is troublesome. If it keeps going up, things will get bad. But, now, Ontario still has about the same number of cases as WA, with 2X the population (so 1/2 the number/100K). And, you can’t even look at the data with Texas on the map (though it does have 2X the population of Ontario, it has 8X the number of cases).

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    3. Not true. The number in most countries with reopening are still at numbers much lower than the US. When you see resurgence, you are supposed to watch and take action to manage those outbreaks and turn them around. We’ve seen that in Germany, Australia, New Zealand.

      Germany & Italy are doing pretty well and Australia & New Zealand are doing great (COVID wise). Spain & France seem to be in the midst of the fall resurgence and time will tell whether they can turn their numbers around.

      In terms of how “open” each country is, I’d have to defer to people living there.

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  4. Some states, reliably red, will still have their Republican leadership.
    We’ll see how many are left in Minnesota after last week’s rally, meetings, AF1 travel, and fundraising events.

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  5. Commenting from British Columbia where our numbers were increasing in August — then about four weeks ago all nightclubs, banquet halls and bars were closed (again) and restaurants cannot serve alcohol after 10 pm and then must close at 11 pm. It seems to have slowed things down as our positivity rate is trending down and seems to have dropped to 2%.

    https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/covid-bc-testing-numbers-positivity-rate-1.5744198

    Other than those restrictions and the guidance to wear a mask, stay 2m apart and reduce interactions, we are “open”. Elementary and secondary schools (though modified) are in session. Postsecondary is pretty much all virtual except for program practicums etc.

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    1. Our local education reporter ran a story on a family that had moved to BC for school (they were dual citizens). A recent college graduate (graduated from UBC in the spring) has a work visa and is looking for work at tech companies in the BC area. The hope is to find a place in Victoria, if working remotely.

      I miss being able to hop across the border for Chinese food (not that we did that every week, but it did happen 5-7 times a year, sometimes combined with Canuck’s games for the Y chromosomes in the family).

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      1. bj — I hope it’s not too long before we can safely open our borders to each other. We have family in WA state, we would dearly love to see.

        re: tech jobs. There are lots around — and in the Okanagan too (where I’m from). Nearly all of my friends who work in tech work virtually. Some of us have been doing so for many years. One company is completely virtual and has been for 10+ years. Victoria would be a lovely spot to be as a recent graduate.

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  6. I recently read an article about an online group of firearms enthusiasts who, tired of being reminded about safety, took to posting pictures of themselves with a pistol pointed at their crotch and the safety off. The practice made the news when one guy shot his scrotum. That keeps coming back into my mind.

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  7. Some quibbles!

    Laura wrote:

    “From there, it hooks a ride with a businessman on a plane to Italy, where it multiplies through the shoe stores of Milan and the museums of Florence. There, it gains new strength and takes the redeye to New York City where it finds a happy home in the packed subways in Manhattan, the crowded synagogues of Westchester, and multigenerational apartments of Brooklyn.”

    COVID was IDed earlier on the West Coast (a Jan. 20 diagnosis in WA and then a Jan. 26 diagnosis in CA).

    By the time NYC closed schools, COVID had been known to be in the US nearly two months.

    Laura wrote, “In response, an entire planet covers its faces with cloth and retreat to in their homes for months.”

    There are plenty of places in Europe that are only now getting around to trying masks. This article came out a few days ago:

    https://www.dutchnews.nl/news/2020/10/despite-the-government-u-turn-the-dutch-are-still-unwilling-to-wear-masks/

    As of late July, “Sweden’s Public Health Agency says there is no need for members of the public to use face masks when in public spaces such as buses or shops.”

    “The Nordic countries as a group have taken a similar stance to face masks, with less than ten percent of inhabitants in Denmark, Norway, Iceland and Finland wearing them.”

    https://www.thelocal.se/20200730/face-masks-coronavirus-and-sweden-what-do-we-know-and-whos-said-what

    Interestingly, the US has higher mask use than a number of other non-Asian developed countries:

    https://www.economist.com/graphic-detail/2020/07/08/face-off-over-face-masks-europes-latest-north-south-split

    While (as of that July article) the US had slightly lower mask usage than France, Spain, Italy, China, Vietnam and Singapore, it had slightly higher use than Canada and significantly higher usage than Britain, Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

    The Economist article says, “A bus driver in Bayonne was left brain-dead on Monday after being attacked by passengers. He asked them to wear masks, as French law requires on public transport. Five men refused to comply and assaulted him.”

    I think that a lot of online stuff can be misleading with regard to how much of the US public is out there YOLO-ing, compared to Western Europe.

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  8. More:

    “In response, an entire planet covers its faces with cloth and retreat to in their homes for months.”

    A whole lot of people had to keep going to their in-person jobs. People were driving delivery trucks, seeing patients, working in nursing homes, stocking grocery stores, etc.

    “After a while, some people, especially those who have an image of themselves as bravery-championing, freedom-loving, authority-quesioning, buckle at the restrictions.”

    There have been a lot of stupid and contradictory rules. Some examples:

    –From March 6-March 30, New York’s MTA forbade transit workers from wearing masks–even their own.

    https://www.cato.org/blog/new-york-mta-forbade-employees-protecting-themselves-wearing-masks

    –At some point this spring, my hometown in WA put the kibbosh on my parents’ church doing a drive-in service.
    –For much of the spring, it was illegal to do curbside pickup for non-essential items in much of the US.
    –For much of the spring, playgrounds were closed. In fact, they are still closed in parts of the US. No one has ever demonstrated that playground equipment poses a significant risk to children…
    –We’ve been told that it’s impossible to have in-person school in many areas of the US…but that it’s fine to have commercial daycare programs using school facilities and charge hundreds of dollars per week per kid.
    –The George Floyd protests were allowed to go on with millions of participants.
    –A number of locales are trying to ban trick-or-treating this year.
    –BDB is currently trying to do a micro-lockdown of various NYC neighborhoods–as though you can close businesses on one side of the street and not have residents go to the other.

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  9. Another oddity: 6.5 months into the pandemic, Congress is just now starting to consider the possibility that it might be worthwhile to have some kind of organized COVID testing program.

    https://www.npr.org/sections/latest-updates-trump-covid-19-results/2020/10/02/919572122/positive-tests-highlight-lack-of-broad-coronavirus-testing-plan-for-congress

    “It would be a large undertaking to install a widespread and regular testing program for the Capitol’s more than 500 members and 20,000-strong workforce.”

    Pssst! Talk to a private college president–they’ll hook you up.

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  10. Yes, COVID was identified on the west coast first (the Seattle area first, a traveler from Wuhan). Early on, a community infection was linked to that case (about February), but, later analysis of the genetics of the virus suggest another introduction (people speculate potentially from BC).

    But as the article states, the US outbreak seems to be European based on the genetics even in Washington (>40% of cases). So, Laura’s telling seems right.

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  11. One of the failures was treating the White House virus (ha ha, I will give myself that snark — people reporting that China is calling it that) as though travel to China was a requirement early on, even when we had testing potential.

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  12. So, writing from NZ where we are about to go to ‘Level 1′(everything open apart from the borders, no limits on gatherings) for the whole country – for the 2nd time.
    Our second lockdown (not as severe as the first) happened after a failure in quarantine (not yet identified) allowed the infection to slip into Auckland, where it spread to a provincial town, before being stopped. The total numbers infected were about 180 before the transmission was halted.

    What is interesting is that this is virtually a petri-dish for virus spread. It was a single point source (not multiple people as the initial vector) – so it’s much easier to see how it spread, and the social environments which facilitate the spread.

    1. Workplaces. Many workplaces – especially blue-collar work – are not set up for, and cannot operate with social distancing. This is exacerbated by social mixing at break-times – cultural preference in some groups is for much closer physical interaction – eating and talking right up close.
    2. Families. To no one’s surprise. Once the virus is in a family, just about everyone in the household is going to get infected. Larger households not only mean a larger group of initial infections, but also a greater number of vectors onwards outside the family.
    3. Churches. Especially Pentecostal-style meetings, with lots of people in close-proximity and singing. [There doesn’t seem to have been an equivalent outbreak at more reserved church services – which may have been luck, or they may have a lower risk factor]
    4. Religious gatherings (outside church). The case in question involved prayer meetings at someone’s home, and visiting the bereaved after a death – again in close proximity, lots of hugging and touching, as well talking and sharing food.

    A huge factor is the culture of the people involved. This outbreak was exacerbated by multi-generational housing, poor educational levels (I don’t feel sick, so why should I quarantine), and religious anti-science bias (the Lord will provide); as well as poor leadership especially from the religious leaders.

    What wasn’t a factor in spread
    1. Schools. Despite several school children (at a range of ages from ECE through to high-school) becoming infected in their families – and even attending school during the times when they were or might have been infectious – there was no transmission to other children or teachers.
    2. Shops/Gyms/Supermarkets, etc. Despite multiple people visiting various venues, and even spending a substantial amount of time there (e.g. an hour exercise class) while infectious – there was no transmission to other people.
    3. Tourist facilities. One of the families went on holiday while infectious – stopping at a range of tourism facilities and restaurants. No transmission occurred. [But, boy, did the family get trashed on social media!]
    3. Public transport. Despite several people traveling by bus while they were infectious – no cases of transmission found. The fact that the buses are still relatively uncrowded following the first lockdown, may be a factor here, and that bus users were specifically encouraged/required to wear masks during the 2nd lockdown.
    4. Aged care facilities. I think this one is more an example of good luck. However, at least one person visited a retirement home while infectious, and there was no transmission.
    5. Social use of parks, beaches, etc. The 2nd lockdown was widely flouted, as people freely visited recreational areas – despite specific instruction from government not to do so. By-and-large they stuck to their own family grouping (aka ‘bubble in NZ) – i.e. the family went to the beach, rather than catching up with 5 other families for a picnic). But there were no cases of virus transmission.

    Mask-wearing. Was very strongly encouraged by the government at the beginning of 2nd lockdown. Probably about 1/2 of the population followed this initially. However, by the end of the first week, it was likely down to about 1/10, and dropped thereafter. You do still see some people wearing masks. but very few – and mostly in the elderly white population (being personally cautious) and some employees (where their employer requires this).

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    1. “3. Churches. Especially Pentecostal-style meetings, with lots of people in close-proximity and singing. [There doesn’t seem to have been an equivalent outbreak at more reserved church services – which may have been luck, or they may have a lower risk factor]”

      Clearly, we should all convert to Episcopalian!

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      1. Or Catholic. They do NOT sing. Episcopalians actually like to sing–after all, the congregants were once Whiffenpoofs or (Vassar) Night Owls–it’s just that there are so few of them in the average congregation that social distancing is no problem.

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  13. Whoops – I was wrong about the bus – there was one case of bus – transmission. So public transport *is* a factor in transmission.

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  14. Lovely to hear the details. NY Times did a profile on the second squashing of the virus: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/07/world/australia/new-zealand-coronavirus.html

    I have a friend whose parents normally spend part of the year in Taiwan. In the spring, friends encouraged their parents to come back. Now, she feels guilty, because things are normal in Taiwan. My kiddo has a friend who lives in Taiwan (though she goes to college in the US). Friend kept planning visits here in the summer, because she didn’t understand that she wouldn’t be able to do anything here.

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  15. “hundreds of people that he interacted with before his trip to the hospital get ill, resulting in an infection snowball that impacts the entire country?” Entire country? His national headquarters is right here in Arilngton, where hundreds of unmasked people have been working, then going and spending their Friday nights at an open air beer garden up the street from me. Houstin Schmouston, this is SERIOUS!

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