By Emmet McGewon
On March 27, a shadow, growing for weeks, reached monstrous proportions as Italy reached a grim milestone: 917 people passed away due to the novel coronavirus. The gloom pervaded for many more weeks as Italian streets emptied and hospitals overflowed. On the same day there were 5,906 new cases in the country. Yet, 2 months later dawn has broken the blackness and on Saturday, June 27, Italy reported only 8 new deaths and 175 new cases; the first time since the start of the outbreak that deaths were in single digits.Contrast this rapid recuperation with America’s two largest states: California and Texas.
On the same day that Italy reported 175 new cases, California reported 27 times that number while Texas reported a case increase 33 times higher (4,810 and 5,747 respectively). Both states are betraying their namesake as California has not been golden in its response to the pandemic nor has Texas been a star. So why is it that Italy, the former epicenter of the outbreak, where shortages resulted in ventilators only being given to those under the age of 60, is in a recovery stage while the US suffocates under the weight of its caseload?
“We are tired of not being able to buy the things that we need, go to the hairdressers, get our hair done. It’s time to open up.” These were the words of a middle-aged woman, sitting in her car, holding a makeshift American flag and pointing to the gray roots atop her head at a Michigan protest in mid-April. For many, this lady has become the embodiment of the entitled American who values her hairstyle over the potential loss of life that could occur from a rapid reopening. However, the uncomfortable reality is that she is not alone and that most, if not all Americans, are fatigued by the lockdown and eager to return to normality.
Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood, home to a vibrant Russian, Ukrainian, and LGBTQ+ scene was abuzz on Friday evening. Long lines traversed the hectic sidewalks as eager patrons queued to enter bustling bars. The thin trees, boasting splashes of purple among the leafy foliage, watched over the strip like solemn sentries as droves of people enjoyed Los Angeles’s convalescent club scene. The looseness of restrictions was matched only by the looseness of partygoers’ flimsy floral shirts which billowed softly in the California evening breeze. Nonchalance came to mind. It appeared, despite the scattered mask-wearing, that the pandemic was over.
We feel guilty for wishing to return to regular life given that such a return could result in a spike of hospitalizations and deaths. Thus, we stifle our impatience and seek scapegoats. Indeed, many are under the illusion that the persistent nature of the virus in the US is due to conservatives like those who armed themselves and entered the Michigan State Capitol. Yet, the reality is that a wide and diverse cross-section of US society has ceased caring about the virus. Whether you’re a patriotic Michigander or a bored frequenter of the Hollywood Hills, the suspension of day-to-day life is disconcerting and infuriating.
The combination of over 400 protests in all 50 states after the horrific murder of George Floyd has no doubt led to an increase in coronavirus cases, yet this is not the only reason. Bar reopening’s have acted as a catalyst for the spread of Covid-19. Indeed, California Governor, Gavin Newsom, issued an order on Sunday to close the bars in 7 California counties including LA county which has seen approximately 90,000 cases. His office also recommended, but did not order, they close in 8 others. Establishments that serve alcoholic beverages without serving food at the same time will no longer be allowed to open. Largely due to the nature of bars, it is close to impossible to maintain social distancing as well as contact tracing. People remove masks frequently to take drinks, talk louder (spreading more airborne particles), and mix with a large number of people meaning that were a case to be identified it would be very difficult to track and contain. “It is critical we take this step to limit the spread of the virus,” said Newsom.
In addition, in response to the surge of cases in Los Angeles, the LA County Board of Supervisors has decided to close all LA county beaches from July 3rd to July 6th. Those caught trespassing by local patrols could receive a $1000 fine. Furthermore, LA Mayor, Eric Garcetti, has placed a “hard pause” on movie theater reopening’s and has banned Fourth of July firework displays in an attempt to prevent the formation of crowds.
Meanwhile, Texas has ordered the state’s four largest cities to stop offering elective surgeries in order to free up hospital space. Just a few days before Governor Abbott’s ban on elective surgeries, restrictions were eased on amusement parks and restaurants. The Lone Star state has, arguably, had the most aggressive reopening strategy with phase one commencing as early as May 1st – a month later allowing almost all businesses to operate at a 50% capacity. Abbott also issued an order to close bars on Friday, June 26th, also scaling back dine-in restaurants to 50% capacity. Previously, bars were allowed to operate at a 50% capacity and restaurants at a 75% capacity. More so, outdoor gatherings of over 100 people are now prohibited unless given explicit approval by local officials.
Peter Hotez, a professor of virology at the Baylor School of Medicine in Houston, said that the pause in the reopening will be enough to maintain the status quo but that “the status quo is unacceptable,” and the Governor will soon have no choice but to “dial things back.” In San Antonio, ventilator availability dipped below 70% for the first time and in Houston, one hospital’s ICU reportedly was at 120% capacity, while another one was at 88%. On top of this, the Texas Medical Center in Houston said Tuesday that 97% of its ICU beds were occupied. These numbers are undoubtedly worrisome and only time will tell if more restrictions will be enacted.
Obviously, the crisis is not over, but from an outside perspective one is left wondering: does America even care? Our European counterparts appear to be coming out the other end of the pandemic while for the United States, there is no end in sight.