Lately, I’ve discovered a fascination with nature shows. It started several months back when I happened upon Planet Earth on Netflix and it continues to this day. The beauty of life and the complexities of what happens on this big ol’ planet of ours is unreal. And it can also be horrifying.
Earlier this week, I was watching a National Geographic show called Wild Yellowstone. Shockingly, it was entirely about Yellowstone national park. Anyway, there was this very intense scene where a young elk calf was being pursued by a hungry male Grizzly. The calf had to hide and basically hope that the Grizzly passed it by while the mother elk could do nothing but watch helplessly from a distance.
As my six-year-old daughter and I watched, I was totally prepped to cover her eyes as I was pretty sure this was going to go badly for the young elk. To my surprise, things went the other way as the Grizzly finally gave up and moved on. Wisely, the mother led her young calf to a swift flowing stream/river to get away and wash away their scent. As they started across the flowing waterway, much to my surprise, shock and horror, it proved too much for the calf and it got swept away. The mother looked on helplessly as the narrator said, and I quote, “The calf survived the hunt of a Grizzly, but Yellowstone claimed him anyway.”
But there it was on full display, the harsh realities of life and death. And in the case of wildlife in Yellowstone, only the strong survive.
As we enter this new phase of COVID-19, there is a growing chorus of themes that are picking up steam among the population. One of those themes is that all this virus is doing is thinning the herd and that we should probably let it run its course. Of course, this isn’t exactly the way this theme is worded, but that’s the general gist. People are going to die and as unfortunate as it is, we’re just going to have to accept it and move on.
As much as I hate this viewpoint, I have to admit that it has a certain level of validity. I can actually see it from both a scientific and spiritual point of view. One, mother earth has a way of keeping populations from getting out of hand. And at our growth rate, it is an easy argument to suggest the human population might be getting out of hand. Two, according to scripture, God has sent plagues to torment his people before. And in the grand scope of biblical plagues, this one is not remarkably severe.
Either way, for those making this argument, I can grudgingly see their point. I don’t know what the correct way to handle reopening our country is, and the longer this goes on, I’m beginning to believe that no one really does. But I will acknowledge that if the majority of our citizens begin to subscribe to the idea that we have to get back at it regardless of the human toll, then that’s what is going to happen, in spite of what I may think.
But there is one idea percolating out there that I cannot grudgingly accept. Along with the anger that has built up regarding the loss of jobs, or the loss of milestones in life, or even the loss of basic human interaction; a political anger has sprung to life that has reignited the talk of this entire exercise being a hoax. This insidious idea suggests that nefarious forces have been conspiring in the background to use a normal everyday illness, that really isn’t that bad, to sink the economy and ruin the reelection chances of Donald J. Trump.
I’m sorry, but that’s unacceptable.
78,000 people confirmed dead at the hands of COVID-19 in a matter of four months is not a hoax.
But wait, those numbers are inflated. I mean, nobody dies of pneumonia or the flu anymore. They’re just calling everything COVID-19, so it’s really not as bad as they say.
Yeah? Prove that!
And I’m sorry, verbal diarrhea spewing forth from the mouths of Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson or Laura Ingraham is not proof. Anecdotal urban legends about your cousin’s wife, who works at a hospital and is the person responsible for reporting COVID-19 deaths, being bullied into changing numbers in favor of more virus deaths is not proof. I want to see actual data where confirmed COVID-19 deaths are being fabricated. Otherwise, shut the h**l up!
Because you see, for a lot of people who have really faced this first hand, they know for a fact this has not been a hoax.
Take for instance, the family of Kious Kelly. For them, to suggest this excruciating nightmare we’ve been living through is a hoax would just be cruel. Kious was a nurse who worked at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York. When his hospital ran short of PPE, he volunteered to continue seeing patients without that protective gear so that others wouldn’t have to. Kious was remembered as a kind individual who was always providing small acts of service to everyone around him. Were it not for COVID-19, he would still be providing those acts of service. Kious Kelly was 48.*
For the 18-year-old daughter of Madhvi Aya, COVID-19 is anything but a hoax. Madhvi was a physician’s assistant who worked in the Emergency Department of Woodhull Medical Center in Brooklyn, NY. Her daughter, Minnoli, is studying pre-medicine at the University of New York at Buffalo and would talk with her mother every single night to catch up and share their daily experiences. She says what makes this entire grieving process worse is that she has absolutely no bad memories of her mother. To quote her, “All of them are good.” Madhvi was confident that she had contracted the disease from a patient she had cared for at work. Were it not for COVID-19, Minnoli would still be talking to her mother every night.*
Finally, for Dr. Lorna Breen, the horrors of COVID-19 were most definitely not a hoax. As the Emergency Department medical director for New York-Presbyterian Allen Hospital, Dr. Breen contracted COVID-19 while treating dozens of patients infected with the disease. After recuperating, she returned to work and continued to try and stem the tide of COVID-19 patients flooding through their doors. In the end, it proved too much for her. She was sent home to further recuperate and eventually moved in with her parents in Virginia. In the days that followed this move, she spoke to her father repeatedly of the scenes she had witnessed including those of patients dying from the virus before medical personnel could even get them out of the ambulances. After several days of mounting detachment and exhibiting symptoms synonymous with depression, Dr. Breen killed herself. According to her family, she had never suffered from mental illness prior to her experiences associated with COVID-19.**
These are just three of the thousands upon thousands of stories associated with those who have lost their lives to this scourge. All of them real people with real families who would still be with their loved ones had COVID-19 not torn through our country and their lives.
That is not a hoax.
To me, one of the greatest tragedies that will be associated with COVID-19 will be the politicization of this pandemic. It will be that we lived in a time where caring about our fellow human brothers and sisters all too often took a back seat to our political indulgences. In 2001, 2,753 people died in the attacks on the World Trade Center. In the weeks that followed, people stopped being Republicans and Democrats and just became Americans. Millions of us had never been to New York, but we mourned with our fellow citizens just the same.
Since February, 26,581 New Yorkers have died from COVID-19. And sadly, there are far too many people on right-wing media and social media discounting their deaths as a ploy by the left to defeat President Trump in the fall. I’m sorry, but that’s just not right.
Because once again, I can understand the desire to get back to regular life. And I can understand those who would argue that death is part of the grand scheme and we are just going to have to accept it as we open up our country and move on. I may not entirely agree, but I can understand and empathize.
But a hoax? That’s vile!
This world is bigger than Donald Trump. Human life and the dignity of those we have lost are bigger than Donald Trump. And I can say unequivocally that millions of people did not become infected with COVID-19 to undermine Donald Trump. Hundreds of thousands of people worldwide did not die just so they could stick it to Donald Trump. To suggest otherwise is just stupid.
As I see it, we had a worldwide pandemic that caught us all by surprise. We weren’t ready and in many situations we responded too slowly. Not Republicans, not Democrats, all of us. We had people doing the best they could. We had experts trying daily to get their arms and minds wrapped around what was happening and they did their best to try and protect as many of us as they could. Did they do it perfectly? No. Should we have even bothered with all of this shutdown business? Well, Dr. Fauci said from the beginning that if we handled this thing right, then we’d all be complaining that we overreacted when we were done. And now two months later, there are a lot of people claiming we overreacted. And that’s with 78,000 deaths and counting.
As the months and years go by, there will be a lot of armchair quarterbacking of this pandemic event. But the one thing that can’t be changed is that it happened. People died. A lot of people. And for most of us, at one point or another it was scary. Let’s never forget that.
And let’s also not allow ourselves to continue this talk of a hoax. That kind of argument devolves our entire shared experience in to being about one man. And I’m sorry. Despite what he himself may believe, he’s just not that important.
*These examples were provided by an article entitled, American hospitals have lost dozens of medical workers to the coronavirus. Here are some of their stories, published May 3, 2020 on the website, Business Insider.
**Details of this story were provided by an article published in the New York Times on April 27, 2020, entitled, Top E.R. Doctor Who Treated Virus Patients Dies by Suicide.