In recent days, the “recommendations” from Gov. Ralph Northam have changed to “you cannot and will not do this.”
We were told it was best to not gather in groups of 100 or more, then 50 more and, finally, 10 or more.
Now, the governor suggests he is running out of patience.
“Some people are not listening and I want you to know — you are putting every single one of us in Virginia at risk,” he admonished. “This is not a holiday. This is not a vacation.”
But then he said he is still not going to order restrictions that are already in place in several other states: Mandating working from home, putting curfews in place or restricting travel to just places like healthcare, grocery stores or pharmacies.
Can he have it both ways? Probably not.
We have relatives who live and work in Washington state. They work from home (required), get groceries delivered (possible there but not so elsewhere), and avoid contacts even with relatives or neighbors. That pretty much required there.
Same for New York and an increasing number of other states.
But can America take the necessary steps to really fight this pandemic?
As the novel coronavirus spreads through communities across the country, it poses a critical question: Can America’s people, institutions and government collectively rise to the occasion to defeat a once-in-a-generation crisis?
With a global pandemic testing the country’s political, financial, social and moral fabric, there are growing signs that answering in the affirmative has become increasingly difficult.
Bureaucratic missteps have led to a shortfall in tests needed to determine the true scope of the virus. Hospitals are pleading for more medical equipment as doctors resort to using homemade masks. Financial markets have lost a third of their value in less than a month. Reveling spring breakers have hit the beaches in defiance of a nationwide social distancing campaign.
Companies, some of which celebrated tax cuts by rewarding shareholders with record stock buybacks, are preparing to lay off millions of workers while pleading for a government bailout.
At the helm of it all is a president who rose to power with a divisive brand of politics, a reliance on his gut instinct and a claim that the United States was no longer winning on the global stage. He now faces the greatest test of his presidency — a viral outbreak that requires bipartisan cooperation, verbal precision and a reliance on bureaucratic expertise.
The president has vacillated in recent days between trying to strike a reassuring tone and lashing out at his perceived enemies while criticizing the press, seeming at times to view the public health emergency through the prism of his media coverage.
Americans must be persuaded to stay home, they said, and a system put in place to isolate the infected and care for them outside the home. Travel restrictions should be extended, they said; productions of masks and ventilators must be accelerated, and testing problems must be resolved.
But tactics like forced isolation, school closings and pervasive GPS tracking of patients brought more divided reactions.
It was not at all clear that a nation so fundamentally committed to individual liberty and distrustful of government could learn to adapt to many of these measures, especially those that smack of state compulsion.
“The American way is to look for better outcomes through a voluntary system,” said Dr. Luciana Borio, who was director of medical and biodefense preparedness for the National Security Council before it was disbanded in 2018.
“I think you can appeal to people to do the right thing.”
Douglas Brinkley, a noted historian at Rice University, says: “We hit dark moments before in U.S. history, and this is clearly one of them. “It doesn’t help that the federal government is perceived as utterly dysfunctional.”
Is it just the federal government or is America itself dysfunctional? We see thousands taking unprecedented steps to help deal with the coronavirus threat, even putting themselves at a threat to do so. Healthy people are volunteering to help vulnerable neighbors. Many are saying at home in efforts to stop getting or spreading the virus.
But we also saw thousands of students flock to beaches during Spring Break. We had friends who rode their motorcycles down to Daytona for Bike Week. The president of the United States still shakes hands. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky was diagnosed with the virus and then was spotted in the Congressional Gym mingling with others.
Nearly 350,000 people worldwide are infected. More than 15,000 have died. But the World Health Organization (WHO) also reports that more than 100,000 who contracted the virus have recovered.
In America, more than 35,000 are infected and 5,475 have died as this is written. Of the 219 infected by Sunday in Virginia, the closest one is in Franklin County. An elderly woman from Botetourt County is hospitalized in critical condition at Carilion Roanoke Memorial.
Are we doing all that we can to fight this epidemic? Most are but others are not and Gov. Northam is right when he says that those who flout the recommendations for staying at home or maintaining “social distancing” are “putting every single one of us at risk.”