people like bernhard and people like helen are probably just about ready to throttle each other

Pandemic Freedom
Moon of Alabama, Nov 23 2020

On Thursday the US will celebrate Thanksgiving. That will cause an increase in the number of Covid-19 cases and in the number of deaths. The states could have intervened but did little to prevent this from happening. The politicians are reluctant to act because the US public at large follows an ideology that is incompatible with a pandemic. The CDC warns of Thanksgiving celebrations:

As cases continue to increase rapidly across the US, the safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving is to celebrate at home with the people you live with. Gatherings with family and friends who do not live with you can increase the chances of getting or spreading COVID-19 or the flu.

In my view that warning is not strong enough. There should be more draconic measures and restrictions of freedom to prevent higher Covid-19 casualties. In October Canada already celebrated its version of Thanksgiving. The result was a notable acceleration of the pandemic.

More can be done and more should be done to prevent this from happening in the US. But there are people who argue even against stronger warnings

This week, a survey reported that 38% of people planned to gather with 10 or more people for Thanksgiving, and just a third said they would wear a mask. Twitter reacted predictably. Public health experts and doctors pointed to rising COVID-19 case numbers in many states and scolded (often in all caps): DO NOT HAVE THANKSGIVING. Of course, there is no doubt that large gatherings, indoors, and without masks is a recipe for the rapid spread of SARS-CoV-2, but at the same time, I worry that the abstinence-only approach, the just-don’t-have-Thanksgiving approach, is not the right way for public health experts to respond. I think public health experts should not just listen, but hear what people are saying. Americans are saying that despite all the damage done by COVID-19, despite the rising cases and at-capacity ICUs around the country, their desire for human connection is so great, that they are willing to take the risk and have Thanksgiving. Americans are, in effect, expressing the longing and desperation of their soul. Instead of admonishing people to not gather, public health experts should begin from the starting point that people really want this. Correction, people are saying they need this. Given that the desire is so strong, what advice can we give to minimize the risk? How can we reduce,- not eliminate risk?

As Thanksgiving family meetings happen indoor with everyone talking and eating together in one room there is little one can do to reduce the risk and to avoid new infections except to call off the event. That is why I think that the states should have intervened more by restricting travel and the size of private meetings. That is not happening because for many people in the US this is not about ‘longing’ or a ‘need’ but about a mistaken understanding of freedom:

Here’s a question for all red-blooded liberty-loving American patriots: Who has a greater lived experience of freedom at the moment, citizens of Vietnam or the US? Vietnam, of course, is a one-party Communist state, with fairly strict limitations on freedom of speech, the press, and so on, while the US has (at least for now) a somewhat democratic constitution and (at least formally) some protections for civil liberties. But in Vietnam, there is no raging coronavirus pandemic. Thanks to swift action from the government, that nation squelched its initial outbreak, and has so far successfully contained all subsequent infection clusters before they got out of hand.

Vietnam is free of Covid-19 and its people are mostly free to do what they want to do. The same goes for China were Covid-19 restrictions are now minimal. People are free to travel within the country and to live a normal life. The few local outbreaks that are still happening are rigorously hunted down. Still, the AP depicts those interventions as an assault on the ever ephemeral ‘freedom’:

Chinese authorities are testing millions of people, imposing lockdowns and shutting down schools after multiple locally transmitted coronavirus cases were discovered in three cities across the country last week. In Manzhouli, a city of more than 200k people, local health authorities are testing all residents after two cases were reported on Saturday. They also shut down all schools and public venues and banned public gatherings such as banquets. China has resorted to its heavy, top-down approach each time new cases of local transmission are found, shutting down schools and hospitals, locking down residential communities and entire neighborhoods, and testing millions. Tianjin authorities shut down a kindergarten and moved all the teachers, family and students to a centralized quarantine space. They also sealed the residential compound where the five cases were found. China’s approach to controlling the pandemic has been criticized for being draconian. It locked down the city of Wuhan, where cases were first reported, for more than two months to contain the virus, with the local government shutting down all traffic and confining residents to their homes. Domestically, however, China has called its strategy “clear to zero” and has boasted of its success.

China used science and strong public health measures to defeat the pandemic. Being draconic in doing that is the only way to really get a pandemic under control. The AP’s negative tone about the anti-Covid-19 measures is typical for US media:

91% of stories by US major media outlets are negative in tone versus fifty four percent for non-US major sources and sixty five percent for scientific journals. The negativity of the US major media is notable even in areas with positive scientific developments including school re-openings and vaccine trials. Stories of increasing COVID-19 cases outnumber stories of decreasing cases by a factor of 5.5 even during periods when new cases are declining.

That may have been caused partially by anti-Trump sentiment in the media:

Among US major media outlets, stories discussing President Donald Trump and hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) are more numerous than all stories combined that cover companies and individual researchers working on COVID-19 vaccines.

Trump surely could have done more. Still, he is now getting too little credit for his successful Operation Warp Speed which has created three reasonable good vaccine in record time. But would the people in the US really have followed Trump’s or any others president’s advice if he had called for or ordered more restrictions? I find that unlikely, because the preeminent ideology in the US is this false understanding of ‘freedom’ which is incompatible with a pandemic:

Life for Vietnamese people has returned to normal, with a few sensible precautions. If their success holds for a few more months until a vaccine can be deployed, Vietnam will have dodged the pandemic nearly perfectly. Meanwhile in the self-appointed “land of the free,” on Sunday (Nov 15) the seven-day average of daily COVID-19 deaths was 1,148. The bleak irony of American life is our boastful and hyperbolic national conception of liberty has left us as one of the most unfree peoples on the globe. There can be no freedom without government, a lesson currently being inscribed in blood, and stacked up in the mobile morgues that are overflowing with corpses in more cities around the country every day. All the political freedoms I supposedly enjoy as an American citizen are useless in the face of this unending tsunami of death and misery. The plain fact is that the average resident of Vietnam, under a repressive dictatorship, let me emphasize, has more freedoms in the places where, for most people, it really counts: the freedom to leave the house, the freedom to see and touch one’s family and friends, the freedom to go to a restaurant or a bar or a movie or a concert, and simply the freedom from constant grasping fear of invisible death. In reality, as Vietnam demonstrates, the only way to have freedom during a pandemic is with a competent, aggressive state that does intrusive, coercive things on a hair trigger, the very instant they become necessary.

The US and other ‘western’ societies have failed to understand that. Individual liberties are all fine. But they must stand back when the liberty of the general society is endangered. Emergency medicine (triage) knows the concept of minimizing ‘life years lost’ when deciding to either save patient A or B. The patient who has more potential life years left is preferred to survive. We may need a similar concept for ‘freedom’ where the aim is to maximize the amount of total freedom not for individuals but for the society as a whole, not within a short moment but over a considerable period of time. This what China and Vietnam have done. Their draconic local measures have harshly restricted the freedom of relative few but maximized the freedom their societies could allow themselves. In the end even those whose freedoms were restricted the most, the inhabitants of Wuhan for example, have gained more freedom than a runaway pandemic would have allowed them to have.

Why are millions of Americans traveling for Thanksgiving as the pandemic rages?
Niles Niemuth, WSWS, Nov 23 2020

Workers coming off shift at Life Care Center, Kirkland, Wash., near Seattle. (Photo: Elaine Thompson/AP)

The coronavirus pandemic is breaking records every day in the US, filling up intensive care units, overwhelming hospital systems and exhausting health care workers. A record 203k Americans tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday, and the seven-day average is above 170k. Despite significant advances in treating the disease, more than 1.5k people are dying every day, the highest level since May. The CDC predicts that the US will record 300k deaths by the middle of December, and there could be as many as 21k new coronavirus hospitalizations each day. The CDC has issued a severe warning against traveling for Thanksgiving, one of the busiest travel weeks of the year. It recommends that people restrict their dinner plans to those who live in their households in order to limit the further spread of the virus. Dr Henry Walke, the CDC’s COVID-19 incident manager explained at a press conference last week:

The tragedy that could happen is that one of your family members is coming to this family gathering and they could end up severely ill, hospitalized or dying. And we don’t want that to happen.

Under these conditions, many people are choosing not to travel. The number of people flying for Thanksgiving is down by more than half from last year. However, the Transportation Security Administration reported that more than three million people passed through airport security checkpoints between Friday and Sunday, making it the busiest travel weekend since March, when restrictions and lockdowns were implemented to control the COVID-19 pandemic. Crowded security lines snaked through terminals as travelers packed onto airplanes to head home to see their families. All told, the American Automobile Association projects that 50 million people will travel by car, air and rail throughout the US during the Thanksgiving holiday period stretching from Nov 25 through Nov 29. While this represents a 10% decline from 2019, the consequences of such a mass travel event will likely be catastrophic. The pandemic saw its initial widespread transmission when five million people traveled out of the city of Wuhan in Hubei Province, where the first cases of COVID-19 were detected, to celebrate Chinese Lunar New Year with family. The virus quickly spread from China to the rest of the world.

Canada saw a significant spike in coronavirus infections and deaths two weeks after families across the country gathered to celebrate Thanksgiving on Oct 12. During the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918, Thanksgiving in the US was followed by a devastating third wave that did not subside until the summer of 1919. With all that is known about COVID-19, how it is spread, its lethality for the elderly and medically vulnerable, why are so many still traveling for the holiday? There are complex and varying factors at work. Many students, for example, are returning home after the cancellation of in-person classes by universities, following the reckless reopening of campuses that has helped to propel the present outbreak. Thanksgiving is a cultural tradition in the US, the one time in the year when family members living in disparate parts of the country come together. As a result of the pandemic, tens of millions of people have not seen their parents, children, significant others or friends for months. They have gone through varying levels of lockdown and coronavirus restrictions while suffering through a period of unprecedented stress, turmoil, and financial difficulty.

Many people have been led to believe that travel can be safe, or at least that the danger can be minimized. In the days preceding the holiday, demand for testing has surged, as millions hope that a negative test means that they can interact with their families over the holidays. Testing labs, however, starved of critical supplies, are reporting delays in delivering timely results. While the ruling class and the media focus on the “personal responsibility” of those who travel, the fact is that the present spread of the virus is the direct product of the policy of “herd immunity” spearheaded by the Trump administration and backed by the entire ruling class. Every day, workers are being forced to interact with their coworkers in factories and other workplaces in order to produce profits for the corporations. Falsely told that it is safe to return to school and work, many ask themselves: Could flying or driving to eat dinner with my family be any worse? Then there is the immense confusion generated by the mainstream media, whose presentation, day after day, is that the pandemic is about to turn a corner for the better. The NYT, the editorial voice of the Democratic Party, has been demanding that schools remain open and insists that they are safe even though more than one million children have contracted the disease. And it was the NYT’s columnist Thomas Friedman who vocalized the slogan of the ruling elite’s approach to the pandemic, that the “cure cannot be worse than the disease.”

Finally, there is the abysmal state of scientific education in America, the outcome of four decades of attacks on public education, which has resulted in a situation where significant sections of the population deny the existence of the virus, refuse to wear masks when in public and oppose the use of vaccines to protect the population from disease, ignorantly placing themselves and others at risk. Trump’s repeated promotion of quack remedies, including the injection of bleach, while pressing for the rapid development and distribution of a vaccine during his administration for clearly political purposes, has sown great distrust among the population. The systematic denigration of science is not limited to the Trump administration. In academia, the postmodernist rejection of rationality and the denial of objective truth prevails. At the same time the churches, which play an outsize role in social and political life in the United States, peddle superstition and backwardness. The collapse of the labor movement also plays a significant role in disorienting and polluting popular consciousness. In 2005, remarking on the bizarre spectacle surrounding the case of Terry Schiavo, a brain-dead woman who was removed from life support by her husband, WSWS Editorial Board Chairman David North noted the socioeconomic changes underlying the influence of backwardness and superstition among broader layers of the population:

The virtual disappearance of what had been the principal form of mass organization and popular resistance to corporate power radically changed the nature of the relationship between workers and the economic structure within which they live. Whereas in the past they confronted this structure, however inadequately, as a class, they now confront this structure as isolated individuals. They find themselves in a situation where they are compelled to confront problems not as part of a social collective, but by themselves.

This describes very well the situation tens of millions of people confront as the coronavirus pandemic rages. Workers and young people have been worn down by the daily onslaught of infection and death without any support. They have been left by the ruling class to confront the horror of the pandemic entirely by themselves. Nothing has been done to mobilize resources to stop the disease or to address its massive economic, social and psychological consequences. The unions play no role in educating the working class about the dangers of the pandemic or the public health measures needed to contain the virus. Nor have they done anything to counter the anti-science sentiments that have been cultivated among a layer of backward workers. Instead, they have collaborated with the companies as their enforcers, keeping the factories, schools and other workplaces open without any restrictions, even as tens of thousands in the auto industry, hospitals, slaughterhouses and Amazon’s warehouses have fallen ill, and many have died.

The disaster that is unfolding and set to dramatically worsen in the next four weeks is the outcome of the fact that the needs of the masses are subordinated to the profit interests of the super-rich. While the billionaires rack up record profits and Wall Street soars to new heights, the working class is experiencing an economic crisis without precedent since the Great Depression. With the ending of the last vestiges of pandemic aid after Christmas and the lifting of moratoriums on evictions, millions face complete destitution. The promotion of cultural backwardness by the ruling class now intersects with a homicidal policy. While the coronavirus pandemic is the immediate cause of the catastrophe that is enveloping the United States, its impact is bound up with the degraded social-economic and political conditions produced by American capitalism.

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