Guest Column: Pandemic – Requiem for a Dream, at the intersection of inconvenient truth and hysteria

by Charles Ostman

Quotes from previous COVID related discussions . . .

Today was the first day I got really upset at this virus.

Then I just got sad.

Is it ever going away?

Just like the common cold and the flu (and malaria, and tuberculosis) will always be with us, so will this.

I am more upset at the hysteria surrounding this virus, than the virus itself.

 Countless millions have had their dreams of a better life, for themselves and their families, crushed into a dark corner of despair, the carnage of the ongoing COVID pandemic in concert with incompetent political and polarizing leadership.  But at this juncture, the draconian set of circumstances is not exclusively about those who have succumbed to this invading virus . . . this is about the vast populations of ordinary citizens who are facing complete financial ruin, their entire career or business wiped out, eviction or foreclosure immediately immanent, chances of finding any sort of work all but impossible, especially for those in the 40+ age bracket.  These are not those dealing with physical symptoms of the virus, but rather symptoms of an enforced policy which has essentially shut down an entire economy, for months already passed and more yet to come.

Over the past few weeks I have embarked on the very precarious mission of respectfully asking the basic question, is there a threshold where the ratio of those who succumb to the physical pandemic vs. those who  succumb to a draconian enforcement of pandemic containment policies, that could warrant a reform of these policies to a compromise balance between these two phenomena?

What has become apparent is the radical politicization applied to any attempt at asking, even in the mildest terms, could a less destructive collection of policies be considered.  Especially here, in the SF bay area (California), radio stations, social media, and media channels that presents information and opinion about this on a daily basis leans heavily in the direction this pandemic must be crushed at all costs. To what extreme shall we go? The actual number of fatalities is a fraction of those who have been infected, and for the most part confined to specific high-risk populations. 

The mantra is incessantly reiterated that no deaths or even illness will be tolerated, in favor of allowing a sinister capitalism (or greed?) to be revived, making profit from the pandemic victims.  No, this is not meant as a parody of political correctness gone amok, or material for the humor journal the Onion, this is the actual bizarre mindset of more than a few within the progressive, mindfulness community.  There are even some who privately relish this entire debacle, thinking that this will usher in the utopian fantasy world of ubiquitous socialism, and push evil capitalism into the dark corner of extinction.

Requiem for a Dream was a title for a film that was released several years ago, based on the crushing realities of the world which intruded in their utopian imagined world.  Though there are many details which are quite different from current context, the metaphor is highly appropriate.

Pandemic protocol of a previous era.

 Hysteria momentum

Hysteria momentum (etymologically an emotional burst based on imaginary or real fear) has accelerated to the point where any attempt at logically questioning the current COVID policy is immediately met with fanatical derision and accusations. What has emerged is a heavily politicized narrative defining the COVID situation, and what it’s future policy options should be. The consequences of any range of options will have impactful consequences, but there is a range of variables to be considered and not confined to any rigid shackle of hysteria. (The variables also include the dynamic of climate change that offers and even more dire prediction of the planet’s future along with nuclear war).

Evidence of this pervasive mindset is replicated on a daily basis, as various “news” media channels (I use that term very lightly here) keeps stoking the fires of hysteria with their solemn recitation of the most recent pandemic caused deaths, as if the approaching scary sounding apocalypse is hovering overhead.

Of course, there is little mention that many of the fatalities, tragic as they are, were mostly of a given age range and sectors of the population among those who already had other chronic health challenges long before the pandemic became apparent. 

Crowd completely oblivious to any form of pandemic protocol

In perhaps my most controversial statement here, it is worth noting that many of these victims were not in very good shape, many of whom were overweight, poor dietary habits, lacking in other areas related to health, (including disability, being health literate and having access to affordable health services), immune deficiencies, liver disease, some with a history of smoking in their younger days, and so forth.

I freely admit I’m in a high-risk age bracket (mid 60s) but have also been very mindful of physical (and mental) health, in good shape, exercise regularly, very careful with diet, and so on. 

Am I likely to become infected?  Yes, very likely.

Will this likely lead to an automatic fatality?  No. Not necessarily. 

Am I even likely to experience severe symptoms?  Quite possibly not.

What follows here below is a discussion along these lines, including a series of questions and responses during this conversation.  Rather than rewrite much of this content as a self-contained op-ed piece, I thought it might be much more relevant to present this content in the context of this discussion.  The example presented here is relatively mild and rational compared to some others which were bizarre and absurd, even to those who tend to be on the left side of the fence and are not ardent Trump supporters, a description which includes myself.

As a side-note here, the political correctness thought police have become evermore strident in recent times, armed with the cancel culture prerogatives which threaten to purge anyone who strays, even slightly, from the momentarily approved thought memes and choices of diction.  This has become the doublespeak world that Orwell had visualized, or perhaps more like the McCarthyism witch hunt lunacy days experienced many decades ago into the past century.  

Of course, even attempting to suggest these comparisons, especially to the younger self-appointed social warriors, is often met with a blank stare, no comprehension whatsoever with the history being referred to.

I make this point here, as one who has observed the aforementioned Orwellian doublespeak utopian fantasy world enforcement first hand, as an indicator of how far this cultural pandemic has infected the surrounding populace, which is now reshaping the narrative of the physical pandemic spreading across the land.

Is it ever going away?

No, probably not, at least for many months to come, which leads to a range of questions that some have attempted to ask earlier, but will try once again.

Yes, 159,000 plus as of this writing have already perished here in the US from COVID, which is terrible, and likely there will be more, but before going into hysteria over all this, just take a moment or two to consider potential policy options vs. consequences.

There have been multiple pandemics, far worse than this one, not just the spectacularly severe “Spanish Flu” pandemic over a century ago, but the relatively recent examples, such as the “Hong Kong flu” pandemic, which was crushingly severe, millions perished.

But here’s the part that might warrant a closer look; the economies of the world were not completely shut down.  Why is this relevant, one might ask?  To protect the profits of capitalists, intent on putting their businesses before human suffering? What is there to materialistically gain if the world around you falls apart? 

What do you think? 

A much more accurate assessment recognized that these types of pandemics are cyclical events, very damaging when they occur, capable of being virulent over the course of many months ranging into multiple years.  This is the reality, the inconvenient truth.

The response then was to develop a vaccine, as soon as possible, but do so outside the usual time consuming, redundant development and testing protocols (as Russia is doing now), but not inflicting such a draconian economic shutdown as is evident now. 

This time around, however, there is much more of a pervasive “safety at all costs” culture norm here and elsewhere in the world.  On the surface this seems like the obvious choice, caters to current political correctness standards, and is a safer route to avoid potential chain of liability complexities.  The current culture norm is quite different from the Hong Kong pandemic dilemma of previous decades.

This time around, the choice was made to enforce a rigid protocol which required completely closing down the entire economy, for months already, and likely many more months to come.   The theory was that the US treasury could afford the seemingly endless $trillions it would cost to support this policy.  Actually, the real answer is that no, it can’t, the economy is not going to be able to sustain this policy without essentially “printing” up many more $trillions to inject into an already sagging economy,  sinking evermore into the quicksand of irreversible economic damage (GDP has already been crushed with a 35% loss, there is no precedent for this).

Millions are without work, entire careers and job categories have disappeared, businesses have been permanently closing down, evictions or foreclosures are hovering over millions who have no way of keeping up payments, vast $trillions worth of debt obligations are likely to be defaulted, children of all ages are being stuck in a precarious collection of confining circumstances . . . there is much more that can be added to this list, but that sufficiently summarizes the general concept.

The end result has been a radical increase in suicides, and myriad other physical and mental health issues brought on by anxiety and seemingly hopeless personal circumstances.

There are guarded conversations quietly citing the serious deterioration of the US dollar, as trillions more are magically created to maintain the facade of a functioning economy.  The credit worthy status of the US treasury is actually being questioned; downgrading has become a serious consideration.

But no one seems to want to talk about that, at least not publicly.  A few exceptions have managed to become noticed, but the stated mission expressed to the general population is to perpetuate the ongoing freezing of the economy, making sure there aren’t many more succumbing to unpleasant illness and death.  But there is a bit of a caveat here, in that the vast majority of these symptoms are mostly confined to specific “high risk” portions of the population. 

It is here where the moral compass is spinning around in this conundrum of conflicting interests, political agendas, and an accelerating hysteria momentum fueled by evermore questionable, emotionally driven reasoning.

The answer I would propose at this juncture is to allow the economy to be at least partially brought back to life, with a compromising set of conditions balancing practical standards of caution and allowing many of the previously shut down business to reopen and function again, even if in limited operation.

Is this a perfect solution? 

No, of course not.

But that’s the reality, there is no perfect solution to any of this.  More people will perish, mostly within the high- risk populations, but an even worse fate waits for millions if some sort of realistic compromise is not enabled . . . soon.

Perfection lives only in dreams.  This is the real world.

Reader response . . .

We’ve had a hundred flu seasons since the Spanish flu.

In 2009 the pandemic infected 20% of the US, twice the typical number… and killed 12,000 people, or 1/5000 of the infected. This is a fraction of the typical flu IFR. The CDC announced the new H1N1’s existence within days of discovering community spread (2 cases in California) because they have a widespread network looking for known and unknown influenzas. They were shipping the new vaccine within 6 months of finding it. All they had to do was decide which virus to use as a template, and then grow the vaccine. It’s all set up to go.

And those 12,000 were mostly under 65, because older people had been exposed to earlier H1N1 outbreaks. This shows us what the flu will be looking like as we reach herd-immunity level vaccination rates. We need to do even more for the flu, but we’ve got surveillance, sampling, and vaccines when the predictions of which strains will break out are right.

With CV19, the prior examples of similar viruses were SARS and MERS. There was no prior test as they had with the flu. There was no vaccine system ready to go. But there was evidence from Wuhan and then Bergamo (and other places in Italy) of patterns which were much worse than the flu.

Based on the evidence we had then, with January through early March data, what was the right decision?

 My counter response . . .

Am mostly familiar with this history, and no, there was no perfect solution available at the start of this.  But I might suggest that as the patterns began to emerge, there was a threshold where a reasonable comparison could be made between who would be most at risk in what circumstances, and what the cost of a complete economic shutdown would be.  By cost, I’m just not referring to x dollars vs. y fatalities, but rather a macro-view of the entire range of consequences and impact attributes this would have, much of which will extend far into the future.

Could a more reasonable compromise response have been considered at that point?  I think so (and a growing number of people from both sides of the political fence are quietly leaning in this direction).

But, speaking of sides of the political fence, this is where this entire debacle has become clouded and immersed into a much murkier than necessary perspective.

As I said previously, I am not remotely, under any circumstance, of pro Trumpian Empire orientation, but it has become quite evident that any discussion daring to even hint at questioning the current policies is immediately relegated to being in collusion with evil Trumpism and his zombie minions.

What I am proposing is taking a second and third look at this, leaning a bit more toward lessening the crushing pressure that has been place upon millions of working people, small businesses, local institutions and so on.  This has absolutely nothing to do with some sort of stealth support agenda being injected into Wall St (as some have weirdly alluded to), but to provide relief to vast millions of ordinary people, who otherwise have severe consequences hovering over them like the sword of Damocles, on steroids.

Will there be more infections?  Yes, of course.

Is everyone who gets infected headed toward immediate death or excruciating sickness?

No, not even close.

This is where the hysteria momentum has gone completely off the rails, in my opinion.

The usual suspect media channels have been ratcheting up the imminent apocalyptic catastrophe, amplifying the hysteria momentum among many (it’s a sort of self-inflicted feedback loop), who become incessantly panicky as the next quote of statistics are uttered indicating deaths and infections. 

Patterns to be recognized?   

Yes, but not exactly as being portrayed.  Are there more deaths and illness incidents coming in the near future? 

Yes, of course, no one would suggest otherwise (well, excepting perhaps some of those aforementioned Trumpian Empire minions).

But can a reasonable ratio be considered between percentage of future fatalities within the high-risk populations, and the actual cost of the ubiquitous economic shutdown?   Yes . . . but likely not publicly acknowledged by many, for fear of the political correctness thought- police coming at them with a hysterical vengeance.

Even here, on various progressive, left oriented radio stations, which I mostly tend to agree with on many issues, the exceedingly brittle, inflexible mindset about this is remarkable, and actually quite tragic – and, unnecessary.

It is this mindset, which has become yet another ranting platform, which will catalyze much more long-term damage than this actual virus will ever cause.

That was the point I was hoping to make.