I didn’t mind Donald Trump so much three and a half years ago, on that day my friend’s dad went to the hospital with a strep infection in his heart, while over in Seattle, my friend and I sat in front of the television and watched the map turn red. My friend’s dad was already hooked up to a monitor when he had the heart attack.
Michigan went for Trump. Wisconsin, Trump. Pennsylvania, Trump.
We didn’t know if my friend’s dad would survive the night, so we watched the news and refreshed 538, The New York Times, and Politico, and that evening, because my friend’s dad might have been about to die, the election made me feel better about things.

COVID-19 has nineteen confirmed kills in the United States, sixteen of those in Washington state. In the greater Seattle area specifically, the confirmed cases underrepresent the actual numbers. Genome analysis revealed that Washington’s first “community case” (confirmed February 28) had descended from the U.S.’s first case overall (confirmed January 19), which meant the virus had propagated throughout the community for five weeks before it was detected. On March 2, preliminary analysis estimated the actual number of local infections as 570, with a 90 percent uncertainty interval of between 80 and 1500 infections.

I don’t have COVID-19. I don’t know anyone with COVID-19, but Jenn teaches at Hazen High School where a student tested positive, and Katya works at a church where a probably-positive visitor attended last Sunday, so I’m only two degrees removed from the most exciting game in town.

More rampant and more personal “diseases of despair” such as alcoholism, overdose, and suicide are killing Americans at a growing pace, and in numbers that have reversed the country’s overall life expectancy. Our U.S. lives had grown longer and longer since the 1950s, thanks to antibiotics and vaccines and medical technology, until our U.S. people couldn’t stomach any more. In the past ten years, Americans without college degrees keep killing themselves, more each year than the last.

The heart attack is everyday life.
Trump’s election is COVID-19, Super Tuesday, the Rapture, and Trump’s election.
People worship these things. I worship these things. If I focus on them, I don’t have to face reality.

* * *

I refresh The Seattle Times, KUOW, and Facebook. COVID-19 has spread to twenty-six U.S. states so far, and meanwhile, South Korea, Iran, and Italy keep racking up their own points. People will die, the economy might tank, and my Italian honeymoon’s on the line, but somehow, it feels like I have a conflict of interest.
Matthew 5:27 says “everyone who looks at COVID-19 with lust has already committed adultery with it in his heart,” but I don’t buy it. Let me pick up this neutral thing and look at it, this feeling that comes on its own.

My friend Josiah loves disaster movies. Blow up a planet or demolish a city, and he’ll watch it. We saw Geostorm together (16% on Rotten Tomatoes), and Josiah’s biggest complaint: not enough screen time devoted to city-wide destruction.

Even after the ambulance takes the body away and road crews push the debris to the shoulder, a car crash still causes traffic jams. People rubberneck. It’s tragic, of course—“that poor person”—and we have to look.

Every conversation I’ve had this past week includes COVID-19, and almost no one says anything new; we’ve all read it already. Washingtonians are mainlining updates from the CDC, UW Medicine, news reports, and social media. Seattle schools will likely close next week, said a teacher friend. Doctors are telling symptomatic patients to go to the ER instead of their offices, said a healthcare provider. These minute bits of gossip don’t help us, but we’re paparazzi. Who needs Princess Diana when we have COVID-19?

Whenever I stand on the edge of a bridge with only a handrail and two hundred feet between me and the black water, I feel an impulse to jump, to vault the barrier and plummet down, down, down. I feel this for “High Place Phenomenon” reasons, which aren’t suicidal reasons, but which have only been identified by unconvincing studies with even less convincing explanations.

Like almost everyone else in my childhood church, I read Left Behind and rooted for the Rapture. I believed Heaven could only come later, after God burned down the earth and everyone in it, after only these three remained: faith, hope, and violence.

Death and resurrection.
Purification by fire.
A phoenix from the ashes.

I refresh The Seattle Times, KUOW, and Facebook.
All Amazon and Microsoft employees able to do so will work remotely for the rest of March, and Microsoft promised its hourly workers their full, regular wage, even if COVID-19 precautions shrink their actual working hours. Other Seattle-based companies are following suit.
Washington health insurers received an emergency order to provide COVID-19 testing without copays or deductibles, and the state will foot the bill for people who don’t have insurance.
The City of Seattle, more than four years into its state of emergency on homelessness, is now expanding homeless shelters to better protect everyone from the spread of COVID-19.

Is this a beginning?
Could things change?

Pearl Harbor, Selma’s Bloody Sunday, and the Crucifixion were all awful events that reshaped the world.

* * *

Here in Seattle, you can’t buy toilet paper, hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, or bottled water. The shelves are bare all across town, and forget about masks, even if you go online (please forget about them, the U.S. surgeon general pleads, so healthcare providers can have enough). My future in-laws mailed my family their extra N95 masks, and my dad owns a shop respirator, so the shortages haven’t phased us. We’ll be okay. My parents have robust immune systems and smoke-free lungs. They’ll be okay. I’m young and healthy, and I already work remotely. I’ll be okay.

My team didn’t do so hot in Super Tuesday, but Bloomberg blew half a billion dollars and dropped out, so I suppose it’s a wash.After the results came in, I filled texts, Whatsapp, and phone calls with commentary: young voters didn’t show up, Warren won’t endorse until after the convention, Alabama suppresses minority voters. I cited updated polls and betting odds.
I didn’t win my fantasy football league this year, either.
Washington state will vote on March 10, and then again in November. As Gabe said last time around: “regardless of who wins, a few dollars will ruffle in or out of my bank account, and State of the Union addresses may or may not ruffle my feathers, but my life will remain safely buffered from any drastic change. I am an upper-middle class, college-educated, white, Protestant male. I’ll be okay.” But other people won’t. Is that what makes these games so addictive?

Typhoid Mary, asymptomatic and apolitical, refused to acknowledge any connection between her series of cooking jobs and the typhoid outbreaks that emerged in her wake. She insisted that she was perfectly healthy, had never had typhoid fever, and could not be the source.
I can’t empathize with Typhoid Mary. I can’t empathize with her, can I?

I can put it down, now. This thing is rotten.

* * *

I refresh The Seattle Times, KUOW, and Facebook. Hazen High School shut down this week, and the University of Washington has canceled classes. Not necessarily for the students, who would almost certainly survive an infection, but for the people who interact with them: the elderly, the immunocompromised.
COVID-19 isn’t about the healthy. It’s about your grandparents, y los viejos calle abajo, and everyone with autoimmune diseases. All of this—COVID-19, Trump, Super Tuesday—it’s about the uninsured and the uneducated, the impoverished and the immigrants. It’s about the least of these, in all their forms, whether vulnerable or working-class or otherwise despairing. They’re the measure of society.

I don’t think this fascination with COVID-19 is wrong, no more than the urge to jump off the edge a building is wrong. I think it depends on what I do with it. So I don’t go to the gym as often I used to, and I’ve stopped working from public libraries. I’ll wear a N95 mask the next time I fly. Those masks pinch my nose, and they’re hard to breathe through, and I’ll need to shave my beard so they fit right, but I’ll be okay.

5 Comments

  1. Kyric Koning

    “It matters what you do with it.” So true. It’s curious how we can become obsessed with things, even more curious how those things are so often negative. Some might say it’s easier to see the bad than the good, simply because it sticks out more since good is “normal.”

    Reply
    • Kate Parsons

      I so resonate with this, following the news with curiosity and horror but also a level of distance because whatever happens, I’ll probably be okay. Thanks for the reminder of who is really most affected.

      Reply
  2. Avatar

    Excellent piece. Dostoyevsky would be proud.

    Reply
  3. Avatar

    Outstanding post, one I am forwarding. Thanks for your viewpoint.

    Reply
  4. Avatar

    Still rereading this post now and it’s still fantastic. I check the numbers every morning because it’s something to follow. Thanks for this reflection.

    Reply

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