This is a Pandemic. Not a Game.

This blog post is a part of a series dedicated to highlighting the personal experiences of Maguire Center student staff member Rylee Bailey’s personal experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The literature we read often reflects the world in which we live. In the age of COVID-19, more and more people are reading novels like The Great Influenza by John M. Barry, A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe, and Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. COVID-19 has also revived interest in the unnervingly relevant novel The Plague by Albert Camus. In the novel, as thousands suffer and die from a fictional epidemic, the protagonist, a doctor, explains why he continues his work, saying: “There’s no question of heroism in all this. It’s a matter of common decency. That’s an idea which may make some people smile, but the only means of fighting a plague is — common decency.”

Unfortunately, those who are leading the fight against COVID-19 fail to express the same attitude as the doctor in this novel. The leaders whom Americans should trust most continue to trivialize the COVID-19 pandemic in an effort to return to “normal” (whatever that is). This is a pandemic. Not a game. And Americans need common decency from their leaders now more than ever.

COVID-19 in Texas

In Texas, hospitals swell with COVID-19 patients and are seeing more COVID-19 patients now than they had only three weeks ago. Texas  Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order in late April barring localities from enforcing mask requirements. After local policy makers solved this order disguised as a riddle, many local officials began crafting new mask mandates this past week, including Dallas and Austin. However, it shouldn’t have taken a surge in COVID-19 cases in Texas and pleas from local officials to influence Abbott to take these measures now when, in reality, they should have occurred months ago.

COVID-19 in Dallas and at SMU

I applaud the Dallas County Commissioners who voted Friday morning to require businesses to ensure customers wear a face mask while inside or face a fine up to $500. While businesses shouldn’t necessarily be held responsible for the actions of their customers (as I believe the least humans can do for each other is have the decency to wear a mask), this is an important step forward in containing the spread of COVID-19. Also, Dallas’s support for its small and medium sized businesses who were hit hardest by COVID-19 has been excellent. Mayor Eric Johnson announced “Dallas Forward” on Tuesday, an initiative that will help direct businesses to financial resources, business coaches, and PPE if needed.

Just as the state of Texas’s response to COVID-19 as a whole serves as a template for city-wide responses such as Dallas’s, SMU’s response mirrors that of Dallas’s, the state’s and the federal government’s responses. Yesterday, SMU announced that it will require face coverings in all public places through August 4. In addition to this precaution, SMU will now update the campus community by listing all confirmed COVID-19 cases on its COVID-19 site, and has also listed other regulations and recommendations such as providing students with a letter (upon approval) to share with their faculty members, indicating they are approved to be fully remote for the entire semester.

However, some students, faculty and staff find that the university is not adequately protecting its people. But honestly, what example does SMU have? Leaders across the country are urging businesses, schools, and other organizations to open back up in hopes of achieving a “return to normal,” so what more can SMU do? SMU’s cohort peer institutions (universities defined as operationally comparative) including TCU and Baylor University also plan to return to on-campus teaching this fall, so SMU is also facing pressure from that direction. I think the success of SMU’s containment of the coronavirus this fall depends on the individual behavior of students, faculty and staff. This means having the common decency to not go out and expose oneself to COVID-19 and potentially spread it among the university. Yes, it will take immense self-control and self-discipline, and I hope that my peers develop those qualities before we return to campus in August.

COVID-19 on a National Scale:

On a national scale, the executive branch continues to fail Americans. The White House’s response to the pandemic reflects an utter disregard for science in preference for magical thinking – which is not the same thing as optimism – and national narcissism.

On a national scale, the executive branch continues to fail Americans. The White House’s response to the pandemic reflects an utter disregard for science in preference for magical thinking – which is not the same thing as optimism – and national narcissism. As a type 1 diabetic, the president’s trivial approach to medicine is disheartening. In late May, Trump announced a program to cap the copay costs for Medicare recipients who rely on insulin. In the Rose Garden announcement, the focus was not what he said about the program, but what he said about insulin itself. “I don’t use insulin,” Trump said. “Should I be? Huh? I never thought about it. But I know a lot of people are very badly affected, right? Unbelievable.” While many of the spectators argued that Trump was kidding, it is hard to tell sometimes. On the surface, this might just seem to be a foolish comment, but it’s important to not lose sight of the larger context.

Throughout the month prior to this comment, Trump mentioned possible benefits of disinfectant injections and treating COVID-19 by putting lights “inside the body.” Along with these comments, he has also questioned the usefulness of the flu vaccine and has touted the everyday use of the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine ­– despite FDA warnings that the use of the drug should be limited to those in a hospital setting or in clinical trials. In the midst of these irresponsible comments, bodies continue to pile up in the United States and the nation’s top leaders continue to declare the virus vanquished.

On Monday, almost four months and 118,000 deaths after White House Economic advisor Larry Kudlow declared the virus “contained” and “pretty close to airtight,” Kudlow says a second wave of coronavirus cases “isn’t coming.” Despite a recent spike in COVID-19 cases, Vice President Mike Pence urged GOP senators Wednesday to focus on “encouraging signs.” Instead of taking action and addressing this surge in cases, the White house appears to be doing very little if anything to protect Americans.

America’s national narcissism has prolonged the battle against COVID-19 because the nation refuses to accept its failures in response to the pandemic. As cases across the EU have plummeted and the virus has been virtually eradicated in New Zealand, it seems as if the United States has given up trying to contain the spread of COVID-19. Our nation’s leaders believe that there is no need to learn from our peer countries because of egotism and pride. Rather than taking action to protect American lives, these leaders are putting lives at risk for economic, political and selfish gain.

Just as U.S. leaders have given up on curing the epidemics of gun violence, police brutality, child poverty, health care inequity, and carbon emissions, they have also given up on coronavirus containment.

Rylee Bailey is an undergraduate student of Corporate Communications & Public Affairs and English at SMU.

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