“I don’t know what I can do to save people anymore.” A Michigan ER nurse, saying that “life and death” decisions are being made right now because of capacity and resource issues, begs people to “stay home” in order to slow the spread of COVID-19.

As of right now, Michigan is one of the top five states in the country with regard to diagnosed COVID-19 cases. According to today’s numbers, we now have nearly 2,300 confirmed cases, and 43 people here in our state have died as a result of the virus. And, as predicted, it’s beginning to take its toll on our emergency care infrastructure, which is being pushed far beyond its limits.

Here, to give you an idea of what’s going on in some of our Michigan hospitals, is a social media post from an emergency room nurse in Novi by the name of Mary MacDonald. It’s sobering stuff. MacDonald paints a bleak picture — one in which nurses are being assigned single surgical masks, and told to make them work for the duration — one in which, for lack of resources, life and death decisions are already being made on behalf of patients. To give you a concrete example, MacDonald says that, during a shift yesterday in Southfield, one of her patients was put on the hospital’s very last available ventilator. The implication, of course, being that the next patient in need of one may not be able to receive treatment. And we know this is happening elsewhere. Yesterday, it was reported that Beaumont hospitals were also approaching ventilator capacity. [The Big 3 are coming forward to assist in the manufacture of ventilators, but they’re still some time away, regardless of what Donald Trump may say. And, as of right now, we only have approximately 1,000 in the entire state.]

“It’s getting to the point now that it’s going to be just like Italy. We intubated, from 10:00 PM last night to this morning, we intubated two of my patients within a half-hour. And upwards of 10 patients were put on ventilators. My patient took the last ventilator available in the hospital,” MacDonald says in her video. She goes on to add, “Normally, if a patient was to pass away, it would be because we tried everything that we could, we did everything that we could, we had all the resources and all the people that we needed to help save this patient’s life, and it was just their time. And now we aren’t giving the patient the time to choose whether it’s their time or not. We’re choosing for them.”

I don’t mention any of this to scare you. I’m not trying to be sensationalistic about what’s happening. I think it’s important that we remain calm about this. But, at the same time, people need to know that, when people like this ER nurse urge us to stay home, and disengage from others, they do so for a very a legitimate reason. Our hospitals are being hit by a tsunami right now, and it’s our duty to give them a fighting chance by staying inside, keeping away from others, and slowing the spread of this deadly disease. Our front-line heath care workers are putting their lives on the line right now, at this very minute, and we owe it to them to do everything in our power to shelter-in-place and stay as healthy as we possibly can. I know it might seem like it to a lot of you, given what you’re seeing outside your window right now, but this is deadly fucking serious. This is literally life and death. This is an incredibly virulent virus, and, when you’re out, you’re helping spread it. So, please, if you can, stay in.

Posted in Health, Michigan, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 82 Comments

Documenting Ypsilanti in the time of COVID-19

Back in 2017, I got the idea that we should designate a weekend to collectively documenting our lives in Ypsilanti. I called the initiative #DocumentYpsi, and the results were pretty awesome. In fact, I was 100% committed, given the response, to make sure that it became an annual thing. But, like so many other things, I just forgot about it… until today… when I got word from my friend Kim Clarke that she wants to do something similar in conjunction with the Ypsilanti Historical Society, where she serves on the archive advisory board. Specifically, she wants to be sure that the archive accurately reflects what life in Ypsilanti was like during the COVID-19 lockdown of 2020. So, with that in mind, I’ve asked her to join me for a virtual beer to discuss what she has in mind, and how readers of this site might be able to help.

MARK: If you’re cool with it, I was thinking that we could start by talking about your day job, mining the U-M historical archives… You’ve been spending a lot of time these last several years, digging through archival materials, and I’m curious as to how it’s informed your perspective on the present… I mean, do you ever consider what someone doing your job 100 years from now might find themselves struggling to understand?

KIM: I spend a good deal of time at the Bentley Historical Archives. My job is managing a narrative website called the U-M Heritage Project, where we research and develop stories about the people and events that have shaped the institution through the years. The Bentley has terrific resources, both in terms of archival documents and images. We couldn’t do our site without the Bentley’s materials.

But, as I suspect is the case with anyone who does historical research, I always want to know more about daily life and the everyday person. I bet the archivists at the Bentley feel the same way.

So, for example, if the president of the university bans automobiles on campus because too many accidents are occuring, what did students think about that? That happened in 1925, when cars and traffic management were still a bit of a novelty. We can look at the Michigan Daily archives for some student insights. But wouldn’t it be great to have diaries from students, or letters home saying, “Hey, Dad, come and get the roadster, because I can’t have it on campus anymore.”

And there are definitely letters, scrapbooks and journals in the archives. I’m just greedy and want more.

MARK: I’m curious what you found in the U-M archives about the flu of 1918, assuming you’ve looked. Was there much?

KIM: I confess I have not done a deep dive into the 1918 epidemic. I know from others’ work that it crippled the campus and Ann Arbor. The epidemic coincided with America’s entry into the Great War, and students were allowed to join what was known as the Student Army Training Corps. It was similar to today’s ROTC programs. Just as the flu was spreading, SATC recruits were housed in the Michigan Union, which was new and had yet to open the public. We know now that infection disease and close quarters are a deadly mix. So when the flu hit Ann Arbor, 57 SATC recruits died.

President Harry Hutchins ordered all students and faculty to wear masks, and you can find one of those masks at the Bentley in a student scrapbook. Large gatherings were banned throughout the city. Enrico Caruso was scheduled to perform at Hill Auditorium, and was forced to cancel.

[Caption from the Bentley: “All U-M faculty and students were ordered to wear face masks in the fall of 1918 during a global influenza outbreak post-World War I. U-M student Alfred Wilkinson Wilson kept his in a scrapbook now housed at the Bentley, along with the mask’s directions for use. Influenza and pneumonia killed more than 15,000 people in Michigan between October 1918 and April 1919, with the highest death rate among people in their 20s.”]

MARK: I think, because of cell phones, the pervasiveness of camera technology, and our selfie-centric culture, there’s a sense that everything is being recorded, and that the job of future historians is going to be relatively easy with regard to what you’re talking about. I suspect, however, the opposite may be true. The glut of material, I’m thinking, could be absolutely impossible to wade through.

KIM: There is a glut. But at the same time, if the photos – and the texts and the emails and the emojis – never leave your phone, tomorrow’s historians will never know about them.

MARK: Oh, I’m just assuming that everything I do online has been captured by someone. I doubt they’re well-intentioned people looking out for future historians and sociologists, though. More likely, they’re people like Mark Zuckerberg, looking to monetize it. Still, though, I suspect that, if humanity exists into the future, it’ll be out there, and our ancestors, for a price, will be able to find out every cringeworthy Lifetime movie we ever watched, and every sexualy-suggestive emoji we ever sent. I guess that’s one good thing to be said for extinction.

KIM: Right. We’re going to see a lot of bad photos of what people had for dinner. I guess culinary historians will appreciate it.

MARK: So, what made you think, “We need to document what’s going on right now in Ypsilanti”?

KIM: I went for a walk around town this past Saturday (March 21) and was struck by all the handmade signs taped to storefronts. Owners saying they were closed, or cutting back hours, or working online only. It was pretty heartbreaking, but at the same time, so many of the signs had such grace. The Enchanted Florist had a beautiful sign. So did Unicorn Feed and Supply. These are businesses that are closing their doors and who knows if and when they will re-open. And still, the owners were thanking customers, encouraging good health, and looking ahead. I just thought: We need to capture this. And you don’t have to be a business owner to have had your world turned upside down right now.

MARK: And then you ran the idea by the folks at the Historical Society?

KIM: Yes. I reached out to Bill Nickels, who is president of the Ypsilanti Historical Society, and asked what he thought about creating a visual archive and asking people to share their photos. He liked the idea and so here we are. I created a Facebook group and hope people will show what’s happening in their world during this crazy time. I also hope it might be a way for people to connect, because life is pretty isolated right now.

MARK: Both you and he are to be commended. I seem to recall a time, not long ago, when I heard that people were trying to get their local historical archives to start Occupy Wall Street collections to no avail. I think the sense back then was that it wasn’t the place of archives to get involved in the present. Or at least that’s the sense I got, having talked with a friend who is an archivist in New York City. He, by the way, was successful in getting his institution to archive materials from both the Women’s March and Occupy Wall Street, but it took some doing… The role of a local history archive in the present is an interesting one to debate.

KIM: Exactly. National stories and movements will be recorded from many angles by different entities. But capturing local events often is in the hands of citizens, particularly with the demise of local newspapers. So I hope people will approach this as if it is 2120 and their grandchildren are wondering what the coronavirus epidemic of 2020 was like in Ypsilanti. Let’s provide a snapshot for them.

MARK: What kind of response have you gotten thus far from the community? Anything that you weren’t expecting?

KIM: About 90 people have joined the group so far, and I hope it grows. Folks have shared pictures from around town – a pretty desolate town. We have a video clip from a nature walk. One woman is in isolation and shared a photo from her bed. That was sobering. All of these images are exactly the kind of scenes I hope people will contribute: their perspectives during this time.

As I described in setting up the page, share anything that captures this moment in time: Stocking the pantry, videochats with co-workers, jigsaw puzzles with your kids, layoff notices, social distancing in the park, your Netflix watchlist.

MARK: I’ll have to check Governor Whitmer’s shelter-in-place order, but I don’t believe there’s an exception for “documenting the desolation.”

KIM: Going outside for a run or to walk the dog is allowed and encouraged. So why not get out of the house for a bit and take a few photos for the archives while you’re at it? Seems like a win-win to me.

[If you should take pictures for this, and you share them on social media, please post a link in this thread, or just send me the photos and I’ll find a way to share them.]

Posted in Art and Culture, Health, History, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Risking our lives to save his own

As of today, there are 53,740 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States, of which, 1,700 are here in Michigan. Here’s our current trajectory, based on the data.

One would hope that, with about half U.S. states now under some form of lockdown, and testing finally starting to ramp up, we may eventually, over the next several weeks, begin to see the number of newly diagnosed cases start to plateau. For now, though, we’re just experiencing exponential growth. And the deaths are beginning to add up.

In spite of this, however, the President of the United States — anxious to get the stock market pumping again — has indicated that he’d like to see our lockdowns come to an end as soon as possible.

Yesterday, Donald Trump said, “If it were up to the doctors, they may say let’s keep it shut down, let’s shut down the entire world. You can’t do that with a country.” He went on to elaborate, adding, “We’re going to be opening our country up for business because our country was meant to be open.” And, he went on to say, we’re talking about doing this in weeks, and not months.

Well, today, he set Easter as his goal — something which, given the extent to which this virus has already spread, and the fact that those infected could take as long as 14 days before falling victim to it, seems highly irresponsible. Of course, all of this is academic, seeing as how it was the governors of America, and not Donald Trump, who shut things down in response to this public health emergency, and it’s unclear what power Donald Trump has to reverse it, if said governors are still committed to following the advice of public health officials in their states. But one can be sure that the White House, as the days and weeks roll on, will be pushing more aggressively to renormalize things, even if it means putting a significant number of Americans at risk.

Here, speaking of what the professionals think, is a March 20 quote from Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “If you look at the trajectory of the curves of outbreaks and other areas, (it’s) at least going to be several weeks,” he said. “I cannot see that all of a sudden, next week or two weeks from now it’s going to be over. I don’t think there’s a chance of that.

Easter, by the way, is now just a little over two weeks away, on April 12.

As for why Trump would rush to open before public health officials are ready to do so, I suspect he knows that, the longer we’re under lockdown, and voters are reminded of his colossal failure to protect the American people, the worse things look for him going into the November election. Some, however, are also pointing out that he may have a personal interest in opening things back up, in that six of his company’s top seven revenue-producing hotels and clubs have been shut down in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, costing him millions.

Regardless of his motivation, it would appear as though he intends to try his best, in the absence of any scientific evidence to support his position, to bring us all back out of our homes. And, it would appear that some Republicans, like Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick are ready to support him. Patrick, yesterday, made the case that the patriotic, stock exchange-loving grandparents of America would be happy to die in order to save the economy.

So, are you willing to sacrifice your parents, grandparents, and friends with chronic lung issues because Donald Trump wants to get this behind us, and give the impression that things are once again back to normal?

update: Trump says that it’s not public health that we’re concerned about. He says that people only want to keep society shutdown during the crisis in order to hurt him.

Posted in Health, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 37 Comments

MAGA Jonestown

Last week, as the number of COVID-19 deaths started to climb across the United States, Donald Trump, always the salesman, felt the need to share a little good news. And, as he’d already been fact-checked to death over his false claim that a vaccine was “very close,” he decided to instead tell a story about Chloroquine, a derivative of quinine used to treat malaria, and its analog Hydroxychloroquine. These drugs, he told the American people, were “very powerful” potential “game changers” in the fight against COVID-19. Of course, after this said this, the FDA had to issue a statement saying that the drugs in question hadn’t been approved for the treatment of COVID-19. And Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, had to inform the press that, while there does exist some “anecdotal” evidence of efficacy against COVID-19, there hasn’t been “a controlled clinical trial,” and therefore it’s impossible to make any “definitive statement” about how well the drugs may actually work. None of that, of course, stopped Donald Trump from touting the wonder cure. “The nice part is,” he said last week, “it’s been around for a long time, so we know that if things don’t go as planned, it’s not going to kill anybody.” But, of course, that’s exactly what happened.

Here’s one of Donald Trump’s irresponsible tweets about the drug, which he indicated was a cure for COVID-19.

And here’s the news today from Arizona, where a man in his 60s, in hopes of protecting himself against COVID-19, ingested a lethal dose of a parasite treatment for fish containing Chloroquine. According to the man’s widow, she and her husband took the medication because, in her words, “Trump kept saying it was basically pretty much a cure”. She added, “We saw Trump on TV — every channel — and all of his buddies (were saying) that this was safe.”

Perhaps Donald Trump is incapable of learning that his actions have consequences. Or, more likely, he just doesn’t care. I don’t suppose it really matters why he does it. The important thing is that we remove him from office before even more people are forced to pay the price for his irresponsible rhetoric. It seems like a really obvious thing — something that shouldn’t have to be articulated here — but we need a leader that truly comprehends that, when he or she says something as the President of the United States, it carries a certain amount of weight. When an American president singles individuals out as “enemies of the people,” it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that violence follows. And it shouldn’t be a shock to anyone to learn that, when a president refers to a deadly disease as a “Chinese virus” in order to obfuscate his own culpability, Americans of Chinese descent find themselves subjected to racist attacks. And, when the president announces from the White House that wonder drugs exist for the treatment of a deadly disease, of course people are going to find said drugs and take them. He has had ample opportunity to learn from is mistakes, and rise to the challenge of leading this nation, but yet he persists. And the absolutely unnecessary damage continues. One would hope that, eventually, everyone would come to the realization that Donald Trump needs to be held to account.

update: The CDC had to issue a warning in response to the President’s irresponsible comments about Chloroquine being a cure for COVID-19.

Posted in Health, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 90 Comments

While Donald Trump is focused on using this crisis to create a $500B corporate slush fund, U.S. governors step in to fill the leadership void in the fight against COVID-19

In the absence of federal leadership, governors around the country are stepping up to fight the COVID-19 outbreak on their own. Governor Andrew Cuomo in New York is calling for retired health care workers to register with the state, asking that all hospitals increase their capacity by 50%, pushing for the construction of temporary medical facilities, and implementing aggressive testing, which is giving public health professionals in the state the data they need to plan and respond in close to real-time. [The state of New York, according to Cuomo, is doing more tests per capita than even China and South Korea right now.] And, while he’s doing this, he’s also finding time to thank not only front-line health care workers and public safety officers, but also those who are stocking grocery shelves and providing childcare for doctors and nurses. And, somehow, he’s doing it all with empathy, and without defensively lashing out at people like an angry, narcissistic toddler. It’s exactly the kind of leadership we need right now.

And he’s showing creativity. For instance, when it became clear that people weren’t adhering to the call to “flatten the curve” by staying home, he reached out to a number of famous New Yorkers, asking them to record PSAs, urging people to stay in, something the White House should have been doing a week ago. [It’s absolutely criminal, by the way, that the President didn’t call upon elected officials in Florida, urging them to close their beaches during spring break.]

And, thankfully, a lot of other governors – especially Democratic governors – are also stepping up and demonstrating the kind of leadership America so desperately needs in this moment. In California, for instance, Gavin Newsom has deployed the National Guard to get food into the hands of “to isolated and vulnerable Californians,” as the number of food bank volunteers has dropped considerably as result of the outbreak. And, in Kentucky, it looks as though the fast action of Governor Andy Beshear could have helped saved the lives of many. [The numbers could be off due to the fact that testing still isn’t being done at the rate that it should be, but, looking at the trajectory of COVID-19 in both Kentucky, a state that moved quickly, and Tennessee, a neighboring state which did not, it would seem that fast action really makes a difference when it comes to slowing the spread of the virus.]

And, here in Michigan, our governor, Gretchen Whitmer, is working to acquire more ventilators, as we only have 1,000 in the entire state, and Donald Trump doesn’t seem to be offering any significant help. Asked about this today, Whitmer said, “I feel like we are making some progress, but if the federal government is able to procure some ventilators and ship them to Michigan we will be incredibly grateful.” Unfortunately, however, that doesn’t seem to be happening. Whitmer, interviewed this morning on “This Week,” made it clear that we would have been in a better position right now, had the Trump administration treated the coronavirus like the legitimate public health crisis that it is, instead of downplaying its severity for months. Here she is telling America that “lives will be lost because we weren’t prepared.”

Donald Trump, for what it’s worth, is responding exactly like you’d expect him to respond. He isn’t demonstrating any kind of concern for the position these U.S. governors are in, empathy for the people they govern, or, for that matter, even the most rudimentary skill as a head of state. Instead, he’s attacking our nation’s governors for having the audacity to question his leadership during this crisis. Governors, Trump said today, “shouldn’t be blaming the Federal Government for their own shortcomings.” [Curiously, when Obama was President, Donald Trump had a much different take on the role of the federal government in times of crisis, but we’ll leave that discussion for another time.]

Donald Trump hasn’t responded to me yet, but I wrote to him on Twitter earlier today, asking if he’d told these terribly unprepared governors of ours, back in January and February, when he was receiving classified intelligence briefings on the coronavirus outbreak, and how our medical infrastructure would be effected, that they should be stockpiling things like medical masks and ventilators. Because, you see, they weren’t privy to those same classified intelligence reports. No, they just knew from the President that everything was “very much under control.” [That, by they way, is an exact a quote from Donald Trump. On February 24, he said, “The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA… Stock Market starting to look very good to me!”]

Donald Trump, to his credit, did a few good things today, like agreeing to Governor Newsom’s request that the U.S. Navy’s hospital ship Mercy be deployed to Los Angeles, and approving requests to use National Guard troops in Washington, New York and California. These are, of course, good things, but, even in these cases, he’s just responding to what’s being asked of him, and not offering the kind of leadership one would expect from the Executive branch. Here, to give you an idea of what the Trump administration looks like in action, is the President’s new FEMA Director, Peter Gaynor, apparently unable to answer even the simplest questions about how much personal protective equipment is being shipped to front-line health care workers.

It’s not that Donald Trump and his administration don’t have priorities, though. They do. Right now, for instance, they’re pushing for more poorly overseen, no-strings-attached corporate welfare, to the tune of $500 billion. And, by the way, it looks as though Trump’s own company would qualify to get money from this fund. [In sharp contrast, the Democrats are pushing for a bailout that prioritizes American workers.]

As for what the President could be doing, here are two suggestions. He could nationalize the medical supply chain, as Governor Cuomo is suggesting, which would eliminate the situation we now find ourselves in, in which individual states are bidding against one another for much needed supplies. And he could invoke the Defense Production Act, which would allow him to compel American companies to produce personal protective equipment for our health care professionals and the testing supplies we need to effectively fight COVID-19. Instead, though, Donald Trump seems satisfied to just make light of the possibility that Mitt Romney may have been infected as members of his administration attempt to use this crisis in order to funnel yet more American tax dollars into the pockets of the most wealthy.

Posted in Health, Michigan, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 59 Comments


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