Like most of us who were alive in 1963, I can remember where I was when I learned of the assassination of President Kennedy. Like most people, I can also remember the time and place when I saw on tv the collapse of the World Trade Center in 2001. Both events were watershed moments when the world changed its course. The before and the after were different.
I think what most people will remember from yesterday is the image that came on the screen around 4:00 PM of Tom Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson, with the caption that they both now have contracted Covid-19. Of course, other events also happened on March 11. The World Health Organization officially declared the novel coronavirus a world-wide pandemic. The stock market continued its collapse, putting the market into bear market territory, having lost almost 20 percent of its value since the collapse began only a few days ago. The NCAA announced that all tournament games would be played without spectators. The NBA halted all games. All Episcopal churches in the nation’s capital were ordered by the bishop to be shuttered for an indefinite period. And President Trump in one of his few addresses to the nation read in a garbled, monotone voice from a teleprompter in an effort to comfort the nation. For the first time, perhaps, he was willing to admit that the pandemic is not fake news dreamed up by Democrats to make him look bad. As to a credible, reassuring, effective response to the crisis, however? Not so much.
But remembering these other actions and events pale when compared to remembering that photo of Tom Hanks and his wife and their tweet that followed. “Not much more to it than a one-day-at-a-time approach to it, no? We will keep the world posted and updated. Take good care of yourselves.”
Tom Hanks! How could this happen? If it could happen to him, it could happen to anyone. Now the pandemic has a face.
March 11, 2020 is the day we Americans got the picture. We—all of us—are at risk, and our whole planet is facing a catastrophe unlike anything we have experienced in our lifetimes. We are suddenly in a new place, in uncharted waters. We do not know where this is headed or where we will end up, but what we do know is that it is not going to be pretty.
In Washington just about everything that can be postponed or cancelled is being postponed or cancelled. Meetings are no longer in person but via teleconferencing. Anyone who can is working from home. People are stocking up on food and supplies. Most people are elbow-bumping instead of shaking hands, and we are washing our hands every time we think of it. We are avoiding crowds. Who knows? Maybe this will help. But still….
In fact, Embry and I are self-quarantined because we have been in close contact with someone who has been sick and who attended a conference a few weeks ago where a half dozen or so people have come down with Covid-19. He is now quarantined and awaiting tests results, which if positive, could impact us. We should know Monday.
The reason that I believe March 11 will go down in history as a pivotal day when the before and after are different is that this is the day that the facts all seemed to come together to confirm that the pandemic is now inevitable. In fact, it is breathing down our necks. Conceivably as many as 100 million could be infected in the U.S. and as many as two million could die. That would translate to about 5,500 deaths from this disease per day in the U.S. assuming that it takes a full year for the pandemic to run its course. How can our healthcare system handle this? What will be the economic consequences? What will be the human consequences? How many will lose their jobs or pay for the care they need? Everyone who survives will know someone who had this disease, and many who survive will know someone who died from it. Everyone’s life will change.