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Katy Burns: The week in coronavirus

  • Senators listen as Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks remotely during a virtual Senate Committee for Health, Education, Labor and Pensions hearing on Tuesday on Capitol Hill in Washington. Seated from left are Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. AP

  • President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus during a press briefing in the Rose Garden of the White House on Monday. AP

Monitor columnist
Published: 5/17/2020 7:00:05 AM

For 376 years the Académie Française has been manning the barricades against those who would pollute or misuse the French language. It ruled last week that the disease now ravaging the world is in fact “la covid-19” rather than “le covid-19.” It is feminine rather than masculine, unlike the basic disease – “le coronavirus” – which is all guy. The decision, of course, was très compliqué.

The world, in turn, breathed a massive sigh of relief.

The declaration lighted a brief spark of optimism that some problems do indeed have solutions, even in this plague year, a time in which – as a rule – just when you think things can’t get any worse, they do.

Rand Paul, for example, is an unappealing bit of humanity in the best of times. Now he has grown a beard, a sad and scraggly thing that looks pasted on, and he seems to have abandoned even combing his hair. Yet he showed up (quite unmasked) in the oddly empty U.S. Senate chambers – many of his compatriots seem to be self-quarantining – to badger Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert and a man six presidents have relied on for informed counsel.

Fauci had just cautioned lawmakers that abandoning federal guidelines and instead planning a too-speedy a return to business as usual in the country would lead to “suffering and death that could be avoided” as well as likely economic damage.

“I don’t think you’re the end-all,” Paul sneered to the scientist. “We can listen to your advice, but there are people on the other side saying there’s not going to be a surge.”

I’m sorry, but “people on the other side”? We now take sides in science? Maybe this is why the United States leads the world in COVID-19 deaths, why the disease is still spreading in our country while in Europe other nations are beginning – with great caution – to reopen their societies.

We also heard from Chris Christie, one of the men who wanted to be president, on COVID-19 and how we should deal with it. The former New Jersey governor – fondly remembered as the guy who closed the state’s beaches during a government shutdown and then plopped himself and his family in the middle of one otherwise deserted strip of sand – looked to history.

“We sent our young men during World War II over to Europe, out to the Pacific, knowing, knowing that many of them would not come home alive,” he told CNN’s Dana Bash. “And we decided to make that sacrifice because what we were standing up for was the American way of life.

“In the very same way now, we have to stand up for the American way of life,” he declared, and reopen our country, apparently comparing Granny to GI Joe. She, it seems, is one of “the ones who are gonna really swallow this burden badly, the elderly and those with respiratory diseases, depressed immune systems from cancer treatment or other things” who will “have to be even more careful.”

I think we can see why Christie and the man who did become president have become good buddies.

And speaking of that man, Donald Trump – you know, the guy who for several months insisted against all evidence to the contrary that this novel coronavirus would never come here, or at least not be much of a problem – well, he apparently decided last week that the battle with this novel coronavirus is over and, miracle of miracles, we won!

“We have met the moment,” he declared. “And we have prevailed!”

Huh? As I write this on Wednesday, the death toll in the U.S. is closing in on 84,000 souls, not all of them elderly, by the way. One respected computer model projected that this country would experience more than 175,000 total deaths by August.

“We have prevailed”? This from the same guy who said of the virus on Feb. 27 that “It’s going to disappear. One day – it’s like a miracle – it will disappear!”

Our president has from the start denied the virus and then passed the responsibility for dealing with it to the states. Despite this, the White House – ostensibly under the control of our president – about a week ago issued a detailed set of conditions that should be met before states slowly, carefully reopen for business.

And within a day, within 24 hours, Donald Trump – under whose name those cautionary directions were issued – was personally leading the cry for businesses to reopen now, consequences be damned.

He was happily cheering on the demonstrators – mobs, really – who gathered near some capitols, including those in Michigan who in a display that can only be called disgustingly un-American invaded its state house deliberately dressed for combat and brandishing pistols as well as assault-style rifles clearly designed to intimidate.

Trump’s cheerleading for the loudmouthed minority of rabble-rousers was nothing less then a direct and insulting rebuke of the serious medical professionals who in the past weeks have been lending their knowledge and reputations to the ostensible leader of their – our – country.

They – and we – deserve better.

(“Monitor” columnist Katy Burns lives in Bow.)

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