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Four years & 106,558 deaths ago: What did we learn from pandemic & how we reacted?
Dennis Wyatt 2022
Dennis Wyatt

A milestone that triggered a tectonic shift in the lives of Californians came and went Thursday with virtually no mention.

The date of Jan. 25, 2020 was when the first confirmed death from COVID occurred in the Golden State.

A Rocklin man in Placer County in his 70s with pre-existing medical conditions died.

Four years later, Californians are still dying from COVID.

The death toll so far is 106,559, basically the combined population of Manteca and Ripon.

There have been 12,571,376 cases to date, or almost 1 in every 3 Californians.

Earlier this month, California joined Oregon as one of the only two states to opt not to recommend residents follow the Centers for Disease Control guidance for those that test positive for COVID.

The state Department of Health now allows people testing positive for COVID to return to public life if they are not showing symptoms.

The CDC still recommends a minimum of five days of isolation after testing positive for COVID regardless if one has symptoms.

No one is calling the French Laundry’s most notorious diner, Gov. Gavin Newsom, reckless because he hasn’t ordered the state to keep following the CDC lead.

Nor is Newsom, as the presidential-hopeful-in-waiting, isn’t lambasting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for government overreach because the Sunshine State is in lockstep with the CDC.

That first death was followed up 39 days later with a second death on March 4.

It was then, as they say, off to the races.

Newsom declared a statewide emergency.

Then, on March 19, after California officially elevated the epidemic to pandemic status, Newsom issued shelter in place orders.

Businesses and stores closed. Schools were emptied. Travel needed to be essential and was restricted basically to within counties.

Most seemed to hold the believe it would pass fairly soon.

And when it didn’t, the federal government started shoveling out money so fast the motors on the printing presses were smoking.

Government oversight and accountability went into a deep sleep.

By the government’s own “accounting” they managed to distribute $800 billion via the Paycheck Protection Plan, of which $80 billion was claimed fraudulently.

That was in addition to $900 billion in COVID unemployment funds. Of that, estimates are that somewhere between $90 billion and $400 billion of the $900 billion in COVID unemployment relief funds was obtains through fraud.

What, you might ask, prompted a trip down memory lane to the good old days when, for a brief period, people were less rude and everyone seemed to value human interaction?

Accountability and, more important, a need to learn from what we did as a society.

There has never been a formal reflection on what went wrong or what went right.

Yes, there has been a lot of finger-pointing, backtracking, and rewriting history on both sides of the fence.

A Warren Commission type of approach to dissecting the pandemic would probably be doomed from the get-go given today’s political climate.

It is kind of sad that the only things that seem to unite us — at least for a short period — are catastrophic events such as the Great Recession, World War II, 9-11, and pandemics.

The “short period” was especially true of the pandemic.

There are, of course, obvious parallels to the Great Flu Epidemic of 1918-1919.

Perhaps the most lasting was the fact, after the first several waves of flu deaths, there was a rolling wave of up and down annual death counts for a good 10 years until the flu essentially became background noise.

It still exists. And it can still be deadly, especially among the very young, the elderly, and the weak.

Chalk it up to herd immunity, improved vaccinations, or more dialed in hygiene.

COVID appears to be following in the footsteps of flu.

It is also clear from both pandemics that the virus travels with people.

The reason why there were significant amount of areas, mostly rural, where the flu pandemic was surprisingly minimal was because they were off the beaten track.

This time around, due to how much more mobile we are as a country and the degree of international travel, we believed COVID spread faster,

But if you compare the global duration in regards to the pandemic stage  — the flu a century earlier and COVID today — there doesn’t seem to be much difference.

As far as misinformation and fear mongering, technology such as the Internet, TV, and radio didn’t seem to make much of a difference.

Those that wanted to give into fear or had no qualms if their words caused panic did plenty of damage when instant communication was defined as within a day and now when it is defined by the time it takes to tap fingers a couple dozen of times against a screen.

And the official end of the pandemic, both times with the easing of mask rules and such, produced roughly the same results.

There are people today that are more likely to wear masks in public.

They fall into two groups.

Those that are at a heightened risk respiratory illnesses, and those that may be slightly sick from them but don’t want to infect others.

This brings two good points that the COVID pandemic should have driven home and that we need to embrace.

Densely populated cities, crowded venues, and such are conducive to the spread of respiratory illnesses.

While that is a “duh” statement of sorts, unlike much of the rest of the world where those in densely populated cities like Hong Kong don masks and such in flu and cold season, we shunned them in the pre-pandemic United States.

The other point is why live in the suburbs or exburbs if all we do is drive in a mobile box from living in one box to working in another box if you don’t take advantage of the relatively open space afforded by the relative low density of tract neighborhoods?

It’s amazing the number of people who actually used parks in their neighborhoods during the pandemic.

Taking advantage of fresh air is indeed sound in terms of health.

And so is the use of remedial steps to reduce the transmission of airborne viruses in crowds.

Yet how many of us today see getting out in the fresh air as good for physical and mental health as well as they did 3½ years ago?

Or, for that matter, how many of us today feel a responsibility to don a mask when we may not be ill but are a little under the weather when we interact in public with others?

America changed after Sept. 11, 2001.

Then we went back to our old habits.

The pandemic changed America too.

But then we discarded what good came from it in terms of how we treated each other and what we suddenly cherished.