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The coronavirus pandemic diaries

For all of us suddenly, abruptly, life is a cascade of emotions and observations, a search for any fragment of stability and routine, our only constant uncertainty. There is no template to follow. There is so much to say and yet so little.

To stay at home is to wait, to watch passively “breaking news,” realizing that there was a beginning to this virus; however, in this moment, there seems to be no end.

I vaguely recall when Trump was in Davos, Switzerland. It was late January. He was asked about something exotic, far away, emerging in China. “We have it totally under control,” he said. “It’s one person coming in from China. We have it under control.”

That was then and this is now, and the dissonance between the continued happy talk coming from the White House and the reality of this conflagration, called a pandemic.

Last week he was a “War President.” The enemy is invisible but a thing we will vanquish. And then, only days later, Trump sat on a bench in the Rose Garden, giving an interview to Fox News, wherein he spun a fantasy, a fairy tale: on Easter Sunday the country will be open for business. Churches across America will be filled with parishioners, sitting shoulder to shoulder, a padre in the pulpit, and it will be a beautiful thing. And those same folks will show up at work the next day and America’s economy, very quickly, stronger than ever, will be back. It will be tremendous.

But wait. Isn’t it true that those who, in that moment, are sitting in the pews, though asymptomatic, just might be infected by this debilitating virus? To send America back to work, well, wouldn’t you have to test everyone first and isolate those who tested positive? Otherwise, wouldn’t the consequences of such a delusion be that new epicenters would result and hospitals overwhelmed? And wouldn’t our already fragile, staggering health services be leveled?

And it’s not the president who is asked to leave the Rose Garden and go to the front line; rather, it’s those health workers who define courageous. It’s they who don what gear is available — recycled, jury-rigged, hand-stitched — and knowing the risk and knowing the risk they step forward into grim wards and ICUs where people struggle for every breath and others, grievously, die alone. And yet, they are there, in this moment.

Isn’t this Easter proposal (“The cure is worse than the disease”) stunningly, jaw-droppingly irresponsible, deeply ignorant and potentially tragic? Or is this administration choosing first the economy and saying, in effect, that those who contract the disease (in church or at work) are — what? Collateral damage?

I mean, don’t we, as a nation, with a deep bench, have the extraordinary capacity to fight this crisis on two fronts simultaneously: leveling the virus curve using all means at our disposal (the Defense Production Act remained as of last week) while triaging the economy?

The thought occurred to me that those men and women who stand behind the church pulpits should stand down and simply say, “No, Mr. President, we’re not risking our congregations. This is not over until it’s over and until then, our doors are closed, and our parishioners are at home.”

This search for Easter as a marker is Trump’s desperate search for a unicorn. A magical moment. It’s almost Disneyesque. A wall, once again constructed between fantasy and reality. If only we could sprinkle fairy dust across our nation and thereby avoid what will, in the weeks to come, be a basketful of awful before we reach the other side.

Meanwhile we must embrace science and listen to the likes of Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of NIAID, who stands behind Trump and Pence at the daily White House briefings, with, I’m assuming, clenched teeth, studying his shoes, waiting to tell his truth. And we wait.

Chris Honoré is an Ashland Tidings columnist.