One million. We now have over one million COVID-19 infections in the United States, although even that figure likely underestimates the true spread of the virus due to the lack of widely available testing. Three months into our national pandemic, we have lost more lives to the novel coronavirus than in the nearly two-decade long Vietnam War. Every day, we lose the same number of souls as ten fully-loaded 737 aircraft falling out of the sky. Unlike a bullet or a plane crash, however, this chain-lightning is infectious and spreads silently over time.
If we allow it, science—not politics—will inform how we proceed. If there is a rational, safe way to begin reopening our state, so be it. Unfortunately, some (like those in Huntington Beach) have wielded “patriotism” as a cudgel to pressure premature decision-making. We must not surrender to performative flag-flourishing or homebrewed projections, or we will succumb to an uncontrolled pandemic and a seesawing economy sputtering in fits and starts as it responds to resurging waves of infection.
Frothy tribalists aren’t the patriots. We are. Or at least we can be. Pandemic patriotism requires active, unrelenting communion with those we will never meet. It requires me to acknowledge that even though I feel fine, your grandmother depends on me; that what befalls you today, may await me tomorrow; that you and I are inexorably linked, even though we do not suffer equally. For example, black Americans are dying more frequently. Wealth matters: safer work-from-home arrangements (for those still employed) tend to be perks of higher-income, white-collar jobs; others can hunker down in vacation homes or contract for bespoke coronavirus tests from concierge doctors. Access to safe, reliable housing may determine whether you live or die, because “cleaning with dry leaves, newspaper, and isopropyl alcohol” is not sustainable.
Yes, we are yet again in the midst of a once-in-a-generation conflict. If you can remember 9/11, however, you can also recall that many of our lives never changed. Interruptions to air travel, schools, and work were short-lived. This is different. Our invisible opponent today has (thus far) killed 20 times more people than the 9/11 terrorists. Perversely, the collective sacrifice this crisis demands is perhaps foreign to all but the most vulnerable among us: our seniors. COVID-19 isn’t our 9/11, it’s our Pearl Harbor.
No, not all of us will get sick, and not all of those who do will require hospitalization. Fewer still will require critical care, let alone die. But to those who shrug at sacrificing the few for the whole, I ask: what do you say to just the one in two hundred of us serving in the military? Unlike the wars you may have forgotten, this is your fight as much as it is mine. Consider this a call to arms.
Victory over this pandemic requires patriots, because “we are all in the same storm, but not in the same boat.” Therefore, if you are fortunate and have the luxury of working from home, stay home. Go outside only for essential services, and wear face coverings to protect our essential workers. Going to the beach is a spit in the eye of the millions who have lost their jobs. Don’t join up with those who claim this is overblown, because unfortunately, we may still have a long way to go. Demand that your leaders make the right call at the right time, because ill-informed decisions to put the economic cart before the public-health horse would not just cherry-pick some lives over others in a sick ad hoc experiment, they would squander all of our hard-fought gains. Put another way, when it rains you don’t throw away your umbrella because you’re dry.
So hold the line: I’ll cover your six; you cover mine.
James Cho is an Air Force officer currently serving in Washington, D.C. He was raised in Fullerton and keeps an eye on the city as his parents still live in his childhood home. His views are his alone and do not reflect that of the United States Air Force or the Department of Defense.
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