A grim day, as leaders point to a long ordeal

The U.S. hospital ship Comfort sails into New York Harbor. (AP photo)

It was another grim news day. Today, the United States surpassed 3,700 dead from the fast-moving coronavirus COVID-19, more than the number killed in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, more than were killed at Pearl Harbor. Today, Americans were told for the first time by the Trump administration that the number of dead from the virus in this nation is expected to reach 100,000 and could be more. That’s nearly as many American dead as the combined U.S. deaths in its past four major military conflicts — Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq, 101,438 killed.

We have military hospital ships docked outside New York and Los Angeles. We have military field hospitals being constructed from New York to New Orleans to Michigan to Washington state. We have National Guard troops outside of hospitals.

“Our country is in the midst of a great national trial,” President Donald Trump said Tuesday afternoon, striking perhaps the most somber tone of his presidency. “. . . We’re at war with a deadly virus. Success in this fight will require the full absolute measure of our collective strength, love, and devotion. It’s very important. Each of us has the power through our own choices and actions to save American lives and rescue the most vulnerable among us. That’s why we really have to do what we all know is right. Every citizen is being called upon to make sacrifices. Every business is being asked to fulfill its patriotic duty. Every community is making fundamental changes to how we live, work and interact.”

It was one of those eve-of-battle type statements, though the battle for most of us consists of little more than not going outside, watching lots of television, and trying to be good to our friends and family.

It is not too much to ask. But for a nation that has lived for itself in many ways for many years, it’s not necessarily an easy task.

Earlier in this space, I noted that you can tell something is serious when politicians begin to act nice to each other. Further proof of the gravity – Trump’s tone, which stands in contrast to many of his previous statements on this virus. He is no different from many in the nation. Americans have wakened to the enemy at the gates at various intervals. The president who saw the grim projections. The basketball player who touched every microphone and many of his teammates, only to later test positive.

“Never underestimate your opponent,” said New York mayor Andrew Cuomo, whose state is the nation’s epicenter for the virus, with more than 75,000 positive cases, including his younger brother Chris, a CNN anchor, and now more than 1,500 dead. “And we underestimated this virus. It’s more powerful, more dangerous than we expected.”

In Kentucky, which saw its worst day since the pandemic hit the state, seven people died and 114 were reported with positive tests.

“We have to come together by staying apart,” Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear said, in an interview with CNN. “But the people of my state are heeding the call. We understand their sacrifices. So many people not going to work when they otherwise would’ve had a job. So many small businesses closing.”

It’s a mess. And the toughest part of it is that for most of us, there’s nothing to do but hide. To sit around and wait it out, while medical professionals risk their lives and politicians scramble over each other to spend vast sums of money on a problem they paid scant attention to until it was too late – despite a decade of warnings from any decent epidemiologist had they cared to listen.

The cost of this virus is the sum demanded of a world that became distracted and splintered. Let’s just hope it’s not as high as the models say it will be.

“Our hope is to get that down as far as we possibly can,” said Anthony Fauci, director of the Naitonal Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “The modeling . . predicts that number that you saw. We don’t accept that number that that’s what’s going to be. We’re going to be doing everything we can to get it even significantly below that.”

In general, I like to end these pieces with something positive. At various times over the past month, Trump has seemed disinterested, dismissive, misinformed, agitated, belligerent and combative. On this night, he also gets the last word, striking as close to the correct tone as he’ll get for a period of national trial.

“As a nation, we face a difficult few weeks as we approach that really important day when we’re going to see things get better all of a sudden,” Trump said. “And it’s going to be like a burst of light. I really think and I hope that our strength will be tested and our endurance will be tried, but America will answer with love and courage and ironclad resolve. This is the time for all Americans to come together and do our part.”