Saturday, December 5, 2020

Corona Chronicle #7: Welcome to Cassandra Times



The following column appeared two days ago in Greece’s award-winning Athens Insider Magazine. The only change I’ve made to my published text is to update the statistics to include [in brackets] updated total Covid-19 cases and deaths reported in Greece, the United States, and the World since I submitted the column on November 30. 


The original version as published can be found here.


We don’t want to hear it or be reminded of it. The Voice of Reason. In the seventh of his monthly chronicles on living through pandemic times, as told from the perspective of an American mystery writer who has called Greece home for 35 years, Jeff Siger insists on why we cannot wear our noise-cancelling ear plugs just yet. Do not ignore the Cassandras, he suggests, as we move from Thanksgiving to Christmas.


Sadly, this year my wife and I could not make it to Greece, but as a consolation prize we’ve spent most of our time isolated at our pastoral New Jersey farm waiting for this plague to pass.


That has yet to happen.


Since my column one month ago, our world has experienced the once unimaginable, except to fans of science fiction and far-out dystopian political thrillers—plus, of course, to those brave public health professionals who told truth to power, warning in the starkest terms what lie ahead; only to be ignored, dismissed, and pilloried, as would be expected of modern day Cassandras.


I cannot imagine how different life will be when my resident bear emerges from hibernation in the spring. Hopefully, much better.


During the past thirty days, the United States elected a new President, and despite how loudly the current one protests, a new President will be sworn in at 12 noon on January 20, 2021. Over that same month, new Covid-19 infections in the US rose to nearly 200,000 per day. 


On April 24, 2020, I published my first column. That day America reported its highest single-day count of new pandemic infections, 36,741, a record not exceeded until two months later. Today, America’s daily new case count exceeds five times that number. 


Approximately a month ago, the United States reported a total of 8,700,000 cases and 225,000 deaths since the onset of the pandemic.  Today, those numbers have risen to more than 13,400,000 [14,355,000] cases and 267,000 [280,000] deaths.


The numbers boggle the mind and dull the senses.


So much so, that America’s Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and virtually every credible public health professional given the opportunity to speak, warned Americans to forgo their much-loved Thanksgiving holiday tradition of large family get-togethers, lest those numbers skyrocket higher in the weeks that follow.


From news reports, much of America did not listen.


But what of Greece?  Over that same one-month period cases and deaths more than tripled, with reported cases jumping from 31,500 to more than 104,000 [113,000], and deaths from 600 to 2300 [2800]. The nation is now on lockdown. Most of the rest of the world is doing worse, with more than 62.6 million [65.9 million] reported cases and 1.46 million [1.52 million] deaths.


We are in the midst of an epic catastrophe. How we got here historians will dissect for decades. Much criticism will undoubtedly fall upon leaders who proved themselves not up to the challenge, who chose baffling strategies that ignored simple measures to safeguard their citizenry, and who dismissively branded the pandemic a hoax. 


But let us not forget there’s blame to be shared among our fellow citizens who chose not to wear masks, not to socially distance, not to avoid crowds, and not to wash their hands conscientiously. I’m talking about those who knew the drill, but ignored it in service to disparate political, economic, and social agendas. Agendas with goals they believed more deserving of their faith and confidence than a simple request that they temporarily modify their lives so to protect their families, communities, and themselves from an invisible, silent, merciless slayer.


I’m talking about folk who in the early stages of the pandemic would say such things as, “Name one person you know who has Covid,” a challenge since modified to be, “Name one person you know who’s died from Covid.” 


In that dare may lie an answer to why so many fail to grasp the true impact of this pandemic, and the import of their actions and non-actions:  Bombs are not exploding around them, rivers are not flooding over them, ground is not giving way beneath them, and buildings are not crashing down upon them.


The corona virus’ deadliest advantage may prove to be that its effects are not obvious enough to turn skeptics into believers--unless they visit hospital ICU units overrun with Covid patients, morgues stacked with bodies of Covid victims, cemeteries packed with Covid mourners, or rehabilitation centers filled with the crippled bodies of survivors who could not escape Covid’s many insidious long-haul disabilities.


Thank God there are vaccines and therapeutics on the horizon, for I dare not think of how we’d fare were our survival contingent upon each of us doing the right thing for the common good.  With the finish line in this race for survival so close, all of us should band together to do whatever is necessary to assure that we all cross it safely. 


I sense a hidden reward should we somehow find ways to feed the food insecure, save small businesses facing extinction, shelter the homeless, and provide renewed work opportunities for the unemployed. If we come even close to achieving those goals, it would seem but child’s play to mobilize the same world-wide cooperative scientific efforts that brought us Covid vaccines in record time, to join together in common cause toward eradicating other killer afflictions, such as cancer, tuberculosis, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and AIDS. 


Does that sound Pollyannaish?  Of course it does.  But at the moment, I prefer Pollyanna’s optimism to Cassandra’s predictions of misfortune.


I’m sure the bear agrees. I think I’ll call him Apollo.




  1. Well said, Jeff. I'm encouraged to see the latest poll suggests that 66% of Americans will have a vaccine.

    1. Michael, I actually think the numbers ultimately getting the vaccine will increase considerably once it's out there. People are responding to the pollsters in hyper-political terms these days, not admitting to anything that would suggest they're not 100% with their tribe. BUT when it comes to the health of their kids, parents, and grandparents, I don't think they'll be like lemmings running off a cliff. At least I hope not.

  2. A recent poll of a sampling of Greek citizens showed 1 in 3 would NOT get the vaccine despite the fact the government is providing it free of charge. Our Prime Minister (who I consider a rock star for his firm and decisive actions and mandates) has said reopening of the country will be determined by 'data not dates' -- can you imagine that happening back in the States. We've had our lockdown extended until Dec. 14th. My recent blog post about our lockdown (which we elderly and vulnerable expats here support 100%) drew comments from American readers that they hoped their local leaders didn't get wind of the action and further curtail their lives. . .they were put upon by not being able to dine with relatives at Thanksgiving. . .sigh. One thing when historians look back on this year, we won't be labeled as another Greatest Generation, not even a close second.

    1. A sadder--or perhaps more macabre-- finish to your point, Jackie, is that in the US, nurses are saying that they have patients dying in their hospital who when told they have Covid refuse to believe it. They insist they are dying of something else!!! About the best thing I can think to say about that is they persevere in their convictions up to the very end. May God have mercy on their souls--and watch over the rest of us.