Get ready for summer: rethinking sun and sand in a new era of terrorism

The novel coronavirus operates like a suicide bomber

vol. 2 issue 25


Here we are on the precipice of summer, wondering whether our local swimming pools and parks will open, as states and local municipalities begin lifting shutdown orders. In my neighborhood, many of the community pools are already filled with water, and we recently received a letter from our pool indicating it was likely to open, albeit later than usual.

Some sunshine, fresh air, and exercise certainly will do most of us good, and will boost our moods and calm our nerves, but opening pools and lining up our chairs and beach towels next to one another like we might have done last summer does seems contrary to the protective habits we’ve  adopted over the past three months.

Still, I am not overly anxious about whether or not I will get to swim. I am still thinking I will hang back from crowds, even if what seems like common sense and science-based guidance is now available for covid-era pool and beach safety on the National Association of County and City Health Officials website.

(I would offer the CDC’s website, but recent history suggests that good advice posted today might be gone tomorrow, and the agency has been woefully awful in their response to this pandemic from the get-go, so I am boycotting them for now, at least until their leadership improves, and by that I do mean from the tippy top down.)  

The way this crisis has played out feels a lot to me like 9/11 when every waking minute we felt the uncertainty of whether we were under imminent threat of a terrorist attack and if so, where and how. The coronavirus’s lack of a clear etiology is for me, similar to a terrorist threat: we never know who or when or how it will strike.

And although we can take steps to minimize our risk of becoming infected, for now at least, we can’t prospectively know how our bodies will respond to infection or, for that matter, any resultant clinic-based care.  The most common current covid symptoms are so random – sometimes in the lungs, sometimes in the cardiovascular system, sometimes in young adults, sometimes older ones.

It’s like a suicide bomber at the mall. It’s not personal, but the fact that the devastation can be so senseless and unpredictable makes it feel that way.

Meanwhile, the president busies himself with suppressing the vote and announcing his decision to self-medicate while pushing a drug that, as of the latest study, is more a proven killer than it is a savior for covid-19 victims, a drug which also has shown virtually zero efficacy that it prevents the disease (and that is not to say I even believe POTUS is even taking hydroxychloroquine as he claims).

Still, there are some public health professionals who are at least thinking of ways to help the nation move forward until a vaccine or effective treatment is actually in our hands, not in the fantasies of those driving the stock market. A docu-mental reader and former public health official is one of those people. Robert Pestronk, who currently resides in Washington, DC,  is a past executive director for the National Association of County and City Health Officials and former health officer and director for the Genesee County Health Department with headquarters in Flint, Michigan. Robert wrote me such a well-thought out email about the way we might constructively approach re-opening the economy that I suggested he be docu-mental’s first guest op-ed columnist and he agreed.

Ultimately, Robert says that what we need is threefold: better executive leadership; a calm reliance on tried and true public health measures implemented by people who are demonstrably skilled in managing public health crises; and a committed public with the will to change their behavior just enough to make that “new normal” happen as seamlessly as possible. Nothing exotic, just common sense, really. Even in unusual times, we aren’t completely helpless.

Be on the look-out for that special op-ed this week-end.

In the meantime, I would like to wish you a happy and healthy Memorial Day weekend, one that has more than a minute set aside to commemorate someone’s sacrifice on your behalf, perhaps starting with the first responders, medical, and public health professionals, as well as any or all of the following: truck drivers, mail carriers, public water supply and transit workers, grocery store workers, emergency food suppliers, farmers, apartment building cleaners and front desk workers, trash collectors, people working from home to keep the economy moving as it can, and so many others working behind the scenes in our communities to whom we never give a thought.

I would also like to say that it is worth considering the work that journalists do, particularly independent ones and those at small, comunity media outlets, is essential now more than ever since perhaps when Nixon was president. Consider supporting fair and independent journalism this Memorial Day. This publication counts, as do the many I listed last earlier this month.

That being said, although I no longer am a full-time journalist, publishing docu-mental rather than working for any other masthead, I still tend not to think of myself as an activist. Although I have often given to charity — usually ones that are nonpolitical, like food banks — I have never before stumped, contributed, or endorsed any political outfit. However, that’s changed.

That is because over the past year, I have come to see that democracy as I believe it should be in this country is utterly under attack by the very philistine devils who purport to protect it.

My first donation was to the Brennan Center for Justice specifically for its campaign to end voter suppression. I suggested others I know give along with me, and so a group of us women writers sent them a nice check. The second gift I gave recently was to The Lincoln Project. I specifically earmarked my donation to fund public messaging targeted at our nation’s most sinister inside enemy: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. That is also a highly unusual thing for me to do.

As a Capitol Hill reporter 5+ years ago, I was disturbed then by his overt perversion of Senate floor rules, chief among these being his refusal to allow bills he didn’t like to be workshopped by committee, but now as the only real backstop to the team of Bad News Bears that is the current administration, McConnell not only has failed, he has seen to it that the team has a back bench and a farm system that can call up any wretch on a moment’s notice. No more. No. After all the digging, watching, talking, and thinking about it in the past 18 months, I have concluded he is the most anti-democratic person with power currently in Washington.

The president is just his puppet.

I could spend hours supporting that statement, but instead, I would rather just have a nice weekend, and so that is what I will do, but I will leave you with some pool and patio reading before I sign off:

Trump, Chao, and the McGuts of the behind-the-scenes of operation to plunder democracy

Washington’s criminal culture

Trump makes the Navajo Nation his crony’s patsies

Democracy in peril down South, and everywhere else

And, two views from the left and right:

What you won’t see on MSNBC

What you won’t see on Fox News

And lastly, a covid case tracker state-by-state, according to their shutdown status.

I don’t say you should also contribute to any cause, but at least inform yourself about the realities of this upcoming election season by reading widely, not just what you like to hear in order to reaffirm what you think you already know.

With that in mind, I thank you all for sticking with me as I travel through the American mindscape. I am commemorating you with plans for a forward-looking series begining this summer, one that explores not just where we are now at the intersection of mental health, democracy and freedom, but what we have lost along the way to now, and whether re-discovering those things and applying them to our future might pave the way to something entirely new and liberating. It’s part of my desire to go from just mapping the American state of mind to helping heal it.

Happy and healthy,


Photo of beach with no folks, only gulls: Steve Bidmead