This is my second annual “Best Of” series of year-end posts. Some, I assume, will be brief. Some longer. All, varying degrees of serious. I’ll try my best not to use the words or phrases “unprecedented,” “new normal,” or “unpresidented”, but I can’t make any promises.
A lot of things have been revealed this year. I think the most consequential revelation, in the United States anyway, has been in how vast the expanse is between people who think primarily in terms of the individual and those who think primarily in terms of the collective. Both ends of the spectrum are needed at various times in any given day, week, or lifetime, and the representatives of each side have something valuable to teach each other. But in a global pandemic, when the accumulated choices of all the individuals in a community can literally mean life or death for hundreds of thousands of people, we need to lean into the collective, common good for a bit.
Enter the heroes of Public Health. The Clark Kents of the world. Nerds who could care less if you know their names or all the fancy moves they can make around a spreadsheet, data projections, or forecast models. They just care about a healthy public, and know that a healthy whole means a whole lot of healthy individuals. They give us advice, based on expertise. They keep an eye out for things that I don’t have the mental capacity to understand. And here in McLennan County, almost every day since March, between 4:00 and 5:00 in the afternoon, they post on Facebook the daily COVID 19 numbers, complete with the number of hospitalizations, how many people are on a ventilator, and, saddest of all, how many people have died since the last report.
For many of us, this daily update has been a ritual of sorts. They post it, and people respond. Unlike me, they didn’t feel the need to engage with the people in March who responded that it was just “the flu”, those in April who pointed out that it isn’t that bad here in Central Texas, that we had only had a couple of deaths so we should just go about living our lives like normal, those in May who insisted that Hydroxychloroquine was the answer and that the Public Health people were hiding that information, or any of the people who said the numbers were being padded. Later, when almost everyone knew someone who had gotten seriously ill or died, and the accusations shifted to bullshit comments like “Well, COVID is real, but the HYPE around the supposed PANDEMIC is fake news,” they, unlike me, didn’t engage their urge to lift a finger and correct anyone. They just kept reporting numbers; Kept telling us to stay home when we could and to wear masks when we couldn’t; Kept putting in yeoman’s work.
In addition to the updates, a highlight of my day has been watching the few regulars who hung around, who, despite all the vitriol and misinformation that was about to follow in the comments, never failed to thank the Public Health officials for their work, and mourn the loss of so many.