Coronavirus Dispatch #4: No More Heroes

The big news is that we have passed 500,000 Covid deaths in the U.S.

The shocking thing is that I have not written about Covid since sometime last March. But that’s not too surprising. While the disease has not carried away any of my loved ones yet, it has been the backdrop to my days. I have barely been out of the house except to vote last November, and to grocery shop, and to go to the library once. With the news about the variants that are now quietly upon us, we have to live with the paradox of things seemingly improving (cases down, deaths down), while experts like Dr. Chris Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics in Seattle, tell us that there is likely to be a surge, perhaps in the fall. He points to Peru as an example of somewhere that was hard hit, recovered somewhat, and then suddenly hard hit again. Will that be us?

With a sense of disappointment, I have observed two Democratic governors falling from grace during this difficult time. I wrote earlier with enthusiasm about Andrew Cuomo. His measured calm was a big help during the early days of the pandemic. He seemed to see the big picture. But did he? Now it appears that, while keeping his own elderly mother safe at home, he made the reckless decision to send seniors back to nursing homes while still recuperating from Covid—and hide the true numbers of deaths that ensued. Some 15,000 seniors died; families did not know that the governor’s actions had endangered their loved ones. He has recently been caught threatening an assemblyman who happens to be of Asian descent… in what is clearly not a first-time offense for him. Update: As of February 28, Cuomo has now been accused of sexual harassment by two women who worked for him. One, Charlotte Bennett, was only twenty-five and is also a sexual assault survivor. Her story sounds like textbook sexual harassment by a man she initially saw as a mentor. What’s clear is that Cuomo created a very incestuous working environment in Albany, where top female aides covered for him and normalized his verbal abuse and predatory behavior.

We want our politicians to be protectors. Sadly, they often seem to be most adept at protecting themselves, their image. California’s Gavin Newsom, who appeared so bright and nimble at the beginning of the epidemic, made an obvious blunder when he was caught dining indoors with a large group at uber-expensive restaurant The French Laundry in Napa last year. But what’s been more disappointing is how he has handled the vaccine rollout, and even his own Employment Development Department. He has stepped up in the sense that he has made himself quite visible at press briefings, but it’s become more obvious as time has gone on that no deep thinking has informed his decisions. Everything is done in a careless and slipshod fashion; in some cases, many thousands of innocent people have had to wait months for their unemployment claims to be reinstated at the EDD after their accounts were frozen (and billions, of course, have been stolen from the EDD due to fraud). Newsom has distanced himself from the chronic problems at EDD; after appointing a new director at the beginning of 2021, he simply doesn’t take questions about it now.

The vaccine rollout is another example of people simply wanting to know when they will get their shots. For a month or two there, the whole process seemed utterly compromised. Now, with federal dollars being poured into large vaccine sites around the state, there is perhaps light at the end of the tunnel… but there is currently an endless wait to get vaccinated for people who are under 65. (It has been astonishing and a bit of a wake-up call to see how much the State of California depends on federal money for any kind of effective programs.)

There is an ongoing effort to recall Newsom that is likely to qualify for the November ballot. I won’t be voting for that. I have endured too many Republican governors in my 30-plus years here! But I think some of us are hoping for a better Democratic candidate in 2022. Meanwhile in New York, Andrew Cuomo is in disgrace; he may have his emergency powers stripped from him. His story is one of hubris, whereas Newsom’s is one of ineptness and complacency: a nice man and a good performer who doesn’t have the leadership skills the job needs and over-promises by default. What he does bring to the table is candor and energy. Update: You can see an example of one of Newsom’s recent press briefings here—he’s in Southern California almost daily!

We will soon pass 50,000 deaths here in the state. Which begs the question: Has California ever had a woman governor? I don’t believe so—and I think it’s time.

About Gabriella West

Author of LGBT historical fiction and contemporary queer romance.
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