COVID-19 is mellowing in New York City and Chicago, but elsewhere its virulence is undiminished. Minnesota has had alarming outbreaks in long-term care facilities and food processing plants and, with them, worsening community spread in Nobles and Stearns counties. There are concerns about food shortages as a result of these outbreaks.

Eight weeks ago, when the Minnesota Legislature convened for its 2020 session, policymakers were rubbing their hands together at the prospect of a $1.5 billion budget surplus, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was at an all-time high, and the president was bragging how he alone created the strongest economy in American history.

This week Minnesota legislators are confronting a $2.4 billion deficit, Wall Street feels like 1929, and more than 580,000 Minnesotans have applied for unemployment benefits. Nationally, more than 20 million Americans are unemployed — more than at the peak of the Great Depression.

The numbers are grim. So far there have been more than 3.6 million cases and 258,000 deaths from COVID-19 worldwide, with more than 1.25 million cases and 73,000 deaths in the U.S. The numbers keep going up and get worse every day.

Some politicians argue the effects of the disease are worse than the disease itself. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, in an interview with CNN’s Dana Bash, was asked about new internal government projections that 3,000 people will be dying daily by June.

The governor said, “People are going to have to swallow the idea of losing thousands of more lives,” adding that, “Of course, everybody wants to save every life they can ― but the question is, towards what end, ultimately? Are there ways that we can ... thread the middle here to allow that there are going to be deaths, and there are going to be deaths no matter what?”

From a Republican, presumably pro-life, conservative, there’s a callousness and hypocrisy in those words, but then again there’s a lot of hypocrisy going around in White House circles. Nietzsche would understand — “all morality being an expression of expediency,” especially among a crowd that regularly puts profits before people.

Yes, Gov. Christy, there was a way to “thread the middle.” Unfortunately, it came too little and too late. The administration was aware of the virus in January, but it didn’t sound an alarm and prepare for the worst. Instead, it minimized and dallied, pretending it would go away.

A March 27 story in the Washington Post reported that Daniel Coats, then the director of national intelligence, alerted the administration in January that the United States and the world were vulnerable to a pandemic of massive proportions.

We’ve been through this before and know what can happen; witness the influenza pandemic of 1918-20.

The administration should have immediately declared a national emergency and mobilized every resource in the country to thwart the epidemic. Rather, it procrastinated, deferring action to the 50 states. It could have invoked the Defense Production Act to ensure there would be protective supplies for health workers, ventilators and, above all, diagnostic tests to track the spread of the disease. Above all, it should have been honest with the public.

Instead we have the spectacle of a president of the United States touting bogus remedies and questioning physicians at a press conference about the efficacy of ultraviolet light and drinking disinfectant.

We know a few things about the virus and are learning more about it every day, but we still don’t have an effective treatment or vaccine and likely won’t for a year or more. Meanwhile there’s a great clamor to ignore science, throw open the country and return to business as usual. It would be credible if there was a national plan or set of guidelines for doing so.

There was, until The Associated Press reported on May 7 that the Trump administration has shelved a document prepared by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to show communities how and when to reopen restaurants and other public spaces.

The document was to have been published on Friday, May 1, but, according to the AP article, a CDC official who wanted to remain anonymous stated that the guidelines “would never see the light of day.” One could ask why the guidelines were suppressed, but the answer would undoubtedly be unsatisfactory, or the reporter would be challenged for asking the question. It’s a story that remains to be told.

Recent polls show the country is ambivalent about reopening businesses and unsure if it will patronize them if they do reopen. As septuagenarians, my wife and I have been hermits for several weeks and would dearly love to return to our familiar haunts, but, absent the truth, we won’t anytime soon.

John Diers is a Prior Lake resident who spent 40 years working in the transit industry and is the author of “Twin Cities by Trolley: The Streetcar Era in Minneapolis and St. Paul” and “St. Paul Union Depot.” To submit questions or topics for community columnists, email editor@plamerican.com.

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