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Free Form Friday: Better Off

Free Form Friday is my weekly non-Bowie post. Come back tomorrow for more David Bowie. Meanwhile…

March 2024 has thus far, brought about crocuses, peepers the opening of ice cream stands and… a proliferation of COVID retrospectives. COVID-19 did not come into existence in March 2020. It didn’t even first reach the United States four years ago this month. But that’s when most of us realized it was here. My own world turned upside down and thus began the worst year of my life. It was the worst year of many of our lives. By the looks of people running around as if COVID isn’t still with us and there were no lessons about protecting ourselves to take from the pandemic, many of us seem to want to forget 2020. So maybe all those retrospectives are worth reading, if only to remember that 2020 actually happened.

Some amongst us not only want to forget 2020, but want everyone else to forget it, too. Those people (and maybe they aren’t alone) are Republican politicians, especially those making the case that life was better under Donald Trump than it is today. Trump himself has asked the question, betting that the instinctive response is yes, and so have some of his acolytes. Would-be vice president Katie Britt, during her self-immolation following President Biden’s State of the Union speech, gave the question a twist, asking if you are better off than you were three years ago. Three years ago? Get it? See what she did there? That Katie—she’s a clever one.

Well, I won’t be the first to say that nobody was better off four years ago. Except that is for the 7,000,000 people who died of the disease over the past four years. They aren’t better off today. Nor are the 1.7 million Americans who have had long COVID. No, that’s not right—I pulled the stat for how many Americans had long COVID last October. That’s at the time of last October, not total up to last October. Anyway, those people aren’t better off. I suppose Trump himself was better off four years ago—he was president and not facing 91 indictments. Katie Britt was elected to the Senate in 2023, so she is better off today, but she’s worse off than she was before she gave the response to Biden’s speech.

I am much better off than I was four years ago. As February turned to March in 2020, I was near the pinnacle of New York State government. We, in the Cuomo administration, were doing great things. I’ll leave that story for another day. But about four years ago, shortly after we all realized COVID was in New York I was exposed, sent home and never returned to the State Capitol. This isn’t to say that I stopped working. What followed was the most intense work experience—actually, the most intense experience of any variety—of my life.

Everyone’s jobs changed when the State went to full COVID-response footing. My title didn’t change (Senior Advisor to the Governor), but I went from being part of the nucleus of the Administration to being a liaison to local upstate governments and legislators. I conducted daily briefings, in which, amongst other things, I read off the daily death numbers. 100 deaths. 300 deaths. 500 deaths. 700 deaths. There were days when more than 700 New Yorkers died due to COVID, and I had to report those numbers to conference calls of elected officials, many of whom had no real role in the response.

So instead, some of them bore down on issues such as whether mulching was going to be designated an essential activity. Or how constituents needed their unemployment claims processed. Or when they could tell dry cleaners that they could reopen. Did you hear that I said 700 New Yorkers died today? It was scarring.

That was during the day. It might not sound like it, but prepping for the briefings, delivering the briefings and then following up on what came from the briefings took most of the day. At night we were monitoring the breakdown of society, as civic unrest rolled across the State. Unrest took the form of George Floyd protests, protests against COVID rules and rallies for Donald Trump. Several mayors, law enforcement officials and others believed that some of the same agitators went from left wing protests to right wing protests to try to provoke violence. Anyway, though the vast majority of these protests were simply tense, and not violent, some became violent. The low point for me was watching a live stream of Buffalo’s City Hall getting fired bombed. It wasn’t a “bomb,” it was a “flaming object,” I was told. I was also told it wasn’t City Hall, it was a van in front of City Hall. Turns out that both were fired bombed. And I’m going to call the flaming objects firebombs.

I didn’t have much time to sleep during 2020, which is just as well because when I did get small stretches of time I couldn’t sleep. By October, a confluence of medical issues—ironically not COVID—caught up with me and I had to tap out. Debilitating medical emergency sure was a relief from the nightmare of 2020. So, me? I’m better off now than I was four years ago.

But I’m not going to end this there. I could go on about the details of that particular year, but I’m going to put the last four years in perspective by way of ending this particular post. According to Wikipedia, here’s a list of total U.S. deaths per war:

Revolution, 70,000
Civil War, 655,000
World War I, 116,000
World War II, 405,000
Vietnam, 58,000

Do you want to guess how many Americans—just Americans have died of COVID, all within the last four years? Nearly 1.2 million. Almost twice as many deaths as the Civil War. But the Civil War ended after four years and COVID keeps on killing. How many? How many New Yorkers died of COVID yesterday? How many Americans? I don’t know. Nobody is giving daily briefings on the topic. Good for them. Good for those who don’t have to give such briefings. Giving daily death briefings is terrible. I know because I had to do that in 2020. And now I’m better off.

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