One of the most effective public service announcements to reach the airwaves in recent years is a Florida Department of Transportation piece on bicycle safety.
The interviewer tells a young man that 800 bicyclists a year are killed in traffic accidents, and asks what he thinks would be a more acceptable number. The young man replies that perhaps 50 deaths would be okay.
The interviewer then unveils a large group of people, and tells the young man this is 50 people.
“Those people are my family and friends!” the young man exclaims. “Zero. That’s the only acceptable number!”
I hope you’ll give me a little leeway on the precise wording, but that’s the gist of the exchange.
A few weeks ago, the White House began speculating how many tens of thousands of Americans would die before the coronavirus pandemic is defeated. The “acceptable” numbers have risen dramatically on a regular basis. The numbers of deaths were bandied about as if the discussion were of the number of acorns found on the ground in an oak grove.
Then came the announcement that several members of the West Wing staff at the White House had been diagnosed with the COVID-19 virus, including the military officer whose national defense duties include serving the president his meals.
By all accounts, President Trump was livid when he learned that his staff had failed to provide him absolute protection against the pandemic. (This is the same president who boasted that he was not going to wear a protective mask, as the White House has recommended for the common people.)
In the days that followed, there were fewer acknowledgements that with upwards of a thousand Americans a day dying from the coronavirus, such deaths were an acceptable “cost of doing business” to lift the quarantine and get the economy going full tilt again.
The impact of 1,000-plus deaths per day assumed greater importance when the president and others in the West Wing realized that they were not magically exempt from the dangers that we ordinary citizens face.
And perhaps, as much as any other dynamic, this realization by the president and his staff has raised the sense of urgency over the concept that “only a thousand people a day” will die is an acceptable cost to give the president a stronger economy on which to campaign for re-election.
Yes, 50 bicycle fatalities is 16 times better than 800, except for the 50 victims, and their families and loved ones.
“Only a thousand people a day” losing their lives to the coronavirus each day seems to have little meaning to the White House ... until the realization that without common sense precautions, the pandemic could reach inside 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Kind of puts a different face (mask) on things, doesn’t it?
(S. L. Frisbie is retired. He and Mary have placed themselves on voluntary house arrest, typically leaving home for perhaps one hour, one day a week, for essential errands. When they go out, they wear face masks. It felt a little strange the first time or two. Since then, it has felt reassuring.)