A Historian's Point of View of COVID-19


* By Ellen Schrecker


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I am writing this from my home. It’s been exactly a month since Mark and I began to #ShelterInPlace. We are in our large, comfortable apartment in the center of the epicenter of the Coronavirus #pandemic – i.e. New York City.


Our lives haven’t been disrupted that much, in that we are both retired and used to working at home (#WFH).


It actually was a relief not to have to take the subway downtown every once in a while to see a #doctor or get some books from the library I work at. We stay home, work at our computers, obsess about what we will have for #dinner, and go for #walks almost every day in Riverside Park, which is only a block from our apartment. It’s #spring and the flowering trees, daffodils, and tulips are more glorious than ever.


But the #disease impinges on our lives.


A week ago was the worst day. We were hearing #sirens all the time – at least twice an hour or even more. Then it began to taper off. So, maybe the #plague is easing up a bit. But you do hear upsetting #news.


Two of our doormen have #COVID19. They are recovering and one, our favorite Pablo, plans to come back to work tomorrow. At the same time we have heard about #deaths of people whom friends and family know. My friend Jayn’s daughter’s late husband’s aunt, someone my son Dan played basketball with.


The worst are the #reports from the front lines our friend Phuong, a nurse at a public hospital in Brooklyn, gives us. The lack of protective equipment (#PPE), the enormous work loads. She’s an ICU #nurse who normally cares for three patients, it’s now up to 10. And she has asthma. All #scary.


Presumably, this will end – though I’m not putting money on any major easing up until the fall.


But it can happen again.


The #problem is structural. A health care system, like that of the #US, that is under #capitalist control cannot provide the necessary resources for protecting the #public anywhere. As long as #profits come first – which is what #capitalism is all about – the common good, including public health, will suffer.


I think what brought all this home to me was the New York Times (#NYT) story about the medical equipment company that had a major contract to make #ventilators for the federal government.


It was gearing up to do so, but then it was bought out by a larger company whose directors decided that even though the company was making money, it wasn’t making enough #money, and so it cancelled the ventilator contract. And, voila, the U.S. does not produce enough ventilators to meet the #Coronavirus #emergency.


I don’t want to vent about the current occupant of the #WhiteHouse who is clearly guilty of crimes against humanity. Not that he (or Xi Jinping) will ever be charged with them. #Trump and his collaborators are, alas, only the tip of an iceberg that has been destroying the ability of governments everywhere to serve the needs of their populations.


What is clear is that we need to change the #system to make sure that crucial sectors of #society are protected from the short-term thinking and focus on profits that contemporary capitalism demands.


Not only the health care system, though that is clearly essential at the moment, but also #education, #housing, and the basics of human survival like #food, clean air, #water, and the #prevention of ecological #disaster.


This is a world-wide problem and I am not #optimistic about its #solution, especially given the #power #imbalances within every society that have brought us all to this sorry state.


Another siren…..


But the #sun is shining and we will go for a #walk in the #park in two hours.






* Ellen Schrecker graduated magna cum laude from Radcliffe College in 1960 and earned her M.A. in 1962 and her doctorate in 1974, both from Harvard University. She is known primarily for her work in the history of McCarthyism and has taught at Harvard, Princeton, New York University, the New School for Social Research, and Columbia. From 1998 to 2002, Schrecker was the editor of Academe, the journal of the American Association of University Professors. Today she is a retired professor emeritus of American history at Yeshiva University. She has also received the Frederick Ewen Academic Freedom Fellowship at the Tamiment Library at NYU (New York University).


For additional information, please visit www.ellenschrecker.com .


Images: Karina Gols

1. Ellen Schrecker's Rooftop at the heart of Manhattan

(Telhado do prédio de Ellen Schrecker, co coração de #Manhattan)


2. Ellen and Mark strolling in Riverside Park

(Ellen e Mark passeando no parque Riverside)



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