COVID-19 Presents: The Stand

Stephen King’s The Stand is likely his most critically acclaimed novel, and it’s certainly the concensus Magnum Opus among his fan base. It certainly sold well, having been released right in the middle of the commercial apex of his career. Yet, it might not even crack Stephen King’s top 10 when it comes to his work’s cultural impact. It doesn’t have a culturally immortal adaption from Stanley Kubrick or Brian De Palma. It’s not THE definitive tale of salvation and hope within American cinema (See: Shawshank Redemption). It doesn’t have the iconography of IT (Pennywise, The Losers Club) or the sort of interwoven connection to King’s personal life like The Dark Tower series.

The secret sauce of The Stand’s enduring reputation among King’s most devoted readers is the rich detail in which it describes Captain Trips – a weaponized varient of the influenza virus which eradicates over 99% of humanity. At the end of Part 1, King describes what he terms a “Second plague,” one that has nothing to do with sickness and everything to do with the virus’s aftermath. He describes a young boy falling off his bike, breaking his leg, and dying from infection. He describes a father whose entire family was wiped out by the virus emotionally retreating into his morning routine of running – taking it to further and further extremes until he dies of a heart attack. He describes a woman accidentally killing herself after being driven by paranoia that she will be attacked and raped by roaming marauders.

The real life coronavirus is the fictional Captain Trips’ twisted opposite. It is similarly contagious and, for the moment, virtually unstoppable, but it’s mortality rate is probably somewhere within the range of 1 to 2.5 percent. Leading epidemiologists are now saying it’s more likely than not somewhere between 40-70% of Americans will contract COVID-19 for the duration of the outbreak. The math of this means that in the absolute worst case scenario approximately 5 million americans could potentially die of the virus directly.  Certainly staggering to consider, but it’s not the society ending epidemic imagined by Stephen King.

The real threat is COVID-19’s “the second plague.” It is the metaphorical spread of infection within our broken financial system and infrastructure that will be truly catastrophic. Countries like China and Italy have already resorted to rationing medical care as available treatment is insufficient for the volume of Covid-19 patients. This is essentially the same thing as having death panels.

In America, this is going to be much, much worse.

Italy is seen as the worst case scenario for the coronavirus outbreak. Let’s see how it compares to America.

Italy has 3.17 hospital beds available per 1000 people. America has 2.77. Italy has an average life expectancy of 83.7 years while America has about 78.9 years. Italy has 3 infant mortalities per 1,000 life births while America has 6.5. You could go on and on with obesity rates, air pollution, etc. Basically this is all a bunch of fancy ways of saying that Italy has more available healthcare infrastrucutre than America and that infrastructure is more effective in maintaining good health for it’s people than America.

Even more importantly, Italy has single payer healthcare. America does not, which makes a massive disincentive for anyone who may be infected to seek proper healthcare seeing as we have by far the most expensive cost of treatment in the entire world. The average cost of an emergency room visit for an America is almost 1,400 dollars, or about 5200% of the cost of an ER visit in Italy (which amounts to about 27 U.S dollars). Dying in an emergency room and fronting your estate the bill is frankly, for many americans, far preferable to surviving a severe case through ICU treatment given the even more astronomical costs.

So not only is our healthcare of worse quality, but it is so financially burdensome that it massively disincentivizes seeking proper medical treatments in the worst symptomatic cases. But don’t worry, it gets even worse.

Italy, like most countires, has federally guaranteed unemployment benefits –typically paying out 75% of a person’s wage for up to a 16 month period. America provides unemployment benefits at the state level. Not a single state offers a benefit at an equivilant percentage and every state’s benefit is taxable income – and so is even less than the official stated benefit amount. The maximum period of time one can receive is six months (most states are less), which is shorter than how long the pandemic is expected to last by leading epidemiologists. A depressing fun fact – Mississippi pays a maximum unemployment benefit of 235 dollars a week as of 2017, or literally less than the federal minimum wage as an absolute maximum.

And unlike every other country on the planet Earth, America practices exclusively at-will employment. Meaning you can literally be fired simply for contracting coronavirus (which also makes you permanently ineligible for what pitiful unemployment benefits are provided in many states.)

Given the staggering lack of social safety net for someone potentialy infected with Covid-19 – people are given every reason to avoid getting tested and treated and every reason to refuse to self-quarantine. People who are non-symptomatic or mildly symptomatic are essentially forced to continue to work and spread disease in a way people in Italy (or every other country on earth for that matter) are not. There is absolutely no reason to believe a sufficent amount of people will willingly risk their economic destruction in order to assist with the complicated abstract concept of “flattening the curve.

Every societal incentive is pushing people to spread the virus more – even before accounting for the intentional misinformation provided by our federal government leading to a slow response and still lingering misunderstanding in the American population of the severity of the epidemic. There is no reason to believe that the COVID-19 pandemic is slowing down and every reason to believe it could become worse, even far worse, than that of the “worst case scenario” illustrated in Italy.

And with a greater proliferation of the virus, comes greater economic collapse. Service, amenity and restaurant industries will be forced to shut down, resulting in massive layoffs which result in a massive depletion of spending within the economy which results in a massive collapse in the stock market which results in most american’s retirement accounts vanishing over the course of a few weeks, which results in fewer job opportunities as older americans are incapable of retiring. This is an unpreventable snowballing event. An economy that is complete freefall in all sectors at all levels of income. This will be far worse than the 2008 financial crisis.

This very much as the potential to be worse than The Great Depression.

Also, now is a good time to note that our President during this time of crisis is an senile fascist and a braindead moron.

This is what happens when a reckoning occurs in a society that has become utterly degraded by greed, selfishness and anti-intellectualism. It is an economic apocalypse on par with the actual apocalypse depicted in Stephen King’s The Stand.

A national crisis is a stress test for a society. Trump’s America trying to deal with coronavirus is the equivilant of the average 8th grader trying to tackle Tenessee Titans superhuman wrecking ball Derek Henry.

 

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