My wife Joyce and I visited the front in the war zone yesterday.
I’m talking about the “war” on the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
We registered for COVID-19 testing on Tuesday when Joyce, usually highly energetic, started feeling physically drained for no reason and began running a low-grade elevated temperature of 98.9 all day. We decided that our both getting tested was a wise idea, particularly as I have a lung vulnerability that would make my contracting the disease particularly risky.
As we drove onto the campus of the Montgomery County Community College where a drive-through testing center had been set up, we were checked first for IDs and registration receipts from the county Health Department by a friendly county sheriff’s deputy. Then we drove on past a police car to the rear of one of two lines of six vehicles waiting to enter one of two big drive-through tents set up for obtaining the test kids, receiving instructions, performing the tests and turning in the little plastic tubes containing our used nasal swab sticks.
We were surprised to see several big air-conditioned desert sand-colored canvas “quonset huts” and a bunch of young guys dressed in camo uniforms. Driving closer to the testing tent, we could see that the personnel handing out and retrieving the test kits, as well as other people recording date, managing the refrigerated containers for the completed tests, etc., were also camo-clad soldiers, all with a unit of the Army National Guard and all wearing masks and latex gloves.
Turns out, on investigation, that the testing operations across the state of Pennsylvania are being funded by money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency under National Emergency orders, with the Guard units under the jurisdiction of state governors like PA’s Gov. Tom Wolf.
The Guardsmen in the unit (we didn’t see any women in uniform on the site, though they may have been there working in the two quonset huts), were patient friendly guys, and it was nice to see soldiers working in this kind of capacity instead of doing what the guard has been doing lately in cities like Philadelphia, New York and Washington, DC. beating up, tear gassing and busting up peaceful protests.
If we could keep our troops confined to these kinds of activities, with their sidearms and assault rifles left back in lockers, the country and the Constitution would be a whole lot better off, and the nation’s people of color could breathe a bit more freely.
The testing itself was very efficient. Our car made it to the inside of the tent in under half an hour, the test took about five minutes from start to finish, and we were out and back on the road home minutes later. In just over 24 hours we had our test results: both negative I’m happy to report. But relieved as we were, since it is the Trump administration funding this testing operation, we found ourselves wondering about quality of the kits. Were these the ones being made in Maine, maybe from the batch that was reportedly ruined because Trump, who visited the manufacturer, insisted on not wearing a mask and forced the manager to toss out the whole run? Or given the incredible corruption and favoritism , of the current administration was it possible that the kits were made by some shady friend-of-Trump entrepreneur who was using prison labor to make the swaps and place them in the plastic vials — prison labor that consists of people living in close quarters where COVID-19 infections are spreading like wildfire among inmates who have only limited access to clean water and soap to clean off their hands.
I made a couple perfunctory efforts to find out who had the contract to make the test kits but was unsuccessful.
I should note that calling any department of the federal government these days is next to useless. Almost no department or agency provides phone numbers or email addresses for public affairs or media offices. One must instead go to the agency website, click on “Newsmedia” or “Public Affairs,” and then “Contact” at which point you get a page with a small space to write a few hundred words explaining your question or request. You click “send” and supposedly have sent a message to the media information staff, but who knows if it actually does that or just goes into the internet ether? Since no message, even an automated one, is sent to your email inbox, you have no record of having sent an email, no name to whom it went if it was sent at all, and no place to call when, as is the norm in this administration, you’ve received no response even days later. So we’ll just have to trust that our test kits actually were sterile and that they actually had a medium in them to keep any virus alive until tests were run, and that the results we got of “no COVID” are credible and reliable.
Personally, as much as I would have felt more confident having our tests administered by trained nursing staff from the Montgomery County Health Department, I’m glad to have that Guard unit kept busy administering tests instead of beatings.
Maybe, based on that line of thinking, we should put the Philadelphia Police Department to work inoculating people for flu and, should a COVID-19 vaccine be developed, for coronavirus too. Having them kept busy shooting people with vaccines in the arm might help keep them from shooting black people on the streets of Philly. Maybe some of the more violence-prone cops on the force might even discover that helping people instead of bullying them is more enjoyable.
This pandemic keeps teaching us things: the simple pleasures of just staying home and cooking a healthy and inexpensive meal instead of blowing a wad on over-salted, high-calorie and over-priced restaurant or take-out food, the extra hours of private life one gets by not having to commute for one to two hours each way working downtown — private life that can be used for reading, contemplating and dealing with some problem, spending time with kids, or taking a leisurely walk, seeing the stars and breathing clean air as traffic nearly vanishes or just sleeping late on a weekday and of going to bed relaxed instead of exhausted. Now maybe the same pandemic can teach soldiers and cops how nice it is to serve people instead of brutalize them.