Thursday, March 26, 2020

Say `Thank you' to heroes of coronavirus -- March 26, 2020 column


In a presidential debate before the 1988 election, Vice President George Herbert Walker Bush, the Republican nominee, was asked about heroes who could inspire young people.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, he said.

“You’ve probably never heard of him. He’s a very fine researcher, top doctor at the National Institute of Health, working hard doing something, research on this disease of AIDS,” Bush said. C-SPAN found and posted the clip this week.

Today, nearly everybody has heard of Fauci. The director of the Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is a hero of the novel coronavirus crisis.

Fauci, 79, stands behind President Donald Trump at news conferences and, with grace and courage, sets the record straight when Trump errs about the virus.

The coronavirus and COVID-19, the disease it causes, have upended daily life, caused sickness, financial hardship, fear, grief and more than 1,000 deaths nationwide. 

The crisis is also showing us the best in America. It has brought us together as we stay apart to stop the spread of disease. And there are many other new heroes.

Often standing near Fauci at news conferences is Dr. Deborah Birx, 63, who was U.S. global AIDS coordinator in the State Department until the White House picked her to be the coronavirus response coordinator.

Her calm presentations are professional, reassuring and personal. Urging young people to practice social distancing, she told of her grandmother’s lifelong guilt after as a child she brought home the Spanish flu that killed her mother.

“My grandmother lived with that for 88 years  . . . this is not a theoretical. This is a reality,” Birx said.

Another hero to many is New York’s Democratic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who has shown extraordinary leadership and empathy.

Cuomo calmly and clearly explains in daily news conferences how New York became the epicenter of the outbreak and how the state and the country can get through the crisis.

He reminds New Yorkers and all of us to thank those who put their lives on the line when they go to work.

“Our health care workers, who are doing God’s work. . .  Can you imagine the nurses who leave their homes in the morning, who kiss their children goodbye, go to a hospital, put on gowns, deal with people who have the coronavirus?” Cuomo said at Tuesday’s briefing.

“You want to talk about extraordinary individuals. And it’s the nurses and the doctors and the health care workers. It’s the police officers who show up every day . . . And it’s the firefighters and it’s the transportation workers, and it’s the people who are running the grocery stores and the pharmacies and providing all those essential services.”

Many are finding ways to help. In Virginia, when Gov. Ralph Northam asked for volunteers for the Virginia Medical Reserve Corps, more than 1,500 health professionals signed up in a month. On Wednesday, Northam asked for more volunteers.

At least half a dozen Virginia distilleries have shifted from producing whisky and other libations to hand sanitizer. Bakeries donate fresh bread to food banks.

Amy and Jeremy Filko of Vienna, Virginia, are using 3-D printing to make plastic shields to protect N95 masks, Washingtonian magazine reported.

The Filkos send four free masks to doctors, nurses and health care workers who request them through their Facebook page and cover the shipping costs themselves. They also are sharing the technology with others who want to make shields, as long as they agree to provide the shields free.

To this group of everyday heroes, I would add blood donors, neighbors who shop for others, delivery people, sanitation workers, mail carriers, cashiers -- and the people who cover the news day in, day out.

In this time of rampant misinformation on social media and mostly unfounded criticism of reporters by the president and his fans, we need solid, fact-based reporting more than ever.

News organizations face grave financial challenges, and with continued layoffs and cutbacks work harder to do more with less. There’s never been a better time to subscribe to a local newspaper in print or online.

And, as we keep our distance, we can still smile and say, “Thank you,” to all the unsung heroes of this crisis.

©2020 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

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