The fog thins, ever so slightly

It is now abundantly, frighteningly clear that the CCP cooked the books. Many more Chinese have gotten sick from the coronavirus and died than the government is willing to admit. We now know that it took Chinese authorities about three weeks to tell the World Health Organization about what was happening in Wuhan. We will never know the precise reasons for the delay, but it’s probably safe to chalk it up to that toxic combination of greed, ignorance, and denialism that swept across the globe years before the coronavirus did. If China was distorting the numbers in December 2019, it’s virtually certain they’re still misrepresenting — especially since they’ve booted Western journalists out of the country. There is simply no reason to believe anything the CCP is telling us.

This matters, deeply, to the rest of the world. We’re trying to base our projections for the development of this disease on a denominator of cases, and we can’t do that without an accurate count. On January 5, the World Health Organization issued a risk assessment that, in retrospect, is terrifying: a month into the crisis, the government in China was still feeding blatant falsehoods to the international body that was specifically designed to handle this kind of thing. We now also know that the CCP has detained people who were trying to ring the alarm.

We can’t do much about the awful Chinese government. We can, and must, ask questions of our own lousy one. The current administration went out of its way to dismantle the State Department and gut the intelligence services: this was the prime objective of Mr. Bannon, whose desire to prune back the administrative state became the closest thing the White House has ever had to a coherent policy. Competent people at all levels were shown the door and replaced by cronies with no business handling portfolios. After more than three years of this, our own blindness — and our arrogance — made us sitting ducks.

In the absence of national leadership, fact-finding, like so much else, has devolved to state and local governments. Jersey City is not a place known for transparency, but the Mayor and other municipal spokespeople have been quick to communicate what they’ve learned about the virus. Some of the news out of City Hall has been encouraging — not ecstatically so, but reason to entertain some measured hope. The City set up a testing center a few days ago, and officials have been applying swabs to residents worried about their health. This has, as you’d imagine, led to a spike in reported cases, and it’s reddened the color of Hudson County on those online crisis maps that we’ve all been compulsively following.

But it’s also led to a corresponding spike in negative results. The Mayor reports that negatives have increased with each day of testing. Only 31% of people who showed up for a swab yesterday actually had the coronavirus. What they did have were symptoms — ones serious enough to demand a scan. More than two-thirds of those who brought their fevers, muscle aches, coughs, and shortness of breath to the testing center on Marin were, according to the test, suffering from something other than the coronavirus as we’ve come to know it. This suggests to me that the containment strategies that we’ve put in place in Jersey City are having two meaningful effects. They’re keeping a deadly communicative disease from spreading. They’re also intensifying the psychosomatic symptoms of people losing their minds indoors.

I don’t trust our municipal government all that much more than I trust the Chinese Communist Party. Like many 21st century administrations, ours has a ravenous and judgment-clouding desire for positive publicity. But our local leaders have never tried to soft-pedal this crisis, or make outsiders believe that Jersey City is safer than it is. They’ve recognized the seriousness of what we’re facing. Until they’re caught in a fib, I’m going to believe that City Hall is working with other municipal governments to provide the clear view of the parameters of the crisis that federal complacency has denied us. For all our faults, we are not a place where science is unwelcome. Two of our City Councilpeople — Rolando Lavarro and Michael Yun — have been down with virus symptoms. I have to imagine they’re possessed with a burning desire to cut the crap and get some answers.

Friends, we made it to the last day of March. We can turn the corner in April. I love New Jersey, I love New York, and I love you. Bless you all.