By James Buckley
When what is now dubbed COVID-19 popped up in Wuhan, China, the world changed overnight.
Before long, trains, planes, ships and virtually every form of international mass transit had been halted. Instead of more than 30,000 airplane flights a day taking place all over the world, there were maybe 5,000. Whole populations of millions of people were ordered to “shelter in place.”
Free movement of humans in every corner of the globe was seriously curtailed.
The one thing — the one very most important thing — that a sitting president of the world’s superpower could do would be to find a solution, quickly. Unfortunately, one didn’t immediately come to mind. This virus was so virulent, so powerful, so devastatingly efficient, it looked like it was going to wipe out even more people than the inaptly named Spanish flu did almost exactly 100 years ago.
There was talk of tens of millions of deaths, maybe more than 100 million.
But, being an astute businessman and one having been accustomed to making spot decisions quickly, the president of the United States of America, Mr. Donald J. Trump, made the most important decision of his presidency. He put into place the “Warp Speed” initiative that would bring scientists, doctors, political leaders, virologists, drug manufacturers and other critical participants including the U.S. military, together in search of a cure or vaccine and the distribution thereof.
The Trump administration cut red tape, removed obstacles and supplied funds in order to accelerate this effort.
And it worked.
Thanks to the man many love to hate, the U.S.-inspired plan proved effective. Vaccines were developed by at least three companies — Moderna, Pfizer, and in England, AstraZeneca — in what one would have to consider warp speed time.
Less than a year from the discovery of the virus, scientists had formulated and were ready to produce an effective vaccine to prevent and halt the spread of the dreaded COVID-19 vector. Luckily for those who lived in the United States — since the country had financed most of the effort — U.S. citizens were among the first in the world to be vaccinated.
In another example of business acumen, President Trump had also arranged payment — in advance — for hundreds of millions of doses of a vaccine, despite there not even having been completed trial runs, let alone successful ones. He had the confidence that at least one would work and he didn’t want this country to be left with its hands out begging some other entity for those hundreds of millions of doses.
The U.S., although there has been a slight uptick in cases (most likely caused by a return to familial closeness and warm interactions as people threw off the chains of solitude), is well on its way to a return to what was once considered normal.
It has been a grueling time, as we approach the 600,000 mark in overall deaths, but thanks to the businessman president’s perspicacity, we’re coming out of that dark period in record time.
However, more than one million deaths have now been recorded throughout Europe, and that number, according to the World Health Organization, is “rising exponentially.”
France has gone back to shut-down mode. Germany, Spain and the heart of Europe struggle to contain the suffering and the deaths. Only Great Britain, perhaps the hardest-hit European nation other than Italy, seems ready to resume “normal” life, as its vaccination efforts (thanks to Oxford’s AstraZeneca) have reduced deaths by 95% from January 2021, and cases by 90%.
The attempt among leaders and countries around the world is to acquire enough of the various vaccines to immunize their populations as quickly (at warp speed?) as possible. Caution is still their watchword, but drug manufacturers are going full throttle to produce.
Those of us who’ve had the good fortune to have avoided the illness and have since been vaccinated have the battalions of healthcare workers to thank. They devoted their time and efforts in so many different ways, both by caring for the affected and dying patients under their care. Then when vaccines became available, signing up once again to handle the administration of those vaccines into the waiting arms of the populace.
I got my first and second shot of Moderna’s medical miracle at the Wake Center and marveled at the precision of the effort there. My wife received hers at the Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital parking lot where the well-designed and smoothly executed operation took place.
An army of doctors, nurses, firefighters, and trained healthcare workers guided thousands of cars daily along twelve lanes and more, cheerfully and efficiently poking the arms of motorists and passengers through car windows and doors in military fashion.
Oh, and some words of praise for Santa Barbara Mayor Cathy Murillo. Although almost never in agreement with her vaguely socialist-inspired political leanings, I have to admit that — being more of a libertarian than a conservative — her laissez-faire approach to the whole lockdown thing was much appreciated.
Thanks to Ms. Murillo and the rest of the Santa Barbara City Council, restaurants along Coast Village Road, State Street and other important avenues of commerce, continued to function reasonably well because of a “look-the-other-way” approach that allowed Santa Barbara to prosper. There were some small incidences of overzealous policing, but overall people were left to their own devices. In the unincorporated areas, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown devoted his time to pursuing criminals and preventing crimes rather than monitoring businessmen and women simply trying to hold on to their livelihoods.
Congratulations all around and while it may be too early to run up the “Mission Accomplished” banner, we certainly have come through this better than most.
Knock on wood.
James Buckley is a longtime Montecito resident.