Please. Stay. Home. Like Your Life Depends On It.

The coronavirus pandemic is as serious as it gets. Everyone needs to do their part.

The writers here at the Washington Monthly do our best to bring you interesting and insightful analysis of current events. At the least, we hope you can use our content to seem smarter at dinner parties or (for a few of you, hopefully) to make a convincing case in the halls of power. But we also aim to provide a public service, whether it be in our long-form journalism or our annual college guide and rankings. To the best of my ability, I tend to do more of the former than the latter.

This morning, though, I’m going to skip the pithy analysis in favor of a much more important basic public service announcement:

Please. Stay. Home.

Stay home like your life and the lives of your loved ones depend on it. Because they do.

Right-wing propaganda is inundating the country with messages designed to boost big business’s bottom line: Keep living your life as normal, keep shopping, keep flying, keep congregating in public spaces. Don’t do anything that would impact Wall Street, don’t hurt business interests. It’s better to put grandma at risk than corporate profits. And, of course, don’t hurt Trump’s re-election chances by softening the economy. The latest “see no evil, speak no evil” propaganda about a freaking pandemic that most threatens their own voters and viewers is the cherry on top of the public health menace that is the conservative movement.

But reality doesn’t care about propaganda. Contagion does what it does, no matter what Sean Hannity says about it. As I write this, corona virus is spreading across the country at an alarming rate. Because the Trump administration refused to take even the most basic preventive measures, our infection curve parallels that of Italy, one of the countries hardest hit. In its response to the crisis, Senegal looks like one of the most competent countries on the planet. The United States looks like a formerly developed country. Trump is bragging about the country he is failing like a decrepit, unwashed 40-year-old alcoholic still ranting about his high school football glory days, telling anyone who will listen how he’s still the greatest that ever was, even as he drunkenly slips off his barstool.

Meanwhile, New York City officials are admitting that the virus has become endemic throughout the city as residents continue to pack the bars and nightclubs like something out of an Edgar Allen Poe or Stephen King story. We don’t know how bad the problem is because almost no one is being tested, and we’re taking laughably few precautions against exponential spread of the disease.

The United States doesn’t have enough hospital beds or ventilators to cope with the coming crisis. That means exactly what it sounds like: many Americans will very likely soon be gasping out their last breaths without hospital treatment or basic medical care, because our healthcare system will be completely overwhelmed and we won’t have the capacity to treat the sick.

People think everything will continue as normal … until it doesn’t. Americans in particular tend to believe that we are exceptional and immune. We are so poorly traveled outside our own country that we don’t understand just how far behind the rest of the developed world we have fallen in terms of basic infrastructure from transportation to broadband to public health. This is the best country in the world to live in if you are very rich, but not so much for anyone else. Most of us, however, don’t know that, so we think nothing truly catastrophic can happen to us.

It is about to. Our infection curve is much closer to that of Italy or Iran, than to countries like Singapore or South Korea that are more effectively containing the virus. We are only one or two weeks behind Italy. And what is happening in Italy? Doctors are being forced to make battlefield-style triage decisions about who gets care and who does not, essentially leaving the medically compromised, the old and the frail to die untreated.

Since the federal government under Trump is failing to do even the bare minimum to head off this crisis, the single most effective thing the public can do is maintain social distance. And the best way to do that isn’t just by standing a few feet farther away from people. The best thing to do is to stay home for as long as you can.

Of course, not everyone can do so. And that’s part of the point. The American economy and political system is hollowed out by right-wing ideology that most of our people cannot afford to stay home from work for even a single pay period. We have no paid child care. We have no sick leave. People struggle to get by working side hustles and gig economy jobs, with a social safety net so tattered and full of holes that few can survive even a minor disruption to their incomes—and every minor event in life causes a significant disruption. Conservative ideology isn’t just destroying the psychological well-being and economic future of the vast majority of the population just to fatten the wallet of yacht owners: it’s also a public health crisis.

But if you can afford to stay home, please stay home. If you can work from home, do it. If you can make your own food at home, do it. If you can talk to your friends by phone or video chat instead of in person, do it. If you can exercise at home instead of the gym, do it.

The only way to prevent the number of sick from overwhelming the number of beds and ventilators is to slow down the rate of infection. And by far the best way to slow the rate of infection is to avoid coming into contact with other people, more and more of whom will almost certainly be infected. It’s not about stopping everyone from getting sick: it’s about stopping enough people getting sick fast enough that we can keep enough hospital beds open for all the people who do get sick. It’s called flattening the curve, and it’s the most important thing any of us can do right now.

It’s a matter of life and death. Right now, right here in the United States of America. We are not immune. You are not immune. And yes, that means you.

Stay home. Please.

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David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.