Fifty years ago this month, Apollo 13 limped back to Earth after an explosion knocked out an oxygen tank and their electrical system. It didn’t look good. In the movie version, flight director Gene Kranz overhears NASA administrators saying this could be the worst disaster NASA ever experienced. Kranz replies “With all due respect, sir, I believe this is going to be our finest hour.” And it was. They dealt with loss of cabin heat, buildup of CO2, and a shortage of potable water. The astronauts sought refuge in the Lunar Module and try to figure out how to re-start the command module. Nonetheless, the crew overcame all obstacles and returned to earth safely. The mission was termed a successful failure.
So it is with the Wuhan Coronavirus. The naysayers complain that this is the worst disaster America ever faced, but I prefer to look at it as our finest hour. Our technology has allowed us to face the virus in ways that would have been impossible not long ago. The media complain that we aren’t doing enough tests, when really they should be amazed that we can do a test at all. Very quickly after unusual pneumonia cases were noted in Wuhan, the virus was isolated, the genome sequenced, and diagnostic tests developed. By contrast, it took years to find the cause of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, years to get a reliable test, years to learn how it spread.
In America, we didn’t have to ration care to treat Covid patients. We literally built more ventilators than we know what to do with. Compare our situation with the response to the 1918 flu. Back then, they didn’t have to ration ventilators either, but that was because they didn’t have ventilators.
Overnight, new hospitals sprung up in New York City. A Navy ship, a convention center, field hospital tents in Central Park, makeshift hospitals in parking lots. It was an amazing show of what America can do, even if we didn’t need half the temporary beds.
We are spoiled in the 21st century expecting instantaneous cures and unlimited capacity. Just once I would like to see a story about how all our technological advances saved millions of lives. Without our current knowledge, this bug would have killed ten times as many people as the Spanish flu.
But no. Instead I read articles that we cant leave home until we do 35 million corona tests a day. Excuse me. Test 10% of our population every day? That’s not a plan. It’s like telling the Apollo 13 astronauts they couldn’t return to the command module until 100% of their electricity could be restored. With that approach, they all would have died. We need to work the problem using our brains and the materials we have. And we have plenty of both.
I can tell that the author of the Vox article is a defeatist-or looking for political advantage by making our situation appear worse. I know they are biased because they show the number of tests performed on a per capita basis, but show the deaths as an absolute number. That is just designed to make us look bad. On the other hand, if we look at deaths on a per capita basis, we are better than most Western countries. And, we lead the world in test capacity on an absolute basis.
The fight against the novel coronavirus is not over, but we flattened the curve and made it to the other side. When it flares up again, and it will, we will be ready. This will be our finest hour.