On the news last night there was a story exploring how many people still are not taking the threat of COVID seriously. These are people who are arguing that the response has been overblown. Not unlike you know who.
Basically the NPR reporter was trying to figure out how, given all the deaths and now the spread in upper echelons of government, people could possibly hold this view. You could almost hear the background gasps in viewer’s living rooms. “Nuts!” “Weirdos!” “Crazy!”
Part of the reason for their skepticism was personal experience, or actually the lack of it. When asked if they knew anyone who had been sick with COVID or who had died of it, all those interviewed said, “No.” I don’t think that’s all that unusual. I can’t think of anyone that is close to me that has had it. The only person I know who died of it was in the acquaintance category at best.
But there was another thing all those interviewed had in common. They were either in smaller towns or rural communities, and not in high concentration population centers. Such locales have had, overall, lower incidences of the virus, in part because they are not so populous. As a result there are few gathering of large numbers of people, which seems the most dangerous as spreader events.
But there’s something else about those small towns and rural communities that may tip them toward skepticism about the seriousness of COVID. There are the areas where white, working class people have seen their lives and communities go down the tubes over a couple of decades now as economic shifts took away jobs, closed manufacturing plants and businesses that depended upon them.
Such communities were profiled in the book Hillbilly Elegy and more recently by Nick Kristof in Tightrope.
In fact, 150,000 Americans a year have been dying in such small towns and rural areas of drug overdoses, alcoholism and suicide. My hunch is that this other epidemic has been more real to these folks than COVID. And, further, that they have perhaps felt pretty much overlooked and forgotten amid their own years long crisis and slide.
Back a million years ago, after the election of 2016, a couple of biblical passages were on my heart and mind in the wake of the election.
One from the prophet Amos speaks about the “ruin of Joseph,” of the people of a small clan and small towns to whom the wealthy classes in Jerusalem were indifferent, not regarding their situation as any of their concern.
Here’s Amos (7: 4 ff.)
“Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory, and lounge on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock, and calves from the stall, who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp . . . who drink wine from bowls, and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!”
It’s kind of all there isn’t it? Gourmet food and costly cuts, leisure and idleness, abundant wine, lots of massages.
It may that for some in these rural and small town areas that have not been hard hit by COVID there’s a feeling that many in the country and its elites were faring just fine, thanks, and didn’t seem to care too much, or even have a clue about, their epidemic.