Dateline: June 21, 2020
The little lad in this photo is my dad, Frank K. Baker. He was maybe 4 or 5 (circa 1938) and proudly showing off the newspaper suit his mom made him for a parade in my little hometown of Fort Stockton, Texas. He was a walking billboard for the family business, the Fort Stockton Pioneer – the local paper that was published at the time by my Granddaddy George.
The printers’ ink got into Frank’s veins and he went on to take the reins of the Pioneer and become an award-winning publisher and president of the Texas Press Association. He was the quintessential small-town journalist, back when that actually meant something. It’s because of him that I am a working writer to this day.
Dad left us a year and a half ago after struggling bravely with Alzheimer’s for several years. He was 84. I still miss him every single day, and I can’t help but wonder what he would think about these crazy times – the coronavirus pandemic, the global Black Lives Matter movement, and the interconnectedness of it all. He was a gifted and insightful writer with a real knack for breaking down all sides of an issue. I’m sure he would have had a lot of worthwhile things to say about all this, if he were still here and if that cruel disease had not robbed him of his ability to communicate.
Happy Father’s Day, Daddy. I hope you’re reading this, wherever you are, and it’s put a little smile on your face.
Black Lives Matter. But so do Native American Lives.
As I said, it’s pretty hard to write about COVID-19 without mentioning the global struggle to end racism and economic injustice. With the terrible murder of George Floyd and now the completely senseless shooting of Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta, the focus has been – and rightfully so – on Black Lives. But the plight of Native Americans has really been on my mind lately, especially during this health crisis.
The Navajo Nation is one of the poorest and most disenfranchised populations in North America, which means COVID-19 is taking a terrible toll. In fact, the Navajos have the highest infection rate per capita compared to U.S. states. This BBC article puts it into perspective.
All of us need to be asking ourselves and each other why skin color and ethnicity are somehow factors in who will suffer the most during this terrible pandemic. Here’s something that puts a fine point on it: Most of the people we’ve seen in the U.S. who refuse to wear masks are white. In other words, the group with the BEST access to resources for surviving COVID-19 is the one that’s rejecting one of the EASIEST ways to keep it from spreading. Why is that?
I’m glad the Black Lives Movement has accelerated this conversation around the world, and I hope it continues.
Colombia: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
It’s been a troubling few days here in Colombian COVID World. I’ll save the Good for last.
First, the Bad. This week, Colombia blew through the 60,000 mark on confirmed positive cases and passed 2,000 deaths. And we’ve reached almost 90 days of official nationwide quarantine (although it’s been several days more here in Antioquia). Health officials have said the country won’t reach its COVID-19 peak until at least August.
These accelerating numbers are frightening, but we’re trying to keep some perspective: Colombia still has some of the lowest numbers per capita among the Americas. And the slow slog to the peak in August is actually a good thing, since it means a flatter curve and less impact on the healthcare system. The charts below are from the Colombian health authority.
Next, the Ugly. Friday was the first of three IVA (sales tax)-free shopping days, which as it turns out fulfills a campaign promise of the president’s. It bears mentioning that he took office in January, well before the coronavirus came over the horizon. To get as many people into the stores as possible, the local government called off pico y cédula just for the day. (Pico y cédula has been in place since the early days of the national lockdown here, and it means that individuals can only shop on certain days, according to the last number of their national ID cards). So basically, Friday amounted to an open shopping day for everyone.
John and I thought we’d take advantage of a chance to go shopping together and not on our designated days. We walked up to our local mall but turned right around when we saw the long queue of people waiting to get in and the cars backed up for two blocks to get into the car park. And this was orderly compared to news reports from other malls, where the mobs of people fighting over goods rivaled any U.S. Walmart on Black Friday. WHAT WERE these officials thinking? I wonder how many new cases are going to pop up, just from this one event?
These scenes were in Bogotá, one of the epicenters of COVID-19:
Finally, the Good. Medellín is once again in the spotlight for its progressive handling of the virus and its relatively low case and fatality numbers. This AP story came out a week ago and has since been picked up by news outlets all over the world.
Also, in this article from Americas Quarterly, the head of Colombia’s COVID-19 response team describes the country’s strategies for testing, tracing, and isolation and also Colombia’s measures to bolster ICU capacity.
Colombia has done a good job in controlling the coronavirus so far. But our work is just getting started.
On the Light Side
It’s a safe bet the handshake is gone forever, but what type of greeting will replace it? Our friend Paul Drecksler at Travel is Life has been pondering that very question: