Ah, the coronavirus. Or, as it’s known to its creepy friends, COVID-19, the particularly virulent and insidious new strain of the corona virus. As John Oliver helpfully, calmly, and rationally laid out on Sunday’s Last Week Tonight, there’s a sneaky, “nature finds a way” evolutionary danger to this latest attempt by Mother Nature to get humanity to stop befouling her glories. In that, unlike the more obviously debilitating SARS or MERS, COVID-19 is prone to infect some 80 percent of its victims while leaving them mobile and thinking it’s no big deal whether or not they wash their hands before bellying up to the communal salad bar. Thus the virus spreads further, infects more people, and, in the end, straight-up murders about two percent of the people who get it. “Two percent, no biggie!,” some might say. But some others with human souls might respond, as Oliver did, “Two percent is a lot when you’re talking about those people dying.” (Engaging in a little HBO synergy, Oliver pointed out that, when two percent of people disappeared on The Leftovers, Justin Theroux didn’t shrug and get on with finding a new girlfriend.)
Still, as Oliver eventually summed up just how worried Americans should be about this whole thing (“a bit”), he first set up a more than a bit alarming overview of how various countries around the world have responded to the crisis. You know, like Japan, which quarantined the entire passenger manifest on a cruise ship until the people were so thoroughly infected with coronavirus that seven people died, and the World Health Organization had to create an entire separate entry for the Diamond Princess cruise liner on its list of coronavirus cases by country. Or China, which has essentially quarantined the entire, 50-million-citizens capital city of Hubei Province, Wuhan, into an abandoned set just waiting for Danny Boyle to start filming the next 28 Days/Weeks Later movie. Then there’s the truly chilling footage of an Iranian member of parliament trying to reassure people on TV—while clearly sweating through his shirt and coughing in what was later to confirmed to be the throes of his own infection. Only Vietnam passed Oliver’s muster, as he repeatedly grooved out to the country’s startlingly catchy anti-coronavirus pop anthem, both for its helpful advice (wash your hands properly, don’t touch your face, avoid public places), as for how hard it bangs. “This song fucks!,” beamed Oliver in admiration.
Still, America, right? USA! USA! We’ve got this, right? Especially under the calm, civic-minded, altruistic, and never, ever self-obsessed or buck-passing White House of Donald J. Trump. Right? Right? Anyone? Yeah, we’re not lighting a beacon of wisdom and reasonable precaution these days on any front, and, as Oliver showed with bile-creeping clarity, the sycophantic, self-serving bullshit spewing from the Trump administration over this very real and preventable public health emergency is just about as vile and virulent as the disease it’s clearly in no way interested in or capable of containing. There’s Trump’s choice of noted non-science fan VP Mike Pence for coronavirus team leader, whose record in embracing medical facts over fear-mongering, fundamentalist nonsense is, as Oliver puts it kindly, “extremely mixed.” There’s Trump calling the very real concerns about this global pandemic-in-training a “hoax” being perpetrated by his political enemies, what with their fancy experts and science, and altruistic concerns for the safety of the American people, and whatnot. And what about that press conference where Trump stood glowering behind some well-meaning actual experts who told the country “It’s not a matter of if, but when” coronavirus will become a real issue here, and then stepped up to the podium to pooh-pooh the very concerns he’d brought them there to share. And don’t get Oliver started on that other presser where confusion over just who is in charge of the virus response—Mike “Pray the AIDS away” Pence or HHS Secretary Alex “Only rich people will get a possible vaccine, c’mon” Azar—saw Trump, clearly annoyed that reporters’ questions about this genuine salient public policy fact might make him miss a tee time, just buggers off out of the room.
But surely that same national media can be counted on to responsibly inform the citizenry? Well, not, as Oliver notes in even more gorge-rising detail, from Trump’s pet propagandists at Fox News, whose coverage has ranged from irresponsibly parroting batshit Trump talking points, to amplifying the latest racist internet conspiracies (speaking of bats), to putting on “experts” like the one whose “blame the non-whites” take straight-up called China not part of the “civilized” world. Then there’s the public sector, where hucksterism (in the form of disgraced evangelist Jim Bakker hawking expensive silver elixir), and good old American dipshittery (seriously, don’t gargle bleach, you nimrods) drown out anyone attempting to put forth the actual facts about a very real health concern. Oliver did his best, laying out some genuine, factual steps you can take to protect yourself and your family. 1. Don’t be racist. (Good advice for all situations.) 2. Don’t hoard masks. (People who are actually sick or doctors need them, and this isn’t what they’re for.) 3. Watch the CDC website for further information. (Since, as yet, Trump hasn’t purged the government of everyone interested in actually doing their jobs.) 4. Wash you hands (for at least 20 seconds, in hot water.) Oliver admits that there’s a certain “aww-mom” dullness to that last prosaic but undeniably effective step. Luckily, he’s got a banger to help out with that.