Op-Ed

Honor the heroes of the war against coronavirus with a national monument | Opinion

Vegas is surreal on any given day. A place of fake pharaonic pyramids, Imperial Roman palaces, Venetian canals, an Eiffel Tower.

Surreal.

In the middle of the Las Vegas Strip is the New York-New York hotel-casino complex, with a faux cityscape — a scaled-down skyline. In front of the Statue of Liberty, a faux harbor floats a replica of the New York Fire Department’s fire boat #2 that was spontaneously turned into a living monument to New York 9/11 firefighters.

First responders and citizens garlanded this model city with flowers, firefighter T-shirts, images of the fallen, loving notes. This makeshift 9/11 firefighter memorial told the world that we will never forget the bravery and sacrifice of the first responders who rushed through ash choked streets and into burning buildings to save our souls.

At this moment, we have a new set of heroes putting down their lives to save us from an invisible viral scourge: doctors and nurses. They are on the front lines fighting the coronavirus, intubating patients and working against all odds without sufficient protective gear and medical equipment.

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Naturally, we voluntarily need to stave off the illness and protect our potential saviors — wash your hands!

We also need a way to honor these individuals for their bravery and sacrifice. It’s time to design and fund a meaningful monument to the nation’s medical practitioners.

Healthcare fights and the partisan politics of public health insurance have tarnished the medical profession. Sky-high prescription costs and hospital claims make doctors, and the entire medical field, sometimes seem like an exploitive class and industry. We have a weird love-hate relationship with those who lessen our suffering. Let’s now focus on the love part of the equation and be both respectful and profoundly grateful for their work.

Many front-line healthcare workers took on steep student debt to serve this moment. These people are in the trenches, in danger of becoming coronavirus cannon fodder. Currently, 14 percent of Spain’s 40,000 healthcare workers — 5,400 workers — are already infected and unable to go to work. The numbers will likely go up from the time this was written. Medics’ work may be valued during a crisis, but it’s often underappreciated. The risks they are taking, often without the equipment they need, is like sending troops to war without guns and hardened Humvees.

During the current crisis, doctors nationwide give daily COVID-19 medical updates and advice. Some doctors practice activism. Dr. Neil Shah, at the University of California San Francisco, helped author a nonpartisan activist petition. In three days, more than 5,000 healthcare professionals joined this plea to federal authorities. Here’s the petition he forwarded to me, which has been slightly edited:

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“We are physicians and healthcare providers with views that span the political spectrum. We are committed to promoting the health and welfare of the people of the United States of America. We are gravely concerned about the potential national and global impacts of the novel coronavirus upon human life and well-being.

“To ‘flatten the curve,’ the most effective proven strategy of mitigation is coordinated, synchronized ‘sheltering in place.’ To be maximally effective, this effort must take place at the national, if not international, level. This will undoubtedly incur substantial economic hardship, but the expected burden of not taking such action over the coming months and years will likely be enormous.

“Time is of the essence, and immediate action is required. We hereby call upon our leaders in Washington, D.C., to uniformly and unequivocally mandate sheltering in place across our nation for a minimum of four to eight weeks.”

Four to eight weeks. Not Passover. Not Easter.

Are we willing to gamble our lives and further endanger the lives of those who will care for us by risking an abbreviated, unmandated sheltering period? It’s not only doctors demanding a national shelter-in-place order. U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna, D-California, led 20 other members of Congress in a similar call. Let’s face reality and leave the gambling in Vegas.

Again, Vegas is surreal on any day. A vacated Vegas is even more so. The garish gambling houses are silenced, hawkers and hookers are off the streets. The ad hoc Vegas 9/11 memorial is now gone, too, its artifacts stored at the University of Nevada. The surviving 9/11 New York firefighters and first responders are not yet gone, but they are slowly being forgotten.

Today’s front lines are populated by selfless, triage-trained medical practitioners. Also on the front lines? Unsung delivery drivers, retail clerks and other “ essential” personnel risking their good health. They are all answering the call of duty. Let’s honor them in life with the support, resources, materiel, political action, social behavior, appreciation and love they need to get us through this crisis.

Planning a future monument now could help focus an often short-sighted federal leadership that is keenly sensitive to symbolic acts.

Markos Kounalakis has two high schoolers at home studying online. He is a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution.

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