ROME- NEW YORK, CORONAVIRUS, The Relationship Between the Individual and the State / The usage of masks.

The greatest concern for most of us, as individuals, is how not to get COVID 19. However the most effective way to stop a pandemic is not to protect oneself, but to protect others. This indicates a difference in the perception of the problem. To understand this dual perspective, I use two stereotypical “types”: Person A and Person B.

Person A asks, “What should I do to protect myself?”. They see themselves as the object (of the infection), not the subject (carrier of the infection).

Person B, on the other hand, understands the pandemic is created when they become an agent of contagion and therefore, the objective is to stop the chain of contagion. They see themselves as the subject.

These alternative perceptions—self as object (Person A), and self as subject (Person B)—become evident in the use of masks.

A mask does not completely prevent airborne droplets of virus from being inhaled and therefore, adds little protection. However, the mask deters the spread of the virus from those who carry it and in many cases, are asymptomatic. Masks can’t stop viruses from coming in, but they can stop viruses from going out, and we should all be wearing them.

There aren’t enough masks to protect health workers, much less to supply the general population, but making a fabric mouth and nose covering at home is not difficult, and there are many websites with easy instructions. Remarkably, sites were posted by artists and community advocates much earlier than public health officials. DIY Cloth Face Mask[1] was posted before March 19, whereas the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)[2] first published a recommendation regarding the use of cloth face coverings on April 3rd[3]. Looking at Internet Archive, Way Back Machine, one can see that How to Make Your own Face Covering was posted on April 4th. In the 17 days prior to the CDC posting, the contagion in the United States increased from 9,269[4] to 277,161[5]

The question one must ask is, would the over 1,000,000 contagions on April 16 2020, including 678,210 confirmed cases plus and an estimated 25-50% asymptomatic [6] and another 50% untested (since adequate testing is unavailable) have been significantly lower if the instructions to make a mask and a mandatory usage notice had been posted earlier by health officials? Governor Andrew Cuomo has mandated that starting today, April 17th 2020, all New Yorkers must wear face masks in public when the 6-feet distancing is not an option.

There is a misperception that the COVID 19 pandemic fell from the sky or is a natural disaster. In a 2018 article [7] Ed Jong, the science staff writer for The Atlantic, wrote that cities, with their current conditions of mobility and concentration, are the perfect breeding grounds for an epidemic, and he asked whether or not the United States was prepared to face such an epidemic (the answer was no). Three months before, in May of 2018, following the Timeline of the Coronavirus Pandemic and U.S. Response[8] by Just Security: [9]” Luciana Borio, director of National Security Council’s medical and biodefense preparedness stated, “The threat of pandemic flu is the number one health security concern. Are we ready to respond? I fear the answer is no.”  Many other journalists[10]. and scientists described the threat of a pandemic, and assessed the U.S. response. The predictions varied, but the conclusions were the same: the U.S was ill prepared.

The current pandemic state of the virus is the result of the inability of governments to see and act quickly, and the inability of each of us, as civilians and agents of transmission, to change our habits in the face of a global pandemic.

The same communal pro-activity vs government inactivity occurred with information about the role of masks in contagion prevention. Activists once again took the role of the public officials. One example is Mask4all[11], a site which informed us that the efficacy of masks to reduce the spread of COVID-19 is evidenced in countries that do NOT wear them and are, therefore, not able to flatten the infection curve, e.g., Italy, Spain and the United States.

Donald Trump says he will not wear a mask. He is Person A. He is cavalier about protecting himself but not concerned with protecting others he might infect. Despite his position as president of the country with the most Coronavirus infections in the world, his perception is that of the “individual” and not of the “state,” therefore he does not make masks mandatory in shared public spaces.

In its online forum, Timeline of the Coronavirus Pandemic and U.S. Response, Just Security reported that in September of 2018, “the Trump administration failed to follow through with an Obama-era project designed to protect against medical supply shortages during pandemics: The Trump administration Department of Health and Human Services receives detailed plans by a medical manufacturer to create a new machine that would have the capacity to make protective masks at high speed (1.5 million masks per day). The machine was specifically designed to handle pandemic-related medical shortages and was the culmination of an Obama-era preparedness plan. The Trump Administration paid millions of dollars to the company but does not follow through with making the machine.” The article referenced by Just Security stated, “The Obama administration and medical firm Halyard Health of Alpharetta, Ga., announced the project to develop a rapid pandemic mask production line in December 2015.”[12] . On April 16 2020, in part pressured by those wanted to reopen the economy, Trump announced that Americans should wear masks.

I was in Rome from late February until the mid-March, on a scholarship from the Royal Academy of Spain in Rome (RAER). I lived in a monumental monastery with my own private studio and garden, in a city that had not by then reached 500 infections. First, I responded as Person A, but as I became aware of the COVID19 virus and began to realize the magnitude of the problem, I came to perceive myself as Person B. With the infection rate in Rome low, in comparison with the northern area in the region of Lombardy, and the relative isolation of the monastery, the attitude among my fellow grant attendees had not yet reached a state of alarm. But through my growing involvement in following the course of the pandemic, I grew not only concerned about my ability to travel in the near future, but I also became convinced of the need to be “in the field” if I wanted to conceptualize the pandemic. While I was making my decision to pause or not my residency at the monastery (with the endorsement of my advisors), Pantxo Ramas, a like-minded fellow recipient of the RAER grant, also left to pursue field work, eventually producing videos of the pandemic. One of the videos is [13] What is a Pandemic, by Nic Beuret. This Youtube video pushed me to document in writing my own observations about this burgeoning pandemic.

In the last month, I have traveled between Rome and Madrid, back to Rome and finally to New York. I have had the opportunity to observe reactions to the pandemic in three cultures. Currently, I am in one of the most condensed areas of New York City, the epicenter of the virus, with infections currently exceeding 125,000. I left an environment with a low risk of infection to come to a place of extreme risk. I live in a small apartment. The bed where I sleep doubles as a desk during the day. I go outside only if necessary, usually for food. Inside, I write.

Is one change from a Person A to a Person B by circumstance or by one’s own decisions? Is immersion the only way to become aware that the goal of saving only oneself means that no one is saved? Is it possible to make committed art or politics when one lives in a gilded cage.

A third type of person, Person C, is a combination of A and B. Person C reacts to what is coming and has a concern for what is close, but also has a sense of understanding and responsibility for the larger picture. Most of us would define ourselves as Person C, but it is important to note that there are degrees of A or B within C.

An A-dominant C may follow rules based on public concerns or trends, but lacks the initiative to create a personal discipline based on a concern for others. They are shortsighted in viewing their own actions as having any affect on others.

The B-dominant C has a broader awareness, allowing them not only to view the effect others have on them, but also the effect their actions have on other people.

The Person C with B-dominance would likely wear a mask. But a Person C with A-dominance (the majority of the population) would likely reject the mask because they don’t fully accept the disease and don’t take the responsibility of being a possible transmitter. Their primary focus is avoiding the virus, not to end the pandemic. Because of the prevalence of A’s and A dominate C’s, mandatory use of a mask in public spaces must be imposed to saves lives.

My focus is on the relationship between the individual and the state. This difference in perception (A and B) can be thought of as a natural association of Person A with the individual, and of Person B with the state. Person A is the passive subject, the ordinary citizen, and Person B is a member or leader of the state and one who can think both in realistic and abstract terms. However, there are cases in which these associations of A as individual and B as state, are invalidated. A common case is when the supposed B’s of state and its leaders do not fulfill their functions or are tragically late in doing so. A clear example is the mayor who takes no action to protect a city.

Early on, Bill Di Blasio, the major of New York, advised New Yorkers to go on with their daily lives. But his denial of reality didn´t change the facts. As the death toll mounted, New Yorkers could not continue living in the manner of their pre-pandemic lives. Many people do as they are told, especially when what they are told is what they want to hear and the speaker is in a position of authority. Di Blasio, like Trump, is Person A. Rather than do the work to put a pandemic structure in place, he simply gave his opinion, as if he were posting on Facebook. On April 3rd 2020, he sent a casual SMS that read, “Notify NYC: New Yorkers: Wear a face covering when you go outside and near others. It can be a scarf, a bandana or one you make home”[14] Mayor Di Blasio was shown only a few days earlier walking in central park with no mask[15]. Because the SMS was in contradiction with his own appearance, the essence of his message read as: “Do whatever the fuck you want because this is what I do” which appeals to his followers and increases his political clout.

When a politician, supposedly a Person B (state), acts as a Person A (individual), many feel relief.  Their burden of responsibility is lifted.  But each individual is still an agent of the epidemic and plays a part in spreading or limiting contagion. This combination of not doing the work and comforting others is lethal, and the pandemic proves it. When politicians behave like media commentators, they are not part of the “state”, they are “out of the state,” out of touch with reality and should resign, step down.

Jana Leo de Blas

April 17th 2020 New York

Edited by Keith McDermott

NOTE: I will next address the ways in which governments act (or don’t act) and how and when to insure that each individual, as an agent of the pandemic, fulfills their obligation not to infect others, and how individuals do or do not demand that governments protect them. I will also analyze the profile of the Corona virus patient.

7 The Next Plague Is Coming. Is America Ready? Story by Ed Yong July/August 2018 Issue
10 The excessive use of antibiotics and the production chains in Cates by Holmes August 20 2018
15, The Missteps Of Mayor Bill De Blasio’s Coronavirus Response By Elizabeth Kim , Jen Carlson and Ben Yakas


Copied here is the letter I sent to community leaders in New York April 2dn 2020.

Dear Leader

I am writing you today because I am reading your newsletter every time you send it and I see a very important gap in all Newsletters: PREVENTION!

As Bill Gates said before, our leaders acted very late but it is still time to do more.  I am advocating for the mandatory usage of face´s mask to go out in the street and enforcement of social distancing to 6 feet.

Please stop looking at the virus as a natural disaster. The present stage of the virus is the result of government incapacity to see and act quickly. The words “stay safe ” it is a good wish, but it is not appropriate for a leader to just have good wishes. A leader has an obligation to take action. Please help and push to write policies that actually help New Yorkers to be safe.


I appreciate the efforts and work in your newsletter and web sites but I have to say that your newsletters read to me a bit like firemen running to put out the fire. Are you, at the local level, making the same mistake that the world leaders have made and have taken us where we are now? Are you thinking narrowly, or are you looking at the big picture? A new fire will appear every time one person goes out to work, to the grocery store, or for a walk not knowing that they have Corona virus and without a mask. It is your office solely responding, in the sense of shooting back at this Pandemic? Efforts should go as well into stopping the enemy, not only into combating it collateral damage. Efforts should go into making the enemy weak. Stopping the contagion should be priority number one. Please make a move for prevention now!

Right now professionals are questioning the idea that mask don´t do much. You can check the guardian from today. Wear a homemade mask to slow the spread of COVID-19. Yes, there is a shortage of masks but to self-made a mask with fabric is something pretty easy to do. This web site has instructions.

Start the mandatory usage of a mask in public space!. It is well known that mask don´t prevent all Corona virus droplets getting inhaled and add only a little bit of protection. However mask seems to do a service against spreading the virus. It looks like those who already have the virus will less likely pass the virus to others if they wear a mask. Because, in many cases, the virus has few or no symptoms that we all wear mask is important.

Jana Leo de Blas
April 2 2020, New York

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