I don’t know what’s real anymore.

Both sides of the ideological aisle had constructed formidable barriers long before the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 virus — barriers that are now constricting, sometimes preventing, meaningful, constructive, beneficial dialogue absent of conspiracy theories and accusations of nefarious, sinister intent by this or that person and organization.

That’s a wordy way of saying partisanship is as rampant and widespread as is the virus. Who can be trusted? Who among us have no ulterior motives and self-interests?

Some of what we hear is undoubtedly true, some not true, certainly all spun in ways to fit a specific narrative. Those who believe we must remain shut down and locked away indefinitely believe we are all going to die from COVID-19 if we don’t stay inside until no more new cases arise. Of course, that might easily take years.

Those who want to slowly and intelligently reopen the economy believe the purpose of “flattening the curve” has been realized in many locations around the country. Pundits and politicians and armchair hacks (such as I) scream their points of view as if there can be no other point of view. Analyses and opinions of medical experts differ widely on some aspects of COVID-19 and how we should go about managing it.

To whom do we turn? What and whom should we believe? Is there real hope of seeing normalcy again, or are there too many elements in state and local government that want to extend this response, this experiment of shutdown, in order to measure just how much freedom the citizenry are willing to surrender for security in the face of crisis? There goes my partisan hackery again!

When will there be a vaccine, assuming one can be developed? What therapeutics are hopeful, and when will they be available? What is the real mortality rate of COVID-19? As of this writing, we are looking at a national mortality rate of 5.72%, based on confirmed cases and reported deaths. Most of that is concentrated in the Northeastern states. Do common-sense hygienics work or not? Is the proper social-distancing distance 6 feet or 13 feet or 100 yards or who knows? .

Why are viruses so difficult to understand and treat and to develop vaccines quickly for? That’s a rhetorical question. If people lose their jobs and businesses, both of which are painfully happening everywhere, what does recovery look like (assuming we can recover)? How can government possibly replace the roles of work and the sustenance work provides? When is our national debt too much national debt? Will a greater number of lives be lost or families shattered in the wake of widespread collateral damage from our shutdown response?

Can’t we walk and chew gum at the same time relative to solutions? What are the demographics of the most vulnerable, and how do those demographics differ from those of other viral infections, such as influenza? How much of a role do comorbidities play in COVID19 deaths? Can’t those demographics be targeted and protected while the rest of the economy continues? If not, why not? Shouldn’t we try?

Life is filled with risks. We live with risks each and every day. What risks, if any, are Americans ready and willing to accept, relative to COVID-19? Are politicians and experts being as honest and forthright with answers as they should be? If not, why not? Why are the media seemingly avoiding discussions and questions about the positive things that are occurring relative to our fight with C19, such as curve-flattening and favorable Rt (reproduction transmission) ratios in almost all the states?

So, what is real? Most of us are at home, either out of work or working from home. Incomes for millions have either been reduced or replaced by unemployment pay. Some have no income. Relief checks are slow in coming and, for many, are too little. But, do we really want government purchasing our independence and dignity? Many, if not most, I believe, want a smart, measured, deliberate approach (chewing the gum) to restarting the economy, while keeping our most vulnerable protected (the walk). Why do not all of us want that?

This puzzle has far more pieces than I can begin to understand and process. The foundations and roots upon which the politics are so firmly fixed run deep and are beyond the average American’s ability to control, much less grasp and remedy.

Our country is in the vice-like grips of two viruses: COVID-19 and irrepressible partisanship. There is nothing anymore that is not politicized, and we are the worse for it, all of us. We think the “chemo” — our metaphorical remedy — will kill the “cancer.” Instead, our altered reality is killing the patient. And Rome burns.

Mark Randolph Watters a Rome native now living in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, is a freelance writer working on his sixth novel.

Recommended for you