I’m kind of mad at one of my neighbors right now.
I ran into him the other evening as he was loading his car for a cross-country trip–the same day the US government declared a national state of emergency due to COVID-19. Everywhere, medical experts are desperately pleading with the public to stay home, to avoid all non-essential trips. My neighbor, in his 30s and without known health issues, is attending a wedding with his wife out west. They’ve been planning this trip for months, intending to take in some tourist sights while visiting friends. His vacation is here, and he’s taking it, damn it. Given how hard most of us work, I understand his attitude. I do. Most of the time, that is. Not right now.
“Haven’t you been watching the news? This coronavirus is serious business. No one has any immunity to it, and people can spread it for weeks without showing signs.”
He shrugged and kept loading the car. “I’ve been checking the CDC site. The numbers aren’t that bad.”
That’s when I told him they aren’t bad because we’re not testing nearly the number of people we should be. They aren’t bad because we have a Monster-in-Chief who cares more about the stock market and his re-election chances than he does about putting the brakes on one of the most serious pandemics we’ve had since the 1918 Influenza Pandemic. I try to explain the meaning of a novel illness and the serious impact it will have on the vulnerable members of our society–which includes at least one person from every household I know–including his. And mine.
From his expression, I could see this information boggled his mind somewhat. I had to ask myself where had he been getting his updates? FOX News? The next words out of his mouth confirmed it. “But it’s no worse than the flu, right?”
No. Because the flu may not be as contagious. Because the flu, always serious for the elderly and the medically vulnerable, doesn’t have as high a mortality rate. Because COVID-19 is currently a pandemic capable of hospitalizing the population in numbers too high for the medical system to support. Because the flu, even new strains, is something your body has seen before, and maybe that helps you fight it off a little bit better. And when you get the flu and recover, it’s rare to have permanent physical damage. There are real concerns that this is not the case with the coronavirus. Survivors may have permanent lung damage.
This is not the flu.
Containment is no longer possible. We had months of warning from the events that unfolded in China but our government, currently led by a self-absorbed narcissist who DISBANDED the existing pandemic response team, has mounted a woefully inadequate, if not criminally liable, response to this global threat. The ONLY thing we can do is social distancing. And that means we STAY HOME. We don’t go out unless it is essential. We don’t go to movies or church or bars or birthday parties or weddings or funerals or have sleepovers with the kids. We don’t hold St. Patrick Day parades or hang out at the shopping mall. We don’t hug or shake hands or touch our faces. We wash our hands A LOT, with soap and water for at least 20 seconds in hot water.
Everyone has their own method for timing that. You can sing Happy Birthday. Gloria Gaynor posted a vid singing the chorus of “I Will Survive” on TikTok. I personally recite the opening sequence of Star Trek–bonus points if you do with Shatner’s timing. (I sub “person” for “man”, the same way they did for Next Gen) No elbow bumping for me, either. Vulcan salute, all the way.
My neighbor tossed another suitcase in the bag of his car. “Well, if we get exposed to anyone sick on this trip, we’ll self-isolate when we get home.”
If you get home, buddy. Have you seen the shitshow that are the airports these days? I can’t think of a WORSE way to limit the spread of a highly contagious disease than to cram thousands of people cheek by jowl into airports due to a poorly thought out (and completely useless) plan to suddenly close travel to certain areas, forcing everyone to flock to the airports in an attempt to return home before they are trapped somewhere.
Italy, and now Spain, are on country-wide lockdown. Based on the numbers of new cases, we’re in the same boat Italy was 1-2 weeks ago. The Italians have a better health care system than we do and they’re a smaller country. The mortality rate for new victims is staggering because they’ve run out of resources. Italian doctors are having to make wartime triage decisions as to who lives and who dies because they can’t treat all the critical cases.
Let me put it another way: I’ve been buying an extra item of the things I use most since February. Why? Because I saw this coming. So I’m stocked on dog food, cat litter, canned goods, dry goods, etc. I’ve been trying to tell people if we shopped like that–a little over time–we won’t overwhelm the store’s capacity to stock things. We won’t have scenes like this (from the last time I went to the grocery).