I’m writing this on the day that I was supposed to go to Tucson for its annual book festival. Most of you know by now that it’s been canceled.
Like you, I’m spending a weekend with no sports, no shows, no anything having to do with large gatherings of people, trying to figure out how to bide my time while the world is in the grips of COVID-19. Since I’m an introvert anyway, I’m not too bothered about that. But I’m sure many of you are upset for various reasons: you’ve had to cancel your overseas travel plans or that family vacation to Disneyland or even a trip to the mall or the casino. All over something that’s too small to see and too quick to harness. Yeah, it sucks, I know. So what I’m doing in an effort to keep my wits about me is something that everyone should be doing: gaining perspective. There are several takeaways that I’ve come to acknowledge and understand over the past several days.
The first, and most important, is that no-one is bigger than a virus.
I admit, in the beginning, I was in the same mindset as most of you. “It’s being blown way out of proportion! Only old and sick people are dying so it’s not my problem!” Sound familiar?
That’s how most people react when they face a problem beyond their comprehension. It’s normal. But here’s the thing: even if coronavirus doesn’t kill you, it kills. Sure, young, healthy, ego-centric fool, you have nothing to worry about…unless you have elderly parents or grandparents, or you know someone who has cancer, or diabetes, or respiratory illness, or HIV, or any number of conditions that stack the odds against them. It’s not about what the virus does to you, but what it could potentially do to people you know or don’t know.
A pandemic is not measured by the amount of dead, though that number is significant. It’s measured by how an infrastructure can handle it. Realistically, a potentially fatal virus with no vaccine and no established treatment can make hundreds of thousands of people sick, including the health care professionals who take care of them. Even if the vast majority of the sick don’t die, they’re going to require hospitalization. The sheer numbers will put an unbearable strain on our hospitals not only for treating the infected, but for treating those who are hospitalized for other reasons. Our Sociopath-in-chief did not declare a national emergency because people are dying, but because we may not be able to handle the scores of infirmed.
So we have to wash our hands for 20 seconds as often as possible, scrub down everything with disinfectant wipes, wear a mask whenever you are out and about, and stay away from crowds for a few weeks. If all of us do these four simple things, this goes away quickly. The problem is, too many of us are unwilling to do four simple things for humanity. This virus is forcing everyone to care about other human beings, and that’s asking too much for some. I see a lot of you donning your tinfoil fascinators and spewing your lunatic conspiracy theories about this and that. One, you’re incorrect, and two, you’re not helping. In situations like this, the most crucial information comes from doctors and experts, not politicians and pundits. Use your “social distancing” time to distance yourself from social media and help clear the air. Local news is your best source, not the 24-hour echo chambers. Start with the links scattered around this post.
Lastly, don’t panic. Please. You don’t have to buy ALL THE THINGS from your local grocery store. Save some hand sanitizer for your neighbor. Find a reputable mask-maker, like this one, to supply you with washable masks for every occasion, or just make your own. Any non-perishable food you don’t use when all of this is over can be donated to your local food bank. And even if you go through an entire roll of toilet paper in one day, you only need enough for two weeks if a quarantine is necessary. Survival is not a competition. Slow your roll.
This is a major crisis, one that could have serious economic repercussions. But it’s not the end of the world. We’ve bounced back from the Great Depression, the gas shortage, 9/11, and even the massive flu epidemic of 1918, and we’ll bounce back from this. Do your part, keep your head, and use this time to connect with things that have real importance in your life. Read a few books, stream that movie you wanted to see, listen to your favorite album one more time, play cards or board games with the people you love. If we all do that, after COVID-19 has run its course, we’ll all come out feeling a lot better.
(UPDATE 03/18/2020: One more thing I forgot to add: Chances are your local restaurants, bars, and businesses are closed or restructured for social distancing due to declarations of emergency by state and city authorities. That's turning your neighborhood into a ghost town for sure. Don't worry, there's still a way you can support them. Order something online and have it delivered, or buy gift certificates. Your hometown shops are going to have it rough throughout this crisis, and they need all the help you can give them. Shop local, think global!)