[I was planning to do a post for St Patrick’s Day, but the leprechauns got preempted by a more insidious little green creature, the coronavirus. I’m assuming they’re green–and why not? Consider this week’s post my Covid-19 Public Service Announcement…]
Well, here we are. The coronavirus has arrived and even for The Currently Uninfected, life just got interesting. Which is an opportune moment to quote the old curse that, like the coronavirus, is a Chinese export—“May you live in interesting times.”
Kay-Kay and I are currently Social Distancing ourselves. This will be harder on Kay-Kay than on me for several reasons, the most salient of which is she likes Other Humans noticeably more than I do. They say the writer’s life is a solitary and lonely one, which is exactly how I want to keep it—with the unexpected bonus that writers are thereby much less susceptible to catching communicable diseases. But then there’s that alcoholism thing…
Me and Kay-Kay are OK with working from home, since that’s kinda how we operate anyway. I do all my writing and consulting from home, with occasional banishments to Starbucks when Kay-Kay gets tired of having me underfoot. However, I also teach a couple of courses at a nearby university that closed and sent all its students home on Friday, so I’m right in the throes of moving my teaching online. I’m not exactly The IT Guy, so this ought to be… interesting.
The last third of my course this semester—and half the students’ grades—was supposed to be a way-cool multi-day role-play simulation of the French Revolution. Minus the guillotine, I trust it goes without saying. (Although a virtual guillotine? Hmmm…) Most of the nine-day gameplay is supposed to consist of spirited debates between opposing factions in the 1792 National Assembly, with periodic angry interruptions by leaders of the Parisian mobs.
I was tempted to replace this simulation with a 10-page research paper and call it a semester. Then I went on Twitter and saw nothing but spirited debates between opposing factions with periodic angry interruptions by leaders of the Parisian mobs and thought, “Sacré bleu! Ces étudiants américains are perfectly equipped to move all this online! It’ll be second nature to them!” Mumbling a rueful “OK Boomer” to myself, I made the fateful decision to move our little corner of the French Revolution onto the Worldwide InterWeb of Things and Stuff. Allons enfants de la Patrie!
I’ll let you know how this goes. It might get ugly. Especially if I figure our that Virtual Guillotine.
We live in the oldest county in America, with a mailing address in a renowned tourist area. OK, it’s Williamsburg. (For all you NYC cave dwellers, I mean WILLIAMSBURG Williamsburg, not that Hipster Neighborhood in Brooklyn. Stop being so self-referential. Also, we were laughing at, not with, you during the entire run of Seinfeld.)
It just got real here. James City County, as of 13 March, had the largest number of confirmed cases of any county in the Commonwealth. We’re waiting to see if one of Kay-Kay’s friends—whom she thankfully has neither seen nor air kissed recently—tests positive. And we did take a trip to Coronafornia a couple weeks ago to visit the grandkids in San Francisco. Hence our Social Distancing, or Semi-Self-Quasi-Quarantining. So far, so good.
Let’s be honest. The US of A hasn’t exactly covered itself with glory in the face of coronavirus thus far. From the emergence of this new virus in China in December until just a few weeks ago, our official national health policy consisted of denial, telling epidemiologist jokes, and buying shares in drugstore chains.
That all ended two weeks ago with that same sickening sound made by your immune system when it gets infected by those medieval-looking spiky coronaviruses. Seriously, if you haven’t already, I recommend NOT looking at those pictures of the virus, because if you get infected that’s all you’re going to see in your mind’s eye. Microscopic black knights bashing your organs with spiky protein balls on the end of a chain.
Our federal authorities proved perfectly unable to procure and distribute coronavirus test kits in an effective and expeditious manner. First there was a lot of bureaucratic infighting—which in my opinion could have been resolved by only letting agencies with the words “disease” or “health” in their names have any involvement whatsoever. Then when they finally sent out test kits, most of them were missing components required to, you know, test for coronavirus. Basically they distributed hygienically wrapped paperweights. The obvious solution is to hire IKEA to pack and ship all test kits, because they always have exactly the right number of screws and washers to complete that flat-pack maple nightstand.
And we Americans aren’t acting like rational adults. Here’s my favorite coronavirus non sequitur. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the symptoms of Covid-19 infection include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. The Really Very Bad/Go to the Hospital Now symptoms include difficulty breathing, persistent pain in the chest, confusion or inability to arouse, and/or bluish lips or face. That’s it.
Please review that exhaustive list of symptoms again. Now take this one-question quiz:
1) Do the symptoms of coronavirus infection include incontinence, diarrhea, or anal leakage? (Answer: No.)
100% correct? Excellent! Now STOP BUYING UP ALL THE TOILET PAPER. I mean really people. I’ll forgive you for disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer—there’s at least some there there. Also, if you feel the need to stock up on shelf-stable food products for your Impending Self-Quarantine or Aggressive Social Distancing, fair enough. I recommend buying up all the ramen noodles and Double Stuff Oreos. Because they’re delicious and you can always convince yourself that they’re Comfort Food. In addition, I recommend purchasing a lot of hard liquor. It’ll make your self-quarantine more enjoyable and can also be used as mouth-tongue-throat sanitizer. Hand sanitizer, too, if you’re a sloppy drunk.
Also, why are people buying up all the bottled water? COVID-19 isn’t a waterborne disease like cholera. The Water Works—totally not worth the $150 when you land there—are in operation and pretty good stuff is still coming out of our taps, as long as you’re not in Flint. Purchasing palettes of bottled water makes as much sense as rushing out to buy up every monkey wrench or sock puppet you can lay your hands on.
Now, let me pause to state that there is a Special Place in Hell for people who buy up everything useful in order to resell it on eBay at 20 times retail. We’re making a list and we’ll turn all the shaming power of social media upon you. We have nothing but time on our hands, being self-quarantined and socially distanced and whatnot.
Coronavirus has, like healthcare reform and that horrid final episode of The Bachelor, become another cause of bitter political division in America. Two new parties are emerging as a result—the Hand-Sanitizians and the Hoax-Virusites. These may or may not align with Democrats and Republicans—only time and Trump’s tweets will tell. But I believe I speak for most Americans when I say I’d prefer not to die, so please stop making this just another election-year hot potato. Now would be a really, really good time to start believing scientists. Make America Rational Choice Again! #MARCA
While obsessively checking the Daily New Infections Count–admit it, we all are–keep in mind that viral infections spread exponentially, not linearly. This may be beyond the reckoning of some people, unfortunately including Some People in Washington. By way of illustration, here’s a classic thought experiment I learned years ago in the one or two Statistics 101 lectures I didn’t sleep through:
There is one lily pad on a lake. This variety of lily pad reproduces once every 24 hours. On Day 48, the entire lake is covered with lily pads. What fraction of the lake is covered with lily pads on Day 47? (Answer: One-half. The lily pads double every day. You probably wouldn’t even notice the lily pads until perhaps Day 25 or 30.)
That’s the way to visualize coronavirus infection rates–the breakout to huge numbers of new infections kinda sneaks up on us. Think about those lily pads. Then go wash your hands.
In the big scheme of things, this virus is going to run its own course, at least until we can develop a vaccine 13 or 14 months from now. (Note to self—it takes a surprisingly long time to develop a new vaccine. Which may explain why the annual flu shot works uncannily well against last year’s flu.)
As individuals, really all we can do is help Flatten the Curve. Hence, social distancing and self-quarantining. Basically, emulate that Cranky Old Man Next Door who never let you play baseball catch on his lawn. The best we can do for this year is be mindful, be helpful, be patient, and don’t buy up all the toilet paper.
And never forget, washy-washy…