Coro­n­avirus chaos: This is no nui­sance scare

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - OPINION - Kath­leen Parker Kath­leen Parker’s email ad­dress is kath­leen­[email protected] wash­post.com.

WASH­ING­TON >> Ex­cept for wrap­ping duct tape around my head, I’m try­ing not to get hys­ter­i­cal over the coro­n­avirus.

I know, it’s not funny. If you’re el­derly, it’s po­ten­tially se­ri­ous. Maybe. Some­times but not al­ways. We don’t ac­tu­ally know. Yet, to fol­low news re­port­ing on the elab­o­rately named novel COVID-19 is to con­clude that WE’RE ALL GO­ING TO DIE. To avoid dy­ing, we’re told, we should wash our hands, steer clear of sick peo­ple and stay away from cruises. No prob­lem what­so­ever.

If you’re over 60, which un­til now was the new 40, we should con­sider “so­cial dis­tanc­ing.”

For some­thing so po­ten­tially lethal, at least more than the usual flu but not as much as SARS or MERS, two other coro­n­aviruses, hand-wash­ing seems bland ad­vice con­sid­er­ing that peo­ple re­ally ought to wash their hands fre­quently un­der any cir­cum­stances. An aunt of mine gave her nieces, neph­ews and cousins an early jump on ob­ses­sive-com­pul­sive dis­or­der with her greet­ing when­ever we en­tered the house: “Go wash your hands,” she’d sweetly com­mand. As such things go, I’ve be­come my aunt.

So­cial dis­tanc­ing, mean­while, is my spe­cialty so, I think I’m all set for the du­ra­tion. I tend to avoid crowds as a per­sonal policy and oth­er­wise have never minded soli­tude.

On the other hand, what if I’ve been sur­rounded by sick peo­ple with­out re­al­iz­ing it? We now know that the twoweek dor­mancy of coro­n­avirus means peo­ple are sick and con­ta­gious with­out be­ing symp­to­matic. And, with­out ad­e­quate tests, we have no way of know­ing how many peo­ple are in­fected. The lat­est num­ber re­ported Tues­day — more than 750 cases in the U.S. — is surely far be­low the ac­tual num­ber.

Self-quar­an­tine is the state of na­ture for an at-home writer in res­i­dence. It comes with the job. And there may be to some a cer­tain ap­peal to the no­tion. Imag­ine the quiet if ev­ery­one stayed in­doors for a few weeks, the calm, the seren­ity. Or, al­ter­na­tively, the do­mes­tic dis­putes, dis­or­der and dys­func­tion when cabin fever peaks.

Many of my for­mer Ge­orge­town neigh­bors in Wash­ing­ton are be­ing asked to self­quar­an­tine af­ter dis­cov­er­ing that the rec­tor of Christ Church was un­know­ingly in­fected as he shook hun­dreds of parish­ioners’ hands the past cou­ple of weeks. Some of those con­gre­gants are well within the des­ig­nated de­mo­graphic — we’ll call them older — that COVID-19 can hit hard.

The lat­est en­try in the Cen­ter for Dis­ease Con­trol’s ad­vice col­umn is that the over-60 peer group should “stock up,” in case they’re forced to stay home for a long pe­riod, and to avoid crowds. But stock­ing up means what, ex­actly? And how much is enough? Nat­u­rally,

I’ve made my list. For some rea­son, I thought Ra­men noo­dles should be on it, though I’ve never bought them be­fore. Other items not usu­ally in my cart — a gal­lon jug of Clorox, Pop­si­cles and saltines. One might think I was plan­ning to get sick.

But do I do the shop­ping my­self or order on­line? Am I be­ing ridicu­lously para­noid or sen­si­bly cau­tious? The con­stant me­dia cov­er­age, for which we are al­ter­nately grate­ful and re­sent­ful, be­gins to feel like an in­vi­ta­tion to hys­te­ria.

The order of the day then: Wash those hands, per usual. Check on your el­derly neigh­bors, as we should any­way. Be pre­pared but don’t panic. But even that mes­sage kin­dles para­noia. Or worse: some eye rolling. In South Carolina, where I’m holed up at an undis­closed lo­ca­tion, I’ve heard sev­eral peo­ple call the vi­ral scare a nui­sance to be ig­nored. With Pres­i­dent Trump, nor­mally a germa­phobe, still shak­ing hands and promis­ing that ev­ery­thing is just fine — at least un­til fi­nally giv­ing in some­what with Wed­nes­day night’s Oval Of­fice ad­dress to the na­tion — it’s lit­tle won­der that some are skep­ti­cal.

My view is dif­fer­ent: hope for the best, pre­pare for the worst.

And, no mat­ter what, keep plenty of duct tape on hand. It’s more com­fort­able than you might think.

The con­stant me­dia cov­er­age, for which we are al­ter­nately grate­ful and re­sent­ful, be­gins to feel like an in­vi­ta­tion to hys­te­ria.

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