It’s been some really quiet days here for us; we live a fairly cloistered life anyway but all the virus hullaballoo has ratcheted that a bit tighter. We normally go out to eat twice a week and have not done so in over a week now. And we were going to the movies two or three times a month and that has stopped. I can’t say we normally go many other places other than the grocery store – maybe Home Depot or Home Goods if we need something; the grocery store remains the sole “need”, at least immediately.
We went to the grocery store yesterday and much of the panic hoard-buying has finally passed, presumably because those selfish enough to hoard-buy now have a year’s supply of the products and have no need to go hoard some more. People were kind, respectful of space, and smiling a lot. The store was still busier than I have ever seen it on a Tuesday morning, but not crazy busy – it’s just that the volume was up maybe 25% or so. No carriages heaped to the point of overflow, no pushing, no grabbing; just people buying what was available. Meat was limited but maybe because it was quite early in the morning. Bread was also in short supply along with paper goods. But overall supplies were better than I expected. And I think, I hope, that as the panic begins to die down, supplies will again return to normal.
What was different was the trip home; carry everything in and wash our hands. Then Teri wiped each individual item with a disinfectant cloth before putting it away. And while she did that, I stripped my clothes off to go into the washer and took a shower. And then she did the same. Overkill? Probably. There are only 33 patients in this state of over a million and only one of those is hospitalized. Granted, there are surely more that have it don’t know it yet, but how many? One hundred? Five hundred? I still the odds are slim against me running into a stray coronavirus germ while grocery shopping. But why not take the precautions? It didn’t cost me a thing expect a little time, of which I have plenty now!
I will need to hit the hardware store at some point, as well as the paint store, so I can get back to my home projects. I also need to go get my new hearing aids and get shown how to use, clean, charge, etc. (Very excited to get them!) But overall, the biggest impact is not going out to eat. I am fine with getting takeout, but Teri is still leery about it, seeing it as just another exposure risk. We still have our grandkids over – they were here today – and try to keep their life as normal and routine as possible.
So life goes on, in an altered state so to speak. Traffic is down tremendously; our street is as quiet as it used to be on a Sunday before everyone got “quickest route to avoid traffic back-up GPS” which routes them down our road to beat local back-ups. With the high school closed and the town offices located on the school property also closed, and no beach traffic yet, the volume of cars has to be down 500% or more for us. The highway too; going to pick up the kids there were decided fewer cars. And I saw an article today on the web that clearly shows air pollution is already down in much of the world. Amazing!!
But it remains unsettling; Teri has asthma and is over sixty so she is worried, as am I. Her condition is well under control with daily meds and she can chug out a six- or eight-mile hike right along side me. But it is worrisome. My problem is I no longer know who to believe. I have almost zero trust in the news media; the “facts” surrounding this virus are often misstated, data is skewed, people (so-called experts) get on the various news shows mainly just to be there and rarely offer much worthwhile. And so much of it is presented in such a manner so as to indict, blame, or accuse people for a political agenda that it taints any genuine facts that may be presented as part of it. And they spend far too much time hypothesizing and playing out endless scenarios that within a short time, you begin to lose sight of what’s real and what’s hypothetical. And many people these days have short attention spans; the world and the internet come to us at the speed of light; Tweets, Coubs, texts, and so forth – any video longer than a minute or two is quickly skipped and passed by.
Lack of trust in your news sources is a horrible thing, of course. I’ve written of it often and it has only gotten worse lately. They dredge up these people who preach the doom and gloom of what will happen if we don’t do this or that. Recall, as I have written several times, their profound love of exaggeration and hyperbole. A storm used just be a storm, unless it was a hurricane or tornado and then, it was called “hurricane” or “tornado”. The other exception was a northeaster – or nor’easter – here in New England, but that name only to help people understand the nature of the storm and what to expect. Now they are billed as “storm of the century” or “bomb cyclones”. Full moons are no longer full moons, they are a red wolf, wheat harvest, hunter with a hat full moon. Hyperbole.
But the data just doesn’t seem to support how they are hyping this virus; WHO and CDC data for all the flus/viruses that have come our way for hundreds of years show that. We have, almost, shut down the world; slowed it, stifled it, handcuffed it, and sequestered it. Closed schools – for weeks or maybe even months – and the impact of that on their education remains to be seen. We’ve closed bars and restaurants, which will put a lot of small places out of business. The stock market has dropped daily, losing value at an alarming rate. And I remain confused why.
The science reports from medical organizations and universities all seem to indicate that while this is surely a virulent virus, it is not the voracious eradicator of earth as the media is painting it. It is more contagious than some, less than many others. It is more contagious than MERS, the annual flu, and Ebola, but less contagious than the mumps, rubella, or the measles, ending up about the same as the SARS virus in 2002-2003.
From a mortality rate, I will not go back to ancient history: the bubonic plague and some of those viruses that killed millions (the plague killed 30% – 50% of Europe’s population). But in 1918-1919 the Spanish Flu killed 40-50 million people. More recently the Hong Kong Flu killed a million people between 1968-1970; and the Swine Flu killed 200,000 people in 2009-2010. It is, of course, far too soon to know what the final tally will be for this virus – the number sits at 8,800 right now and grows significantly every day. But it is not looking like it will have an impact similar to the Hong Kong Flu. And let me tell you – I lived through that flu and there was only minimal reporting on it and at that, only at 6PM and 11PM. There was no internet to announce every death as it occurred; there was Twitter to instantly share photos of people buying toilet paper in China, triggering the same behavior on the other side of the globe. Schools didn’t skip a beat, everyone lived life like normal, and the biggest reaction that flu received was some jokes by Johnny Carson that if you caught it, you’d sneeze your “achoo” as “ah-so” with a Chinese accent and a karate chop. And that was it. The markets didn’t crash and the bars kept serving. Right or wrong, that is what happened. People didn’t panic – not because they didn’t know to but because they weren’t told to.
I hope I am wrong and they are right, and that, despite the data I have read, it is really something this world has never seen and if we don’t do what we doing, half the world would die. Because otherwise, they’ve disrupted everyone’s life, and destroyed many others’ lives, out of a contrived and irrational panic, which could have been avoided by teaching everyone how to wash their hands and why that is so important. As the world has always done. This reaction is unprecedented and maybe I’m just a dinosaur, but this another example of the “storm of the century” (we’ve had several already in the first 20 years of this century) only instead of a storm, it is the “virus of the century”. Certainly more than a cold and certainly more impactful to a small number of our population, but it is not the virus to end all; although our reaction surely is.
So again – why? I am truly puzzled by it feeling very much like the odd man out, not getting the joke…the Emperor’s New Clothes” comes to mind. Conspiracy theories abound, generational differences scribe lines of demarcation, and politics have trenches dug on both sides with hate and detest filtering, hazing, and blocking rational thought. But that still isn’t enough to explain this. Is it that, given the instant and immediate reactions that cascade down on someone making an error or misstep, perhaps that our leaders are gun shy? That they don’t want to be “that guy” who didn’t close the schools or didn’t shut down the borders? I honestly have no idea!
Edit: I went to bed after writing this last night and mulled it over as I lay there and this thought popped into my head – ratings. I suppose the explanation for the behavior of the news media could be ratings. That sensationalism drives viewing behavior and viewers equal revenue. I hate to be that pessimistic to believe that they would stir up such panic just for money, but we are talking about over one billion dollars here – that is a lot of motivation to ignore a fact, extrapolate, and stretch the truth. And sure enough, this morning on one of the major news services the “reporter” was interviewing a former head of the CDC and asked him about the possibility of us seeing one million deaths from this virus and the doctor stated “no, we won’t see that”. And that answer actually upset the “reporter” who continued his line of question with things like: “are you saying that there is NO possible scenario resulting in one million Americans dying rom this virus?” to which the doctor kept saying “no” until he finally said “I suppose there might be a outlying model where that could be possible if we all closed our eyes and did absolutely nothing – which of course, we wouldn’t, and aren’t, doing”. He was desperately trying to get the doctor to state that was possible for one million to die. Interviewees are led in questioning, not allowed to speak their mind.
I do know that China is rapidly putting it behind them, with no new cases reported there today. Grasp that – a land mass as large as the USA but with one billion more people, most of whom are concentrated in huge cities. Two months ago, to the day I believe, they had just begun to recognize the virus with 278 known cases. One month later, a month ago, they had 75,000 cases. And today, a month later – 81,000 cases but NO new cases – remarkable! Their mortality rate remains in the 3.6% range as it has throughout, so worse than the annual flu. But so far, only 0.005% of their population were affected by the virus. Out of the 1,386,000,000 people living there, 81,137 people caught the virus; overwhelmingly most of whom lived in the epicenter where the virus originated….I believe that comes out to approx. 0.005% of their population. Around 3,100 people died out of the 81,000 affected., which is 0.0002% of their people. Yet the world is in a full-blown panic.
There is also a school of thought that this is a retaliation by China against the West for all the tariffs and restrictions imposed upon them during the recent trade war. Supporters of this conspiracy theory point out that both Russia and North Korea have almost no infection because they were warned ahead of time by China. And the losses within China were merely tallied up as collateral damage.
So ultimately, I am playing it safe and keeping a low profile; it represents a minimal change to our lifestyle; as I said mostly just the dining out part. And with the nicer weather coming, we’d be out in the woods a lot anyway, so nothing will change there. But I surely have one heckuva’ sore neck from all the head shaking I’ve been doing dear reader. And there is no doubt we’ll get through this, but what of the next one? We’ve set the precedence, changed the rules, raised the bar so to speak. How will the next world leaders react to the next pandemic? That should prove to be truly interesting. And the economic damage that has already resulted, with much more to come, is devastating; the only folks making any real money off of this are the news media. Odd. Stay tuned and wash those hands!