So here we are, ladies and gentlemen. COVID-19 has not only introduced itself, it has become the menace that now influences nearly every action and decision we as a people make. It’s all you see on the news anymore. It’s all anyone seems to want to talk about. People are wandering the streets wearing surgical masks and latex gloves. Store shelves are barren. And boy, some people have sure gotten meaner: arguing with store clerks, mocking those who are wearing protective gear, and licking odd items in defiance of the disease itself. There’s the two extremes, right there: those who are scared to the point of irrationality, while others scoff that it’s “no big deal,” declaring that those who are worried about their safety are pathetic and weak, and that what most folks commonly call the coronavirus (which is actually a class of viruses that happens to include COVID-19) is not much worse than an ordinary flu.
Most of us–the vast majority of us–fall somewhere in between these two extremes. This post isn’t for you so much. You see, it’s the people in those two extremes I’d like to talk to.
To the scoffers, I can’t say this plainly enough: COVID-19 is a big deal–and it’s not an ordinary flu. Now, it is indeed true that many who become infected by COVID-19 experience only mild symptoms (and some experience no symptoms at all), just like a run-of-the-mill flu. And yes, a run-of-the-mill flu can and does kill people each and every year. That’s all true. I’m right there with you at least that far. So are the statistics.
A run-of-the-mill flu doesn’t overwhelm our hospitals to the point of begging for ventilators and other supplies, nor does a run-of-the-mill flu force doctors to make decisions over who lives and who dies once those supplies are gone. COVID-19 does. In some areas, it’s doing it now. Right now. As you read this.
If it isn’t happening at your hospital, it likely will. Soon.
Nearly every medical professional is sounding alarms. Treating the sick isn’t sorta-kinda what these people do–it is what they do. The training they receive is incredible, and it doesn’t end for the entirety of their careers. If they’re worried and think it’s a big deal, I’d say it’s a big deal.
But you’re not convinced. Of course you’re not. For some of you, it’s good enough that your idolized political hero told you either not to worry about it, or that it’s under control. Did it ever dawn on you that keeping the economy roaring just might be a greater concern of his than your health? Do yourself a favor and watch Jaws. That mayor who cared more about keeping the beaches open and bringing in the tourists’ dollars than he cared about taking care of the problem–and hoping the problem went away on its own? Remember him? You’re listening to that guy. Here’s your grain of salt. You’ll need it if you’re going to take any advice from him.
(Special message to American scoffers who might hold this particular opinion: no, COVID-19 is not a Democrat conspiracy meant to make President Donald Trump look bad. Donald Trump does a good enough of a job of looking like a buffoon without anybody’s help. What, you think this disease skips folks who have Bernie Sanders stickers on their automobiles? Are you ignoring the fact that people all around the world are dealing with this thing?)
Thankfully, some of you have already figured this out.
“But the symptoms are mild for most people,” you say. Okay, fine. Let’s look at that one. Let’s say you get it and you don’t feel all that bad. A little achy. Maybe a low-grade fever that goes away in a few days. A bit of a cough that resolves itself pretty quickly. You’ve seen far worse. Good for you. You’re very fortunate. Of course, you need to understand that your symptoms aren’t universal. If you’re going to be a member of the Human Race, then you’re going to have to consider how others around you are going to handle it once you’ve given your disease to them. Make no mistake about it: if you’re treating this as “no big deal,” you are going to pass this virus on to several more people, who may in turn spread it to several more. As I mentioned earlier, hospitals are full of those who certainly didn’t have mild symptoms.
No, this is serious stuff, folks. If you’re not going to let it scare you, that’s fine and dandy. You should, however, most definitely respect it for what it is.
Which brings me to those of you who probably had to move a box of toilet paper out of the way in order to sit down and read this. Maybe you’ve got another tab open on your browser, obsessively checking to see if Purell is back in stock on Amazon so that you can buy another case of it before it’s gone again. Thank God you’ve got enough bleach to keep your entire state’s tidy-whiteys gleaming for years to come. And it’s a good thing you cleaned out three different stores of their supply of beans (which might go a long way toward explaining why you need all that toilet paper and bleach). You’ve got enough flour to build a snowman in your living room. You’ve got enough masks and gloves to start your own hospital.
Okay, fine. I’m exaggerating. You got me there.
Of course, so are you.
Ever notice that it never seems like you’ve got enough, no matter how much you stockpile? How you’re constantly looking for a supply of more? How you glare at family members who use a single package of something, because it now means you’re not as well-stocked as you were before? How you’re trying to hide what you bring home from full view of your neighbors? Maybe you’ve even stocked up on ammunition for that very purpose; gotta keep ’em honest, and outta your stuff.
To these people, I say this: I understand. No, really, I do. I’ve got a family of my own, and I’m currently their sole source of income. It’s up to me to make sure they have what they need. When you find yourself faced with a situation that you feel you cannot control, it’s very natural to take any aspect that you can control, and control the living hell out of it. Control it right into the ground. No, I get it. I do.
But you’re making the situation worse for yourself as well as for others. Let’s think about this rationally for a moment.
No one’s talking about shutting down stores which sell the essentials. (At least, they aren’t to the best of my knowledge.) These stores survive because they have goods to sell, which means they have no interest in displaying empty shelves. They’re going to keep ordering stuff–and if you only buy what you need, they’ll continue to have just as much in stock as they did before this mess started. They had plenty of everything before, right? You bet they did.
Then life changed, and the panic hit. People went crazy. Absolutely ape shit. Like I said, I understand. I sympathize. But it doesn’t change the fact that hoarding begets hoarding. Here’s a scenario for you: you buy ten cases of paper towels and leave the store’s shelf empty. The next guy’s going to buy a case of paper towels the first time he sees they’re available again, even though he usually only buys one roll. Can you blame him? I mean, he’s seen that shelf empty before; he doesn’t know how long it’ll be before they’re gone again. Now he’s making the problem (that you started) worse for someone else. While this scenario only involves two hypothetical shoppers, scale it up by thousands of people and you can see why we’ve got issues here. Let’s play again, this time using toilet paper as our example instead of paper towels. Same outcome, right?
The bottom line is this: buy only what you need. If you or someone in your household has been exposed (or has reason to believe that they have been exposed), the suggested length of self-quarantine is, at the time of this writing, two weeks. Not two decades, or even two months. Two weeks. Chances are pretty good that you don’t need a pallet of toilet paper for two weeks: this is a coronavirus, not dysentery. And unless you or a family member who lives with you is sick, there’s no need to own enough sanitizers to make your home suitable for use as a surgery suite: you can’t kill a virus that isn’t there in the first place. Absolutely you should up your cleaning game–don’t get me wrong. But when it comes to needing a case of bleach for two weeks’ worth of housekeeping, color me skeptical.
We need to think logically, not emotionally.
If everyone did that, we’d all be able to get what we need the moment we need it. Hell, you might even reach a point where you’re no longer preparing to shoot your neighbor. You know, like you’re a civilized human being again, or something. (Your neighbor wouldn’t have to resort to stealing your stash in the first place since he could easily find his own, but I digress.)
Let’s not forget that we’re all in this together. It’s not every man (or woman) for him- (or her-) self. Indeed if it was, we’re all screwed. Even you, with your cute little arsenal of firearms and adorable crates of sloppy joe mix. The good news is that society has not broken down–and it won’t so long as you don’t allow it to. That takes all of us acting together and looking out for one another. That’s why it’s called a society in the first place.
Besides, you’ve got more control here than you think you do. It’s easy. Listen to the experts, and think critically about what self-interest they may have for telling you what they’re telling you. Stay home if you’re sick, and call your doctor’s office (don’t just show up there!) for further instructions. Wash your hands frequently–particularly after touching things that potentially-infected people might have touched. Give others space while out in public. Cover coughs and sneezes with your elbows rather than your hands. If your state has a “shelter in place” or “stay at home” order, obey it.
And of course remember that others are having a tough time right now. Do your part to not make things worse for them. A virus is easy to share… but so is courtesy. We’re human beings. We do best when we behave as such.