Trying to put some perspective to the Coronavirus pandemic

Published 3:33 pm Friday, March 20, 2020

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It has long been my policy not to weigh in on what everyone else in the media happens to be pontificating about at the time. Hence, you saw little here about the Trump impeachment trial. To add to that cacophony seemed a waste of my time — and yours.

Today is different. This is about the coronavirus, a subject on everybody’s mind. Never have I witnessed anything like this. I suspect you haven’t, either. We are in uncharted territory and the fear of the unknown is pushing us toward panic – if we aren’t there already.

By the time you read this, things may change even more than they have already. As of now, all major sporting events have been canceled. School systems are closed, as are universities including those in our state. Conventions and seminars have been called off. Travel is restricted. Companies are encouraging employees to work from home. To say the stock market has been on a roller coaster ride is an understatement. Wall Street doesn’t deal with uncertainty any better than do the rest of us.

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To minimize the chances of contacting the virus, we are told to keep a safe distance between each other and not to shake hands. (I am still trying to perfect the elbow bump.) We are told to wash our hands often, disinfect surfaces, don’t touch your face (every time I hear that, my nose begins to itch), and to cough or sneeze into your elbows.

Still, the virus marches on. Now in more than 100 countries, the outbreak has been officially declared a pandemic, according to the World Health Organization. A pandemic is declared when a new disease for which people do not have immunity spreads rapidly around the world. As I write this, close to 5,000 people have died from the virus, the majority in China and Italy. Some 40 deaths have been reported in the U.S., including one (so far) in Georgia.

Experts say most people who contract the disease will experience only mild symptoms and that the virus is not deadly for the vast majority of those infected. Older adults appear to be more at risk from the coronavirus, while young children seem to be largely spared.

The coronavirus outbreak is not thought to be as deadly as the SARS epidemic of 2003, which killed around 10% of the more than 8,000 confirmed cases of the respiratory illness. And it’s far less deadly than Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS, which has killed some 34% of the roughly 2,500 confirmed cases since 2012.

That’s the good news. Yet, due to the mildness of many early symptoms, it can be difficult to know when to recognize a potential case of coronavirus and that there is not yet a treatment or vaccine. That could be as much as a year away. That’s the not-so-good news.

You would think that such a crisis would unite us as did 9/11. Not so. Sadly, we are as divided as ever. Donald Trump is doing a great job in managing the nation’s response to the virus, or Donald Trump is doing a very poor job depending where on the political spectrum you reside, which columnist you read or to what talk radio show you listen.

I would like to see a reassuring president, a leader who brings us together in these scary times. At his news conference at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta a couple of weeks ago, Trump referred to the governor of Washington state as a “snake.” How does that help anything? Also, his comments that he has a natural gift for understanding the science of pandemics because his uncle was a nuclear physicist at MIT was also a bit off-putting.

With all due respect to Trump’s uncle, I am betting the professionals at the National Institutes of Health and the CDC know a helluva lot more about this pandemic than Donald Trump. Let’s let them do their job. The president needs to lead and unite, not defame and brag.

What the coronavirus pandemic has served to do is to remind us how fragile life is and how little control we have over it. Hopefully, it will make us look within ourselves and realize what is important and what is not. That’s not a bad thing.

In the meantime, dear readers, please wash your hands. Don’t scratch your itchy nose. Stay safe and, remember, we are in this thing together. Can I get an elbow bump?