I am not prepared for coronavirus, nor are you, I bet. I am making no judgement about your on-hand stock of sanitizer and cleaning wipes. This is not about what’s in the pantry, but rather about what we’re going to have in life and what we’ll be doing going forward.
Apparently, I’m not going to be shaking anyone’s hand anymore. Not after seeing a picture last week of the vice president and a high-ranking general bumping elbows like it was some secret fraternal greeting. The idea was to show other forms of greeting and respect that don’t also bestow germs.
But look, if we’re supposed to cough and sneeze into our armpits instead of our hands, won’t some of those germs wander onto our elbows? So maybe keep elbows tucked in also.
Others are trying out techniques such as bumping shoes. That’s great for boot season but considerably more risky in sandals. I’m fine with a head nod, or maybe a simple Rocky greeting: “Yo!”
Americans are great at a great many things, and it takes nothing to Keep America Great at them, like panic, for starters. When pandemic meets pandemonium, it’s hard to top the folks beneath the Stars and Stripes. Whole cities the size of Chicago were basically locked down and frozen in place in China in response to coronavirus — for 50 days now and counting! Other than griping about the price of tea and boredom, everyone seemed to follow along. There, the virus ebbs.
That would not be us here. We’re dashing off to buy up all the toilet paper we can find, even though there’s no reason. Psychologists say it’s like a knee-jerk reaction, that it makes us feel better, like we’re doing something.
And so we begin March Madness with the madness of March minus all the basketball — and hockey and baseball. Are the Netflix servers ready? When isolation is the greatest preventive measure to stem the spread of COVID-19, we’re going to need a bigger spoon to get that medicine to go down.
We are not good at being alone. We are a people of infinite togetherness.
What happens when the gym shuts down? When the grocery store rations the number of people allowed in at a time, assuming you pass a spot-health exam? When church cancels Sunday school and services? When sports teams lock their arenas and forgo selling $12 beers in the name of public health? Or the daycares and schools close until further notice? We can’t share locker rooms but we’ve got to be locked in at home with our germ-factory kids?
No, friends, we are not prepared for coronavirus, if it comes down to all this. And it is rapidly coming down to all this. Things seem to change by the hour. I started this column last Sunday; I have rewritten it five times since, and I was still updating it late on Friday.
When I first started, only part of Italy was on lockdown. Then, it became the entire country. If folks in that country went out, they couldn’t travel and could get no closer than a meter from one another. Roman Catholic masses, a staple of Italian life much like the daily open-air markets, were canceled. Even Pope Francis discontinued live appearances, opting not to appear before the usual plaza-filled thousands, lest one sneeze or cough take down the flock.
Now, all of Italy is a virtually one empty plaza. Only grocery stores and pharmacies are open. Is this to become us?
Do you think we are ready to tell the entire state of North Carolina — population 10.4 million — to not leave their homes for anything? Think about life after a heavy snowstorm here. That first day, we’re all cozy and snug in our homes, baking cookies, binging TV shows and playing board games with the kids. By Day 2, we’re wild-eyed and stir-crazy souls willing to drive through snow banks and iced-over lanes to get out of the house.
So no, we are not prepared for the upheaval coronavirus is rapidly imposing on our lives. For now, we bump along, hyper aware, mindful of practicing good hygiene and keeping cautious distances from each other. But the time could be approaching when the simplest things become suspect.
You think that’s far-fetched? I’d bet you, but we ought not shake on it. Let’s just nod our heads and say, “Yo!”
Contact editor John Nagy at (910) 693-2507 or firstname.lastname@example.org.