I was up before dawn today. I quietly dressed while Shannon slept, then I slipped out the front door, startling a deer that had bedded down in the front yard. It stood up and watched me as I unlocked the Element. “Sorry to wake you,” I said. “Gotta run down to Albertson’s to get my allotment of toilet paper.”
No, this isn’t the opening to my dystopian masterpiece. It’s where we are now. Coronavirus—CORVID-19— is sweeping the globe, killing thousands in China and Italy, and now it’s in Missoula. Schools are closed; spring break this year is open-ended. As of yesterday, St. Patrick’s Day, bars, breweries and restaurants are closed. People are encouraged to “shelter in place,” and practice “social distancing.” After ugly, nationwide panic-buying last week, supply lines are catching up but toilet paper and other goods are being rationed. Social media is absolutely aflame with misinformation, rumors, anger, fear, lies—all the usual content. But now it’s ratcheted up to ten, and there’s nothing else being talked about. Businesses are shuttering. People are being sent home, most with no pay. Primary elections are being postponed. There’s talk of the census being delayed. Congress is bumbling and stumbling, supposedly working toward a relief package for Americans, likely, we’re told, in the form of a one-time $1,000 check to each person to “tide them over.” For most people that will barely cover one month’s rent. Meanwhile, they were quick to dole out a $1.5 trillion package to bail out the corporations.
There are large pockets of people who are ignoring the quarantine, claiming that the virus outbreak is being “over-hyped” by the media. They’re gathering by the thousands at spring break destinations like San Padre Island, young, stupid and dangerous. These self-absorbed knuckleheads figure that if they feel healthy, they’ve nothing to worry about and everyone else is overreacting. Trouble is, they may be carrying the virus already. If they’re asymptomatic, they’ll just move through society and infect those with whom they come in contact.
Self-quarantine is our only defense at this point. The idea, according to scientists, epidemiologists and other experts is to “flatten the curve.” The prevailing graphic shows two bell curves: The first is a tall, narrow curve that represents the infections and deaths that will occur without taking measures like self-quarantine and social distancing. The virus will lay waste to millions before we can attain herd immunity or a vaccine can be developed. If most of us can set aside our selfishness long enough to consider the greater good and take these pain-in-the-ass measures and hunker down at home for a few weeks, exposures and new infections will be stunted, thus flattening the second bell curve, which represents the better outcome. The outbreak will take longer to move through the population, but will result in fewer deaths and more immunity in the long run.
That’s the way I understand it, anyway, the last time I checked Twitter. The situation is fluid, of course, as news of the virus walloping other countries in Europe keeps the terror level fairly high here in the U.S.
Trump, of course, is directly culpable for making the situation worse, by downplaying its seriousness when he first was briefed on the pandemic in December. In fact, it’s been revealed that he was involved in a scheme to poach German scientists to develop a vaccine that he could have exclusive rights to, thereby cornering the market. It’s straight out of Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake.
The virus will eventually wane, as they do, but this one is unprecedented. The stock market has lost a third of its value in three weeks, airlines, hotels and restaurants are offline, colleges are going online-only, and the collapse of the U.S. economy may be imminent. The Fed is rushing to print money, but it’s to bail out corporations, not people. So much greed, avarice, and craven back-room dealing is being exposed on a daily basis that it’s pretty obvious things will never be the same again.
I’ve been approached by several people to write a parody song about coronavirus or quarantine life, but I just don’t have the heart. This thing is killing people. I think about the residents of The Springs, Grizzly Peak and The Auberge, the retirees and memory care patients who so love hearing the old country and rock and roll I play for them once a month. It’s one of the few pleasures they can still enjoy, and now my sessions out there have been cancelled indefinitely, along with all my other gigs for the next six weeks. Which they should be, of course, but these are just a few of a million deprivations. We’re just at the beginning of this thing, really, and it’s only going to get worse.
As an independent writer, I shelter in place as a way of life. Social distancing is a daily stance, and I still have work in front of me, and thank god for my hard-working wife, who's the main breadwinner in our family
. So I’m lucky. Although I spent the weekend laid low with a cold, it never went respiratory and I’m pretty well recovered, ready to resume writing. But today, this is what I wanted to write about. I can get back to work now, although life has already changed and is just going to get more challenging as the weeks crawl by.
At least I’ve got a stash of toilet paper now.