The coronavirus epidemic: Should we lock ourselves in our homes?

Without even stepping outside the ranch, Stew and I have been pelted mercilessly with reports about the spread of the coronavirus, as lack of information and hysteria slowly push aside prudence and even common sense.

The local Episcopal church has installed jugs of hand disinfectant by the doors and advised congregants to avoid any touching during the customary exchange the “sign of peace” at the end of the service. Should you just nod to the person beside you? Blow discreet air kisses to the people  across the aisle? Should the priest put on gloves during communion? Wear face masks to church?

The Lord be with you. 

Lest you accuse the local Episcopalians of paranoia or mass dementia, consider that back in the U.S., many churches and synagogues have adopted even more ridiculous measures, such as elbow-bumping instead of the usual handshakes. In northern Italy, one of the epicenters of the virus, churches have emptied out as the faithful watch mass on television.

At the Mega supermarket in San Miguel, some shoppers are wearing masks. Others ponder whether to cancel travel plans. On the Civil List, one of the expat internet bulletin boards here, posts about the coronavirus are multiplying, some of them actually well informed. But should someone actually be afflicted with the coronavirus in San Miguel, watch the Civil List convulse with an outbreak of the screaming meemies.

Before someone accuses me of snarkiness let me confess that I am concerned. I remember the AIDS epidemic in Chicago during the 1980s that killed many friends and acquaintances. It was a dark time.

In some respects, the coronavirus could be even scarier, at least until health authorities pin down the source of the virus, method of transmission, extent of the epidemic and mortality rates.  AIDS could be blamed on addicts using dirty needles, and on unprotected sex with someone who was a carrier.

Originally the source of the coronavirus was eating contaminated exotic animals. Then it was contact with contaminated people, usually Asians. But recently, some people have become infected for unknown causes. We’re not yet clear about the method of transmission.

The stock market, which is fueled largely by speculation and the hedging of bets, has tanked, as investors pull their money out until it becomes clear what the impact will be on world trade. Uncertainty, much less panic, is not good for the stock market.

But that panic has been good for scammers and schemers selling cases Purell hand disinfectant are going for as much as $400 on the internet.

Today only on eBay: Four-pack of
8-oz bottles of Purell for US$60.90
plus S&H and applicable taxes. 

The Trump administration response has been disconcerting. The president, whose primary concern now is reelection, at first blamed the Democrats of panic-mongering to make him look bad. When Trump named vice president Mike Pence to lead the federal effort against the coronavirus (“he doesn’t have anything else to do,” the president reportedly told aides), some critics pointed out Pence has zero scientific or medical background, and during an outbreak of AIDS in Indiana among drug addicts, he initially exhorted people to pray, before he approved a needle-exchange program.

As far as I can ascertain, the federal response to the coronavirus epidemic (or is it a pandemic?) has been to dump a wheelbarrow full of money (some $3 billion so far with more to come) on a program that has yet to be articulated.

So what do we do? Stew and I have a trip to England planned for the end of April, and another to Vegas, for the wedding of two friends. Should we cancel and stay home? Bring jumbo cans of Lysol with us, and spray everything along the way, from airplane seats to TV remotes in hotel rooms? Get U.S. Army face masks at a surplus store?

For now, it seems all we can do, along with everyone else, is to wait and see.

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