Apocalypse Now?

In the photo, it looks like such a little thing, even kind of pretty. But the novel coronavirus makes me feel more and more like we’re on the brink of Armageddon, with its exponential spread and its growing impact on every aspect of life. And the other shoe just dropped: Alexandria City Public Schools announced that schools will be closed beginning Monday and at least through the end of Spring Break.

I’ve stocked the house with a reasonable supply of extra groceries, and I’m washing my hands at every opportunity. This week, I’ve still taken part in my normal activities: writer’s group several days, mosaics class on Thursday, and so forth. But I think that’s about to change. I have been saying all along that this was the last week of Life As We’ve Known It, for at least a few weeks, possibly a lot longer. And sure enough, Virginia’s Governor (who is a doctor) has announced a state of emergency. This weekend’s school orchestra event is postponed indefinitely, as is the April orchestra trip to Boston. The Youth Orchestra concert for later in the month is off. The Art League just suspended classes, so there will be no mosaics class next week. Most sporting and theatrical events are canceled. The Library of Congress is closed to visitors and employees will mostly be teleworking, with some managers, including my husband, taking turns going into the office some days. And now school has been suspended. I suspect I will be mostly staying close to home in the next few weeks.

Stores are still open, and some of them (grocery stores and pharmacies, especially) have been doing tremendous business. Others are hurting already, especially small, locally owned shops that sell items that are not considered necessities; some have had to let employees go, and could be in danger of closing permanently, especially if business owners can’t convince landlords to give them a break on the rent.

So far, nobody I know personally has the virus. Correction: nobody I know has tested positive for the virus, and that’s not at all the same thing. The scarcity of available tests means that shockingly low numbers of Americans can be tested, even those showing symptoms. And our nonsensical, elitist medical system makes it impossible for many people to pay for the tests, even if they are available. I’m appalled that in a public health emergency, testing is not provided free of charge by the government. Treatment, too. We should have a system like South Korea, where testing is a matter of course. They’re even doing drive-through coronavirus testing, allowing people to be tested without leaving their cars! Instead, the Trump administration has bungled this at every step, deceiving the public about the potential threat, focusing more on tax breaks for big businesses than on stopping the spread of the disease, and blaming immigrants for the outbreak, when there is absolute no evidence supporting that.

To make matters more confusing, the trees have burst into bloom, and those of us with seasonal allergies are coughing because of pollen. And we’re still in the grip of a particularly virulent cold and flu season. There are some differences in the symptoms of that the novel coronavirus presents, but enough overlap to make it hard to know if and when we should be worried.

I’m not that worried for myself. I’m not over 60, and have no underlying health issues, so my risk is low. And my son’s risk is even lower. My husband, on the other hand, is over 60. He has some health issues, but none of the issues that are supposed to make the virus particularly lethal. So I think the three of us should come through it fine. I spoke to my mom yesterday. She’s 81, but in excellent health and quite active. Her biggest fear is that she’ll have to cancel her Viking River Cruise through Europe. But it’s not until June, so maybe it will still be on. I have not spoken to my dad lately. Today is his birthday (81, as well) and he’s not as healthy as my mom, though he lost a lot of weight last year and is in pretty good shape for his age. Still, people in their 80s are at particularly high risk.

The overall mood around me is uncertain, nervous, and angry at the mismanagement of our public health response. I’m not seeing panic here, but maybe we’re just not at that stage yet. Personally, I’m relieved that the schools are closing. I wasn’t so concerned about my son’s exposure; teens are really not at high risk. We all knew school closings were coming, but not when. The uncertainty was weighing on me. At least now, we know for sure. And we can start to get a picture of what the coming weeks will look like.

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