Monday, March 9, 2020

Let's take a deep breath

Yesterday's no-ABV (alcohol by volume) drinks for a plant walk and picnic on a sunny day out at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge were based on anti-viral elderberry (syrup as well as vinegar fermented from the flowers).

Consider this (brace yourself for bold and caps, I am a bit excited):

"As of Feb. 22, in the current season there were at least 32 million cases of flu in the United States, 310,000 hospitalizations and 18,000 flu deaths, according to the C.D.C. Hospitalization rates among children and young adults this year have been unusually high."

Flu. Not The New Virus. New Virus infections? To date, 109,400 cases. WORLDWIDE.

After a blissfully virus-freakout-free month in Cape Town, returning to New York's news-environment and evolving response is like inhabiting an alternate reality. So it was very refreshing to lead that wild plant walk yesterday where no one seemed particularly perturbed and where the attitude was, Well, we always wash our hands and take the usual precautions against flu.

The Frenchman and I have always been a little OCD in terms of hand washing. We wash our hands the minute we walk in the door from The World. The world involves subways and surfaces and supermarkets. So home we come, and we wash, not using our hands to open taps, but our elbows.

In the car there is hand sanitizer for when we can't wash. I have trained myself never to touch my face unless my hands are clean. And we are rarely ill (well, there was a case of food poisoning, but not my food!).

So this new drill for some is a very old drill, for us.

A virtual stranger on Instagram harassed me via a direct message because I posted a picture! She says that I am suffering from "a dangerous cognitive dissonance." This from someone who doesn't believe in vaccinations. Talk about cognitive dissonance.

The response to the virus - personal for some, institutional for others - is more frightening than the virus itself. The threat of quarantine. Businesses going under for lack of support. Stock markets crashing. People being isolated, and frightened. By what? A virus that shows no evidence (so far, that may change) of being more threatening than flu. Flu is bad news:

"The flu appears far more dangerous to children, particularly very young ones, who can become severely ill. Children infected with the new coronavirus tend to have mild or no symptoms.""

Some sanity - at last - in the New York Times. But was it a headline? No. It is buried in the Health section.


"The true death rate could turn out to be similar to that of a severe seasonal flu, below 1 percent, according to an editorial published in the journal by Dr. Anthony S. Fauci and Dr. H. Clifford Lane, of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Dr. Robert R. Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention."

Yet we are shutting down cities, killing businesses, and stoking panic.

Is it partly because so many people still seem to be deeply unaware of how they behave, and what the consequences can be? Basic hygiene? The flight attendant chewing her cuticles. The man picking his teeth on the subway. The nose-miner stuck in gridlock. The store manager wiping his open mouth with his hand and then greeting a customer with a handshake. The supermarket shopper licking her finger to open her flimsy produce bag which she then puts in her shopping cart whose handle she has been gripping.

Where have those hands been?

While I certainly do not want to be sick I am not afraid of getting the virus - if I do I will be ill, and then, in all likelihood, get better. Like almost everyone else. But the chances are good that I will not get sick. Because I am low risk (healthy) and because I take precautions.

What I am afraid of is the fear.

It is out of hand.

Keep calm, and wash your hands.


  1. How I wish I could have been there!!!

    But Switzerland is far away and work has me shackled at my desk.

    Panic is not a good thing and you're right. I'm more afraid of peoples' reactions than the virus. I'm allergic to pollen and I do sneeze. People have been watching me funny for a few days now. Some even took a few steps back. It made me want to laugh.
    And these people eat while they are shopping and touching the disgusting shopping carts. Seriously!!!

  2. I'm in Seattle and the panic is manifesting itself in weird ways. Massive buying of bottled water (water supply is not affected), toilet paper and hand sanitizer and yet, people told to work from home are all congregating in their local Starbucks. So much for social distancing. People are strange.

  3. A very good post, this is all getting far too out of hand. Sense and sensibilities have gone right out of the window this year it seems.

  4. Last week I too looked up the deaths from flu this season - Judy Woodruff on PBS news hour brought this up with a 'virus expert' last night who kept dodging the question. It's ridiculous if we fall into a Recession because of this Corona scare.

  5. Thank you for this dose of common sense.


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