It would be very easy to panic right now.
Schools and businesses are closing down. People are staying home from work.
Things that felt certain just a week ago are now completely unmoored.
Daily life has been drastically upended in a way we have not seen in our lifetimes.
Even 9/11, which represented an immense paradigm shift in our worldview, did not have the potential for so much direct disruption to everyone.
I’m 22 years old, and my only memory of that historic event is seeing something scary on my grandparents’ giant Toshiba television in their family room at their house in Temecula. They knew the world was about to change, and I grew to understand how it had years later as I grew up.
It certainly did have some effect on my daily life – my mother, who was literally in Air Force Officer Training School on the day of the attacks, eventually would be deployed during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and spend months away from our family.
But even then, the effects of 9/11 felt like something that mainly affected other people. My mom was stationed in the United Arab Emirates, not in a combat zone. I didn’t really have to worry too much, and I didn’t need to worry about anything happening to me.
This event is very different. It is not a distant enemy we are fighting on some foreign battlefield. It is not an enemy that makes its presence known at home by blowing up buildings. It is very much a silent killer. I could be infected right now and not even know it. Maybe I won’t show any symptoms, but will I be able to say the same for my brothers? My parents? What about my grandmother, who is a lunch lady at a Temecula middle school? Could she have already been exposed?
But panic, of course, helps no one. We need to keep our heads about us. We need to keep doing what we can to maintain some sense of routine. Fortunately, I’m very good at compartmentalizing – what I can’t control, I will simply not think about, because what would be the point?
But the other side of that coin is that we cannot pretend everything is normal, because everything is just absolutely not. Difficult as it may be to consign ourselves to the fact that we will be trapped in what feels like the plot of a disaster movie for the next few months, it’s just something we are going to have to accept. No going out to bars or restaurants. No movies or concerts. No visiting friends and family members unless absolutely necessary.
That’s something that did not appear to have sunken in over the weekend. People were still crowding eateries and other public places, acting as though they were invincible and immune to the rapidly spreading coronavirus. But it affects everyone, and even if you don’t have serious symptoms, you could spread the virus to someone you love who may be affected much more seriously. Is that really something you want weighing on your conscience? How would you feel if a parent or grandparent ended up in the ICU because you decided you didn’t want to “stop living?” Or maybe not even a parent or grandparent – young, healthy people can require hospitalization due to the novel virus that causes COVID-19. Li Wenliang, one of the first doctors to warn about the coronavirus, died in an ICU in a Wuhan hospital of the virus. He was 33 years old.
Let that sink in. 33 years old.
The virus may only kill a small percentage of people who are infected. But even a death rate of 1%, 2% or 3% is several times higher than the normal flu’s usual death rate of about 0.1%. When that number is expressed across a huge population like that of the United States, we are talking about literally millions of potential deaths.
I am probably the last person you would expect to be concerned about a virus. But these are serious times.
Listen to the recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and from the state. Stop any unnecessary physical interaction for now. Don’t go out to crowded places like restaurants. Wash your hands. Be careful, if not to keep yourself from getting sick, then at the very least to prevent someone else from getting sick. Someone’s life could literally depend on the choices you make.
Will Fritz can be reached by email at email@example.com.