By Pauline Kerr
Some of the precautions people are taking regarding COVID-19 make one wonder if there might be a second pandemic going on, one that triggers weirdness.
For example, public health announcements suggesting stocking up on enough supplies – toilet tissue, food, and the like – to last a week, to get people through the illness if they contract COVID-19, were promptly followed by stories of panicked individuals clearing Costco shelves. They would fill two carts with giant packs of toilet paper and go back for more. One wonders how much of the stuff they think they need to last a week.
And then there is hand sanitizer. It has become more valuable than gold. The funny part is, hand sanitizer is considered something one can use if there is no access to soap and water. And store shelves have no shortage of soap. Someone who simply must carry hand sanitizer with them at all times will just have to make their own. There seems to be a recipe making the rounds; aloe vera gel and vodka are the main ingredients. It is intended for external use only, by the way.
Apparently popular among the crafty set is crocheting COVID-19 masks – as if they would offer any kind of protection at all. The only effective masks are high-tech things that are individually fitted. The thought of something hand-crocheted at least offers a bit of comic relief.
Paranoia indicates the geeks who spend 24/7 in their basements, surrounded by empty Dorito bags and glued to the controls of their video game of choice, will probably be the ones most likely to survive the great COVID-19 apocalypse. Their chances of coming in contact with COVID-19 – or any virus – are minimal. They prefer to communicate with other humans via electronics. However, most humans are creatures who do best in groups. Separating oneself from others is difficult, hence its use as punishment.
The fact is, most of us are going to be spending time with others of our species. We may stop shaking hands, but we will go to work as usual, visit restaurants and attend cultural and sporting events.
That said, there are individuals in this community who are shifting past concern into full-blown panic. These are the folks who will pull their kids out of school for the rest of the term, wear surgical masks and medical gloves to the grocery store and scream long and loud to have Canada close its borders immediately and completely to foreign visitors.
They will be the ones who refuse to eat at ethnic restaurants and wash their kids with disinfectant if they play with an ethnic-looking child in the park.
Those of us of a certain age remember what it was like when AIDS first started appearing in this country. Members of the gay community were shunned and treated horribly. Even after we understood more about the disease and realized one could not catch it through casual contact, there were people refused any physical contact, even a handshake, with someone who might have AIDS. There still are people who have that reaction.
During the SARS outbreak, the paramedics who got called to save the lives of desperately ill people were sometimes treated as if they were contaminated.
If we have been following the extensive news coverage of COVID-19, we know it is more serious than the common cold. It can kill, especially elderly people who are unwell to start with. But most people who contract it suffer relatively mild symptoms. COVID-19 cannot not be equated with bubonic plague or ebola.
This new virus warrants reasonable precautions such as frequent hand washing and avoiding people who are coughing and sneezing. It does not warrant paranoia. And no disease should ever become an excuse to mistreat others because of their profession, ethnicity or sexual orientation.
It may be easier to fear a human than it is something that cannot be seen without a microscope, but that does not make it right or even sensible.
By Pauline Kerr