• Last modified 873 days ago (March 19, 2020)


It’s enough
to make you sick

Forget COVID-19. A far more serious pandemic, with much more far-reaching consequences, is mercilessly gripping the world. And it didn’t come from bats in China. It’s the result of people everywhere going batty and jumping on the COVID-19 bandwagon as if it were some hashtag-worthy, socially relevant cause.

Fortunately, there’s a simple test to determine whether you’ve been infected. We didn’t even need the World Health Organization or two attempts by the Centers for Disease Control to develop it.

If at any point this past week you found yourself among the Mongol horde rushing to stores to buy toilet paper even when you didn’t need it, you’re clearly infected. For the sake of the community, you should immediately self-quarantine your attitudes and behaviors and limit them in your home for the duration of the crisis.

As of this writing, toilet paper was available in Marion County only in Peabody — and only because a merchant there adopted a system of rationing after determining that migratory bands of hoarders, many from Wichita, were attempting to pillage the community’s staples.

Other businesses, meanwhile, are jumping on the COVID-19 bandwagon faster than people with the educational indoctrination of grade schoolers insisting on such things as recycling even when the economic and environmental value of overblown recycling programs is brought into question.

Our spam folders are full of breathless news releases from organizations that seem to have made it a game, playable in isolation, to determine whether they can find some way to latch onto the COVID-19 craze with insipid steps that do little if anything to meaningfully prevent spread of the disease.

Shoot, we at the newspaper could try to make something of the toilet paper craze by encouraging an alternative use for our product after you’ve read it. We personally think our competitor’s product better suited for this. But what the heck. In an emergency, you use what’s available. Let’s not forget that toilet paper hadn’t even been invented when this town was founded and that it wasn’t until the middle of the Great Depression that splinter-free toilet paper was invented by Northern Tissue Co.

Buying toilet paper because you fear you might get the runs is one thing. Some of the actions threaten to create runs of a different nature — devastating runs on banks.

Local banks seem almost intent on weakening public confidence in the banking system by eliminating lobby hours despite the fact that their largely uncrowded lobbies have at least as much social distancing between customers and employees as are present at drive-up windows. The real danger isn’t the lobby. It’s wiping your nose after touching money that changes hands, whether at a drive-up window or a teller’s cage.

Social media — or, as we like to call them, anti-social media — make this much worse, spreading memes with many times the lethality of coronavirus suggesting that banks may not have enough money to cash out everyone who plans to invest all of his or her savings in the precious commodity of toilet paper. Memes also wrongly suggest that drinking a lot of liquids will flush the virus from your system.

COVID-19 isn’t ebola. Chances are extremely good that you aren’t going to die even if you catch it. A huge percentage of those with the disease don’t even know they have it — which is actually part of the problem. They can unknowingly spread the disease to the relatively very small percentage of the population that might be most sensitive to it.

Quarantines aren’t about preventing you as an individual from becoming infected. They are about preventing something we don’t know a lot about from spreading.

But they raise a very serious question. As global urban sprawl increasingly encroaches upon areas occupied by animals whose diseases we haven’t as a species encountered, COVID-19 is just one in a series of infections that will continually test our ability to cope without panicking.

Panic levels with its close relatives, SARS and MERS, were considerable, as were those with bird flu and swine flu. But as the world becomes increasingly wussified thanks to such enablers as social media, COVID-19 is threatening to unleash what will become a normal condition of panic for decades to come as each new and different virus appears.

Now is the time for sensible solutions, not overreactions. Avoiding crowds, keeping yourself and your environment clean, and not going out and about when you’re coughing and sneezing are things we should do all the time, not just when cable news networks trot out fancy crisis logos and theme songs for wall-to-wall coverage.

Otherwise, life as we know it will never get back to normal. And it won’t be President Trump or the Chinese or even bats that we have to blame. We’ll have no one to blame but ourselves.

In times of crisis, communities come together in small ways. People run errands for each other. Stores offer to deliver. Even newspapers take small steps like offering to publish a weekly sermon for those who couldn’t make it to church.

Instead of fearing the unknown, let’s embrace, celebrate, and encourage the small acts of kindness that we in rural communities are particularly adept at delivering. We may need to abandon our daily coffee klatches temporarily, but we don’t need to abandon our humanity.


Last modified March 19, 2020