Ken Frederic: On Coronavirus, Keep Calm and Carry On

Toilet paper aisle at a Wal-Mart store as coronavirus concerns rose.

Following is an op-ed from contributor Ken Frederic of Bristol, Maine.

One of the few things older than I am is this bit of advice from wartime Britain in 1939.  Another old maxim is that “Good judgment comes from experience and experience comes from bad judgment.”  Both are good principles for dealing with the hysteria over COVID-19 and we all should take a pause from reading sensational headlines and running store to store, hoarding all the toilet paper and hand sanitizer we can snatch from the shelves before our neighbors do. 

Folks my age are at much greater risk from this new strain of an old virus.  Even so, most of us are not at risk of being driven into irrational behavior by the irresponsible headlines and nonstop nattering of so-called ‘journalists’ filling their 3, 5, or 10 minute segments with exaggerated distortion of the latest statistics, vacuous “analysis” of the latest CDC statement, and shameless attempts to segue from the virus to blatant political pandering. 

This is not our first “pandemic”, and it surely is not the most serious.  In fact, for the young and healthy, it presents a lower threat than common flu, at least so far.  Nobody knows how many people have been infected because most had mild or no symptoms, did not seek treatment, recovered, and were never tested.  While some irresponsible commentators breathlessly exaggerate the mortality rate, perhaps from simple ignorance or perhaps from corrupt design intended to inflame the crisis for later exploitation. 

Even without knowing the “denominator”, there is no evidence that this virus is any more lethal than other kinds of flu. It does appear, however, to be more communicable and that is the threat to be dealt with.

Folks my age survived the Swine Flu, BSE (mad cow disease), SARS and the gas crisis.   As children, we hid under our desks in nuclear attack drills.  We learned that however dangerous and serious a crisis is, panic spread by irresponsible reporting and speculation presented the greater threat to most people.  The real dangers of COVID-19 are serious enough and we do not know how many people will be infected before the pandemic fades. But we do know that common sense measures dramatically reduce the risk of contracting the infection or of spreading it. Responsible media and medical professionals have repeatedly told us what those common sense measures are.  Filling the garage or even the broom closet with toilet tissue is not one of them.  Neither is demanding tests while testing is still being deployed or assaulting one another over a case of bottled water.

This is not a time to be planning cocktail parties, booking unnecessary travel, and going to conventions, festivals, or banquets.  It is a time to heed restrictions on attending public events and behave as if anyone, including ourselves, might be contagious and as if anything we touch may be contaminated.

Most of all this is a good time to avoid the loudest and most hyperbolic in the media or the neighborhood.  In this political season, some will seek to resurrect failed or failing candidacies and failed policies. There are also those seeking a moment of fame or favor by spreading distrust, slander, chaos and disinformation. 

COVID-19 is not partisan, but today’s partisanship is another pandemic and it is likely the most toxic one most of us will live to see.  This crisis can be our opportunity to improve our self-discipline, common sense and personal and intellectual hygiene for the long term. May we all stay well or, failing that, get well.

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