Coronavirus Apocalypse

By Lynn Woolley
March 15, 2020

It’s fist-bump time in America. With coronavirus now considered a pandemic and a national emergency, the age-old practice of shaking hands is fading fast. May it never return. Handshaking is likely the number one spreader of germs in the world – and has been for generations. Now that we live in a global economy, deadly viruses can spread fast.

That’s why much of the world is in a virtual lockdown.

The best defense against coronavirus – which has no cure and no vaccine – seems to be to stay away from other people and especially from large crowds. Our government tells us to wash our hands often and for at least twenty seconds. Use disposable wipes to disinfect and use hand sanitizer.

But our officials don’t always practice what they preach.

On ABC’s “This Week,” host Jon Karl showed photos of one of President Trump’s coronavirus news events outside the white House. The President is seen shaking multiple hands. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is shown shaking hands, touching the microphone, and then touching his face.

And Fauci says things will get worse before they get better.

He says this new virus is killing people at a faster rate than that of the flu. “It is 10 times more lethal than the seasonal flu,” Fauci explained to the House Oversight and Reform Committee. And remember, there’s still no vaccine for coronavirus, and it’s typically treated in the same manner that a flu patient would receive.

The panic is another thing.

While the virus is killing a still small number of people whose immune systems may be compromised, the world reaction to it is devastating lives and fortunes. The stock market has lost billions if not trillions – and gained some of it back and lost it again. Retirement funds have been gutted. And when events like Austin’s massive South by Southwest pop culture festival was cancelled, those who counted on it lost income that was critical to their careers. SXSW has laid off more than a third of its staff. Austin’s Capital 10k which draws 25,000 runners has been cancelled. It’s like this everywhere. Countries like Italy and Spain are in virtual lockdown and we might be next.

But is it all real? Yes. It is.

Coronavirus is a threat because it’s different from other viruses, and it seems to be extremely contagious. This has caused a panic and a run on store items like canned food and toilet paper. The nation and the world will recover from the virus but the national and world economy is taking a major hit. On the other hand, some people are buying stocks at bargain prices. The market will boom again, and likely soon after the panic subsides. But paychecks that will never be replaced have been lost.

If Democrats can lay the blame on this for Donald Trump, their candidate – Joe Biden – has a chance to defeat him in November. If Trump manages the crisis well, even CNN’s attempts to make him look bad will fail. Biden is the Democrat’s second straight weak candidate, he’s prone to saying stupid things, and if this outbreak had occurred under his watch, who knows what would have happened. At least Trump stopped travel from China early in the scare.

China remains the big problem.

The Communist Chinese Party suppressed information and that caused the virus to spread when it might have been contained. Now, Chinese scientists or social activists that speak up against how the CCP has handled this are going missing. The rest of the world cannot believe what the Chinese government tells us, but soon we can expect that China will start to get back to normal. People there will go to work and interact. And if the Chinese government mishandles the situation as badly as they have so far, we could see a second wave of the virus. Chinese President Xi Jinping can make people disappear, but not the virus.

Meanwhile, I’ve spotted three parallels in contemporary fiction.

Start with Stephen King’s great novel, “The Stand” that tells the story of “Captain Trips,” a bug that escapes from a Defense Department lab and spreads like wildfire. The so-called “patient zero” is a soldier working security who unwittingly spreads it to everyone he meets. King sets a chilling scenario as he details how quickly each infected person infects more people and they in turn do the same.

Now compare the reaction of the 1 percent of the population that somehow survive King’s mythical virus to that of the survivors in the Robert Kirkman comic book and TV series “The Walking Dead.” Now, picture the empty store shelves at your local Sam’s or Costco and tell me that King and Kirkman didn’t get it right.

Finally, the late, great Isaac Asimov’s seminal “Foundation” series introduced a concept called “Psychohistory.” In the books, Hari Seldon is a mathematics professor who develops an algorithm that allows scientists to predict how large groups of people will react to certain situations. Seldon held that it was impossible to predict the actions of individuals – but that the laws of statistics when applied to large groups, could accurately predict the flow of history.

And so it has come to pass. Most people I know – individuals – are skeptical about coronavirus as a major threat and most scoff at the idea of cancelling events and stocking up. But as a large group that now includes most of the world, that’s precisely what we are doing.

Lynn Woolley is a Texas-based author, broadcaster, and songwriter.

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