Fear and dread in the USA

Fear and dread in the USA
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Fear and dread in the USA

Coronavirus is now all we think and talk about 

By Steve Metsch

“It’s the end of the world as we know it
It’s the end of the world as we know it” – R.E.M.

That song, released in 1997, was playing in my head this morning when I strolled through Menards in Hodgkins. I wasn’t there to hoard toilet paper or bottled water. I needed light bulbs, breakfast cereal and some snacks.

As I made my way around the store, I noticed it seemed more crowded than usual for a Friday morning, which is usually reserved for do-it-yourselfers. My wife had asked me to pick up some disinfectant wipes for you know what – the coronavirus – so I headed to that part of the store on the second floor.

En route, I met a friend named Andy who shook his head, smiled and said, “it’s like a movie.” Yeah, except there’s no Capt. Kirk and Mister Spock to save us.

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Flags in Public Plaza. Photo courtesy of Ray Hanania

Flags in Public Plaza. Photo courtesy of Ray Hanania

I was not surprised to see empty shelves behind signs that asked customers to limit themselves to a certain number of products, be they  wipes or hand sanitizer. I’d seen it the same barren shelves on Thursday when I visited six stores near our home. I did find hand sanitizer at one.

What I felt Thursday was the same thing I felt today. There was a definite underlying sense of dread, of impending doom, that we are all basically toast. Unsettling? You bet.

When I waved ahead of me in the checkout line a man buying two DVDs for his kids – kids who won’t have to attend school for weeks evidently – I said, “crazy, isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” he replied, “it kind of reminds me of Y2K.”

Has it been 20 years since the world was going to end when computers would be so confused changing from 1999 to 2000 that they would turn off?

America survived. Just like America survived AIDS, two world wars, The Great Depression, 9-11 and leisure suits.

Kidding aside, this is very serious, despite friends of mine who compare it to the common flu. Right now it is 10 times deadlier than the flu.  But we’re not talking Captain Trips from Stephen King’s novel “The Stand,” with its 99.4 percent kill rate.

It will kill some, others will become very sick, some will be mildly bothered, some not at all. Those whose health is  already compromised, along with our senior citizens, are prime targets. We’ve got to be proactive. That’s why nearly every event that draws large crowds has been shut down. It’s an attempt to limit chances for the virus to spread.

Broadway is dark. The Archdiocese of Chicago closed its schools and churches.  Large sports league are idle. Even the NCAA Tournament is canceled. I have tickets to the Blackhawks-Wild game March 19. Was going to take my daughter. Not happening.

She’s returning home from the University of Illinois for spring break tonight. After break, she’ll probably still be here, attending her classes on-line like so many other college and university students nationwide. She plays club softball. The Illini are ranked No. 1 and probably won’t have a chance to win the national title in Georgia in May.

Did my wife and I chance fate attending the Missouri Valley Conference basketball tournament in St. Louis with thousands of fans March 6-8? We hit taverns, restaurants, the Soulard Farmers Market. We could have the virus. No coughs or fevers yet, touch wood.

The virus at its most recent count has infected 1,629 Americans that we know of, according to the CDC, which reports 41 deaths. I’m sure actual totals are much higher. Ohio thinks 100,000 residents may be infected in that state alone.

Yes, this has a surreal feel. I was thinking of seeing one of my favorite local bands, The Polkaholics, at Phyllis’ Musical Inn, 1800 W. Division St., Chicago, tonight. Now, I’m debating if that is smart. Maybe I should play some of their CDs at home instead.

Our world has changed in a few days.

When I shopped at Menards today, passing some people I caught myself wondering “do they have it?” Yesterday at Charter Fitness, near the end of my workout, a guy on the exercise bike next to mine blew his nose. I fled although we are told a dry cough is a symptom.

Paranoid? Smart? Too cautious? I don’t know. “Better safe than sorry,” my mom would say. She’s 83. My father is 84. They are in relatively  good health, but I worry their seemingly endless tour of doctors’ offices endangers them.

I wake in the middle of night – 2:30 a.m. today – filled with dread. And that’s before I check my 401K. The virus is the first thing I think of when the alarm sounds, the last thing I think of before falling asleep. Bedtime includes a prayer for the world.

According to the World Health Organization, there are 132,758 confirmed cases globally, with 4,955 deaths. The vast majority of cases, 80,991, are in China. So are the most deaths, 3,180.

When will this all end? Your guess is as good at mine. Hopefully, this Halloween someone will dress as the coronavirus and we’ll all laugh.

We hear horror stories out of Italy. The Italian Civil Protection Agency said today that 250 people died in the past 24 hours, bringing the total there to 1,266, second only to China in fatalities. And then we hear great success stories  like Singapore which was extremely proactive against spreading the disease. I wonder why China didn’t tell us more about this virus sooner. Or why our spies didn’t say anything. Or did they?

President Trump, in denial just a few days ago telling us it will go away, declared a national emergency today, freeing up $50 billion to fight the coronavirus. That’s rare good news. Is it too little too late? What took him so long? Or will this help?

I don’t think this is the end of the world. I do think it’s a world changer like 9-11. Meanwhile, I still can’t shake that rockin’ tune playing on the radio station in my head. Hopefully, in eight weeks, nine weeks, 12 weeks – whenever we’re out of the woods – we will all sing the rest of that chorus with a smile.

“It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine” – R.E.M. 

Steve Metsch
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