“People walk their dogs in hazmat suits.”
— A pen pal from Las Vegas
The news has been full of the coronavirus, but it became more immediate to me when I went to a market, recently, to buy food. I am a poor cook, but I can boil eggs and bake potatoes. I found empty shelves and a packed store, not unlike the frantic day before Thanksgiving. I went to another big store and found more empty shelves. On the third try, I found some pitifully small potatoes that would briefly suffice. Recently, some friends who returned from Belize decided to self-quarantine. Bars, restaurants, libraries and the senior center are closing. It seems apparent I have to self-quarantine.
I don’t follow sports, but when the NBA season is canceled along with the Saint Patrick’s Day parades in Ireland, Boston and San Francisco — where whole blocks are cleared for revelers — I know it’s serious,
Now that the virus has hit Idaho, I am more aware of the sudden spike in deaths, particularly in Italy, and remain confused by conflicting dialogues I hear on the news. There is currently no vaccine and no treatment to keep the virus from replicating itself. We do know the virus seems mild for some younger people, hell for others and deadly if one is over 70.
Seventy? Oh dear.
If there’s any comfort, children seem to be immune.
The coronavirus pandemic reminds me of Albert Camus’ classic novel, “The Plague,” in which rats emerge from the sewers to die in the streets; city residents suddenly find themselves quarantined and facing an existential crisis: existence without meaning leading to possible extinction.
I witnessed a similar situation. When a health crisis first broke in San Francisco, hundreds of young men were dying from a strange pneumonia that destroyed T cells needed for immunity. It moved fast. A healthy man could become a skeletal victim within weeks. I lost a number of friends in the theater community. There was a growing terror throughout the city, driven by the fact the disease wasn’t named and there was no explanation or treatment. At first, the new plague struck only gay men, but in a short time, everyone was at risk.
As various establishments closed, the disease finally had a name: Acquired Immunity Deficiency Syndrome, or AIDS, and if no vaccine was created, drugs were found to mitigate the effects of the pernicious virus. Knowing the AIDS virus was transmitted through the exchange of bodily fluids and by drug addicts sharing needles helped in slowing the spread.
In time, we know the coronavirus will have a vaccine to prevent it and a drug to treat it, but meanwhile, people in all countries will face uncertainty and considerable sacrifice. There will be more deaths until this new virus runs down.
In Camus’ novel, the plague runs its course and people finally resume their lives, but the last sentence warns humanity that it is only a matter of time before the rats once again emerge “to die in the streets of a happy city.”
It may seem odd to work together against the spread of the coronavirus by staying apart. I have plenty of books and some DVDs for any self-imposed isolation. I have a gallows sense of humor, which may help my attitude. I admire the Italian citizen who sang the great aria, “Nessun Dorma” (“I never sleep”) from his window. The last word is “vincero,” or “I will win.”
I just hope the potato bins in this state famous for potatoes stay full.
Michael Corrigan of Pocatello is a San Francisco native and a retired Idaho State University English and speech communication instructor. He studied screenwriting at the American Film Institute and has authored seven books, many about the Irish American experience.