Editor’s Note: Since the writing of this article, the seriousness of the threat of COVID-19 in Iowa—and the world at large—has continued to escalate. There are now 29 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Iowa, which is likely to rise, and mass closings of businesses and public spaces have taken place. The CDC is recommending self-isolation in all areas affected and avoiding all gatherings of more than 10 people. We at Little Village encourage you not to take this matter lightly. Please take every precaution to prevent the spread of this deadly virus: social distancing to the greatest degree possible, frequent hand-washing and avoiding touching your face or interacting with members of the community at high risk.
I don’t really want to talk about the coronavirus, but I think I kind of have to. The 17 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the state of Iowa have turned our peaceful quasi-city upside down. The university is suspending in-person classes until at least April 4, and perversely, I’m slightly jealous of the current students. We didn’t have a global pandemic when I was your age! Unfortunately, Mission Creek Festival, LV’s annual obsession, has also been canceled, hopefully to be rescheduled at some point in the future.
Clearly, this is an emotional time for everyone. This morning, I had a 45-minute phone conversation with my mother, wherein she listed all the people we know and ranked them in order of who she thinks is most likely to die. She also asked if I’d be interested in moving home for a few weeks, so we can “spend our last moments together.” This kind of pessimism from the woman who has numerous 10-gallon drums of dehydrated food in her basement in case of apocalypse is a little disheartening. I asked one of my friends if she’d be interested in coming over for dinner, and she said yes, provided she can take my temperature upon her arrival.
I don’t mean to sound dismissive, but I think some people are being a little dramatic about this. This morning, I made the terrible mistake of walking down the paper products aisle at Hy-Vee, where a hollow-eyed stockboy cut me off. “We don’t have any more toilet paper,” he said, flinching as though I was going to strike him. In a tone one might use on a spooked horse, I replied, “That’s OK. I was looking for paper towels.” So replied this teenage grocery professional, “You’re not supposed to flush those down the toilet.” The fact that he even feels the need to say that means that maybe we need to calm down.
So, what is the appropriate response? Wash your hands thoroughly for 20 seconds at all the usual times and whenever you’ve exited a public place (personally, I like to sing the first couple of verses of Right Said Fred’s hit 1991 song “I’m Too Sexy,” but do whatever’s fun for you), keep your hands away from your face as much as possible and avoid the elderly people in your life like, um, the plague. And try to stay calm. Hyperventilating spreads germs that much faster.
This article was originally published in Little Village issue 281.