I’m out at the neighborhood Target looking for hand sanitizer and nonperishable cans of chicken soup like every good American when several women strike up a conversation in a nearby aisle.
They’re concerned that the store is out of said hand sanitizer, and just how are they to survive the impending onslaught of the coronavirus without it?
Even the bin usually filled with tiny travel-size bottles is empty. That’s especially troubling, because some of the women are buying in bulk not just for the home but for trips they are planning, brave souls that they are.
After one woman walks away discouraged, the others scuttle in the opposite direction, huddling nearby to share what they have learned about her travel plans.
“She told me she’s going to Paris,” one woman reveals.
The others gasp.
“Oh, my God,” one responds, as if Paris were a stop on Dante’s nine circles of hell.
They’ve heard what’s going on in Paris, they say. A tourist’s death there on Valentine’s Day was the first fatality attributed to the outbreak in Europe and outside Asia. More than 100 cases of coronavirus disease, or COVID-19 as it is more technically called, have since been confirmed and as a result the famous Louvre is closed to tourists. All indoor public gatherings of more than 5,000 people are canceled. And French folk are being advised to knock it off with “la bise,” their customary kissy-kissy cheek-to-cheek greeting. Mon dieu, the germs!
Over at Smith’s, hand sanitizer is still available but rationed like plywood before a hurricane. “Due to high demand and to support all customers, we will be limiting the number of sanitization, cold and flu related products to 5 each per order,” a message on its shopping website reads.
One of my readers emails me to tell me that he is flying to Seattle and has just procured the last face mask and surgical gloves available at a Hudson News shop in the McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, Nevada. He has apparently not seen the innumerable reports in the media, both social and mainstream, indicating that for most people, especially healthy ones, masks are not recommended, necessary or impervious to COVID-19. They are not force fields. They are not magical.
And so it goes. This is America hunkering down for the cataclysm du jour, many of us misinformed, paranoid, a little wacky.
Still, COVID-19 is nothing to sneeze at. It’s imperative that every household and every community prepare for whatever is to come.
While there is plenty of credible medical information out there on how to do that, let me add some other handy common-sense suggestions that are especially pertinent if you are elderly or have underlying health conditions or have loved ones who are. Most of us will survive this latest iteration of the coronavirus just fine, but these are the folks whose lives might actually be at risk.
• Drink your water. A refillable bottle that measures how much water is being consumed is a good way to track water intake.
• Hand sanitizer is not the only item to stock up on – and, please, just stop it with the face masks. Pick up extra basic items like acetaminophen, cold medications, stool softeners, antacids and hearing aid batteries for you and your loved ones. Extra cleaning products to keep surfaces sanitary should also be on your list.
• Check on neighbors to see how they are faring.
• Stay home if you are sick. I’m not joking.
• Cough into your elbow rather than showering the world with your spittle.
• Above all else, wash your hands. Soap and water works just fine, so don’t freak out about the dearth of hand sanitizer. The internet is suddenly inundated these days with videos on how to do that. I had assumed most people had mastered this skill in preschool, but apparently the majority of Americans are out of practice. Only 31% of men and 65% of women wash their hands after using the bathroom, even though 92% say they do, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s society’s dirty little secret.
It was a wise New Mexican – or maybe it was a meme on Facebook – who imparted this sage advice: Wash your hands like you just peeled a sack of green chile and need to take out your contact lenses.
Simple steps, really, and ones we ought to do even without a pandemic bearing down upon us.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg.