I got the email Thursday night:
HARRISBURG, PA: Gov. Tom Wolf announced additional statewide measures to mitigate the spread of the Coronavirus.
The Wolf administration said it "strongly encourages the suspension" of large gatherings, events and conferences of 250 people or more.
Recreational activities like gyms, movie theaters and trips to shopping malls are also discouraged. Religious leaders are asked to "exercise discretion" in order to slow the spread of illness, which now has 21 confirmed cases in Pennsylvania.
And then the cascade began . . . an email saying the author appearance at our local bookstore was canceled, another announcing our Saturday night dance was off, and one from our local Center in Learning for Retirement saying classes were shut down for the rest of the spring semester. Then the County Theater sent out an email saying it is closing for two weeks.
My wife B was still undeterred. "We should all go out and get the virus and get it over with," she scoffed. "People are going to suffer more because they lose their jobs than they will from the virus."
B feels invulnerable, almost immortal, because her mother lived until age 103. So her worry is not that she will die, but that she will live too long. And maybe she will.
But maybe she won't. And I'm pretty sure I won't. So I'm much more concerned about the Coronavirus than she is. If the governor tells us to stay home, I will stay home. I bought some disinfectant. I've been washing my hands religiously, almost obsessively. I've been out; but I haven't shaken anybody's hand for a week.
Maybe it's just a matter of how we each deal with the uncertainties of life. Some people just figure, whatever is going to happen will happen, so get on with your life. Others think that what they do matters. They have the idea -- perhaps an illusion -- that they have some control over events.
On Thursday night, as B was planning her social events for Friday, despite the warnings to avoid crowds, I gave her this analogy. On a normal day, there about about 100,000 airline flights in this country. So, if 2,000 planes crashed every day, would you feel comfortable getting on an airplane? That's a 2% death rate, which is what they're talking about for the Coronavirus.
She thought about it for a moment. "No," she finally said.
But in the morning she was talking about meeting a friend for lunch. I suggested not going to a restaurant, but going to her friend's house, or having her friend over to ours. At least then she would only be in contact with one other person who might have the virus, instead of 40 or 50 strangers at nearby tables, any one of whom could have the virus.
"Oh, I'd be more worried about the kitchen staff," she said. "They're the ones who can't afford to stay home, even if they're sick. So someone might be coughing into my food."
She is worried about how poorer people will handle this virus. We don't have to go to work, she says, we can afford to stay home and wait it out. But a lot of people have to go to work or they won't be able to pay their rent or buy their groceries.
But our conversation was cut off by a text. B's friend was canceling the lunch. She didn't want to go out, after all.
But B just couldn't abide the thought of staying home all day. So she made a date for later in the afternoon, to go walking with another friend. At least, to me, that seemed like a lot safer activity than lunch in a crowded restaurant.
"Don't forget to practice safe distancing," I called from the safety of my office as she went out the front door.
"I get it," she called back. "No hugging."