The weather has been pretty warm where I live in eastern Pennsylvania. Spring is arriving early. The forsythia is coming out. The trees are budding. The daffodils are blooming.
So I've spent some time outside cleaning up the garden beds, cutting back the hedge by the fence. I was raking up some leaves in the front yard on Saturday afternoon when I saw Ryan, our next-door neighbor, walking his two babies. They are very cute, identical twin girls, five months old.
We got talking, and it soon became clear that Ryan's attitude toward the virus is more like my wife's casual approach than my ultra-cautious view. I asked him if he was working at home. He said he probably could, but didn't really want to. He works in Montgomery County (which has seen 20 "presumptive" Coronavirus cases, compared to only three in our county, meaning people have tested positive but the results have not been confirmed), but he believes the whole thing has been overblown. So he's not worried.
He couldn't understand the run on the grocery stores. "What are people doing?" he wondered. "And why are they buying up toilet paper? That makes no sense at all."
I agreed with him about the toilet paper. This is not a virus that affects the gastrointestinal tract. So why does anyone need extra toilet paper?
B had been to the store earlier in the day. People have been told to stock up on ten days worth of food in case they have to self-quarantine, which is what authorities are recommending for anyone who doesn't feel well, who has been in contact with a suspected Coronavirus case or been overseas recently. Ten days worth of food? That's a lot of milk and orange juice and cereal and dinners.
But B and I agreed we could easily get along on spaghetti pretty much every night, if we had to. For me, breakfast is simple. It's cereal. For her it's usually a banana and peanut butter.
At the store the raisin bran (my favorite) was sold out. She got a half gallon of orange juice, because all the quart bottles were gone. She bought a bunch of six bananas -- any more than that and they'd just go rotten. She did not buy any toilet paper, because we have a supply from Costco down in the basement from before we went on vacation. But she did buy more pasta.
"Was it crowded?" I'd asked her.
"Oh, yeah," she'd said. "It was crowded."
Anyway, my neighbor Ryan is in his 30s. I suggested to him that maybe he didn't have to worry too much about the virus, but it is much more dangerous for older people. Deaths in the U. S. have been in people over 60, and most of them had underlying medical issues like diabetes or heart disease. Many of the deaths have occurred in assisted-living facilities.
I do not live in an assisted-living facility. And to my knowledge I do not suffer from any underlying illness. But I am definitely over age 60. And by the way, I don't want to have it explained to me that . . . oh, what do you know, it turns out you do have an undiscovered underlying medical issue, just as they're hooking me up to a ventilator.
I joked with Ryan that I'm beginning to think the Coronavirus is a plot against senior citizens. "You Millennials are behind it," I said. "You want to get rid of us Baby Boomers so you don't have to pay our Social Security."
He laughed. But it's no joking matter. That very evening I found out a national emergency has been declared. Our schools are closed. The libraries are closed. The parks are closed. Our governor has decreed that all non-essential stores, including bars and restaurants, are to be closed. I guess Ryan will be working from home after all.
I saw an article at Time online called Here's Why Americans Are Hoarding Toilet Paper. It explains that the disease makes us feel helpless, and so we try to regain some control in our lives by doing something. Toilet paper is primal. It's a basic need. And since we are social beings, we're afraid to be seen as unclean or unwell which may result in our being shunned. "Our panic buying," says psychologist Mary Alvord, "represents one thing we can control. In an uncertain moment at least it's something."
So I'm embarrassed to say, I ducked down in the basement, just to make sure. I counted them up. We have 33 rolls. Think that's enough?