Friday, February 28, 2020

The More Things Change...

Coronavirus which is dominating the news cycle at the moment is a big deal. I've been poo pooing it for a few weeks now but have been informed in no uncertain terms that's wrong. There's nothing funny about the nearly 3,000 people who have died so far at this writing and the eighty plus thousand individuals around the world we know of who have contracted the disease. That's a lot of people, true a small percentage of all the people in the world, but that percentage surely will go up as so far there are no vaccines to stem the spread of the disease. By all indications it is a tremendously infectious virus whose end is nowhere in sight.

So by all means take every reasonable precaution. As a public service, here is a link to the site of the World Health Organization with some tips on what to do and also what not to help keep yourself and others safe.

Listening to the radio this morning I heard an epidemiologist with some dire warnings sharing much of the same advice you'll find on the WHO website. But he added another important bit of advice.

Don't panic.

It would appear that lots of people are not heeding that advice and are letting fear and ignorance get in the way of rational decision making. A while ago before the outbreak of the disease was made public, I saw a brilliant cartoon that describes much of the current state of the world. In the cartoon, a laboratory beaker with a substance labeled as "ignorance" is heated by a burner labeled as "fear". The resulting condensation of the vapor collected in an adjacent test tube was labelled "hate".

A couple days ago in my own city of Chicago, there was a group of good people who put together a public outing to patronize the restaurants of this city's Chinatown, as despite there not being one report of an infection here, those business saw a dramatic drop in business since news of the outbreak which began in China reached these shores.

I reiterate, Coronavirus is nothing to, pardon the pun, sneeze at. But that reaction in Chicago and elsewhere harkens back to a story my mother was told by the nuns when she was a child in Catholic school in the early forties. The story went something like this:

There was a high school couple who were ice skating on the frozen lagoon in Humboldt Park in Chicago, back in the day before climate change made that impossible. The girl fell on the ice and cut her lip. The boy used his handkerchief to help stop the bleeding. Shortly thereafter the girl contracted syphilis. As these were two good Catholic kids, they certainly could not have been up to any monkey business right? Certainly not. Fortunately for the reputation of the two, it turns out that the handkerchief had recently been laundered at a local Chinese laundry, most certainly the source of the dreaded disease which at the time, was still a few years away from a cure.

Mystery solved.

As absurd as that story is, it left an indelible mark on my mother and her classmates about Chinese people. Remember this was the time when we were sending American citizens of a particular ethnicity to concentration camps because we were at war with their ancestral relatives. And for no reason other than physical resemblance, some Americans had to assure their fellow countrymen that they were of Chinese ancestry not Japanese.

German Americans whose ancestral relatives were also at war us, and folks who merely resembled them did not have the same unfortunate experience.

Clearly there is a long history of bigotry in this nation and recent events have shown that not much has changed.

Now you might say I'm over-reaching, as the two stories are completely un-related. Coronavirus is highly contagious, transmitted through moisture droplets suspended in the air. In other words, you can get it through very casual contact with people while syphilis is only transmitted sexually. Coronavirus originated in China and that is where the majority of its victims live. You might say it only makes sense that limiting one's exposure to Chinese people is simply a matter of sensible risk management.

Fair enough.

But let me add that as of this writing, the country with the third highest total of Coronavirus infections is Italy.

I wonder if pizza restaurants are taking a hit.

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