We had been hearing about the coronavirus for several weeks by March 11th. The lockdown of Wuhan was all over the news, but it was just background noise to be honest. There’s an adage in journalism which roughly says that one local murder is the equivalent of a dozen in Chicago and a thousand virus deaths in China or 10,000 starvations in Africa. I’m sure there are many reasons our empathy decreases the greater the distance, but for most people it’s a fact. So in February, I knew there was a virus out there, but it had little to no effect. By early March, the news was getting more dire and the virus was creeping closer. All this time, our President belittled the threat. Things took a turn on March 11th. Stocks were already turning downwards, but now they were in freefall. The President finally turned somber and told us things were much worse than he had been letting on. Tom Hanks announced he and his wife had caught the virus in Italy. And that’s when empathy kicks in, when someone you know gets it.
I don’t really know Tom Hanks obviously. However, I have been following his career since the first episode of Bosom Buddies, feel I discovered him, in fact, and in some ways you should all thank me for his omnipresence in your lives. I didn’t really know Rock Hudson or Freddie Mercury either, but they were the two men who put a face to AIDS for me. They become the trigger of realization that death stalks everyone in this world and he may want someone close to me or even me. There’s a lot of talk about age and preexisting conditions being major factors contributing to who succumbs to the disease, but we also hear about young, seemingly healthy people dying as well.
So on March 12th, I woke to a much different world than the one I fell asleep to. The St. Patrick’s Day parade was cancelled. Traffic into NYC was lighter than i had ever seen it. Supermarkets couldn’t keep the staples stocked. People started staying home; schools started closing. Social distancing became a thing. You rarely saw a person wearing a face mask or gloves in public, now most people do. My densely populated area of the world became the new epicenter for the disease. Medically speaking, we were caught unprepared. And we seemed slow in taking measures to slow the spread. I think we’re still two steps behind in how we’re dealing with it over here, a little ham-fisted in some aspects, a little light in others.
The damage is done in my region. Millions of people went from gainfully employed to jobless (including this writer). Food pantries can’t get enough donations to keep on the shelves. Tens of thousands of people have died, an inordinate amount in my area. Senior citizen homes have been especially hard hit. Nevertheless, we seem to be on the downslope of the curve now. There are calls to start reigniting the economy, by opening up the stores, restaurants, and workplaces. Optimism is on the rise once again. As of today, I only know one person who died of the disease and he wasn’t someone I knew well. I know two elderly folk who I think died indirectly. They were both cut off from their loved ones at care facilities and they both lost the will to live. I hope they’re resting easier now in whatever afterlife they pictured. As for me, I’m physically fit and mentally fraught, but looking forward to better days. Let the word be spread, Tom Hanks is still alive.
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