Flights from airports around the world are being canceled. Cruise ships aren’t allowed to dock. Good luck trying to buy a bottle of hand sanitizer. And even the Italians have stopped kissing.
More than 100,000 people in 90 countries have fallen ill, and, yes, people are dying.
The coronavirus really is a thing. It’s spreading, and even as you’re reading this it is probably snaking its way through a community near you, just waiting for one expelled droplet from an infected person to waft on the breeze right into your nasal cavities.
To quote Friday’s decree from the World Health Organization, “This is not a drill,” folks.
Closer to home, Austin’s crazy-popular South by Southwest festival has been canceled, leaving an estimated 70,000 music, film and tech fanatics in the lurch.
And closer still, the University of Texas Medical Branch is not only holding meetings to educate residents about coronavirus, but it’s practicing what it preaches internally as well.
The medical branch is urging students and staff to avoid all air travel in coming weeks and months and especially to avoid international travel.
Those who do travel internationally must be evaluated for exposure before returning to their jobs or classes. Some will be required to self-isolate for up to 14 days, depending on the country to which they traveled.
The medical branch is suspending visits by international students and other visitors and is considering ways to limit people visiting patients in its hospital buildings. And it’s exploring ways to allow employees to work remotely if people must be quarantined at home.
Even attendance at the medical branch’s Match Day ceremony is limited to students only this year. The annual celebratory event at which fourth-year medical students learn where they will serve their residencies is similar to a graduation and usually includes students’ relatives.
Maybe you’ve been a little flippant about coronavirus. Maybe you’ve been singing “CORVID-19” to the tune of “Come on, Eileen” or scoffing at washing your hands while humming the “Happy Birthday” song in full, twice.
And you can keep doing that. Just also keep washing those hands. Thoroughly.
(Frankly, we’re still kind of stumped as to why people are talking about washing their hands as though it’s a new thing, but that’s a whole other concern.)
Granted, there are mixed messages being bandied about. President Donald Trump said it’s under control. (It’s not.) The World Health Organization said it’s not a pandemic. (Isn’t it? A pandemic is defined as “a situation in which a new virus is causing sustained community-level outbreaks in at least two world regions.”)
Experts are saying not to panic, but at the same time, countries throughout the world are feeling dire medical, social and economic gut punches as a result of the rapidly spreading virus.
Death tolls are rising, but the vast majority of people who contract the virus — well more than 90 percent — experience relatively mild symptoms and complete recovery.
The keywords here seem to be controlled reaction and common sense, both of which sit comfortably in the middle between the extremes of hysteria and willful ignorance.
With the World Health Organization declaring this “not a drill” and our area’s most respected and level-headed medical professionals implementing prevention and containment efforts within their own facility, it’s time.
To prepare, not to panic. To listen, not to laugh it off. And definitely time to wash your dang hands.
• Margaret Battistelli Gardner