I fear the coronavirus

Locally, I’ve already noticed an inchoate class consciousness driving reactions at different levels of society. Bulk-shopping stores like Costco were picked over early. High-end grocers like Whole Foods were ransacked of frozen vegetables this weekend. (An in-law of mine said that shoppers were peering into his cart and at the bags of frozen lima beans as if they might discover a new trove in the store or pilfer his when he wasn’t looking.) But the mid-tier grocers were still well-stocked — except for hand sanitizer. An EMS worker I know is about to work a 24-hour shift. She joked: “Usually, they [the patients] try to rob me of narcotics, now they’re trying to rob my cleaning supplies. What a time to be alive.” Prepared people are preparing. High-information people have started to stockpile. And those who know scarcity are avoiding it by whatever bonkers means necessary. But the great middle is slow to accept the idea that the normal, gentle tide of American life can develop a sudden deadly undercurrent that pulls them down…

But the thing driving the crisis isn’t death itself, but the collapse of health-care systems. To take the example above, if the current numbers are reliable, there are another 50–90 bullets among those 700 rounds that could send me or my classmates to the hospital, needful of a respirator or intensive care. And there aren’t that many respirators and ICU beds available. Once a hospital becomes that crowded with critical and serious cases of bilateral interstitial pneumonia, other surgeries get deferred or canceled, or they are performed by exhausted and demoralized doctors. That’s when the death rates start to spike. That’s what happened in Wuhan. And that’s what’s happening in northern Italy now.

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