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Close to Home: A new companion — doom

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For the past few weeks, I have wavered between a sense of impending doom and a feeling of hopeless resignation. Yes, classic symptoms of coronavirus fear, an epidemic of its own sweeping across the nation.

To my wife’s utter dismay, I am the doom-and-gloom guy.

I hoped the experts were wrong. They were not. The coronavirus is here. It will be worse than many people expect. And we’re not ready. It is a test, and our nation been partying at keggers instead of hitting the books.

“It’s not as bad as the flu,” said one of my friends dismissively. I cringed.

“I’m healthy, so I’m not worried,” another friend said, brushing it off. I bit my tongue.

“It’s the media’s fault, creating a panic,” I overheard at the airport. Warning ignored.

I read the news and listened to podcasts, taking it seriously.

Not seriously enough, however. Even though I told a friend four weeks ago I feared the market could tank 30%, I still didn’t sell enough stock in my 401(k) to cushion the blow.

Two days later, I listened to a New York Times podcast. An expert described our fate as the virus began its travel from China. A chill went down my spine when he put the statistics into context. At least six of my 300 friends and family might be dead in a few weeks, if I wasn’t included among them.

In the days that followed, we almost canceled our week-long vacation to Hawaii. It turned out to be a wonderful diversion of outdoor hikes, tropical jungles, stunning waterfalls, friendly turtles and sunsets enjoyed from happy hour tiki bars.

Yet I woke up each morning solemnly reading the news, feeling like there was a war going on we were all ignoring it.

When we returned, I was shocked to learn my stepson was still going to a Las Vegas construction convention with 130,000 attendees. I kept expecting its cancellation.

I sent an email to the organizers.

“I hope you realize your decision to continue the conference will likely result in the spread of the coronavirus and the deaths of dozens of people,” I said. “A selfishly unpatriotic act.”

I didn’t tell my wife. She’s had enough of me and my high horse. But I was apparently not alone. The last day of the conference was cancelled.

I finally gave up, hit the reset button and resigned myself to the fact I will probably get the virus and shouldn’t worry so much. I joined a friend at the pub for a beer, another soul who isn’t taking life seriously.

“Why do you want to live so long, anyway?” he asked.

But if we aren’t taking the virus seriously, we aren’t paying attention. Newsweek opted for a blunt message. “Young and unafraid of the coronavirus pandemic? Good for you. Now stop killing people.”

The point is we might pass the virus to the father next door, the grandmother at the market or the immune-compromised bartender at the neighborhood pub.

The coronavirus is not the flu. It is a virus that imbeds itself deeply in the lungs, causing bilateral interstitial pneumonia. It is about 10 times more likely to kill the average host. Infected people in their 80s are dying at a much higher rate, about 15%. It turns out healthy young people are dying as well.

America’s been asleep at the wheel.

Testing to identify the extent of the virus? A huge failure.

Policies to create social distancing? A conference with 130,000 people just over a week ago.

Travel bans? Better to identify and treat every case in the country early, and screen travelers.

Italy has a two-week head start on the U.S. in terms of the spread of the virus. The country is in lockdown. Hospitals are overwhelmed.

There aren’t enough beds, doctors or ventilators to care for those who could otherwise be saved. Harried and exhausted doctors, nurses and janitors work around the clock, making heartbreaking decisions between saving a 40-year-old father of two or a 60-year-old with high blood pressure, while others await help in the hallway.

We’ve been drinking from the cup of hope, as our president tries to wish away the virus. “Relax,” he told one reporter.

College has gone online, so now our whole family is home.

Turns out the treatment for a serious case of coronavirus fear is exercise outside or binge watch Netflix with a cold one from the kegerator.

I packed my mountain bike and cross-country skis and headed to our vacation rental home in the mountains to self-isolate. At least I will be one less person to infect the family. If I’m not too distracted by the plague of COVID-19, perhaps I can finish writing my book.

Tobias Young lives with his family in Petaluma, where he is currently writing a memoir. He worked 17 years as a reporter for The Press Democrat.

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