"Social-distancing" is the phrase of the day, and what it pretty much means is staying away from people while America shuts down, the economy gets clobbered and death seeks out at a million, maybe 2 million, of us. The issue is coronavirus, the fear is contagion and a primary solution is surcease of human contact to the extent of no more sporting events, church services, restaurant visits, school attendance, parades, weddings or even shaking hands.
To top it off there has been a toilet paper panic. Not a historically recognized signal of the end days, but I keep thinking that, in my whole life, I have never seen anything quite like this. Yes, there have been assassinations, race riots, mass murders, terrorist attacks, recessions and more, but not the virtual closure of society. And yes, the 9/11 terrorist attack spurred similar apprehension and confusion but it didn't get quite so personal for most of us, as in being advised not to leave your house.
The virus appeared from nowhere, well, from China, and some people said from the beginning it could be a horror and others said, oh, not all that much, something less even than the flu, although flus kill thousands. Then it became worse and hit Iran and Italy especially hard. Medical scientists informed us that it is highly contagious but mostly mild except for the elderly and people with underlying conditions. For them it can be deadly. So wash your hands, don't touch your face, stay away from any crowd larger than 10 people and consider isolation a virtue.
Some have paid little attention to all of this, especially young people liking to party and knowing they are largely safe except that they can become infected and kill the innocent with a sneeze. But wait a minute. Recent info says the younger crowd can be in danger, too.
The partying is one element of discord and another is President Donald Trump. He pretty much said pshaw about the whole thing at first, and people said, oh, no, he can't be our leader at a time like this. He also made an unbelievable error in a televised speech he gave, saying he would stop trade with Europe. Nope, he was just going to stop travel from Europe. The supposedly intellectual New Yorker magazine, saying the speech was ignorant, inadequate, nationalistic and militaristic, responded that the travel ban would do nothing to affect a disease already here, which is akin to saying that threats coming your way will not hurt you if you are already surrounded by threats.
The European nations themselves have now established travel bans, and Trump has an excellent anti-virus team, one hero of which is Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a past adviser to six other presidents. He has said the ban was a solid move and right now European countries are establishing their own travel bans.
Trump has also been hit for the absence of sorely needed testing kits. But this was the consequence of mishaps in the administrative state and it's being fixed just as our private sector is working mightily to come up with treatment drugs and a vaccine. Right now, Trump is mostly getting along with Democrats and is coordinating with CEOs and governors in the uphill charge.
Cuddling up with this pandemic, naturally, is an economy in havoc because of all the closing businesses and employees let loose one way or the other, no idea when restructuring can begin or if a trillion dollars from the federal government will work as hoped. What we need right now is each other when that is pretty much forbidden except through the internet, although we can have unity if we choose and don't rule out American genius. Hang in there. We can get through this.
Jay Ambrose is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service.