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Business as Unusual: Notes on a Pandemic

Even if no one you know catches it, you’ll start to worry if you’re not already flushed with paranoia. At first, everything seemed normal. It was hard to understand all the attention given to it when it was half way around the globe. We’ll be ready for it when it comes, you thought. Wasn’t Trump telling us it was less concerning than the Flu. So confidant was he that he barred the WHO test for the virus that is used all over the world. Why didn’t he just put a tariff on it, like everything else? Instead, he encouraged pharma friends to develop tests and vaccines (based on publicly-funded research, as usual) that they could make dear and make a killing (literally). It’s the economy, stupid, not the citizens. All the smart people are investing in drug companies and medical suppliers.

It’s certainly going to be a mixed bag for shoppers and shopkeepers. Once the hording panic peaks, stores will restock and things will seem normal for a while. But then, as absentee workers and collapsing imports rupture supply chains, warehouses will start to empty out and then retail outlets—including pharmacies and grocery stores—won’t be able to restock. Rationing would be the next step, followed by calling up the National Guard to distribute surplus foodstuffs and medical supplies.

And should farmworkers pick crops while sick, the virus could end up in our salads. On raw chicken and meat it’s just another nasty pathogen that cooking should destroy, but does anyone know ways to wash fruits and veggies that kill it? Consider the millions of chickens who have perished from avian influenza or were slaughtered wholesale. Might this virus infect farm animals? After all, it seems to have originated in bats, and bats are mammals. Let’s not even talk about it.

All restaurants in my state recently came under orders to not seat customers; it’s take-out only wherever you go, and there may not be many eateries to go to before long. So if you go out for lunch, you’ll likely eat it alone (probably outdoors) before returning to work, should you have a workplace to return to. Don’t forget to carry your sunblock along with your hand sanitizer. Now there’s an idea: how about a sanitizer that’s also a sunblock?

Fifty years ago, they didn’t sell sunblock. People used tanning oils and lotions to get as toasty as possible without burning. Our economy stupid took care of that. First they sold us on refrigeration and then air conditioning, the technology that made Las Vegas and traveling to it possible, along with no plans for disposing of the treacherous fluorocarbons inside them when compressors failed or were junked. Free at last, all that compressed gas wafted into the upper atmosphere to neutralize the ozone that absorbs ultraviolet rays. While that pollution has largely been stopped thanks to public pressure, international cooperation, and legislation, there has been a lasting ozone deficit (in the stratosphere, unfortunately, not down here where emissions from internal combustion engines generate enough ozone to sicken people). And so, sunblock became a necessity of (outdoor) life. Now hand sanitizer is becoming an even more urgent necessity. Producers of sanitizing potions are having a field day and Lord knows how many Aloe vera plants will die for our sins.

Medical Science killed Smallpox and Polio (almost), arrested the AIDS epidemic, found a vaccine for Ebola, and will likely conquer COVID-19 too, but until then it won’t be pretty. It certainly will happen faster if our Denier-in-Chief gets it, as he may have at a White House press conference with the Brazilian bastard Bolsanaro and his Press Secretary, who had it. He and his Veep were right next to him. The White House has since announced that Trump tested negative, but would they admit it if he hadn’t?

So there is still hope that Number 45 and 45.5 may be done for, and should that happen, the Speaker of the House gets to step into the top spot. But it’s a little-known fact that the US Constitution doesn’t require the Speaker to be a member of the House of Representatives. They always have been members, but that’s a rule waiting to be broken in these fraught times. Nancy Pelosi hasn’t telegraphed her plans for that eventuality. She could resign her post at the last moment and nominate, say, Hillary Clinton or worse for the Speakership. Think about that as you stand in line at the pharmacy, six feet away from the person in front of you, carrying sanitizer, tissues, and a tape measure, and just saying no to anyone asking to use your phone.

This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but with a whimper. Keep sane and carry on.

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Geoff Dutton is a reformed geek turned columnist, novelist, and publisher hailing from Boston who writes about whatever distortions of reality strike his fancy. Turkey Shoot, his novel interrogating the lives and times of members of a cell of terrorists in Europe, recently received an award for Courage in Fiction. You can find more of his writing here and at Progressive Pilgrim Review. He welcomes correspondence at geoff-at-perfidy-dot-press.

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