This week something nearly unimaginable happened, all around the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 virus a global pandemic. According to my 1974 edition of The Merriam-Webster dictionary (12th printing, 1976), a pandemic is a widespread outbreak of disease. Global, of course, means global.
You can’t use a word in its own definition.
Oh yes I can, Lily, and I have. Lily is my inner fourteen-year-old. When you’re fourteen, you understand that you are going to live forever. When you’re sixty, not so much.
For the benefit of Lily (and all the other inner fourteen-year-olds and English majors out there), global is defined as “worldwide.” This leaves us with a worldwide outbreak of disease. Happy now?
Linguistically, yes, but I’m not happy about COVID-19.
Me either, Lily. In fact, I’m a bit scared. It’s hard not to think about the 1918 flu pandemic, which killed 50 million people worldwide (the equivalent of 200 million people today). The outbreak lasted fifteen months. Think of all the changes we’ve made in these few short weeks (self-isolation, frequent hand-washing, etc.), Cancelled events, schools and businesses temporarily (we hope) closed. Freedom of movement is restricted all around the world and I have a funny feeling we’ve just started.
It’s not that I’m worried about running out of supplies. The eleven years I lived in Prescott, WA, it was a forty-mile round trip to groceries so I learned to stock up. After two years in Walla Walla, the habit remains. I usually have backups of staples (including toilet paper) and make extra sure I have enough pet food to last a couple of weeks at all times, especially the prescription food for Hoosegow who gets crystals in his bladder if he eats the commercial stuff.
Ouch, indeed, Lily. Not only that, if he has a recurrence we’re in for two weeks of administering antibiotics to a muscular, strong-willed cat, which is no one’s idea of fun.
One thing that concerns me a lot right now is hoarding. Shelves all over town empty out quickly these days. Yesterday I was in Albertson’s picking up a few things and noticed the shelf space for Lysol products was entirely empty. How many people have gallons of the stuff squirreled away in their closets? I also wonder: how many people don’t clean and disinfect areas like kitchens and bathrooms except when there’s a pandemic?
Lily, you are the Queen of Interjections. And it is gross to realize that lots of people don’t routinely wash their hands. It makes me wonder what other things these people don’t do. Brush their teeth? Pay their bills? Call their moms?
In Walla Walla there’s a COVID-19 patient from Oregon being treated at Providence/St. Mary’s Hospital. Yesterday, a resident of Dayton, WA, in next-door Columbia County was confirmed positive. Local colleges are transitioning to online classes only. The 2020 Walla Walla Guitar Festival takes place this weekend; lots of folks here are worried that people from the Seattle area who come to the festival will bring the virus with them.
Shortages, fear of people from other cities, cancellations of events, closures of schools and businesses- -it sounds like a low-budget black and white apocalypse movie from the 1950s. So I’ll say this right up front:
Please, please don’t start hating people out of fear. Be kind, be patient, secure adequate supplies without hoarding and use your common sense.
And for Pete’s sake, wash your hands!