The fear-mongering and panic stations concerning the current coronavirus epidemic are reaching fever pitch. Politicians are accusing each other of failing to prepare for it; pundits are bloviating every which way; and alarums and excursions are the order of the day. In the midst of all this folderol, we find ourselves rudderless. Which way should we turn? Whom should we believe? What should we do?
The short, simple answer is that we should do whatever is in our power and our control to do. If something is beyond that - national health-care policy, hospital staffing and facilities, international implications - then why are we worrying ourselves about it? More to the point, why are we allowing others to infect us with worry about it? If we can't do anything about it; if it's not under our control; then it's not worth losing sleep over it. All that will accomplish is to make us more tired, and less able to cope with what is under our control and within our abilities.
We can make certain simple, straightforward preparations to deal with the coronavirus. We can stock up on essential supplies - food, household necessities, medication - so that we're prepared to endure a domestic quarantine of a month or more. We can find out from our kids' schools whether they're considering closing their doors as a precautionary measure, and make sure we have study and entertainment materials stockpiled at home so our children can learn and play without driving everyone else (and themselves) up the walls with boredom and frustration. We can consider our employment circumstances, and make what preparations we can to live without an income for a month or two if a comprehensive local quarantine is imposed. All these things we can and should do, and continue to do.
We can't do anything about affairs beyond that. We're individuals, small fry compared to national pressure groups. We may be members or supporters of such pressure groups, but individually we won't achieve much. Therefore, let's not worry overmuch about them. If every American did what he or she can do, the nation as a whole would be far better prepared to weather this crisis and come out on the other side at least moderately functional. The more of us that fail to do that, the worse our condition will be in the wake of this crisis.
Oh - and don't let criticism from others prevent you from doing what you can to protect you and yours. I note that some commenters in England excoriated one mother for stockpiling a month's worth of food and necessities for herself and her daughter, calling her "selfish". (Some admitted that they couldn't afford to do the same themselves, which is probably why they were angry and envious.). Sorry, but that won't wash. The US government and countless other emergency relief organizations have preached preparedness for years, officially advising us to stockpile a minimum level of necessities so we can exist for days - even up to two weeks - while waiting for outside help to reach us. Preparing for a pandemic, such as the coronavirus, is no more than an extension of that. We should all be doing it as a matter of routine, not as a last-minute rush!
Other nations are seizing the opportunity to create chaos in markets, seeking their own advantage at the expense of others. The latest examples are attempts by Russia and Saudi Arabia to drive down even further the price of oil, already drastically reduced due to diminished demand for oil as a result of the economic impact of COVID-19. They're trying to knock out the US shale oil industry, seeking to remove its millions of barrels from the market, rendering this country partly dependent on imported oil once again, and making more room for their own exports. They may succeed: but the USA can (and should) retaliate, making them pay for their economic attack on our commerce and industry. I know many Americans are angry at this sort of thing, and rightly so: but being angry about it, and obsessing over it, are two different things. If we can't do anything about it ourselves, let's not go there. Leave that to those who can do something about it. (However, in all fairness, let's also admit that the USA has sought to impede Russia's fossil fuel dominance in Europe. Russia's meddling against us now is, in a sense, retaliation for our earlier meddling against Russia. What goes around, comes around . . . )
It's also important to remember that for the vast majority of those who are infected with COVID-19, the consequences will be very minor. Over 80% of those catching it appear to have symptoms no worse than those of the common cold, or a mild dose of the flu. Only about 20% will be worse affected, and of those, half to two-thirds may require some form of hospital treatment. If we're in a high-risk group (as both my wife and I are), then sure, we need to take additional precautions, and perhaps self-quarantine earlier and more rigorously than others to avoid infection. However, that's an individual choice, and not something that's under the control of the authorities. We need not (and should not) wait for them to make a decision before we act in our own self-interest.
Besides, in the end, no-one gets out of this life alive. I could be hit by a car when I run errands later this morning, or drop a kitchen knife on my foot and get blood poisoning from the resulting injury, or have another heart attack (I've had two already), or . . . the list is endless. Yes, the coronavirus could kill me. That's a risk I can't completely eliminate. So are all the other risks I mentioned earlier. I'd rather it didn't happen, but since I can't control that, I may as well get used to the idea. I'll do what I can to protect myself against it, but the rest is in God's hands, as far as I'm concerned. (If you don't believe in God, well, I guess you're on your own!) As St. Padre Pio put it in a simple prayer: "My past to Your mercy; my present to Your love; my future to Your providence." In the end, for people of faith, that's all there is.
In short, in anything and everything to do with the coronavirus epidemic, let's make the Serenity Prayer of Reinhold Niebuhr our own:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.