hazmat 0320For Gunnison County it got real yesterday, with our first reported case of covid-19. Although Fortino was mocked by his co-workers in the morning for relaying this, by the afternoon he was the recipient of apologies as the county’s public health director issued a statement through an assortment of channels such as Facebook, the local media, the chambers of commerce and the senior center.

A woman in her 40s who had traveled abroad is “presumptive positive,” which I think means waiting for a second confirmation of her test. She is currently isolated and cooperating with officials on whom she might have come into close contact with.

Now, I was last in a grocery on Sunday, and don’t know that I went down the paper products aisle, so I can’t tell you you when the run started, but Bob’s niece, in the area for a ski vacation, stopped by the house yesterday evening and showed Lynn her photo of the completely wiped-out aisle in City Market. No toilet paper, no paper towels. It’s like Whoville after the Grinch’s visit, apparently.

I went to the Paper Clip, our stationery store (they probably haven’t been called “stationery stores” in decades), on Monday to see if it was our fax machine or the recipient that wasn’t working (answer: our fax machine), and came back with two canisters of bleach wipes and four bottles of Purell. Deb said they had just gotten everything in that day, and it was flying off the shelf as fast as they could stock it. She also said that her boss had found the same sanitizer they were selling for $3 on eBay for $50, so they were limiting per-customer purchases in an effort to discourage reselling. (But I do have some Purell that could be yours for the right price.)

Yesterday most of what I was encountering was still scorn for what is perceived as panic and fuss over not much of anything, but I did read a couple of columnists with cogent explanations.

David Von Drehle, who earlier this week said this: “Some of my best friends are Democrats, and they have many admirable qualities. But from the standpoint of pragmatic politics, let’s be honest: They often resemble the Three Stooges marching through a field full of garden rakes,” yesterday took on the task of explaining why covid-19 was to be feared.

It’s because, he said, particularly during flu season, our medical system is already fairly maxed out, and any sort of new disease, or resurgence of an old one, can easily swamp resources. (I’m typing while listening to the news, and on top of coronavirus, Colorado has at least one ski resort battling a mumps outbreak, with 26 Keystone employees testing positive.) If your hospital has seven ventilators and an eighth patient shows up needing one, then you have a crisis.

Mr. Von Drehle recounted, perhaps third-hand, an Italian medico detailing how he was standing in an emptied-out hospital wondering what they’d done — and then suddenly the hospital was inundated with virus patients, taking over every ward and places like operating rooms.

Which brings us to Megan McArdle, who offered up math to explain how everything can look fine until it’s too late: if you have a type of lily pad doubling its population daily in a pond, and it fills the pond on Day 48, on what day is the pond half full of lily pads? Fortunately, she didn’t make me guess, but just gave me the answer: Day 47, just one day prior.

Her point being that one lily pad/virus case might not seem a big deal, nor maybe even two or four or eight, but some day there’s going to be a doubling that suddenly becomes a big number. And then you’ll have to hope there’s room in Mr. Von Drehle’s hospital for everyone.

Which now has me pondering the nature of “quarantine,” an abstract application to an entire country a few days ago, now slightly more of a possibility here where I live.

I can think of plenty of things to do here at home, although most of them involve unpacking boxes stored at two off-site locations. Would I be allowed, in the event of a quarantine, to go get my boxes and bring them home? Am I okay to take my dog, and me, out for walks if I promise not to stop and talk to anyone?

I’m good on toilet paper for awhile, and frankly don’t understand the run on paper towels. And I think Lynn and I have enough food to survive for a seven-year quarantine.

I read an article somewhere once, a long time ago, about a couple who decided they should eat everything they already had in their house before buying any more food. Whichever one of them was writing the article reported that while they ate some strange meals, they went months before everything on their shelves and in their freezer got consumed.

Even after we toss out everything taking up space that’s too old for consumption (although I should not be mentioning yet another communicable disease), Lynn and I technically should not need to set foot in a grocery for the better part of a decade. I may have to source a dairy cow for my milk, but we’re already growing our own potatoes in unplanned fashion in our pantry, which apparently isn’t dark enough for the local spuds we got back in October.

Hopefully I don’t have to conduct this experiment, nor find out what all is entailed in a valleywide quarantine. County officials so far seem determined to keep the population informed and provide clear protocol (call your medical provider before you go to the hospital), and I believe our state’s governor stands ready to declare a state of emergency and provide provision for people who can’t afford to go without a paycheck if business has to shut down.

So cross your freshly washed fingers that we don’t get to that point and bear in mind that ancient military advice: discretion is the better part of valor. Don’t forget karma, either, so don’t be selling your sanitizer above market price.

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