I just touched my face.

I’ve done it 20 times this morning since I started keeping track, not counting the times I did it reflexively without even noticing.

So far, I’ve scratched my cheek, nose and eyebrow, rested my chin in my palm (like “The Thinker”) and again with a modified version where I rested my chin on my thumb knuckle while drumming my fingers on my lips. I’ve also rubbed my eyes and my forehead a few times.

Are ears part of your face? Because I haven’t been counting rubbing them, which I’ve also done.

Ahh. Just scratched my nose again.

This is the kind of thing that makes me realize how woefully unprepared I am to respond to the arrival of the novel coronavirus, something that the Centers for Disease Control and prevention informs us is something that is not a question of “if” but “when.”

At this writing there have been reported cases in 22 states. The fact that most of the deaths so far are connected to a suburban Seattle assisted living facility could just be because they are better at diagnosing it and not because the disease is contained there. Without testing we don’t know where it really is.

The first rules for protection are “wash your hands” and “don’t touch your face,” which sounds a lot easier than it is.

Oops, I just put my pen in my mouth. That can’t be good.

It’s a habit I’ve had since kindergarten at least. I was able to kick it for a while by smoking cigarettes, but I’ve gone to pretty much full-time pen sucking since about 1986. I haven’t heard any public health officials recommend that pen suckers take up smoking, but at least the cigarettes come out of the pack clean, unlike the spitty pen that’s now on my desk.

I should say, I’m not really afraid of dying of coronavirus. I live in a big country, and I understand that even if millions of people get sick, the chances are decent that I won’t know any of them.

I’m pretty healthy. But I don’t want to pass it on to people who are more at-risk than me, and I wonder if hundreds of millions of other people will take this seriously enough to slow its spread, because that’s what it would take.

I am capable of washing my hands frequently. I’m no Howard Hughes, but I can up my game. Not touching my face, though? Impossible.

And that’s not the only problem. I’ve worked in newspapers for almost 30 years and I don’t recall a single time when someone stayed home because they had a cold. The flu maybe, but a stuffy nose? No.

Where I work, we have always been told to stay home when we are sick, and we have paid sick days. But the newsroom culture rewards martyrs. There are never enough people around to do the job, and you know exactly who will have to do the work if you aren’t there to do it. People would be embarrassed to call in with the sniffles.

But what if a deadly disease starts out looking like a cold? Will there be as much social pressure to stay home as there is now to be a hero?

And what if I am laid up at home for a while? I took a quick inventory of the family food stores and it doesn’t bode well for a long quarantine.

Our refrigerator used to be overloaded with food, but then the kids grew up and moved away, and it has been empty more often than not ever since. (I’m not really sure why, since the girls never bought a lot of food or ate much, but that’s the way it is.)

I looked in the cupboard this morning and found one jar each of peanut butter, almond butter, pickles and capers along with two cans of anchovies and a box of macaroni and cheese left over from when the kids were kids.

I could probably scrounge up some cans of tomatoes and coconut milk if I went down to the basement, but not much more.

Is everybody more prepared than me? I doubt it.

I don’t know what it would take to have most Americans believe the same thing about an invisible virus and change their behavior all at once before it’s too late.

I’d be a lot more confident in our response if I could just stop touching my face.

 


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