Imagine the sound of a slow-motion slot machine.

Bing. Bing. Chirp. Toot.

Bing. Chirp.

Bing. Bing. Buzzzzz. Bing.

Like that, for 45 minutes. A dozen journalists seated around a boardroom table, trying to hold a meeting, but more interested, really, in the surreal succession of digital news alerts blowing up their phones.

Justin Trudeau’s wife, Sophie, has tested positive for COVID-19. The mayor of Miami has it, too. Major League Baseball has postponed opening day. Major League Soccer has called off its season until further notice. One sobering announcement after another, all within the space of several minutes. This, I guess, is what a pandemic looks like. Sounds like.

Bing. Bing. Chirp. Toot.

My little sister in San Francisco has quarantined herself. Not from social contact necessarily, although she’s doing that, too — but from news media. And why not? She knows what to do. Hunker down, wash diligently. My other, littler sister in North Carolina kept her three kids home from school Friday. I endorsed the decision. A month at home now won’t hurt their college entrance exam scores in three, five, seven years.

My mom reported a temperature of 99.3. Stay home, Mom. She went out anyway and stocked up and now she feels guilty about it. Half an hour later her temperature was 98.5. Stay home, Mom.

Me, I’m sizing up my pantry. I was never going to get around to eating that case of shrimp ramen instant lunch (just add hot water). Now I might. Same with that edamame spaghetti. I couldn’t bring myself to try it when I brought it home last month. It’s green. Green. Well, it’s edamame — unripened soybeans. What was I thinking? It looks slightly less terrible now.

Twelve-pack case of chili with beans, check. Twelve-pack case of lentil soup, check. Family-size box of Cap’n Crunch with Crunch Berries, check. New wine club shipment, check.

I went to Smart & Final last week to buy fruit and got swept up in the frenzy. What’s up with this run on toilet paper? Gosh, even though I have 128 rolls in my laundry room, I guess I should get more. Too bad: Sold out. The store manager had posted a sign in the frenzy aisle: Limit, four items per customer from this list: T.P., hand sanitizer, sanitary wipes, something else and disposable gloves. The only thing left on the shelves from that list was disposable gloves. So I bought disposable gloves. I drove home with my haul, off-loaded it and then reconsidered. Hey, I’m not walking around wearing disposable gloves. Anybody need a box of disposable gloves? Call me: Four dollars, 79 cents. No, wait: Thirty dollars.


I called a couple of retirement and elder-care homes for a possible story on how they're protecting their vulnerable residents from potential exposure to the coronavirus. Are they limiting visitors to immediate family? Requiring masks? Hosing down guests as they appear at the door?

My first call was to Evergreen Post-Acute Care, a Bakersfield nursing home, which someone had suggested we call.

“No comment to the media,” the phone-answerer said, somewhat smugly, as if she were teaching me some sort of lesson.

Apparently she prefers to explain the rules, whatever they may be, to each caller individually. Lady, public safety agencies send information to the media, en masse, because that’s how the community learns where to go, what to do and what to expect. We, enemy of the people though we may be, serve a useful purpose once in a while.

One useful purpose is blunting rumor. I’d heard that a student at a local institution of higher learning had tested positive for the coronavirus. I called a high-ranking administrator at that school and he was kind enough to look into it. No, no such infections.

That may have changed by this time next week, but as I write this, we still have no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Kern County. It may not happen; I pray it won’t but expect it will. Your favorite local news organization will be able to report a local outbreak, should it happen, with more authority and reliability than your hairstylist.

There goes my phone again.

Bing. Buzzz.

The sound of a pandemic is much more subtle than I would have expected.

Robert Price is a digital editor and broadcast reporter for KGET-TV. His column appears here on Sundays; the views expressed are his own. Reach him at or via Twitter: @stubblebuzz.

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(18) comments


Where in these most troubled times is John Stubbe with his latest Modest Proposal?


Thank you Mr. Price. Perfect piece. Very relatable.


This is the way the world ens, not with a bang, but with a whimper. TS Elliot

She Dee

Even if this virus turns out to be a slow invader, I wonder how many people will be on the death counts due to STRESS? Nothing is worse than going to the store to find empty shelves & long lines...especially for older & disabled people! I hope every county has a good supply of body bags on hand, just in case the SHTF!

All Star

Dying is part of being a human being. We all have to go sometime.


Oh. Sooo deep. Studies show those who use that phrase are actually quite worried about their mortality and cowardly tendencies were sure to race to the fore in the event a real-life situation arose that might put them in real peril. Sleep well my friend. That knock at yer door just might be The Grim Reaper virus.


What studies?

Masked 2020

hopefully its just a week or ten of mass hysteria and then everything can get back to abnormal ........


"...back to abnormal..". Too funny.


Gee, and i thought Bobbie was gonna have something astute . . . instead of "TOOT" . . . obviously from his 'throne' . . . ! Did anyone else call Walmart and Albertson's to ask how many layoff's there were . . . with the "GREATEST ONE-DAY BUYING SPREE ON RECORD" filling their cash registers like never before . . . as they await the next delivery for those hardy buyers who obviously ignore "DON'T ASSEMBLE HERE AS WE CHECK ALL CUSTOMERS FOR FEVER AND OTHER SYMPTOMS!" . . . or whatever else "fills your cart" . . . !

Jeepers Creepers, Sportsfans . . . !


From the website of the Kern County Superintendent of Schools Office: "The students of Kern County face many challenges; 73% are eligible for free and reduced lunch and 30% of children live in poverty. Many parents work in jobs that do not provide paid leave for emergency childcare". So in other words, let's be politically correct and ignore the fact , students sitting in close proximity in large groups are basically living in a "petri dish" environment waiting for the COVID-19 to infect a great number of our children. This isn't a question of if , but when this happens.


The blind and just plain dumb “leaders” of Kern reveal just how ordinary and NOT brilliant or courageous leadership Kern has. Vomit-caliber snail-lace closing school eateries bars concerts etc. The dumbest County on the map. Watch the death totals too the nation because if stubborn refusal to halt spread.


It is embarrassing how some people are acting. Hoarding bottled water and toilet paper. Grow up and get a life.


Especially (pop-up) "In-Your-Face" Bobbie (thought he changed jobs) . . . ! I'd yawn . . .if it weren't so 'fist-clenching' . . . over . . . and . . . over . . .slump . . .


Those who stocked life saving provisions SHALL live. Others shall perish. So it is YOU that should have planned and are fated to follow your own advice. But in a different context: that of desperation for survival. Adios Amigo


What ? Stock up ? Good one.

What is wrong with you people ? Never seen so many odd humans. Yikes...


Yeah, they say 8 weeks. You dont want to catch it? Dont go out. Smart people stocked up a month ago.


Right on.

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