Imagine the sound of a slow-motion slot machine.
Bing. Bing. Chirp. Toot.
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.
The sound of a pandemic is much more subtle than I would have expected.