Coronavirus: New Rules of Non-Engagement

by Kerry Dougherty

On Wednesday morning I did something I almost never do as a professional blogger: I put on pantyhose.

Too much information? Sorry. Trying to lighten the mood a little.

The occasion that demanded such finery was the annual Virginia Beach Mayor’s “State of the City” address, an event loaded with  Chamber of Commerce types, politicians and various power brokers. Mostly middle-aged men and women dressed for success.

I couldn’t sport my usual attire: yoga pants and a T-shirt.

Once inside the cavernous hall at the Convention Center I found my table. Luckily, there were three empty seats. I selected one in the middle hoping no one would sit next to me. I wasn’t worried, though, I had hand sanitizer and planned to disinfect myself several times during the lunch and speeches.

The others at my table were interesting people. We chatted, listened to the mayor and then I left. No glad-handing or networking for me.

By the time I got to my car, it seemed the rules of engagement – or non-engagement – for the coronavirus had changed.

There was a bulletin on my phone saying the University of Virginia was shutting down its Charlottesville operation and telling kids not to come back from spring break. The university president urged students with apartments off grounds to stay with their parents. Classes would resume online.

Whoa. Didn’t see that coming. Seems we were now being told to avoid congregating in classroom-sized crowds.

Great, I thought, as I started my car. I just spent two hours in a room with about 1,000 people. What are the chances no one in that hall was infected?

Zero, I’d say.

I’m not really faulting the mayor for failing to cancel his big day. Attendance wasn’t compulsory. The event was set months in advance. Cancellation fever hadn’t yet struck.

This simply illustrates that the rules for trying to contain this virus are changing. One day it’s OK to be in a large crowd as long as you don’t touch. The next you’re supposed to stay six feet away from others. Before we know it, we’ll be wrapping ourselves in Saran Wrap to go to the supermarket.

While our behavior is changing, the facts about the virus haven’t. We know that in most cases, it causes a mild illness.

As a former English major, I’m as entitled as anyone else to have a theory about the virus. Here it is:  Chances are this coronavirus has been in the U.S. since January – maybe December – when people were still traveling freely to China. Prior to the travel ban on Jan. 31, thousands landed at US airports from mainland China every day. Many were Americans returning from vacations. Others were Chinese tourists or businessmen and women.

Isn’t it possible that some of us who had colds or the flu this winter may, in fact, have had mild cases of COVID-19? Is it inconceivable that some Americans who died of what was diagnosed as pneumonia, may have been early victims as well?

The virus seems to be highly contagious and able to survive well on surfaces. It’s a threat to those over 65 with underlying health conditions.

Many folks I care about fit that description. I don’t want anything to happen to them.

But there’s a danger – economic and social – of acting in haste.

For instance, colleges have cancelled sports for the rest of the school year and March Madness is going to take on a whole new meaning with the tournament cancelled.

Would it have killed the NCAA honchos to still hold Selection Sunday so we could see who would have made the tourney? Couldn’t they hold out the possibility that the hugely popular event might simply be postponed a few weeks?

And what were they thinking at NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis when they scrapped the College World Series, which isn’t scheduled to begin until June 13? That precipitous move is going to cost Omaha an estimated $70 million. The danger of large gatherings may be past by then.

Why not wait a few weeks and see what’s happening with the epidemic?

Before closing public schools, officials should think long and hard about the ripple effects of such drastic measures. Children don’t seem to be at risk from this virus and working parents will be scrambling for childcare. Is it really worth the disruption? Plus, children who receive free lunches could go hungry while they’re out of school.

One organization that was in no hurry to act to make even minor common sense changes was the Catholic Church. On Wednesday the Bishop of Richmond finally ordered chalices to be packed away, holy water fonts emptied and parishioners to stop shaking hands.

About time. Some of us have been begging for these simple public safety measures since January when the virus was in its infancy.

The Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia has suspended services for two weeks. I like their way of thinking. Take it a couple of weeks at a time and see what’s happening with the disease.

I wish they were running college sports.

This column was originally published on

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5 responses to “Coronavirus: New Rules of Non-Engagement”

  1. djrippert Avatar

    You don’t close schools just because the kids might get sick. You close schools because the little dearies are also walking petri dishes for disease and potential carriers. It also seems that the experience from China is that children have a much higher fatality rate from COVID-19 than from a typical American flu. While the death rate for children is vastly lower than for adults (particularly older adults) it is still very high vs a usual year.

  2. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    ‘Take it a couple of weeks at a time and see what’s happening with the disease.”

    Excellent advice. Meanwhile, be calm. And use this time of distancing to greatest advantage – to overwhelm and defeat bad habits, to vigorously exercise and strengthen good habits, including those long neglected or forgotten, and to mend and heal close relationships, including those long neglected. Then we will emerge from this period of uncertainty and loss far stronger than before.

    1. djrippert Avatar

      Taking it a couple of weeks at a time is what the K-12 school districts that are closing are doing. They haven’t shuttered for the rest of the year. They’ve shut down for one, two or three weeks. Early Spring break.

  3. johnrandolphofroanoke Avatar

    Dr. Williams up in Loudoun County is really catching it for calling school off until March 23rd. I must say it took some guts to be the first big school system to call it. Interesting how the schools will remain open for meals should students want them or need them.

    1. djrippert Avatar

      Good for Dr Williams. Loudoun may have been the first big school system to temporarily close in Virginia. Elsewhere, many entire states have closed their school systems. Worst case – this virus peters out and you look a bit foolish.
      In that event, you cancel the planned upcoming Spring break, recover the days and finish the year. People will be mad through about the Fourth of July and then they’ll forget about it. Even Trump and his gang are talking about a complete shutdown and insisting there is NO CHANCE Coronavirus has peaked yet. When egomaniacs start getting scared everybody else should start getting scared too.

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