Hi! Sooooooo... about this coronavirus thing: It’s serious! Yes and absolutely! But would you mind if I offer one itty-bitty teensy-weensy smidge of advice on how one should comport oneself during this possible crisis? Great! Here ya go: DON’T GET WEIRD ABOUT IT.

It’s really important during scary times to make a conscious effort to look at the bigger picture while simultaneously pulling one’s head out of one’s ass. Example: If you’re reading headlines about how the virus is spreading and people are dying, and your first response is to run to the grocery store and buy up every single roll of toilet tissue? THAT’S GETTING WEIRD ABOUT IT. Or say you pick up a cold—BUT! You’re not coughing or experiencing shortness of breath and you’re under the age of 65. And yet you still go screaming to the emergency room, thereby taking necessary attention away from actual victims? Well, folks... THAT’S GETTING WEIRD ABOUT IT. (Oh, and just so you know, “getting weird about it” is not a symptom of coronavirus—but it is associated with having your head up your ass.)

Let’s face facts: If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you won’t be permanently harmed by the coronavirus. Most Mercury readers are youngish and relatively healthy, so it’s not you I’m worried about. The unfortunate truth is that whether we’re talking coronavirus, economic downturn, war, or electing an evil, narcissistic president, we (the privileged ones) are generally not the ones experiencing the majority of the suffering. It’s those who are under-insured, under-employed, and under-housed. And by GETTING WEIRD ABOUT IT, you may be unknowingly making their situation worse.

Here’s how: By buying out all the store’s food, medicine, or hand sanitizer when you’re not even sick (instead of waiting a couple of days for the supply to be restocked) you’re crapping all over the people who are actually in trouble and might actually need those things. (Fun fact: Correctly washing your hands works better than hand sanitizer, and it’s way more affordable. However sanitizer does smell good, so I get it.)

Another bad idea: Staying at home when you’re perfectly healthy instead of living your life, because you’re all panicky about being around people? YOU’RE GETTING WEIRD ABOUT IT, and you’re putting the less fortunate in danger. Sure, we should absolutely follow the advice of the Oregon Health Authority (OHA), and if they say “stay home,” then for the love of god, STAY HOME. However, until then, don’t forget about the people who depend on their jobs at local restaurants, bars, music venues, and movie theaters—and if you suddenly decide to stay away, these places can’t afford to pay their employees—which means they get laid off, making them even more susceptible to illness because they no longer have the benefit of insurance. It could make a bad situation exponentially worse for not just you, but the entire community. [UPDATE MARCH 14: When I wrote this column almost two weeks ago, I had the feeling I may need to amend it somewhat due to progressing circumstances—and so here I am! The COVID-19 virus has now developed and spread to the point where it's probably no longer safe to go out to public spaces where you're closer than three feet away from potentially infectious persons. The chances of you—a healthy person—picking it up and taking it along with you to god knows where, infecting god knows who is greater than ever. So be smart, stay away from close-knit public spaces as much as possible—but by all means help those businesses (and more importantly, their employees) who are going to suffer from your absence by purchasing gift certificates that you can use when we're all better. Thank you, and who wants to bet $5 I'll have to update this column again?—Steve]

So if you’re healthy, use the common sense I know you have—keep washing your hands, and if you do feel sick, or if going out could put a vulnerable family member in danger, then stay home. But otherwise? Let’s focus on looking out for each other. It’s a stressful time, and it’s okay to be scared. But if you want to make this coronavirus situation better for everyone and not just yourself (and I know you do!), keep those hands squeaky clean, heed all advice from the OHA, and live your life as normally as possible, while looking out for those who are less privileged and in far more danger than you. Oh, and STOP GETTING WEIRD ABOUT IT. (Also stop double-dipping chips into the guacamole—that’s gross and weird in any scenario. And stay away from my lip balm!)

Yer pal in optimal health,
Wm. Steven Humphrey
Portland Mercury