Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Dispatches from the COVID-19 wasteland

Fake-ish news: A reporter’s account from the initial days of outbreak while traveling home to see family


March 12, 2020

I land in SeaTac and already feel the oppressive presence of the coronavirus. My phone buzzes on my thigh as I turn airplane mode off and a podcast alert displays the headline “The Coronavirus Outbreak in Washington State.”

Blaring red coronavirus headlines streak across rows of television screens throughout the terminal. I envision the virus swirling through the air around me and smeared across surfaces including the counter where I eat my avocado breakfast burrito. A black light would reveal constellations of microscopic horrors.

I hear coughs all around me. Deep guttural coughs. Wet coughs with audible spray hurtling from mouths. Rapid-fire coughs that stutter and then prolong into crescendos of exasperated fever coughs as the faces of the infected turn red as they strain to regain their wheezy breaths.

And then I cough. Good God.

I blindly succumb to the reflex to touch my face, conscious of the warnings from CDC health experts only after I rub my nose.

Walking through the C gates I see masked travelers and recall news accounts telling readers not to wear facemasks unless they are diagnosed with the novel coronavirus, that healthcare workers need them more than the public. You greedy, selfish bastards, I think to myself as I approach a travel store, scanning the healthcare products in search of a mask for myself. No luck.

A woman in the corner is rigorously sanitizing her hands. Another cough somewhere behind me. I can’t stop touching my face. And then I see everyone doing it. Scratching. Rubbing. Picking. Why do people touch their faces so often? A sort of epiphany occurs. I realize people exist solely for viruses to reproduce in. It’s your crazy world, coronavirus and I’m just living in it. I am a virus machine.

I touch my face.

A busker performs. I give him the few bucks in my wallet. I wonder, as the stock market continues to plummet, if the U.S. dollar bill will be no more valuable than CVN fire starter.

Because the virus knows it still needs some of us around, it makes me take my first trip to the bathroom with plans to scrupulously wash my hands for at least 20 seconds. As the automatic soap dispenser hums, I now wonder about the proper protocols for hand washing. Does the 20 seconds include rinsing, or soaping only? A thorough rinse takes at least 5 seconds. The urge to touch my face has never been more pronounced. An impatient line forms behind me.

My plane finally boards and I am in a window seat next to a large man, whose midsection spills across the armrest and into my seat, jamming me into the wall of the plane. He wears a neck pillow and is relaxed with his eyes closed. Or is he tired? Lethargic? Feverish.

Coughs from in front me, from behind me and to the side of me. To make matters worse, the safety briefing has not yet occurred, and someone has already passed gas.

My face erupts in a galaxy of sensations. I force my trembling hands to grip my thighs as constellations of itches and tickles dance across my face. Three black holes of nostrils and mouth suck in the airplane’s recycled, flatulence-and-covid-19-laced air into the abyss of my vulnerable lungs.

I wrote this hoping that it might make a few people laugh, because I believe humor is a good pressure-relief valve. While the writing attempts to find humor in a paranoid person in the depth of panic, I do believe there is reason to take the virus seriously, especially now that the World Health Organization is classifying the spread of the virus as a pandemic.

Roughly 97.5% of those of us who get sick will be fine, but the virus will kill some people, like the 19 from the Kirkland, Washington nursing home. Imagine it sweeping through Haines Assisted Living or the senior center and chances are we would have some deaths on our hands. And that would be tragic because we can reduce the risk of something like that, as long as we are prepared and not complacent.

Also, I am convinced that we are virus machines. Just look at how we spread Facebook memes.


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