Editor's Notebook: Life in the age of the coronavirus

We are living in what is sure to be a historic moment in time. Every single human being on the planet is impacted by the coronavirus crisis.

It’s a formidable enemy. People can have it and show no symptoms for two weeks. Its devastation is unpredictable. Initially, the word was that it was deadly almost exclusively to older people and those with underlying conditions. While this is still predominantly true, it’s not an absolute. A young person with no underlying condition can be killed by the coronavirus. A 90-year-old nursing home patient can recover from it.

At this writing, there is no vaccine. Until there’s another way to combat it, the only known option that works is hibernation and simply staying away from each other.

We in Los Altos are doing a pretty good job, from what I’m observing anecdotally. Residents are giving one another wide berth on sidewalks and paths as they head out to exercise or shop for necessities. The empty streets around town are a testament to residents’ taking the shelter-in-place order seriously.

Obviously, it’s not easy to do. We still need to venture out of our respective “caves” to gather food, pick up prescriptions and put gas in the car. And we’re social animals – polite waves from afar are poor substitutes for hugs and handshakes.

As we work from home and try to remain calm, the glut of information on what we’re supposed to do pouring out on the airwaves and online is intimidating and often contradictory.

Up until just recently, we were discouraged from purchasing and using masks, told that they would not only have little impact, but also would take away from those who really need them – the sick and the doctors and nurses attending them.

Last week, the nation’s top medical experts were putting out a new message: Masks should be worn out in public – for everyone.

We also were told early on: Don’t hoard. Shoppers should only buy what they need for a few days. The supply chain would recover and there would be plenty of toilet paper for everyone.

Now, experts are recommending people limit the risk of exposure by shopping as little as possible. When we do go shopping, they advise, buy enough goods to last for two weeks.

Here’s another note of caution: Coronaviruses love refrigerators. The low humidity and 40-degree temperatures are ideal environments, it turns out. A 2010 study on two similar viruses showed they could survive nearly a month in such conditions. High heat and humidity were a different story – the survival rate was mere hours. This revelation has prompted health officials to urge people to wipe down every single food container using alcohol or bleach solutions.

So far, I’ve touched on only the basic health aspects. The economic toll has the potential to be more devastating for some than contracting the virus. Will many of us face such lifestyle upheaval that any recovery could be months away?

Our best options at this point are to follow orders, take one day at a time and know that conditions will improve and life will return to normal. We’ve overcome pandemics before. We will overcome this one as well.

Bruce Barton is the Town Crier’s editor-in-chief.

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The Town Crier welcomes letters to the editor on current events pertinent to Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and Mountain View. Write to us at 138 Main St., Los Altos 94022, Attn: Editor, or email editor Bruce Barton at bruceb@latc.com. Because editorial space is limited, please confine letters to no more than 200 words. Include a phone number for verification purposes. Anonymous letters will not be printed.

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