Even for skeptics, coronavirus should be no party

A coronavirus party? Really? Reluctantly, a quick word about ignoring the threat. We don’t know the identity of the new coronavirus patient in Kentucky who Gov. Andy Beshear scolded Tuesday for having taken part in a coronavirus party, a gathering held specifically to flaunt the request of public officials not to gather in large groups as a precaution against the COVID-19 virus.

Beshear did say that the party included young adults in their 20s. He did not give more information than that, and he was right to withhold that. This isn’t about shaming patients, even if they are victims of their own ignorance or arrogance.

The fact is, it could’ve been someone of any age in this state or nation. Coronavirus skeptics abound. It’s not young people arguing that because Kentucky’s hospital beds are not full today that they might not be in a month, or taking issue with any little stat to belittle containment efforts or using the situation to further a political argument.

Of those 1,000-plus people continuing to show up for services at a church in Baton Rouge, La., not all of them are in their 20s.

Who are the COVID-19 deniers and skeptics? They have their own reasons. They’re people who have seen hype build before, only to have it be overblown. Maybe they lived through Y2K. Maybe they’re one of the great mass of Americans who don’t believe anything they see in the mainstream media, having been misinformed one too many times. Maybe they have no faith in the nation’s elected officials. Or maybe they have too much faith.

As they say, “My president, right or wrong,” is like, “my driver, drunk or sober.”

There is, in the American spirit, a bent toward contrarianism, toward individualism. There is a streak of “nobody is going to tell me what to do.”

Let me tell you about a guy named Harry Truman. Not THE Harry Truman, but another one. He owned a campground a few miles from the summit of Mount St. Helens, and he refused to leave that home. He was warned for months, even daily and sometimes hourly as the eruption of the volcano neared. He could see the smoke. But nobody was going to make him leave his place. His colorful, foul-mouthed personality made him popular with the media.

But when the volcano erupted, he burned to death.

It’s all fun and games, folks, until the eruption happens. Having a blast, like those kids in the face of the coronavirus threat, is great fun, until you feel the flames.

Sticking to your guns is a time-honored American philosophy. Refusing to get off the volcano when the smoke hits your nostrils, though, is dangerous. So is playing games in the face of established facts of what this virus does, and how it spreads.

But let’s not, in the media, pretend to not understand why people would refuse to heed warnings. The media, in this scenario, is the proverbial boy who cried wolf. Especially in cable news, but on the networks too, the need to create a breathless controversy every day has conditioned a large segment of the American public to tune out or take it with a grain of salt when they hear another warning.

The most valuable currency in American media today is not engagement – though that is the holy grail for most outlets. The most valuable currency is influence. And there aren’t many people in the media, nor many outlets, nor many voices anywhere, who have influence over a large segment of the American public. There’s more money in courting one side of the aisle or the other.

But the problem with taking a side is that when you reach a situation where truth is badly needed, the only people you can influence are those who believe only what you do. And you’re not really influencing them, but reaffirming what they already think.

I watched New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday give an impassioned, highly detailed and thorough plea for more help from the Federal government.

After he finished, CNN broke out for a panel that immediately started throwing fire at President Donald Trump and didn’t let up. On the other side, Fox had Trump in an interview and failed to press him when he said things that conflicted with the advice of his own medical experts.

Here’s the choice for American media, in a time when level-headed reporting and analysis is most needed by the public – continue to lob the same political grenades you’ve been lobbing for the past decade, or actually pay attention to the substance of the story.

You don’t influence people by telling them what to think. You influence them by showing them the situation as it exists, and giving them tools to make their decisions.

It’s easy to dismiss a talking head blasting the president or speaker of the house. It’s harder to dismiss actual victims of this virus, or medical workers telling their stories, or police officers and first responders who are in the path of this each day.

This thing is no party. None of us knows how widespread it will be. But there’s no denying – even by deniers – the mounting sickness and potential for disaster in New York City. These growing concerns in American cities are real.

Nor is it productive to shout down or otherwise insult those who take issue with some of the measures being taken by state and federal officials. We all need to remember in this time of growing tensions, every angry person could be someone who lost a job, who is worried about feeding his or her family, who feels sacrificed to this unseen virus. And the fear and anger that those things induce can cause all kinds of behavior.

But if you are a skeptic, that’s fine — just don’t endanger others. Your right to do what you want ends where the health of others begins.

Let’s think about the news we’ve heard the past 24 hours, and at least live as if we have some concern for our fellow men and women around the country and world.

1). KARL-ANTHONY TOWNS. The former Kentucky star and current standout for the Minnesota Timberwolves released an emotional video Tuesday night, revealing that his mother has been placed into a medically induced coma while on a ventilator for COVID’19.

His message: “People need to understand that the severity of this disease is real. This disease needs to not be taken lightly. Please protect your family, your loved ones, friends, yourself. Practice social distancing. This disease is deadly. Me and my family are going to keep fighting this. We’re going to beat it. We’re going to win. I hope my story helps you. I send my love to all your families.”

2). A ROYAL PAIN. The virus does not discriminate. Among those who have now tested positive is the heir to the throne of England, Prince Charles. If someone in his position – who rarely has physical contact with the public – is infected, the contagious nature of this virus ought to be well understood.

3). FIRST RESPONDERS AT RISK. At particular risk are police officers, medical workers and EMS workers who find themselves in frequent contact with the public, and with COVID-19 patients.

There are now 211 cases confirmed in the New York Police Department. There are six confirmed cases among Chicago police, and a member of the Detroit police department has died.

Tuesday night, word was reported of a 36-year-old EMT who now is on a ventilator.

Every day, medical workers wade into these situations, hoping there will be enough equipment to protect them, and bracing for much worse.

4). ENDING WITH A STIMULUS. With any luck, workers will get some support in the form of a historic $2 trillion stimulus plan agreed to by the senate. It won’t be enough. But it will be something. The bill should go to the House of Representatives today, but there has been no promise from the speaker to act on it today.

In Kentucky, more business restrictions go into place tomorrow night. The best thing we can do in Kentucky and Indiana is stay in as much as possible, and when out, try to limit contact, preferably to no one, but if we go into stores, take precautions.

In short, act like we have some sense. It ought to be clear, this virus is no party.

“I have been as blunt as I can with young people and some of the misinformation,” Cuomo told reporters Wednesday morning. “You can catch the coronavirus. You might think you are a superhero. You’re really not. You can catch it, and you can transfer it, which makes you dangerous to the people that you love.”

In the end, folks, we can only control ourselves. The stories change in this column, but the facts remain the same. If we stay home, we help ourselves and we help everyone else.

If I’ve heard him say it once, I’ve heard it 20 times, covering Louisville women’s basketball games from near the bench. Cardinals’ coach Jeff Walz has a frequent saying: “I can’t coach stupid.”

None of us can. But we can coach ourselves. Let’s try to keep doing it, and encourage anyone we can to do the same.