The column I'd been working on last week has been preempted by the following word: coronavirus, or Covid-19, whichever word you prefer for the pandemic that has taken over our country and the world.
Admittedly, when news of the virus first became part of our national dialogue, I was one of those people who thought, oh, please, here we go.
Another opportunity for the media to whip us into a frenzied state of panic. We know how much they love a good story, to juice up the ratings. I assumed it was much ado about not-so-much.
Don't get me wrong; I wasn't dismissing its seriousness, but at first I didn't think it would be that big a deal.
Well, let's just say my position on the subject has evolved, especially during the past week. But hey, I wasn't the only one.
Even the President of the United States once poo-pooed the Coronavirus threat.
Early on, Donald Trump likened it to just another Democratic hoax, a desperate attempt to remove him from office after all others had failed. Some of his supporters, especially on FOX News, also played down the seriousness of the issue.
I may not have thought it was a hoax, but I sure wasn'tworried about it. Oh, what a difference a week, or two, makes.
Coronavirus' origins have been traced to a public foods market, where live animals are sold for human consumption, in Wuhan, China.
Leaping from animals to humans, the virus is slowly - well, maybe not so slowly - making the whole world sick. At the same time, the fallout from the coronavirus is sending our global economy into a tailspin.
Still, just this past Saturday, I posted on Facebook how I was not going to lock myself indoors because of the virus, adding that if you saw me out driving about town, to be sure and honk.
I wasn't trying to be flippant, but my observation must have come off that way, as I was mildly upbraided by some of my Facebook friends for my attitude.
I apologized, but still haven't locked myself up completely - not yet anyway.
I'm just afraid things may be moving in that direction for all of us.
No doubt, this is a very serious issue for a lot of people, and I should include myself in that group.
The coronavirus is more dangerous for those in their 60s and older, unlike an even scarier pandemic of 1918, the Spanish Flu.
Its death toll topped 50,000,000, and was especially dangerous for the younger generation, claiming millions of young adults in the prime of their lives.
We're only in the earliest stage of Covid-19. Let's pray we don't end up with the catastrophic number of lives claimed by the Spanish Flu.
Compared to other countries, Italy has been hit especially hard by Covid-19.
Its entire population of 60,000,000 has been placed on mandatory lock down.
To date, the country has reported 25,000 cases, with over 1,800 lives lost. Alarmingly, the number of cases reported in the United States is on a trajectory that mirror the numbers seen in Italy.
That fact alone should give us pause.
Viewers of cable TV news shows, like me, may have seen the images of New York City's Times Square. Those of us who've visited New York know, on any given day, throngs of people crowd that section of Manhattan.
Think New Orleans' Mardi Gras, without the floats and booze-to-go cups. But a friend who lives in Manhattan says the streets there are cast with an eerie pall, as people are staying indoors, remaining in the safety of their homes. Times Square is virtually empty.
Back home here in Hattiesburg, things aren't as ghostly, but our city doesn't feel quite the same either.
Local businesses, for the most part, seem to be functioning as normal, but there is a difference. Several local restaurants are offering free delivery for those who don't want to eat in public settings, to avoid being around others.
Last Saturday, the toilet paper and disinfectant aisles at my Walmart Supercenter on U.S. 49. were laid bare.
Seems a 4-pack of Charmin is worth its weight in gold these days. Uh-oh, am I in trouble again, for my attempt at humor in these times of crisis? Even in the worse situations, though, I look for something good.
While we're out and about, still able to see each other, I've noticed we're talking to each other more, and sharing our experiences with the Covid-19 scare.
At Walgreen's on Sunday, I was standing in a very long line at the checkout just to buy a new toothbrush, the batteries in my old one having died that morning.
One lady in front of me had packs of toilet paper (of course) and several containers of assorted cleaning supplies.
Another lady also had toilet paper and the two were saying to each other how lucky they were to find them. The three of us got into a conversation about why so many people are stocking up on TP. I observed, it's a flu, not a diarrhea pandemic we're going through!
We all laughed. One of the ladies told us her mother is 80 years old, and lives alone.
She wanted to be sure mom didn't run out of life's little necessities during the unsettling times we're living in.
She'd asked her mother to come stay with her for a while but was told thanks, but no.
She wanted to remain in her own familiar surroundings. But she convinced mom to let her stock up on things she'd need, so she wouldn't have to worry. I might have tried a little harder to get mom to join me, but who knows? Her mother could have been exposed to the virus by going to her daughter's house.
My next stop was the midtown Corner Market. There, I was standing in line at the deli, ordering some chicken tenders, while the man in front of me was waiting for a bowl of beef stew. I told him how much I loved their stew, and he agreed. Then we got into a conversation about the coronavirus. I reminded him, "Hey, man, we need to be six feet apart from each other while we're talking!" We both laughed, but hey, these days, it's something to think about.
And okay, here I go, about to get myself into trouble again, but I'm still going to share my story. Seeing the trend on Sunday afternoon's news, with bars and restaurants being placed on mandatory shutdown across the country, I was thinking, how long before it gets to Hattiesburg? I'm going out tonight to have one drink, before it's (temporarily at least) no longer one of life's simple pleasures.
I hadn't visited Keg & Barrel, on Hardy Street, for a while and drove over. They were indeed open and, considering all that's going on, the place was quite busy. I went alone and made sure to maintain a minimal-safe-distance from others. I couldn't help but notice though, a lot of people weren't following the "don't touch, don't shake hands" rule.
I saw one young family, and with them, their son, who couldn't have been more than 5 years old. As they were leaving, the family hugged and shook hands with their friends, even allowing their son to be picked up, receiving a bear-hug from one of their friends. (Oh, my!) The father was very friendly, saw me observing as he smiled, nodding a hello to me. He was obviously a very nice guy, so I seized the opportunity to engage him in conversation.
"Y'all are a little touchy over there," I said, reminding him of the new coronavirus rules we must live by. He agreed, but like me, was one of those people who has wondered about the public's reaction to all this. We did an elbow bump as he left with his family, but I'm betting our conversation will stay on his mind.
On the way out, I ran into one more friend, and waved as I reminded him, no hand shaking, even though he wanted one. "No touching," I said. So after one more elbow bump for the night, it was time for me to head home and place myself into more permanent isolation. (Easy enough for me, since I live alone.)
The coronavirus threat has changed our lives and affects some more than others. I was reminded of that by one of my Facebook friends who lives with serious auto-immune issues, making her especially vulnerable to the virus.
Another Facebook friend has posted, though, the conoravirus threat is a "non-event," no more serious than any other seasonal flu. Like I said earlier, I've evolved quite a bit from that line of thinking. A lot of us have. Even the President is taking this virus a lot more seriously than he did before.
We can't be too careful, and I take as many precautions as I can. Hey, I've been washing my hands so often, I'm turning into a white guy!
Spanish Flu, Hong Kong Flu, Bird Flu, we've lived through and beaten them all. We'll beat this coronavirus, too. I'm just afraid, thanks to the item so many Americans think is most important during this crisis, history may remember this one as the Toilet Paper Flu.
Be safe, Hattiesburg, don't panic, and do keep your sense of humor. It really is good for your health!
Elijah Jones is a proud Hattiesburg native who enjoys writing in his spare time. Email him at: email@example.com.