What to do When the Coronavirus News is Scary

When you’re a parent, life is basically a nonstop train of potentially worrying things. It starts from the first moment you find out you’re going to have kids and you start worrying about whether you’re taking the right prenatals or the potential impact of the margaritas you had that may or may not have been before you conceived even though you know in your heart they’re most likely the reason you’re pregnant to begin with. 

Then there’s worry about all of the ingredients in our mass-produced food; worry about whether your kids are ever going to potty train or end up wearing a Pull-Up to graduation because you failed to properly execute the Cheerio method; worry about the long-term social and psychological impact of social media. Worry about everything from whether your child is making friends in school to whether the polar ice caps will melt and plunge the planet into an apocalyptic wasteland, which, granted, would render your student loans void, but would also leave your children and your children’s children foraging for botulism-free canned food à la The Walking Dead in distressed clothing like hipsters. 

Enter COVID-19, AKA SARS-CoV-2, AKA the novel coronavirus, AKA this year’s well-deserved media frightfest. And in a world where even before Covid 19, the news was scary even on a good day, it can be hard to sift through all of the stories and information from the main news outlets, let alone the amped fears of the community. 

Although for the most part, Covid 19 may seem pretty low on the priority list of Things to Worry About when you’re living in a place that hasn’t yet seen a confirmed infection, the map of U.S. infections is starting to fill in like a BINGO card more by the week. Except instead of winning two tickets to all-you-can-eat breadsticks and side-eye from Barbara, this BINGO promises a prize basket filled with possible quarantine, scary statistics, and the kind of deep nasal swabbing that makes your eyes tear up.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, Covid is slowly creeping into our lives in other measurable ways from canceled travel plans to stock market dives.

Bringing home the direness of the situation, families of children with special health needs have posted online about difficulty obtaining medical masks they need every day as stores run out of them owing both to escalated fears about Covid and the closed ports in China, where many of those masks are manufactured. 

It’s absolutely valid to be concerned about Covid from many angles, just as it’s completely valid to feel frustrated and concerned by the response to it from the most reactionary among us. Both of those reactions are completely reasonable.

To help you ride out the scary news wave, here are some completely reasonable things you can do to keep your family and those around you safe:

Put down the mask and back away slowly.

Medical masks are all this season’s hottest accessory right along with wrist scrunchies, tiny purses, and bestickered Hydro flasks, but like the low-rise jean trend of the early aughts that brought you a deep and abiding remorse as soon as you learned the phrase “muffin top” and deduced you had one, medical masks are better left to someone else. In this case, the people who actually need them for people who are sick so they won’t spread their illness. 

Not only are medical masks useless to prevent Covid infection, but they might actually be the reason you become infected. Any viruses they filter are going to get on the mask, and when you take it off, you’ll be spreading everything on them to yourself. Yikes.

Practice social distancing.

There are many among you, my middle child included, who find the concept of social distancing to be a purely blissful idea. 

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Arthur is more than happy to maintain social distancing.

Covid travels by a droplet from an infected person, which we in turn inhale and become infected by. Try not to think too hard about how gross inhaling droplets from other people’s mouths is— or maybe do—and focus on keeping a physical distance between yourself and other humans. 

For a crash course in how not to practice social distancing, check out this interview by a guy who had just been released from quarantine after returning from Wuhan. During the interview, he repeatedly coughs directly on his hand and at one point drinks from his young daughter’s water bottle only to give it back to her in a Starfleet-level facepalm moment straight out of a yet-unmade blockbuster horror film.

Social distancing actually includes a broad spectrum of measures beginning with what’s known as “self-shielding.” This means keeping a meter distance, approximately three or more feet, between you and anyone who is coughing, sneezing, or looks like they might be viral. This could also mean opting out of crowded spaces like crowded elevators, which is fine by me because elevators are terrifying boxes of forced awkward social interaction. 

In lieu of close contact with other people, consider adopting the friendly but not-too-friendly elbow bump, which was a hot trend during previous outbreaks of swine flu and Ebola.   

Do the Dracula sneeze.

You know that thing you’re supposed to do where you sneeze or cough into your arm? That’s actually called the “Dracula sneeze.” I find it criminal that I had to write an article about a pandemic before learning this, but there you have it, folks. Use the Dracula pose when you’re coffin. It’s the new dab.

Stay home if you’re sick.

It feels like this should be a no-brainer, but it’s far too common to see people “toughing it out” when they’re sick. Believe me, you’re not proving to anyone what a hard worker you are. You’re most likely just spreading germs around and working at less than your best performance level. And don’t tell me you don’t have a Netflix backlog to attend to. Those episodes of Pose aren’t going to watch themselves. 

Besides, in the age of Uber Eats and Amazon next-day delivery, there’s never been a better time for staying in bed glued to the television. As a matter of fact, I think I feel a cough coming on right now. 

Wash your hands, Stan.

I keep seeing memes and comments about this, but I honestly believe most people know to wash their hands and do it. However, you most likely work in a job where you’re not able to go on frequent handwashing breaks, so grab a Costco-sized sanitizer and stick it in your workspace. I actually keep little alcohol wipes all over the house because I live in fear of what’s growing on my kids’ electronic devices. 

In general, if we’re being completely honest with each other, children are basically walking petri dishes. Interestingly enough, they don’t seem to be getting very sick from Covid, much to the bafflement of doctors and scientists. Fewer kids than adults are coming down with it, and those who do are generally showing milder symptoms

But much like the chickenpox, they can still carry it and make adults super sick, so teach your little potential vectors how to properly wash their hands, not that rinsing off business they do with their teeth. Ahem.

Here’s a weird little video instructional guide to proper handwashing to share with your kids. Sorry about the nightmares in advance. 

Be sensitive to others’ fears and feelings.

It might be tempting to comment that people “shouldn’t be too worried about coronavirus because it’s not really any worse the flu” or note that “coronavirus mainly kills older and immune-deficient people.” I’ve seen both of these on social media recently. 

While it’s true that for most of us, seasonal flu is a more likely risk than Covid, it’s very fair to find Covid scary as heck since it has a higher fatality rate than flu and is more contagious. And while your odds of contracting seasonal flu are actually much higher than those of contracting coronavirus, saying it seems a bit like saying, “You shouldn’t really worry about plane crashes. Your chance of a fatal car crash is much higher.” Why would you even say a thing like that??!

And mentioning that Covid only affects the elderly or infirm is only comforting to those who don’t have aging or immunocompromised loved ones and super awful to say to those who do. As this VOX piece argues, people are worried for good reason.  

Don’t lend credence to misinformation.

We’ve all seen the conspiracy theories getting passed around the Internet, and they can really suck you in. Conspiracy theories are weirdly comforting because they give us a reason, no matter how messed up, for something that otherwise seems senseless. 

Modern forensics is such that we’re able to actually trace the virus to its origin point even if we don’t quite understand the details of original transmission. We also know that coronavirus is zoonotic like SARS, which originated in civet cats, and MERS, which comes from camels. Historically, human-animal transmission has been how quite a few nasty pandemics started. See also: bubonic plague, anthrax, bird flu, and Ebola. 

And in this case, that point of origin is a crowded urban market where animals and humans were in close proximity and the pangolin is considered the primary suspect.  What’s a pangolin, you ask? It’s basically adorable, that’s what. 


I said pangolin. It’s not always about you, penguin.

What we don’t need is people putting less faith in their government’s strategy for containment. But you know who loves that stuff? All those sneaky trolls who messed with our last election, that’s who. Not the cute little Anna Kendrick kind, either.

Also: miracle cures and panaceas are usually connected to someone making a buck, so be careful about spreading them. Even statistical data can be misrepresented, and if you could cure an illness with a common household item, you bet your sanitizer some company would have patented the pill version.

Keep your cool for the kids.

Most parents are skilled practitioners of the art of keeping their cool when the whole world has gone HAM, so this should be easy for you.

There’s a good chance your kids are going to hear about coronavirus from the other kids at school. It might be wise to engage in a conversation and find out what they know because kids spread some pretty wild rumors, especially those fifth-graders. 

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Playground talk can get the kids all kinds of freaked out.

If you’re looking for good resources for talking to your kids about coronavirus, here’s a guide on how to approach it. Here’s an awesome comic from NPR and here’s a helpful video

A few more things:

  • If you’re traveling or staying in an area where Covid has been identified or the outbreak has spread, you’ll want to up your precautions. If I’m being perfectly honest, I wouldn’t go to a concert in Seattle right now. But don’t let Covid ruin your spring break plans if they’re in an area where an outbreak hasn’t occurred yet.
  • Remember that this is a new illness, and scientists and doctors are learning about it as they go. That means information could change over time, so keep reading the news. 
  • On the chance that Covid does move into your area, you’ll want to stay home as much as you’re able to or at least avoid any unnecessary trips. But between all the tornadoes and flooding last year, it’s not a bad idea to stock up for an unexpected week at home as just a general policy. That includes basics like TP, canned food items, and lots of Twizzlers at my house.  

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Random calming picture of my cats.

Okay, folks. That’s all I have to say on the coronavirus. Here’s hoping things mellow out soon and we can all enjoy a fun summer of road trips where the worst concern is who won’t stop touching who and how many times you can listen to the same Billie Eilish song without screaming maniacally. 

Stay well, thanks for reading, and have a beautiful week in your nebula.

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