It wasn’t a deep cough. It was the kind She offers when, in a conversation with strangers, I’m about to say something stupid and unsettling.

Then there it was again — this time a bit deeper — and one by one, heads, including my own, with eyes peering over their scarves, turned toward the offender at the very back of the line.

We were all in a row at the post office. Folks were heavily scarfed and gloved, hoodies up, and it wasn’t even cold. As I moved to the counter, I could see that the lady behind the offender and the young woman in front of him, put her smartphone to her ear, mumbled something, turned and moved hurriedly out the door.

Maybe she was late for a date or had to go to the ladies’ room. I know better.

It was the cough.

We are now in what the talking heads call the “new normal” where all coughs, even from someone choking on a chicken bone, are reasons to flee the area.

All of this because a Chinese gentlemen in Wuhan, China, had a bat for lunch. I hope it wasn’t at Starbucks. Do they have Starbucks in Wuhan? Are bats on the menu with mocha lattes in Wuhan? See how hard I’m trying not to be funny and failing?

Yes, the first draft of this piece was full of jokes about the virus. I’m now on the fourth draft, and it’s a hundred words shorter. But I won’t go full out with advice. I’m waiting for advice from you.

This just in: they have changed the name of the virus from coronavirus to COVID-19. And then it turns out there is a real company with that name. At first everyone laughed. Now they’re not.

This just in No. 2: Hundreds of thousands of beer drinkers have reportedly stopped drinking Corona beer just because of the name. Seriously, I’m not making any of this up. Who knew beer drinkers read labels?

The late night comics thought that was hilarious. But when Corona beer sales start dropping and people get laid off, the giggles will stop.

Relatives in Florida and St. Louis tell me that there are folks who are avoiding their favorite Chinese restaurants. Now, that’s panic.

And get this, some Americans are sniffing their (made in China) smartphones. An old friend in Hollywood sent this. “PhoneFresh Disinfecting Screen Wipes — for your Camera, Phones, Smartphones, Tablets. $5.95 on Amazon.” That’s silly, but I ordered one.

Last night the number of coronavirus cases in the U.S. stood at 71. This morning, as I write this with my television in front of me, new cases have popped up in New York and Florida. I’m not warmed by the news that the West Coast, where all my family reside, is the hardest hit and growing.

My daughters are still calm. They, like most of us, have been through the Hong Kong flu, Ebola scare, MERS and SARS. They grew up with earthquakes that would terrify you. This year, they went about their lives while watching friends’ homes burn to the ground. They’re children of the palms, pools and serial killers.

They are not comforted by watching Bernie and Biden crowds standing in the snow, touching their faces and coughing into the air.

They add that business at Los Angeles Target and CVS stores is brisk, with items like canned foods, shampoo, Clorox, bottles of Purell, Mr. Clean wipes and oh yes, face masks, are flying off the shelves.

Locally, I’ve only noticed two residents wearing gauze face masks — one in Shaw’s Market, the other at a gas pump.

I don’t think they’re going to catch on in central Maine. We’re people of snow and salt.

This is not good: As I prepare to hit send on this piece, Dr. Matt McCarthy of NewYork-Presbyterian was just interviewed on MSNBC, and everything he just said changed all the words and numbers I’ve written. I’m sure by the time you read this, they will change again. Stay tuned and hope for funnier news next week.


J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer. 

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