An Urban's Rural View

Everybody's Sick of This Virus, Though Thank Goodness Most Aren't Sick With It

Urban C Lehner
By  Urban C Lehner , Editor Emeritus
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Nature marches to its own drummer, ignoring the sometimes horrific cacophony from the world of mankind. (DTN photo by Urban C. Lehner)

It's easy to understand why people think the media is sensationalizing coronavirus. The coverage is wall-to-wall. It seems like newspapers and television talk of nothing else. A good friend who is a journalist covering national politics has stopped watching television news and vowed not to read anything on the internet after 9 pm. He hopes to preserve his sanity and get some sleep.

I share that hope. I hesitate to criticize the media, though, and not just because I've been part of it for five decades. What else is there for the media to cover? In media, as in every business, supply rises to meet demand. As cable news goes all-virus-all-the-time, viewership is soaring. (…) This thing is so overwhelming, so world-changing, it's what everyone everywhere is talking about.

It's tempting to think the threat is overblown. Someone I know pooh-poohed it on Facebook. The common flu has killed more people, he wrote. I didn't argue with him but I thought to myself, "Just wait." I didn't have to wait long

Estimates of U.S. flu deaths in the 2019-20 season range from 24,000 to 63,000. (…) After his Facebook putdown, the White House forecast U.S. COVID-19 deaths will eventually total between 100,000 and 240,000. A subsequent estimate lowered the expected death toll to 60,000, but that assumes we all remain self-quarantined through May, a questionable assumption considering the political pressure to ease. (…)

Coronavirus is giving us a refresher course in the meaning of exponential growth. It doesn't mean "very fast." It means that if you put a grain of rice on one square of a chessboard, two grains on a second and four on a third, the 20th square will have a million grains. The 40th will have a billion and the 64th a quintillion -- 18,000,000,000,000,000,000 grains weighing 210 billion tons. (…)

Coronavirus deaths are progressing along exponential lines. On March 1, the U.S. had recorded only one COVID-19 death and by March 15 only 69. By March 30, it was 3,141 and by April 9, the number was 16,312. (…) At this rate it won't take long for COVID-19 deaths to exceed flu deaths.

The other day, President Donald Trump's coronavirus task-force coordinator, Deborah Birx, urged Americans to do everything they could to obey the guidelines right now. Don't even go to the grocery store, she said. (…) That won't be possible for everyone. At least grocery stores are doing their best to keep people safe, limiting the number of customers in the store at any one time, disinfecting shopping carts and trying to curtail hoarding.

I went to a "senior hour" at the Pentagon City Costco store one day recently. I got there 20 minutes before the 8 a.m. opening but there were easily 200 people already there. We stood in line, many of us in masks and gloves, behind Costco's long carts, socially distancing. The line snaked around the parking lot.

When the store opened, only 250 were allowed in at a time. At the doorway an employee disinfected cart handles. The lady ahead of me at checkout had two 30-roll packs of toilet paper. "One to a customer," the clerk said, taking one away from her.

If some people underestimate COVID-19, others cower in fear. That's understandable. Coronavirus deaths are not good deaths. The physical pain of your lungs drowning in your own phlegm is topped by the emotional pain of dying alone. It's terrible that folks must say goodbye to loved ones on Facetime or Skype.

I continue to think farmers and ranchers are less likely to be infected than city dwellers. If they are infected, they may have more difficulty receiving effective treatment, but they're not as likely to get it.

New York City is the epicenter of this disease because of its population density. Farmers and ranchers practice social distancing every day. As DTN Editor-in-Chief Greg Horstmeier points out in his latest post, they need to keep practicing it. (…)

They aren't immune from the virus's economic toll. Indeed, they're already feeling the impact, big time. They don't deserve this, but with luck, and a little help from Uncle Sam, most can hope to survive the crisis.

The same won't be true for a lot of restaurants, retail stores and other businesses, or their employees. Which will rise faster, you have to wonder: bankruptcies or the unemployment rate? Even when the current stay-home orders are lifted, economic activity won't instantly return to normal. Until there's either a vaccine or a cure, many won't feel safe doing the things they used to do, like attending sporting events and eating out.

Las Vegas, where my daughter lives, has enjoyed some lovely spring weather even as Nevada's economy grinds to a halt. Sunny days, blue skies, temperatures in the 70s -- but no gambling, no shows, no tourism. You can't even play the slots at a gas station or convenience store any more. It's eerie, my daughter thinks. With this pestilence wreaking havoc, shouldn't there be storm clouds overhead?

Thankfully, nature marches to its own drummer, ignoring the sometimes horrific cacophony from the world of mankind. Count that as one source of comfort at a time when we all need all the comfort we can get.

Urban Lehner can be reached at



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