SEVERE WX : Flash Flood Watch - Wind Advisory View Alerts
CLOSINGS: View Closings

When coronavirus fears threaten big gatherings, remember this

Article Image

As Japan pro baseball's biggest team takes the field, their 55,000 seat stadium is completely empty. It is the eerie new normal for sports in Japan as the government tries to stop the spread of coronavirus in time for the 2020 Olympic Games. CNN's Blake Essig reports.

Posted: Mar 4, 2020 10:31 PM
Updated: Mar 4, 2020 10:31 PM

As new cases of coronavirus arise in the United States (with a handful of deaths already recorded in Washington state), and amid a largely inept federal response, many organizations are facing a question: Can we still gather?

Leaders of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference, which was set to potentially bring more than 10,000 people to San Antonio this week decided to keep the event on, spurring AWP co-director Diane Zinna to resign in protest. SXSW kicks off in 10 days, but a few big companies have pulled out.

Organizers have said the festival will go on -- a message public health officials in Austin reiterated Wednesday -- but another virus outbreak could change everything very quickly. Google canceled its largest annual event. More than a dozen other companies have canceled, postponed or made planned gatherings online-only.

In the midst of a global outbreak, these cancellations, postponements, and venue changes seems responsible. Companies, organizations, event planners and attendees have tough decisions to make in the coming weeks and possibly months, as they are charged with balancing the importance of in-person connection with the emergency of a potential pandemic.

When the federal government is failing so spectacularly at cultivating the trust that it will handle this growing crisis properly, the responsibility falls on private citizens and sectors to protect ourselves and each other.

But relying on companies and citizens to stop an epidemic is an awfully scary prospect.

Yet, there is much to lose by removing opportunities for in-person interaction. As magical and life-changing as the internet is, there is no true substitute for connecting with other human beings face to face. Human beings are animals, and like any animal, much of our communication is subtle -- not done via the words that come out of our mouths (or via our typing fingers), but in our facial expressions, body language and the subtle signals we send and receive.

When we interact in person, we tend to mirror each other, again connecting in a subtle way that is not replicable online and fueling positive emotions. Physical touch, like that from a handshake or a hug, builds trust and warmth.

But as we know, physical touch also can spread coronavirus.

In a public health emergency like this, it's crucial not to panic. In the face of a different kind of epidemic of loneliness and isolation, we must be thoughtful about where and why we promote physical isolation and online interactions over in-person ones. There is a cost to seclusion, and technology does not negate our fundamental human need to connect as human beings have connected for the entirety of our existence: in person.

But having thoughtful conversations about the value of in-person connection doesn't require always defaulting to the in-person. Right now, we face a crisis of leadership in the midst of a serious public health threat.

We have a President who appears more concerned about his image than the public's wellbeing, who "systematically dismantled" the very government programs and preparedness mechanisms that would have been able to manage this outbreak, and who doesn't seem to understand what a clinical trial is or the difference between a treatment and a vaccine, let alone seem capable of intellectually traversing the complex landscape of what exactly to do here.

It's a terrifying moment, realizing that some of the people in charge of keeping us safe are falling down on the job. And so it is now up to us -- and our corporate bosses -- to make responsible decisions.

When there's so much we still don't know, and so many ways in which we have been and will be failed, it's prudent to be conservative in our choices. This means, yes, avoiding large gatherings, especially ones that have people from all over the country flying in, interacting, and then flying back home. That's a recipe for the spread of a serious, so far poorly-controlled disease.

And while we're taking a look at how the federal government is currently failing us, and how we're reliant on the decision-making power of self-interested corporate leaders, it's worth pausing and thinking about the health risks faced by -- and in turn, the health risks that will be posed by -- the many American workers whose jobs don't involve plane travel and conferences, but still have to show up for work.

The warehouse workers who ship your Amazon packages. The call center employees who answer your questions. The food service workers who make your salads and hamburgers. The Uber driver who takes you home from an appointment. The delivery people who bring items directly to your door (and the doors of a lot of other people).

If these folks get sick, can they call out so that they can recover -- and so they don't spread illness to others? Too often, the answer is no: Calling out means lost wages, which means rent not paid, food not on the table, school supplies not purchased, bills not paid. Going to the doctor might mean racking up medical debt you can't afford.

That's another area where we need concerted, consistent and decisive federal action. Even putting aside the concern of basic humane treatment of others in a prosperous society, it's a public health risk to force workers to choose between protecting themselves and others by staying home when they're sick and being able to feed their families.

The most significant public health threat we face? It's not shaking hands. It's not conferences. It's not even this President. It's our lack of federally mandated paid sick leave, combined with a health care system that makes seeking treatment potentially financially devastating for too many Americans.

If you're scared of coronavirus -- yes, skip your conference. But potentially pandemic diseases only threaten to get worse. How we deal with them is fundamentally a political question, and it's on the ballot in November.

Huntsville
Scattered Clouds
72° wxIcon
Hi: 73° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 72°
Florence
Overcast
71° wxIcon
Hi: 73° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 71°
Fayetteville
Broken Clouds
72° wxIcon
Hi: 73° Lo: 68°
Feels Like: 72°
Decatur
Few Clouds
72° wxIcon
Hi: 73° Lo: 68°
Feels Like: 72°
Scottsboro
Broken Clouds
73° wxIcon
Hi: 73° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 73°
WAAY Radar
WAAY WAAY-TV Cam
WAAY Temperatures

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 160380

Reported Deaths: 2713
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson23573377
Mobile16994316
Tuscaloosa10462140
Montgomery10352198
Madison942298
Shelby750465
Baldwin671269
Lee657165
Calhoun464761
Marshall442651
Etowah434151
Morgan422335
Houston419334
DeKalb349228
Elmore324653
St. Clair304042
Limestone293631
Walker283793
Talladega271437
Cullman255725
Lauderdale233842
Jackson219417
Autauga208231
Franklin206432
Colbert206032
Blount197225
Russell19603
Chilton190432
Dallas188127
Coffee180711
Dale178952
Covington175929
Escambia174931
Chambers136847
Clarke136617
Pike134514
Tallapoosa133987
Marion110331
Barbour10429
Marengo102622
Butler101241
Winston94013
Geneva9217
Lawrence86933
Pickens86918
Bibb85015
Randolph83516
Hale77730
Cherokee75614
Clay75312
Washington75112
Henry7236
Lowndes71628
Monroe65510
Bullock65017
Crenshaw60930
Perry5956
Fayette58913
Cleburne5739
Wilcox57012
Conecuh56513
Macon53920
Lamar5085
Sumter47421
Choctaw39312
Greene34616
Coosa2093
Out of AL00
Unassigned00

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 251774

Reported Deaths: 3207
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Shelby36855568
Davidson32175341
Knox1295692
Rutherford12143115
Hamilton11952110
Williamson723556
Sumner6230112
Wilson478560
Putnam449957
Montgomery427558
Out of TN417134
Madison385180
Sullivan384648
Bradley364123
Washington361553
Sevier340823
Maury340738
Blount340436
Robertson264044
Hamblen249548
Tipton240623
Unassigned23306
Dyer228535
Gibson219249
Coffee194326
Hardeman190933
Greene182154
Obion181123
Trousdale17778
Bedford175320
Anderson172714
Dickson172219
Fayette170825
McMinn167337
Lawrence166520
Loudon165311
Cumberland162327
Wayne16067
Carter159834
Weakley157926
Jefferson157522
Monroe148629
Warren146110
Lauderdale145117
Henderson142626
Hardin141622
Macon135725
Roane13467
Franklin130522
Haywood130528
Hawkins123225
Overton123218
White120014
Johnson11667
Carroll115826
Marshall115611
McNairy114428
Rhea113018
Cocke109714
Cheatham107912
Campbell104412
Bledsoe10264
Smith100514
Lake9883
Giles98636
Fentress92611
Lincoln9253
Crockett87620
Hickman81015
Henry80912
Marion79410
DeKalb75117
Chester73515
Decatur66711
Grainger6174
Grundy57811
Union5493
Claiborne5346
Polk52713
Jackson4596
Humphreys4574
Unicoi4453
Morgan4447
Cannon4272
Benton4269
Houston42517
Lewis4225
Clay41015
Scott3945
Sequatchie3572
Stewart33811
Meigs3306
Perry3295
Pickett2769
Moore2712
Van Buren2102
Hancock1213

Community Events