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Pandemics and terrorists have much in common: Their advantage lies in fear

When the Utah Jazz became the focus on a Wednesday that offered an alarming stream of COVID-19 breaking news, it had a special and disturbing resonance.

Jeff Duke loads items into the trunk of his car in the Costco parking lot in Murray on Thursday, March 12, 2020. Many shoppers were stocking up on items as the coronavirus spreads.
Jeff Duke loads items into the trunk of his car in the Costco parking lot in Murray on Thursday, March 12, 2020. Many shoppers were stocking up on items as the coronavirus spreads.
Ivy Ceballo, Deseret News

These are extraordinary times. Life’s normal and comforting background noise seems distorted and disoriented, throwing routines off kilter and replacing them with fear and uncertainty.

When the Utah Jazz became the focus on a Wednesday that offered an alarming stream of COVID-19 breaking news, and when that quickly resulted in the suspension of all NBA action indefinitely, it had a special and disturbing resonance.

Sports are life’s playground. They provide casual chatter at work. They connect strangers instantly through mutual points of interest. Utahns love to rally around the Jazz, to agonize with their every turnover and rejoice in every dunk.

Yet despite how seriously people may take the outcome of games, the steady undercurrent is one of diversion. These contests have nothing to do with politics, war or taxes. They are as playful, carefree and unserious as Rudy Gobert touching microphones and recorders after a news conference.

But pandemics have no humor or sense of playfulness. They have no respect for traditions such as St. Patrick’s Day parades, no reverence for graduation ceremonies, church conferences, governmental bodies or the daily routines of school and work.

Pandemics and terrorists have much in common. Their advantage lies in fear and uncertainty, in the sense that they are too large to overcome and too dangerous to survive.

They rob people of perspective, pushing them to feel as if they wander in a thick forest of disturbing news flashes and never-ending doom.

All these are false perceptions. The attacks of 9/11 could not destroy the nation, and neither will the COVID-19 virus destroy life as we know it.

Franklin Roosevelt’s words in his first inaugural address have become almost cliche, but they are true and comforting: We have nothing to fear but fear itself. Fear can be paralyzing. It envisions outcomes that surpass logic. It leads to inaction and despair. It causes people to retreat.

Knowledge and perspective, on the other hand, are empowering. They lead to calm assurance and prompt positive action.

What Utahns should do now is trust in the experts and in the institutions working to protect the public. On Thursday, Gov. Gary Herbert announced that, for the next two weeks, all gatherings in the state will be limited to 100 or fewer people.

This may create some hardship. It may cost money. But it is vital that Utahns obey.

This is not the time for political finger-pointing or partisan advantage. It is a time for unity and responsible action.

The virus should not be taken lightly. It is serious. But the best precaution is to wash your hands regularly and to avoid touching your face. Most people who contract the disease will have minor symptoms. Even those with more severe symptoms will most likely recover. Death rates are almost certainly overstated because many people have the virus but don’t know it, and even many who are sick don’t get tested.

And yet, the virus can be deadly, and no one should ignore precautions.

Most importantly, the uncertainty you feel today will pass. Life’s normalcy will return. Public gatherings will resume. Games will be rescheduled. Quarantines will end.

Americans have a remarkable record of rising to their best during difficult times. They form search parties, help neighbors pack sandbags against floods, provide shelter for victims and care for the sick and vulnerable. Philanthropy and charity are hallmarks of American culture and tradition, and this is a source of comfort.

Now is the time for that kind of spirit to emerge. Rather than tremble in fear, reach out and comfort. Even those under quarantine can call someone who needs a reassuring word.

Yes, we mourn for those who will succumb to COVID-19. Those who are most vulnerable deserve the greatest care. Yes, people should take precautions and expect that life will go at a different pace for a few days. Listen to professionals. Arm yourself with accurate information.

These are extraordinary times, but they are temporary.