Spare these, and let thy time be when it will

At thy contagious darts, that wound the heads
Of weeping friends, who wait at dying beds.
Spare these, and let thy time be when it will;
My bus’ness is to die, and thine to kill.
Gently thy fatal scepter on me lay,
And take to thy cold arms, insensibly, thy prey.

Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea

It’s hard not to be of a somewhat macabre mind when looking at two disasters that are converging this week: if, in a novel, the swine flu outbreak had arrived in the midst of a global financial crisis, the reader would either (a) dismiss this as a preposterous coincidence, or (b) prepare for more post-apocalyptic excess, like zombies or mutant hordes. Though I suspect we’ll see a rise in the number of confirmed cases over the next few days, I hope that we avoid an outbreak of pandemic scale (and also avoid the zombies and mutants).

Still, I wonder what impact the unemployment numbers will have on the spread of the disease? I could imagine them being a brake on the spread of the flu; nearly 10% of the work force is circulating through offices and factories far less than they did a year ago, keeping their germs to themselves and not picking up any new microbes. Indeed, as the flu ravages society, leaving places of business empty in its wake, the unemployed may become the vanguard for saving civilization, the last best hope to rebuild society after the collapse. Perhaps the stimulus package ought to contain some guidestone construction.

But gallows humor won’t be very helpful in averting disaster. Good handwashing (and remember, as my second-graders remind me, to sneeze into your elbow, not your hand!) and staying home when sick have already been suggested; and the U.S. government has acted quickly to release resources. Looming disasters are best met promptly, forcefully, and calmly; perhaps we’ve learned at least that much from the recent past.

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