The coronavirus is here, and it will affect many parts of our lives, though to what degree we don’t know.
What once was a distant, new, at times deadly virus afflicting people way off in Wuhan, China, has now spread across the world to the United States.
The disease has shown up in Illinois, where, as of this writing, four cases have been reported in the Chicago area with many others in the state being “actively monitored” for symptoms.
With an incubation phase that can take up to two weeks, and some of the infected apparently showing few or no symptoms during that time, it’s not hard to see how the virus spreads.
Old images of the way a geometric progression goes from one to two to four to a trillion like a runaway Wile E. Coyote rocket ship spring to mind.
But it’s best to forget such cartoon visions and remember rationally that this is an emerging disease about which not everything is known and that the common influenza, which hits our country every season, kills as many as 60,000 Americans annually. And yet lots of citizens don’t bother to get flu shots. The devil you know becomes boring.
Still, something is up here. And the coronavirus’ unsettling impact on our daily lives, the economy and our blessed world of sport is certain, even if the extent is up in the air.
Already games have been canceled, postponed or closed to spectators around the world in reaction to the virus.
In Japan, spring-league baseball games are played in front of no one. In Dublin, the rugby match between Ireland and Italy in the Six Nations tournament was canceled. Similar tournament games in Hong Kong and Singapore have been pushed back until October.
Italian pro soccer games have been postponed or delayed indefinitely. The world indoor track and field championships, scheduled for March 13-15 in Nanjing, China, have been postponed by a year. The world short-track speed skating championships that also were supposed to be held March 13-15 in Seoul, South Korea, will be held next fall, if at all.
Closer to home, the NBA has sent messages to its players to no longer high-five fans (or foes, one assumes) but to fist-bump instead. Or do nothing.
The huge housewares show scheduled for McCormick Place is taking no chances, either. The event was canceled, taking with it the 47,000 hotel nights that were reserved. Think that affects the local economy?
Even the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago has new standards for priests using the chalice during Mass, parishioners shaking hands (no more), the dispensing of Communion (don’t touch the tongue!), etc.
What a pandemic such as the coronavirus does is remind us of how fragile we are as living creatures. And then it reminds us of how blessed we are to have societal rituals such as sports — for athletes and observers — and how we take them for granted until they’re disturbed or stopped.
“Obviously, everyone is concerned because you don’t want anything like [the virus] to occur, and you don’t want to spread it,” White Sox manager Rick Renteria said after hearing the new guidelines from MLB regarding sanitary procedures for players.
Indeed, where else do Americans come together in such large numbers in such close proximity to one another more than at sporting events? A little paranoia can go a long way in cutting our comfort zone.
College, high school, even grade school games and their ensuing tournaments need to be rethought, or at least be prepared for possible delay.
IHSA executive director Craig Anderson said Tuesday that though the virus is ”a topical discussion item for the foreseeable future” the high school organization has ”no plans to suspend or alter any IHSA winter State Series tournaments at this juncture.” However, Anderson said the IHSA will actively work with health departments and medical experts to keep ”students safe.”
Which brings us to the elephant in the room: the 2020 Summer Olympics scheduled for Tokyo in July. Billions of dollars and the immediate futures of thousands of athletes and tens of thousands of workers hang in the balance.
Will the coronavirus have been brought under control by summer? Indeed, planners think that May is probably the latest that a decision must be made to effectively hold or cancel the Games. Will the disease be considered little more than a nuisance by then, like the common cold, which radio announcer and President Trump favorite Rush Limbaugh has declared — without evidence — it is?
The Olympics have been outright canceled only three times — 1916, 1940, 1944 — during the two World Wars.
Maybe we’ve got a virus world war just starting here. Or maybe a passing sneeze.
Let’s hope for the latter.