April 2, 2020

Death & Disease

Spectator
By Stephen Tuttle | Feb. 8, 2020

John Altobelli, Keri Altobelli, Alyssa Altobelli, Christina Mauser, Sarah Chester, Payton Chester, Ara Zobayan. Do any of those names ring a bell? Those are the seven people not named Kobe or Gianna Bryant who died in the same helicopter crash. 
 
Like always, we've decided to beatify a famous person because they died unexpectedly and too early. 
 
Most of us, including those now joining the grief bandwagon, know nothing about Kobe Bryant other than he was a great basketball player. And chances are pretty good that if you weren't a fan of the Los Angeles Lakers — the team for which he played for two decades — you believed Bryant was a sullen, ball-hogging jerk. That's how it works when a great athlete consistently beats our favorite team in any sport. 
 
But now we suddenly love him? 
 
This isn't meant to disparage Kobe Bryant. He was, in fact, a great player who will surely be voted into the NBA Hall of Fame on his first year of eligibility. He was a successful businessman and venture capitalist who by some accounts left behind an empire valued at around $2 billion. He was involved in his community and would have been more so, and, by all accounts, was a doting and devoted father. His sudden death was awful.
 
But Mother Teresa he was not.
 
We seem to enjoy this over-the-top grieving and memorializing for celebrities we've never met and never will. Maybe it functions as some sort of collective release valve. Or maybe during the social media era we're anxious to attach ourselves to celebrity vicariously … even in death. 
 
We do a version of this every day with obituaries. We highlight the best parts of someone's life in a sort of posthumous resume, a loving tribute created by someone close to the deceased. The rest of us rarely join in.
 
Somebody said every person should be judged by their finest moment. With celebrities we seem to believe they should be judged as better than their finest moment.
 
Kobe and Gianna Bryant's deaths were terrible, and those close to them will likely grieve forever. But so, too, will those close to John and Keri Altobelli and their 14-year-old daughter, Alyssa; Sarah Chester and her 13-year-old daughter, Payton; Christina Mauser; and Ara Zobayan.
 
We might remember them for a second, too, while we're naming streets for Kobe.
 
                                     *********
 
Speaking of death, should we run for our lives in fear that the Wuhan coronavirus, which can lead to pneumonia, is heading our way? Maybe not. 
 
We first heard about this outbreak in December though doctors in Wuhan, China who had treated patients with the virus earlier and were castigated by local bureaucrats for trying to sound the alarm. By the time the Chinese government started containment efforts it was too late. 
 
We're told this likely started in bats that then infected wild animals that were then illegally sold for food at a fish market. At least that's what the Chinese now claim.   
 
Whatever, it couldn't have happened at a worse time. The Chinese Lunar New Year involves the largest human migration on the planet with at least 400 million people going somewhere, many jammed into overcrowded trains and buses making the perfect environment for the spread of contagion. It does not help at all that the incubation period of the illness is 14 days and people are contagious long before any symptoms arrive.  
 
(The online conspiracy theorists are having a field day with this. The Chinese have some sort of biological research facility near Wuhan so this was an easy dot-connector for those so inclined.)
 
As this is being written, more than 17,000 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed, with 500 deaths. Those numbers are likely to be significantly higher by the time you read this. The World Health Organization has declared a “global health emergency.” Wuhan, a city of nearly 3.3 million, has been quarantined from the rest of the world. We have initiated mandatory 14-day quarantines for anyone arriving from the Wuhan area and placed restrictions on travel there. 
 
All of which sounds threatening.
 
But the United States has reported fewer than a dozen cases of the virus, and all involved people who had been in China. Only two fatalities have been recorded outside of China — one in Taiwan and one in the Philippines.  
 
Meanwhile, last year in the U.S., there were more than 15,000 cases of whooping cough (pertussis) with five deaths. And, so far this season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, we've had 19 million confirmed cases of influenza with 10,000 deaths.    
 
It's good our health officials and politicians are being vigilant in trying to stop the outbreak. But the rest of us should stop worrying and just go get a flu shot.

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