Coronavirus world’s great equalizer

Technology connected the world more than most believed possible, but who would expect a disease to unite the planet Earth the way few other things have ever done?

Everyone can identify with everyone else now.

This has happened only a few times in world history. We recently have been reminded of the Spanish flu that began infecting people on a terrible scale in January 1918 and infected 500 million people by 1920 with deaths estimated between 17 million and 50 million people.

Staggering as those numbers are, the Black Death, the bubonic plague of the mid 1300s, was worse. At a time the world’s population was much smaller, between 75 million and 200 million died in Europe, Asia and North Africa. It took 200 years for the world population to regenerate.

The world as we know it — in Seymour, Indiana — is under threat from the coronavirus. In the United States, so many are staying home it is as if they are living in the Bill Murray movie "Groundhog Day."

Matt Nicholson has been mayor only since January, yet he knows no matter how long he serves in the office, he is unlikely to ever confront a time as complicated as Seymour is living through right now.

The city is not running on all cylinders due to the pandemic. COVID-19 dominates daily thought for all citizens, especially for those marooned indoors.

“We also have to keep the city moving forward,” Nicholson said in a recent interview. “You’re kind of stuck.”

Just about everyone is paralyzed in place. We all need food, and yes, toilet paper, so the big outing is shopping at Walmart, Jay C or Aldi.

The most recent unifying crisis of such magnitude occurred when the United States shuttered itself in emergency fashion after terrorists commandeered airplanes and crashed them into the World Trade Center, Pentagon and Pennsylvania countryside on Sept. 11, 2001.

Restaurants and businesses shut down, aircraft were grounded, college and professional sports contests were postponed, if only for days.

The most remote Americans were hunters in the Alaska Bush, who had no cell service or news from elsewhere. As days passed, some expected pickups from guide services. No one came.

When small planes were cleared to fly, they were far behind schedule. The first gesture pilots made was to drop copies of Sept. 12 editions of the Anchorage Daily News to hunters so they could understand what happened while they were removed from societal contact.

Ironically, this March, when it became truly clear how dangerous COVID-19 was to the masses and how quickly it was spreading, the annual 1,000-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race was taking place in Alaska. The trail between Anchorage and Nome, cutting through tiny villages, was probably the safest place in the country. Some mushers did not discover for days about the coronavirus’ lethal nature.

Beyond that small corner of the country, the rest of Americans were all too informed about this pandemic.

Those alive now have never experienced as potent and widespread a disease as the coronavirus. The figures of afflicted and dying are sobering, but the plague and flu were more devastating. Not enough knowledge. Not enough medicine. Not enough medical care.

Lew Freedman, sports editor for The Tribune, occasionally writes columns for the opinion page. Send comments to [email protected].