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  • Last modified 168 days ago (April 16, 2020)

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COVID-19 is doing a number on us

An epidemic, an earthquake, a damaging hailstorm, a 4½-hour blackout — all that plus snow in the forecast?

If anyone starts hearing the ominous buzzing of swarms of locusts, it may be time to drown them out with a chorus of “It’s the End of the World as We Know It” — or, perhaps, a loud reading from the Book of Revelation.

It has been a week to forget in good ol’ Marion County, U.S.A. But perhaps we shouldn’t. It only seems as if the world is ending. Maybe it’s time to pull the covers down from our heads and realize that, for areas like Marion County, it may only be beginning.

For generations, people have been drawn like moths to the bright lights of big cities. Nowadays a better metaphor might be that they have been herded like cattle to the slaughter.

As this week began, a resident of overpopulated New York State was 21 times more likely to have contracted COVID-19 than was a resident of under-populated Kansas.

Throw out a few urban counties in Kansas — a tempting prospect we’ve long considered — and the numbers get even better.

A person in Marion County is 30% less likely than residents of the rest of the state to be diagnosed as infected by the dreaded and feared virus with its horror-movie acronym.

Numbers don’t lie — though people who cite them sometimes do. A resident of New York State is nearly 30 times more likely to have COVID-19 than are any of our friends and neighbors in Marion County. The situation is even worse for those who live in the mega-congested boroughs of New York City.

In New York State, a resident has one chance in 100 of having tested positive for the disease. In Marion County, it’s one chance in 2,750 — almost the same as our chance of being hit by lightning at some point in our life.

It’s serious but possibly not as dire as media talking heads, mainly from New York City, might have us believe. While there’s one chance in 100 of a New York State resident contracting coronavirus, there’s eight chances in 100 that the resident is functionally illiterate and can’t read whatever the doomsday pundits might write.

True, we haven’t seen the virus run its course yet. New York may get much worse. And Marion County may be merely slow to react, just as it is slow to pick up the latest fashions and trends from the Big Apple. But at some point people have to start questioning, like the cowpokes in an old Pace Picante Sauce commercial: “New York City?!?”

Why willingly choose to live where your elbows become calloused from having to jab into ribs virtually every day just to eke out six inches, much less six feet, of space between you and the coughing Typhoid Mary standing next to you?

In Marion County, social distancing is the natural order of things. Yes, we occasionally get closer. There wouldn’t be many of us around if we didn’t. But waving to the Easter Bunny atop a fire engine is nowhere near as foreign a concept here, where everyone waves to everyone not just six feet but 60 feet away.

A marketing podcast (appropriately teleconferenced) this week made a point that veteran marketers see COVID-19 not as a challenge but as an opportunity.

Consumers have little to do but read and watch right now, and most competing messages have left the airwaves and newspaper columns. Savvy marketers have the audience all to themselves, and the audience itself is bigger and more eager than normal to consume information.

So what’s the message to be? How about forget living little lives cramped in dangerously tight quarters in big cities and consider moving to the wide-open spaces to live big lives to their fullest?

Sure, we have our problems — county officials who stonewall and can’t operate equipment fourth-graders can, city officials who authorize door-to-door sales crews during supposed lockdowns, even people who pilfer catalytic converters from parked cars. We have earthquakes (though mild) and hail and power failures and maybe even snow.

But we also have space to breathe freely without having to worry as much about whose viruses we might be ingesting and which mega-corporations are going to control every aspect of our lives.

There’s a reason 26 bright young journalism students, primarily from Chicago, are being taught by a guy sitting in front of a camera across the street from the courthouse in Marion, Kansas. And it’s only somewhat because the world is shuddering from the fear if not from the fever of a newfound virus.

If we can figure out how to make a few more people realize that, perhaps today’s disease can be a cure for what long has ailed Marion County economically.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified April 16, 2020

 

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