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Leave it to China to beat us even to an epidemic

I'm not one to dig around the Internet for good deals on stuff, but I came across one the other day that I just couldn't resist. Just look at me, the proud owner of two 1-way tickets to Wuhan, China. I tried to get round-trippers, but the travel agent said I probably wouldn't be needing them. Whatever. Anyway, anybody care to tag along?

Well, of course I'm kidding, I'd travel to the Chernobyl reactor core right now before I'd take a jaunt to China, where they've got contagious germs jumping from pigs to people and horses to humans and monkeys to men and koalas to Communists. Somehow, they say, a new and rare and virulent strain of coronavirus originated in a fresh meat market, mutated rapidly into something more nauseating than the Super Bowl halftime show, and then decided it likes to live in the nasal passages and lungs of organisms that are fond of breathing. I'm tellin' you, that China. They're getting ahead of us on everything these days. Maybe we ought to slap some tariffs on their infected mucous.

Giving credit where it's due, Chinese doctors almost immediately identified this new pathogen strain as something they'd never seen before, and as a reward, People's Republic President Xi Jinping-pong (yeah, no, I didn't look up the exact spelling) gave them all extended stays at the Beijing Barracks. The fact that this new fatal virus originated in China could possibly be bad publicity for the Communist Party, see, so government officials hadn't planned to mention it until the bodies of dead people were piled so high they'd be detectable by passing overhead satellites.

But, thanks to the courageous actions of the physicians, the virus was identified quickly. Even as the first deaths were being reported in cities like Zhijiang and Huanggang, word spread around the globe that an epidemic was imminent. Response was quick, with the World Health Organization (WHO) -- no, not the rock band with Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend -- declaring an immediate emergency, major airlines taking extraordinary steps to cancel flights to and from the Communist mainland, and Nancy Pelosi ripping up Donald Trump's State of the Union speech on national TV. Well, yes, I know, but everyone has their own personal way of reacting to these stressful situations.

In just a matter of weeks, the death toll has now surpassed 1,000, and if the Chinese government admits to that, you can bet it's closer to a billion (I'm rounding). The people who are dying are considered to be traitors to the Communist way, and will not be allowed to get in line for bread and water any longer and instead are being shipped to Hong Kong to see if the virus will also spread from corpses to teen-aged protestors carrying Molotov cocktails.

As of Tuesday, the total number of infected people had reportedly passed the 40,600 mark, which is the threshold at which WHO must issue a statement saying, in effect,'Oh crap. This is bad. Everybody run!' Most of the victims so far are in China, but with today's modern mobility, the virus could spread to all corners of the earth faster than Joe Biden can fall from first to fifth in the New Hampshire primary polls. Joe? The frontrunner? Really? Aren't frontrunners usually like in, say, first? Or is this just some new strategy to blow the election already in February?

Anyway, back to the epidemic, which could become a pandemic, simply, I guess, by changing the first three letters of the word (no, sometimes these things aren't that complicated). An epidemic -- just so you can say you learnt somethin' here this week -- is defined as the rapid spread of a disease through a local community, while a pandemic is a similar spread of contagions but over a much larger area, say a continent, or a planet, or the crowd of photographers who gather at the Academy Awards red carpet event to get an image of Nicole Kidman in a dress made of rainclouds and unicorn hair.

Basically, for our purposes in the U.S., it's an epidemic until at least one American gets it. Then it's a global crisis of unimaginable proportions, which gives major pharmaceutical companies the authority to raise the price of acetaminophen to match the current per-ounce rate of gold. Or lobster. Whichever is higher.

In a major breakthrough just announced, scientists now think they have identified the source of the coronavirus. Based on genetic sequencing of the virus and comparisons of it to past outbreak causes, it is now believed it started with a homely little animal called a pangolin. That's a scaly, runty, ornery, sharp-clawed creature -- no, not unlike some of my recent dates -- and past known coronaviruses carried by pangolins are quite close in DNA traits to this latest disease found in people. That's interesting, and I suggest you dispose of all pangolin steaks and ribs from your freezer, and don't stop to pet any armadillo-type creatures you may encounter for at least two weeks. Or a month. I dunno. I'm just makin' this stuff up as I go.

Of course there are other commonsense measures you can take to avoid becoming a coronavirus victim. First of all, obviously, don't go to the Wuhan Panda Festival, even if you have a coupon for a free egg roll. And if you have to visit mainland China for any reason, you should at least wear a fullbody haz-mat suit, avoid kissing any natives with runny noses, and wash your hands feverishly with diluted acid any time they come in contact with the open air. It also goes without saying - but sometimes the most obvious hints are the most helpful -- don't exchange bodily fluids with any pangolins that look a little run down, make sure all your immunizations are up to date, and if you happen to find yourself sitting in an airplane seat that had anyone named Hon-Su or Wi-Chin sitting in it on the last flight, strip naked, set your clothes on fire, and leap out the emergency exit at 12,000 feet so you don't bring the disease home with you. Remember, if the outbreak is in China, we may write out a $10 check to the United Way, but otherwise, we don't care. If it reaches here, well, then, we're gonna' all have to get on our phones and text each other about it and make Facebook posts saying how annoying this all is, and well, who needs that? After all, it's almost time for March Madness, and how are we supposed to fill out our office pool brackets if everybody's quarantined?

Me, personally, I'm not too worried. Even if the coronavirus somehow finds its way to Wisconsin, I'm a pretty healthy fellow with good resistance who rarely even catches a common cold. In fact, I suppose, my luck, everybody at work will catch it and I'll be fine and I'll still have to go in to the office. I mean, geez, why don't I ever get to be part of a good pandemic?