PAT NEAL: Don’t panic, stay calm

Don’t panic, stay calm

BY NOW I think we’ve all had it up to here with health experts telling us not to panic over the coronavirus. The fact is there are no two words in the English language more likely to incite panic in the human species than the phrase “don’t panic.” Unless it’s “stay calm.”

Personally, I prefer to panic early and often at every available opportunity. As for staying calm, that emotion is generally associated with people who don’t fish. I panic at everything: phone calls, the mailbox and writing this column. I know this is wrong, now, but old habits die hard.

Back in 2001 during the dreaded anthrax scare where some nutcase was mailing letters and packages containing a white powdery form of anthrax around the country, I panicked when finding a mysterious white powder in my box of donuts. The good news was there was no anthrax in the donuts. The bad news is that the donuts themselves were a sugar-coated jelly-filled death wish filled with recycled petroleum products and unpronounceable ingredients that every year kills far more people in this country with diabetes, heart disease and obesity than anthrax ever did.

But nobody cares. Death by donut will never make the news.

These days we are sick and tired of hearing about the boring old diseases that nobody really cares about. According the Center for Disease Control the flu accounts for between 12,000-61,000 deaths annually since 2010 but fewer than half of us bother to get a flu shot.

There could be many reasons for this. There is currently an anti-vaccination movement in this country that has allowed the reappearance of diseases that were once thought to be extinct. Measles, scarlet fever, whooping cough and even a form of polio are making a comeback thanks to people’s reluctance to be vaccinated against these diseases.

There are an estimated 552,000 homeless people, which includes 37,800 homeless veterans, in our nation. Living in filth and poverty, they are increasingly susceptible to outbreaks of contagious diseases including typhus, tuberculosis, cholera, diphtheria, hepatitis, Shigella and HIV/AIDS.

These conditions contribute to an estimated 13,000 homeless deaths every year, not counting veterans who, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, are committing suicide at the rate of 20 every day nationwide. But that is not news, not any more than the shocking impact that cancer, smoking, obesity, food-borne illness and even the common cold continue to have on our country.

No, we like exciting new diseases. They make the news more interesting. But do we listen to doctors’ advice on how to deal with this new health challenge? No way. When the CDC tells us to wash our hands, drink water, not touch our face and not bother with face masks because they don’t work on the new virus, what do we do? We buy every mask we can lay our hands on and stop drinking Corona beer and eating Chinese food.

Despite assurances that the new virus is a respiratory disease and not a gastrointestinal malady, we start hoarding toilet paper. There is also a reported shortage of soap in some areas of our paranoid nation, causing questions to be asked: Were all these people not using soap and toilet paper before the coronavirus?

Other news outlets have reported a disturbing snack shortage as shoppers hoard Ding Dongs and Twinkies, as if an emulsified mixture of sugar, hydrogenated oil and other unpronounceable ingredients is the ultimate survival food.

As for me, I started hoarding donuts. That was, until I found some mysterious white powder on them, but don’t panic, stay calm.


Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing and rafting guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via

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