A few weeks ago, my 10-year-old son came home from school with a new revelation. The school nurse had visited his fifth-grade class at the request of their teacher to talk about hygiene – because 10- and 11-year-olds can smell pretty ripe and you can only keep the classroom windows open for so many months of the year.
I didn’t expect my son to learn anything new – we talk hygiene often at home thanks to having five kids who all inherited their father’s perspiration-prone feet. And yet learn something he did.
“Mom, did you know that when you shower you’re supposed to use soap every time? And there’s soap for your hair, too, that you have to rub until it gets all bubbly and then you rinse it out.”
I swear to you, I had taught my son about the existence of shampoo. In fact, I had drilled my son about it. Every single shower he has taken since he started showering on his own has been followed by an interrogation about whether he used soap and whether he washed his hair with shampoo and with bubbles. And every single time he has responded with an eye roll and an emphatic, exasperated, “Yes, Mom.”
So how this was news to him I could not fathom. Just as perplexing, it apparently also was news to his three younger brothers, who listened with fascination as he described the proper way to wash your body. They gobbled up this “new” information while I silently banged my head against a wall, and that night by bedtime all four boys smelled like lavender and roses.
Every once in a while, we need an expert to step in and tell us something we should already know but either we’ve forgotten, we never paid attention in the first place, or we didn’t see how it was relevant to our own lives.
Enter the coronavirus.
COVID-19 might not be the end-of-the-world disease that ushers in one of the dystopian societies we’ve read so much about in every young-adult trilogy ever written. But it is a communicable disease, and the things that the experts are sharing to try to mitigate its spread are the same things we need to know about the spread of all communicable disease.
Say, for example, influenza, of which there are confirmed cases in our community right now. Or norovirus, a nasty stomach bug that ravaged my family two weeks ago. Or an average cold, which doesn’t kill a lot of people but is never a welcome visitor either.
Those common diseases don’t command the same attention as coronavirus or Ebola or SARS. So when one of the headline-grabbing diseases does come around and get the world listening, it’s time to capitalize and get the word out.
That’s why for every several thousand panicked citizens who are wringing their (hopefully recently washed) hands over COVID-19, there is one public health expert who is jumping for joy (well, less jumping and more exhaustedly raising their glove-clad fist in excitement – they’ve had a rough few weeks) that people are finally, finally listening to them.
These experts aren’t saying anything new or groundbreaking. They aren’t even saying much that your parents didn’t teach you (or at least try to teach you … darn kids). But if you’re listening for the first time or the 41st time, hopefully what they’re saying sinks in a little deeper this go-round, gets internalized a little more and finds its way into your every-day (not just coronavirus day) routine.
I’m still frustrated that it took a visit from the school nurse for my 10-year-old to figure out how to use shampoo. But I’m also thrilled, now that he’s learned, the whole family is benefiting from it.
I’m sad the coronavirus is causing such turmoil all around the world, and most especially I’m sad for those who have lost loved ones to it. But I’m glad for a silver lining that it gets us all working just a little harder to keep ourselves and one another safer, healthier, and better protected.
Jade Stellmon set sail for a three-hour tour on the Palouse in 2001. She is now happily marooned in Moscow with her spouse and five children.