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Peer Pressure and the Pandemic Panic

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Teaching high school students, I know all about peer pressure and bandwagon mob-type thinking. I know its insidious nature. I constantly harangue about the evils and perils of it, so you can see why I’m somewhat perplexed and just a tad bit bemused that I succumbed to this mob fear mentality and the dire predictions from all the talking heads on the news.

Yep, I caught that swine flu fever. No, not the temperature-induced-body-aching-flu-type, but the oh-my-God-we’re-all-gonna-catch-it-and-die-type.

Somehow my trusty mini-van veered into the neighborhood drug store parking lot. After spending 10 minutes searching the aisles and nonchalantly tossing in random items into my basket — hydrogen peroxide, make up remover wipes, and spearmint chewing gum — I finally masked my embarrassment and mustered up enough courage to ask one of the clerks, “Hey, just where are you keeping those surgical masks?”

I also tossed in a couple of bottles of hand sanitizer in my cart for good measure. About twenty or so bucks later, I became the proud owner of eight masks, eight disinfectant wipes, and eight handy dandy latex free gloves, two bottles of hand sanitizer, and of course, the hydrogen peroxide, make up remover wipes, and spearmint chewing gum.

I called my friend Jennifer in Annapolis and confessed my panic purchase. She just laughed at me (which, of course, came as no surprise because she does that quite a bit). Once she quit laughing, she wanted to know exactly where I planned to wear them.

“Gee, I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe when the Pandemic gets here.”

“Ahem,” she muttered.

“Or, you know, maybe for Halloween like for a doctor costume,” I offered.

"You don’t go to Halloween parties,” she reminded me.

“Well,” I said, “maybe when I mow the lawn.”

“You don’t mow the lawn,” she countered.

I just hate it when she’s right.

That evening Fort Worth school officials closed all the city's schools and the Texas Education Agency cancelled sports and academic competitions statewide. My own school even cancelled all field trips, its annual WOW showcase of student talent, and an awards ceremony, as well as all afterschool activities for several days.

I really don’t understand the last one. After all, if I’m in a classroom with the little darlings all day long, just how does a few more hours after school really matter? Am I missing something here? Are cooties more active after 4 p.m.? Am I more susceptible to germs after 4 p.m. Something to think about.

At least all this pandemic panic provides a small modicum of rationalization for my little sortie at the neighborhood drug store.

The next day I had to fly to Colorado to try and close up family matters after my father's death. I seriously contemplated bringing one of my newly purchased surgical masks – you know, just in case.

I really, really contemplated it after our vice president spread the pandemic panic when he announced on the Today Show that he wouldn’t want his family traveling on a plane to anywhere. Yep, thanks Joe, for that little reassuring remark.

When I boarded the airplane, a twenty-something girl walked down the aisle wearing a mask. Apparently she took Joe’s panic to heart. I just smiled, remembering the Y2K scare and the four-gallon jugs of Millennium water in my parent’s garage – you know, just in case.

Pandemic panic? I think I’ll be just fine.

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About Carol Richtsmeier