Sunday, March 1, 2020

Beware of planets moving backward.

I'm sure you've heard about the coronavirus that has migrated from a market in Wuhan, China, around the world in just a couple of months. According to the World Health Organization, if you're infected with COVID-19, your most likely symptoms will be fever, tiredness, and a dry cough. Some people with the virus also have a runny nose and maybe diarrhea. Some get no symptoms at all. But 1 in 6 people -- often the elderly or people with other medical issues -- will develop difficulty breathing, and about 2% of those who are infected die. That's worse than the death rate from the flu. Only about one-tenth of a percent of Americans who come down with the flu die each year.

The WHO says it's believed COVID-19 spreads not through the air, but from contact with respiratory droplets from the cough or sneeze of someone who's infected. But because the virus has a long incubation period, and because at least some folks who have it might never have any symptoms, just staying clear of someone who's coughing or sneezing isn't a sure cure for staying healthy. First and foremost, the WHO says, wash your hands. And keep your hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth.

But of course rumors are rampant in any developing situation (and the current administration in the US isn't helping, but I digress). Even though the virus doesn't spread by air, sales of masks have gone through the roof. And China's reports on the progress of fighting the disease at the source of the outbreak have been compared to propaganda.

Enough Chinese workers are sick that it's impacting the country's manufacturing sector -- and that's impacting our stock market. At market close on Friday, stocks were down more than 10% from their peak. Wall Street gurus call that a "correction." If they continue the slide to 20% of their peak, it's then called a "bear market." A "crash" is a one-time event -- the current situation doesn't qualify. And it's way too soon to know whether this downturn will result in a recession, let alone a depression. Still, it's tough to watch your retirement account lose value, particularly when you're getting close to your target date.

Stocks tanking...a mystery illness ramping up...a big presidential election coming up... Why, it's enough to make you wonder whether the world's gone mad.

It hasn't. Yet. But it didn't surprise me when I realized all this was coming to a head during Mercury retrograde.

Because of the way other planets' orbits appear to us on Earth, it sometimes looks like a planet is moving backward in the sky. Mecury has the shortest revolution around the sun, so Earth passes it several times a year. Because of that, we have several Mercury retrograde periods every year. The current one started February 17th and will end March 10th, give or take a day for your local time zone.

Mercury is the Roman god of travel, commerce, and communication, among other things. And as you'd expect, the lore says all of those things can be affected during a retrograde period. Communications, both personal and business, can be problematic. Some folks have trouble making decisions -- or making good decisions -- during these times. It's common advice to avoid signing any contracts or while Mercury is retrograde.

Of course, miscommunications can happen any time, and some people don't need the stars' help to make bad decisions. And lots of folks will simply laugh at the idea that the motion of the planets could have anything to do with what happens to humans on Earth.

I hope they're right. Because we have two more Mercury retrogrades coming up in 2020, and the last one will start October 14 and end November 3 -- also known as election day.

These cheerful moments of star-crossed blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. For the love of the gods, people, wash your hands!

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