Shutting Down And Opening Up
Here in Washington State, the epicenter of the novel coronavirus in the United States, the world is changing fast. In eight weeks, we’ve gone from mild curiosity to astonishment; every day I hear people saying, “This is really happening!”, like they weren’t sure until now. Even here, so close to Seattle, not much had changed in our daily lives. Until now. On January 20, the first US case of the virus was confirmed near Seattle. Today, there are 4,354 cases in the US, 837 of them in Washington (New York has passed us, with 950 today). The thing is, they aren’t cases, really. They’re people. Eighty of them are dead and more are desperately ill. And instead of offering direct help, the current regime is telling State Governors to find their own masks and respiratory equipment.
Indeed, the only reason that those early cases were identified at all is because of civil disobedience; a local doctor and local labs went ahead and tested for the virus despite direct orders NOT to do so from the CDC and the national government. We have these brave people to thank for getting those early sufferers the medical care they needed, and for reducing the spread of the virus by calling it out publicly (again against government orders). Had tests been available sooner, the virus could have been contained faster and would not have spread so far so fast. We’re also grateful for the quick and continuing response of Governor Inslee, who has been monitoring the situation hourly and issuing important if unpopular civil restrictions.
Flatten That Curve
By the end of last week, schools were to be closed starting today for up to six weeks; now it’s possible they won’t reopen until September. Kids are home, with worried parents who are often trying to work from home. Kid-sitting grandparents like me are kept at a distance, because anyone over 60 is told to stay home and self-isolate. No play dates allowed either, of course, because limiting contact with others is our best hope of “flattening the curve”, a phrase on everyone’s lips all of a sudden. As of this week, libraries are closed here and in many communities, from Seattle to small towns. Hearing of the likelihood, there was a huge run on books and the library here was crazy busy as people checked out enough books to keep them reading for six weeks. Now the closure dates are indefinite. There’s no book drop, since there’s no staff, so everyone gets to keep the books they have without fines until the libraries open again. So far, we haven’t been told not to swap books, but since the virus can last on hard surfaces for an unknown amount of time, most folks are using their kindles instead.
Watching the virus scream through Italy, we’ve learned that self isolating is worth practicing, since it really does help to reduce the spread of this new virus. Nobody is immune because it IS new. We’re learning to wash our hands very, VERY thoroughly. We’re learning that our greatest goal should be to remain safe and help to flatten the curve—the spread of the virus—for our communities. We’re even learning new ways to connect; last week I attended my first online board meeting. Today, we canceled my community’s March board meeting and our big annual potluck. Not only are we told not to gather in groups of more than ten, but we can’t rent our usual meeting place anyway, because the local Senior Center is closed by recommendation of our local Prepared group and the City of Bainbridge Island. Instead of getting together, we call, send cards, email, or text. Instead of hugs or handshakes, we bow with folded hands. Namaste.
On Thursday we posted a picture of our Senior Center knitting group, all sitting at least three feet apart, the then-suggested safe social distance. Almost immediately someone commented that it seemed irresponsible to meet like that. Indeed, today, the suggested social distance is nine feet, the distance droplets can fly should someone cough or sneeze near you. Moving a bit farther apart now…. At the Senior Center, we’re putting as many classes as possible online, on Zoom or video, from exercise to writing workshops, but we are no longer permitted to hold in-person events until further notice. Local churches are live-streaming services, limiting physically present folks to fewer than ten, widely spaced. Anyone coughing or sneezing is politely requested to go home.
Small businesses are closing their doors and applying for emergency loans to carry them through. On the streets of our small town, most shops are shut, offering online service or none at all. Bars and restaurants are limited to take-out options only; no sit-down meals allowed. And today, we’re hearing that most will close in a day or two, as they can’t afford to remain open or can’t get staff or both. Seattle is like a ghost town, with nobody on the streets. Well, almost nobody; homeless people with no place to go are gathering under the Fremont Bridge, in sheltered doorways of closed businesses, anyplace hot air comes up from underground vents. Even on the island, our homeless neighbors are wondering where their next meal is coming from as social services close their doors. Our Food Bank is still open but the offerings are now in take-out form.
Rest And Refresh
Our enforced isolation has several definite bright sides. In China, in Iran, and in Italy, pollution is reducing visibly as cars are left parked and businesses are shutting down. Travel bans are making the world quieter as plane flights are canceled and local traffic dwindles. At home, people are cleaning house of course, scrubbing down every possible flat surface, but also cleaning closets, emptying boxes of miscellany, finishing abandoned projects. Many of us are making and mending, knitting and sewing, crafting and building. In Italy, nobody is allowed to walk around without a reason, so people with dogs are sharing them so neighbors can get out and stretch their legs a bit. Though some people remain plugged in around here, others are finding time to unplug, taking walks without earbuds to listen to birds without noisy traffic and roaring airplanes.
This morning I read an interview on social distancing with Sister Mary Catharine Perry, a cloistered Dominican nun who has lived in a convent for 29 years. She offered some practical tips for those who aren’t used to spending so much time along or being at home with their families 24/7 (!!). She reminds us that structure is important for human wellbeing, so after a few lazy days of staycation, figure out a schedule that works for you. Get up and get dressed at a suitable time, eat wholesome meals without snacking too much, and spend time outside (the nuns have a big garden and grow much of their own food). Sister Mary Catharine finds that quiet, simple life to be both fulfilling and refreshing and suggests that as we wind down from the frantic pace of our usual overly busy lives, we too may discover that peace and comfort are available to us as well. Today, the bitter North wind finally blew itself out. The sun thawed the ice in my garden buckets and warmed the air and the soil. Birds sang. Seeds sprouted. I weeded and pruned and felt at peace. Onward.
Here’s her story: