Like everyone else I am having trouble thinking about anything other than the coronavirus pandemic and the shockwaves it has sent, and will continue to send, through the system. As it began to unfold I found myself thinking, talking, and posting about it fairly constantly. In an effort to try to keep it confined to a given time and place, both physically and psychologically, I am keeping a diary of it all.
May 9: My parents are both in their 70s and both have compromised immune and/or respiratory systems. They, you will not be surprised, have been staying isolated as much as possible. I’ve done some of their grocery shopping, but they had already stocked up pretty well. They go for walks or drives and they play Yahtzee pretty obsessively — seriously, they keep and number their score sheets and they’re well over 3,000 games played in the past year or so — but that’s about it.
Yesterday my dad made some lasagna for us and my mom dropped it off. Today they came by to pick up the pan, but mostly to see their grandkids. Even though they live just a few miles away, it’s been months.
This is how you visit grandma and grandpa in the age of COVID-19:
If Ohio legislators get their way, it’ll be the only way my kids will get to see their grandparents for a very long time.
Two Republican state lawmakers proposed legislation today that would strip the state’s health director of much of her power to respond to this or any other pandemic. It would prohibit her from issuing quarantine orders and would ban business closures, which it would classify as “a seizure of property.”
Even if these bills are vetoed — and they almost certainly will be — the very effort is communicating a dangerous message. It casts health experts as an enemy not to be trusted. It gives license to their supporters to ignore medically and scientifically sound health guidance. It’s pure, grandstanding nihilism that is getting people killed. It’s a politics reflective of a completely and utterly broken society.
If people like that get their way, and they seem to be getting their way, and as long as there is not freely available testing, it’s not going to be safe for my parents to hug their grandchildren for months and months. It’s not going to be safe for them to do anything put blow kisses from 20 feet away and play Yahtzee all day.
My friend Ben owns a used and rare book store in Wooster, Ohio. He was featured in his local paper today in a story about how local businesses are getting creative during the shutdown. For his part, he’s doing delivery and shipping and has entered into a partnership with Bookshop, a website dedicated to supporting independent bookstores. If you go to that site and order a book from his portal, a portion of the sales will go to his store. Or, of course, you can go to the Bookshop main page and find an independent book store near you to support.
I hope Ben’s store weathers all of this. I hope as many independent businesses as possible weather this. I know many won’t.
As it was, our country was becoming increasingly chain-i-fied. Little family-owned shops, cafes, and restaurants were disappearing in favor of Amazon, Starbucks, and various fast casual places. What used to be colorful storefronts along city streets are being turned into mobile phone dealers and bank branches. Instead of revitalizing old main streets, we’ve built entirely new, phony main streets, be they in the faux-cityscape malls I talked about a few weeks ago or in the history-altering planned communities like the one in which I live. The organic existence and growth of communities — characterized by initial deliberate design mixed with geography, history, and the accumulation of people’s habits and decisions along with all manner of accidents, happy or otherwise — is being supplanted by master-planning. Master-planning that is, inevitably, fueled by coordinated business interests, not by the broader impulses that historically characterized the forming of communities.
Maybe that process was inevitable. It has certainly been long in the making. The pandemic is, however, going to exacerbate things. Some of it will be well-intentioned. Planners will want larger indoor and outdoor spaces that can better accommodate socially-distanced citizens and customers and that will favor businesses that can accommodate those demands. Most of it will be opportunistic, however, with the large corporate entities who had the money to more comfortably ride all of this out — or who got quick bailouts by our corporation-favoring leaders — filling the void left by the moms and pops who couldn’t make it. As our economy is revitalized it will, undoubtedly, become sanitized and homogenized.
That’s the businesses. As for the worker:
Now would be a good time to remember that (1) throwing tens of millions of Americans into an under-funded or unfunded unemployment; (2) forcing millions more to go to work in unsafe conditions; while (3) doing only a fraction of the necessary work to beat the pandemic via medical and public health efforts; and (4) reopening up businesses while the pandemic still rages was an intentional policy choice on the part of the United States and its leaders. Other countries did not handle things this way and we did not have to handle it that way here.
But we did. In the words of Timothy Egan in his New York Times op-ed today, Here’s what America is today:
“A country that turned out eight combat aircraft every hour at the peak of World War II could not even produce enough 75-cent masks or simple cotton nasal swabs for testing in this pandemic.
“A country that showed the world how to defeat polio now promotes quack remedies involving household disinfectants from the presidential podium.
“A country that rescued postwar Europe with the Marshall Plan didn’t even bother to show up this week at the teleconference of global leaders pledging contributions for a coronavirus vaccine.
“A country that sent George Patton and Dwight Eisenhower to crush the Nazis now fights a war against a viral killer with Jared Kushner, a feckless failed real estate speculator who holds power by virtue of his marriage to the president’s daughter.”
We are now reaping the consequences of those choices — this recklessness that borders on maliciousness — at the cost of our economy and, more importantly, at the cost of thousands of lives. Our country stands in ruins right now because of those choices.
“The city of Pasadena is warning against Mother’s Day gatherings after its public health department recently traced a cluster of at least five coronavirus cases to a birthday party.
“The party was held after the city issued stay-at-home orders March 19 and was attended by a large number of extended family members and friends who did not wear face coverings or stay six feet apart, the city said in a news release.
“One person showed up to the party exhibiting symptoms and joking she may have the virus,” Lisa Derderian, spokeswoman for the city of Pasadena, said in an email. “The aftermath affected several others who became seriously ill because of one person’s negligent and selfish behavior.””
If we can’t trust people to do the right thing and we won’t tolerate the government ordering them to do the right — assuming it even has the will and the desire to do the right thing — what chance do we have?
(Featured Image: Library of Congress)