Tuesday, April 7, 2020

This Surreal COVID-19 World

 It’s been a few years since I’ve written anything for this blog. There was – and still is – so much bad news with the Trump administration that I’d be glued to my computer, writing all day just to keep up. I had no desire to spend my time with such a flood of negativity.

But the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic brings me out of retirement as things become more bizarre by the day. It’s like living in an old Twilight Zone episode, but in color.

COVID-19 has proved to be highly contagious and deadly, and trying to both evade it and to halt its spread has changed how we live. It’s a surreal world.

Social distancing – staying at least 6 feet away from others – began here in Ohio very early in March. Schools were closed and large gatherings were discouraged.  Large events such as the St. Patrick’s Day Parade were canceled. To make sure that people didn’t decide to hit the bars instead, those were closed too, along with restaurants, in order to prevent groups of people gathering. (Carry-out is still allowed.) Hairdressers, salons, and tattoo parlors were also shut down.  Even the Catholic Church told people not to come to services. The hope was that people would stay home or not congregate in groups,  discouraging the spread of the virus. Hand washing after being out in public for anything was a must, and then more hand washing, and more hand washing…

Very early in this process, the hoarders were unleashed and certain items like toilet paper, hand sanitizer, isopropyl alcohol, and face masks disappeared from stores everywhere. People were told that face masks weren’t necessary, and that masks should be reserved for medical personnel and first responders to help keep them safe. (This would later change.) Anything that was purchased at a store should be wiped down and/or disinfected once brought home. Anything those things touched – like grocery bags on your kitchen counter – should be disinfected and the bags tossed out. Overnight, a new breed of germophobes was born.

It wasn’t long before Ohio officially shut down all non-essential businesses and stressed that people should be staying home unless to go out for essentials like food. Grocery shopping, which already was difficult because of that 6-feet guideline, became more stressful as store shelves emptied quickly of everything else like milk, eggs, meats, soup, etc. The grocery stores are still trying to recover, and it may be some time before inventories get back up to normal. More people are making their own meals and eating at home, which alone stressed inventory levels at the grocery stores. Many stores later decided to put limits of certain items to prevent further hoarding and to help insure that everybody may have a chance to get critical items. (Toilet paper is still hard to get.) I never thought I’d see the day where I’d go into a grocery store week after week and see so many shelves looking sparse or bare.

Now that we’ve been instructed that we SHOULD wear a mask when going out to shop, grocery shopping has become even more surreal. Even with the 6 foot distance between us, now with our mouths covered, we can’t even smile at our fellow shoppers, and instead flee when anyone comes too close.   Stores are limiting how many people can be in a store at one time to minimize contact. Going out for groceries or any essentials is anxiety-filled and depressing.

While all this is going on, we are assaulted with constant news of the spread of COVID-19 and the resulting illnesses and death. Some states, slow to enact social distancing and closing of businesses were hit very hard, especially dense populated areas like New York City and New York state. Hot spots began to pop up – such as New Orleans, possibly because of the large gathering from Mardi Gras. Watching the news has been a constant stream of COVID-19 news and it can become overwhelming.

One positive benefit – fewer cars are on the road and fewer airplanes are flying, so the air appears clearer.

President Trump initially downplayed the virus When it became obvious that this real, he was forced to react. I think it’s too little to late. Now we must listen to his daily, rambling press briefings and his words don’t offer much substance or solace.  It's alarming.

Clearly the effects of COVID-19 are not over yet, but life as we know it has changed, probably forever. It may be hard to go out in public to shop without looking at others as they are riddled with unknown germs. This virus will probably turn many people into antisocial germophobes. And there will be some items that people may be tempted to overbuy in the future, just to be sure they have some on hand in case of another emergency (e.g. toilet paper!).

I have high hopes that all this effort will put an end to this virus, or at least slow it down enough so the medical profession can better react, and to buy some time until a vaccine is developed. But one thing I know for sure: things will never be the same.

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