How our world has changed

When I posted on March 13, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania (aka Montco) had just started a supposed two-week shutdown of all non-essential businesses to try to “flatten the infection rate curve.” Within days it was clear that few businesses were willing to close—my local hairdressers stoutly declared that their sanitation practices were excellent so clients should not worry, and most restaurants not only stayed open but were surprisingly full.

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So, on March 18 the Governor issued a detailed list of which Montco businesses must close (hint: most of them) and which ones can stay open. The restrictions were also extended to additional counties. Needless to say, hairdressers were not deemed essential, and restaurants can now only offer takeout.

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A few days ago, the Philadelphia Police Commissioner announced the city would be “delaying arrests” for nonviolent crimes such as theft, drug offenses, and prostitution. People will still get charged once the emergency is over but for now, they want to avoid clogging up the jails. This triggered some hysterical social media posts about the breakdown of law and order and (because, America) “we all should go out and buy guns.”

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Then on Sunday afternoon, Philadelphia’s mayor announced a stay-at-home order, effective 8:00am Monday 23rd, prohibiting all public and private gatherings outside a single household. We are about three miles north of the city boundary; how long until we get the same order here in Montco?

According to the ongoing tally from Johns Hopkins, the US now has the third largest total of positive cases, second only to China and Italy; of course, the total is really much higher, but without widespread testing no-one knows the actual number. Montco now has a drive through testing facility, but you have to have an appointment via your doctor, and can only be tested if you have a notable fever (over 100.4 Fahrenheit, 99.6 for ages 65 and older) AND a cough; or, are a first responder or health care worker who’s potentially been exposed. For the rest of us, if you have a nasty cough and don’t feel great? Just stay home.

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It’s finally dawning on people that the “two-week shutdown” will actually extend for much longer. May and June are graduation season in America—already, high schools and universities are announcing the cancellation or postponement of in-person graduation ceremonies, which will be an awful disappointment for millions of students and their families.

I moved Youngest Son home from his university on the 15th (armed with copious amounts of sanitizer, wincing every time he hugged a friend goodbye, and dumping all his stuff in the garage for three days to detox). Like all the rest of the nation’s students, his classes have restarted online; but nothing can make up for the fact that his spring dance shows will never happen. I met some friends of his on the 15th, one of them a senior. “Oh,” I said, “I’m so sorry this is how your four years are ending.”  She gave me a wan smile. “It’s OK. I’ve pretty much run out of tears, now.”

Five US states, together accounting for almost a third of the US economy, are now closed for all but non-essential business. As reported by Reuters, 5.4 million residents in those five states do not have health insurance. The state-wide shutdown includes New Jersey, the state next door to us, where everyone must just stay home unless they are an essential worker, going to buy groceries, or headed to a doctor’s appointment. I cannot imagine how this will be enforced.

Our local hospital network is already appealing for protective gloves and masks, asking businesses who may have them (beauty salons, landscaping companies) to please donate. According to a nurse who posted on the local community Facebook page, the standard protocol of using one N95 mask per nurse, per patient, has been changed to one mask per nurse and make it last as many days as you can. Local crafty-types are figuring out how to sew hospital-compliant masks to donate.

Our school district and local food bank together organized a weekly grocery distribution for families whose kids get free school lunches. No-one knows how long this may have to continue; the food bank reports heavy demand, and the work layoffs are only just getting started.

I made a trip to the local supermarket on the 18th in search of salad vegetables. Thankfully, there seemed to be plenty, along with a full complement of fresh fruit. As expected, there were no paper goods (toilet paper, napkins, towels) and no cleaning supplies. There was also very little milk or frozen pizza, and no fresh chicken. I have no idea what it says about America, that these are the things people panic-buy.

Unfortunately, not only was the place much more crowded than usual for the middle of a weekday, but no one else seemed to use the sanitizing wipes by the door on their shopping carts. And forget staying six feet apart—I almost shouted at the lady who came bustling up behind me in the self-checkout line, especially when she made a “Oh, here we go!” remark as I carefully wiped down the register before using it.

The supermarket has now announced that weekday mornings, 7:00-9:00 a.m. are set aside for elderly shoppers (age 60+) and those with high-risk health problems. That sounded like a great idea—but a neighbor reported stopping by on Friday morning at 7:30 and finding the place so packed she turned right around and went home again.

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‘Specialty’ food stores have had to close so Spouse made a last run to the local cake shop to stock up on cupcakes. Hey, we each have our own definition of what counts as essential supplies (especially as I seem to have no baking chocolate in the pantry).

Meanwhile, it is astonishing how much technology is helping to keep some aspects of life going.

There are scores of free online workout sessions available from gyms, yoga instructors, etc. Yesterday, a friend ran a live feed for her local church group, so they could watch the pastor’s sermon online. The local community’s Facebook page is full of links to resources for parents to keep kids entertained and educated, from celebrities reading stories to YouTube tutorial pages to live feeds from zoos.

Many kids, of course, won’t be so lucky. A young friend who teaches second grade (7-8-year olds) in a low-income neighborhood posted online that she is very worried that missing weeks of school will leave “her kids” irrevocably behind in their reading and math skills.

On the plus side, one of the most impressive feats of adaptation has come from the local dance studio. Within a couple of days of the initial restrictions being announced, the owner and teachers at Edge Dance Co. had figured out how to continue to run classes online via Zoom. So, on Saturday morning Oldest Son set up his laptop in the living room and World’s Greatest Granddaughter had her usual 10:00 a.m. dance class, led by the teacher from her own home. This actually worked much better than I would have expected with a dozen or so three-year-olds—except for the one clueless parent (there’s always one!) who failed to mute their laptop, thereby treating the whole class to their exhortations of “Look, see what Miss Rachel is doing? Look, do this!”

I think World’s Greatest Granddaughter was just thrilled to have an excuse to don her ballet slippers and pink tutu. It’s been hard for her to understand why she can’t see any of her friends at nursery school or go to swim class or the playground.

“Daddy, go playground?”

“No, baby, people are sick so we’re not going to the playground.”

Furrowed brow: “Playground sick, Daddy?”

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Oldest Son created a backyard obstacle course to entertain World’s Greatest Granddaughter, which actually did a pretty good job of wearing them both out. Thank God we have a decent size back gaden.

And so, we try to hunker down and wait. Spouse is working full time from home—fortunately, we have a dedicated home office thanks to my own 18 years of telecommuting. Oldest Son continues to work on what freelance projects he can for as long as he can. Youngest Son gamely tries to complete his semester at college, using group chats and Facetime to connect with friends. And I write, read through my (fast dwindling) supply of library books, and try not to panic whenever one of us coughs. With all the extra walks going on, only the dog is happy.

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About abroadintheusa

An expat Brit who's lived and worked in the USA for more than three decades.
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4 Responses to How our world has changed

  1. Marta says:

    Thanks for the update and glad to see you’re doing relatively fine. It’s definitely a good idea to sanitise things you have to touch in the supermarket.

    In the last 10 days, cases in Spain have gone from around 10000 to 42000 confirmed infections, and from 55 to 2990 deaths (will surpass China in deaths within today). Italy has already twice as much deaths as China. Stay home as much as you can!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, hours after I posted this the whole of southeastern Pennsylvania was placed under mandatory lockdown. We’re only supposed to leave the house for groceries or medical reasons, or outdoor exercise as long as we maintain distance. Let’s see how that works! I’ve already had to scold an elderly relative that she can’t just pop out to buy her favourite takeout coffee and stop by for a visit!

      Like

      • Marta says:

        Elderly people in Spain still don’t understand that they can’t go out either. I have a friend who works in a pharmacy and she says her elderly customers are still going out every day…

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Life Under Lockdown | Abroad in the USA

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