Saturday, April 1, 2023

Covid Chronicles. Chapter 15: Adjusting to a New Normal

Read chapter 14 here

Wednesday, April 1

JoAnna and I walked to the Willy Street Coop today to buy items for dinner and, among other things, to stock up on ice cream. (We still have half a pie from the Hubbard Avenue Diner, a purchase made during yesterday’s Great American Takeout event.) As have many other businesses that are allowed to stay open, Willy Street cut its hours of operation — from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. instead of the usual 8 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. – a combination of safety, efficiency, and a reduced workforce. We arrived at a few minutes before 10:00 and found a line of people, social distancing, extending halfway along the length of the Parkwood Shopping Center. 

As he announced the store’s opening, an employee cautioned us to maintain our distance while shopping. The produce section is just inside the entrance and tends to be the most crowded area of the store. JoAnna and I separated as soon as we entered, which allowed to select the dozen or so items on our list in quick order. As we left the store, each of us carrying a bag, an employee stationed just outside the front entrance announced, “OK, two more people can go in.” 

For the first time since Wisconsin’s business restrictions went into place, I sensed we had taken a few initial steps into a dystopian world. Even though I fully understand the need for these new constraints, I felt a wee bit uncomfortable and apprehensive. No time to linger; just grab and go. I just hope we never advance to the troubling stage. 

Headline: New York Times, 6/30/2020

 Meanwhile, the governors of three of the most populous states — Florida, Georgia, and Pennsylvania — refuse to issue statewide ‘stay at home’ orders, even as the number of confirmed cases continue to spike. As Georgia residents recently learned, just because the majority of cases are located in the Atlanta metro area doesn’t mean the rest of the state isn’t at risk. A funeral that took place in the southern part of the state, nearly 200 miles from Atlanta, created its own coronavirus hotspot. Dougherty County, in the southwestern part of the state, has the second largest number of cases among the state’s 159 counties. Nonetheless, the state’s top aide to Governor Brian Kemp, a GOP reactionary, recently made this official statement, as reported in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
 “The media and some in the medical profession are peddling these doomsday models and projections,” Kemp’s top aide, Tim Fleming, wrote Saturday. “This has in turn resulted in people panicking and local governments across our state overreacting. As a result of their overreach, many small businesses will struggle and some will not reopen.” 
As for Florida, thanks to spring break inaction of Ron DeSantis, the state’s Trump fanboy Governor, a legion of Typhoid Harrys and Marys was created. 

In Wisconsin, the latest all-consuming debate focuses on next Tuesday’s election. Many municipalities have promoted voting by mail. According to Lorie Burns, the Middleton city clerk, about 7300 ballots have been mailed out, with more than one-third of them returned. Her office expects a deluge between now and Election Day. As others have done, Middleton reduced its number of polling places — from 4 to 1 in our case — due to a steep drop in the number of poll workers. Most of the people who volunteer for this duty are of retirement age, I.e., in the most vulnerable age group. 

As a result, there’s a lot of handwringing going on and, as far as I’m concerned, too much negativity. We can’t do this, we can’t do that is a refrain too many people are singing. As if things are going to normal any time soon. How long do we delay? May? June? July? Wisconsin’s primary elections for the November ballot take place in August. Then what? Postpone the November elections? Do we really want to open that door? 

HeadlinesThis Week, 7/13/2019 (left), Washington Post, 6/19/2019 (right)

 The head of the United Nations recently proclaimed that the world is experiencing its most challenging times since World War II. 

Maybe everyone should start acting like it. A number of communities have taken a creative approach to this spring’s election: using all types of social media to get the word out, providing drop-off options, and setting up drive-through stations where people can fill out a ballot and have it witnessed without leaving their car. Instead of whining and foot-dragging for the past three weeks, the mayors who initially pushed to postpone the election should have assembled a team and developed a plan to move forward, a template that will most certainly serve a useful purpose in this year’s presidential election. Some of the leaders of the world’s most repressive countries have used the pandemic to strengthen their powers, men that Trump has publicly praised. Not to be Mr. Paranoia here, but I suspect such discussions are already taking place among certain groups of Republicans. 

OK, now I’ve fast-forwarded us beyond ‘troubling’. 

The main reason for this concern right now is a referral to the Dane County Board, a resolution that supports a delay of the election. The deadline to sign on was yesterday. In fact, the case is likely being heard right now. I’m still unsure is how I will vote on it. I understand the health and safety concerns, but part of me wants to make a statement about moving away from normal. With each passing day, I increasingly feel that this pandemic will be a worldwide transformative event. It will be a long time, if ever in my lifetime, when we again experience life as we lived it just a month ago. In fact, it was less than 4 weeks ago when JoAnna and I attended a funeral where a large group of people gathered in close proximity to express our condolences to the bereaved family. Lots of hugs and handshakes. 

And now churches and funeral homes have closed their doors until further notice, which will probably extend beyond the initial lifting of any ‘stay at home’ order. Getting back to even an approximation of our former life is likely to be a slow, step-by-step process. 

Which is why, as in the case is Wisconsin 2020 spring elections, we can’t think in terms of the way we were.

Read chapter 16 here

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