COVID-19: Where Do We Go From Here?
Keeping up in this quickly changing world
Well, folks, these are interesting and trying times, no? They sure feel like it.
"As we continue to monitor the spread of the coronavirus/COVID-19…" has become common introductory statements to mass emails, and advice not to touch either your face or stocks is the new "did you see the game last night?" at the water cooler, because, well, the games aren't being played.
While the Ides will presumably still be here, the Madness of March won't. The NHL "paused" its season. The NBA suspended its season after Rudy Gobert, despite playing for the Utah Jazz, took a rather cavalier (emphasis: lowercase 'c') attitude towards the coronavirus, palming mics at a press conference as a "prank" after having been exposed to the virus. He's since tested positive.
MLB has canceled spring training and postponed opening day until mid-May at the earliest. And most recently, on Tuesday, it was announced that the Fastest Two Minutes in Sports -- the annual running of the Kentucky Derby -- will have to wait until September.
Everything is being monitored. Everything is changing.
Take Monday in Pennsylvania, for instance. In Erie, the daily paper of record, the Erie-Times News -- along with local TV stations, Erie New Now and Jet 24/Fox 66/YourErie.com and any other media outlet with a reachable audience -- have been issuing regular updates as the situation -- a word of my own choosing here but one that tastes stale and metallic in my mouth when I say it compared to how I feel right now -- to ensure the public has access to information to best safeguard themselves and their neighbors.
I can't say enough how this situation isn't being overhyped by the media, as some claim. And I can't stress enough that phrases such as 'flatten the curve' and 'social distancing' need to have real meaning in our lives in the days, weeks, and months ahead, lest 'years' be added to the list.
Make no mistake: This is real, and this is serious. In many ways, it feels crazy, as Erie Reader Managing Editor Nick Warren puts it here in a must-read piece he put out on March 16.
Take Monday's coverage in Times, for instance, when it comes to the evolving nature where change is the only constant, sometimes hour to hour.
Times reporters offered 20-plus updates beginning around 6 o'clock this morning and going onwards over the course of the next 13 hours.
I could copy and paste them here for you and give appropriate attribution, but I won't. Instead, I'll strongly encourage you to click the link above and head over to their site to read it there. Clicks matter, because they lead to web traffic. Supporting local journalists and journalism is paramount, period, but even more so now, as reporters find themselves in the trenches, fighting to keep us informed and tell us our story as it happens to us in real-time. Philip Graham's quote about journalism being the 'first rough draft of history' holds a little extra weight in times like these. But the role of journalism in times like these is another story for another day.
In short, though, the updates ranged from local businesses, schools, and municipalities reacting as the nation works to mitigate the virus spread. The updates also included big'uns, like Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf ordering the closing of all non-essential businesses statewide.
I received a few phone calls throughout that day. On the other end of one was a local business owner asking: "Am I essential?"
I'm not sure I've been asked to answer a more existential question, at least not in a long time.
Essentially, the Essential v. Non-Essential boils down to grocery stores, gas stations, medical facilities, banks, and governments versus everything else. But how can you tell someone who's invested themselves, their capital, their time into a place that sells goods people need and employs people who need cash to purchase the things they need that they're non-essential?
Yet, by definition, they are.
In many ways, we're grappling with what is essential in our lives.
Our work? If you can do it remotely (some of us can), do it. Could we always have done it remotely? Should we do more remote work in the future? Can the tech sector and providers keep up with the new demand for internet usage? All questions to explore another day.
If you can't, you're likely either showing up under greater stress to ensure services aren't disrupted (I'm thinking of the countless nurses who leave a family and loved ones at home to report to the frontlines of the infirmed, for instance, only to return home, carrying with them the things of their day back to those who've remained camped out at home all day); or, you can't report to work because your work doesn't exist anymore for the foreseeable future (I'm thinking of the servers at restaurants that shuttered their doors because they've been instructed to do so for the good of the order).
Dining out is no longer essential. Was it ever? Will it be (again) in our future? What exactly is the foreseeable future?
George Harrison famously asked that in song "What is Life?" Many of us have wondered that deeply before. Many more of us are wondering that now in simpler day-to-day terms no less profound.
But when it comes to locking doors and turning off the lights, the same that goes for dining rooms is going for buying booze at Pennsylvania's Fine Wines & Good Spirits.
As many people were presumably packing up their offices to work remotely (if they can) or packing it in, unsure of when they'll return to employment at all, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board announced "indefinite closure of all Fine Wine and Good Spirits stores and licensee service centers."
Indefinitely falls heavy in that sentence, like an unfinished bottle of wine into the trash bin just days before today.
Just a little past 4 p.m. Monday, Pennsylvanians learned they would have just over four hours today to purchase alcohol and the better part of tomorrow to stock up on whatever remained after Monday's news.
This was, as the announcement proclaimed, "to help slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus."
So the answer to the question many were asking after a day of big news meaning big life disruptions and shifts, Where do we go from here now? was: To the liquor store.
Myself included. And Erie Reader managing editor Nick Warren, who I bumped elbows with.
Rolling out from the office to Fine Wine and Good Spirits in the Liberty Plaza, I had the window down with fresh air coming in as The Beatles' "Helter Skelter" grinding out from the speakers. What a carnival ride reality feels like right now, I couldn't help but think.
Also, the song title would prove to be an apt observation of the parking lot.
Inside, with a bottle of Chianti in one hand and a bourbon in the other, I tapped my foot to The Raconteurs' "Steady as She Goes" pumping throughout the store's stereo, the thick fuzz of guitar distortion blending with the buzz and hum of those also double-fisting yet-to-be-opened bottles or clutching boxes or cases. Yes, steady as we all are going, I suppose, as folks seemed mostly jovial, as spats of small talk would break out in line, mostly aimed, I assume, as to alleviate any concern that anyone of us had the intention to go home and polish off the contents in our arms tonight. Rather, these were rations. Stockpiles until the end of indefinitely.
As two employees emerged from the storage in back, wheeling out carts stacked to restock vacant shelves, Dave Grohl growled out "There goes my hero" to the Foo Fighters' song of the same name. The crowd erupted in applause for those without bottles yet and cheers from those with. Not all heroes wear capes, I couldn't have been the only one to think.
Ambling towards the registered, a certain irony could be felt -- no, not in Alanis Morrisette's "Ironic" -- in listening to Anthony Kiedis croon "standing in the line to see the show tonight" from the Chili Peppers' "By the Way." By the way, where would the show be tonight? What would be the after here for us all -- the cross-section of the population gathered with one thing in common: We don't want to run the risk of not being able to have a drink?
And on the radio on the car ride home?
The Beatles' "Run for Your Life." Thanks, John, Paul, George, and Ringo.
Maybe that's what makes this all so damn hard: Not the need-want-desire to have a drink, but the tighten-our-fists-and-want-to-run-for-our-lives, and that we have no idea what's next or where we're running to with no clear picture yet of what we're running from. Or, aside from our direct orders to remain at home if we can, stay six-feet apart from each other, not to gather in groups of more than 500 then 250 then 50 now 10, wash our hands while singing Happy Birthday, or any of the other flat do-this-now direct orders, we don't know. And truthfully, that's scary.
So, folks, where do we go from here in these interesting and trying times?
A few times on Twitter now, I've shared some news of folks doing good in the world and coupled it with the Fred Rogers quote paraphrased to: "When the news is scary, look for the helpers."
The first was when KDKA's Josh Rowntree tweeted "ESPN just interviewed Mark Cuban who, unprovoked, said that he'll work to get a program going for the team/arena's hourly workers to be compensated for lost wages. Hope the other pro teams follow his lead." Rowntree (working for a Pittsburgh station) added: "Mark Cuban: Pittsburgher."
Three days later, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks -- among other ventures -- was at it again.
He retweeted Pittsburgh-based Civic Science, which tweeted: "As most of us begin to work remotely, it's crucial that we continue to support our community -- especially small businesses. CivicScience will be reimbursing employees' expenses from local establishments this week and we hope other companies do the same - @jdcivicscience"
Cuban added in the retweet: "We in ! Just sent the email for Mavs and My companies. Anyone who buys from small local, independent (sorry big company owned chains) , will get reimbursed for their lunch and coffee/teas. We will start with this week and go from there #buylocal #supportlocalBusiness #buysmall"
I added: "Said it before about @mcuban re: reaction to coronavirus/COVID-19 — In the words of Fred Rogers: In the scary times, look for the helpers. Hopefully others who can will follow this lead and those who can't will do what they can. We are *all* in this together."
A day later, I shared: "Another heart-warming example of looking for the helpers when the news is scary, as Fred Rogers would put it. Hopeful those who can will follow this example; and those who can't will do what they can. We are all in this together," when I retweeted D.C.-based chef and humanitarian Jose Andres who shared the news that for the safety of his employees and those his restaurants served his locations would be closing to the dining public and converted to community kitchens to "offer to-go lunches for those who need a meal."
No stranger to helping those in need, Andres' World Central Kitchen has been deploying resources and talents to areas wracked by disaster globally over the past decade.
Those are just two examples of many when it comes to helpers looking to help in a scary, uncertain time.
On Twitter, David Chase encouraged people "As an individual family, we are buying gift cards/certificates to our independent, local businesses. Even if we aren't getting in there, we can help with the cash flow. We're on the lookout for businesses that are providing their staff paid sick leave and paying hourly workers," sharing Cuban's "We in!" tweet.
James Fallows, who retweeted the aforementioned Andres tweet, encouraging people to "Please follow @chefjoseandres -- and I mean, not just follow his updates here but follow his example of citizenship, at the local, national, and global scale.," retweeted McNally Jackson's: "And, finally, if you love bookstores and booksellers, consider donating to @BincFoundation, which supports booksellers in need."
In an unconventionally-taped episode of "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver," due to, you guessed it, coronavirus, Oliver encouraged people to donate if they can to their local food banks, which he offered up the tremendous resource in FeedingAmerica.org, where you can find your local food bank.
Those are just three more examples. There are many others, including local ones underway, thanks to Erie County Council and the Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority.
This is all to say that, yes, times are scary. And what lies ahead for many folks looks like it won't be easy in myriad, differing ways. But, there are helpers out there trying to do their best by, well, helping.
Will we solve the coronavirus/COVID-19 problem in the next few days? No. But can we make the world less scary and can we help? Yes.
We are in this together, and looking for the helpers and offering help ourselves is a great reminder of that.
So, spread the word, not the germs -- as corny as that sounds. Just getting information out is a great first step.
Then, help where you can as you can. Can you check in on elderly neighbors? Recommend a reading list to a friend in need to calm their nerves? Do a little research to see what resources are out there to help support the places you like to support when you're not being asked to remain indoors away from said places?
And if you need help, ask. Sure, it's easier said than done, but unless folks know help is needed, it's easy to mistake drowning for waving.
Many folks are going to be sitting around the next few days and weeks wondering what to do. Help comes in many forms but only when we know there's a need.
So offer, ask, or both. While we might not be seeing as much of each other as we're used to, we are still all in this together.
Need help? Leave a note in the comment section below.
Want to help? Ditto!
See people helping whose stories you'd like to be shared? Ditto, again!
I'll be working as I can to share stories and updates surrounding the coronavirus/COVID-19 at ErieReader.com.
Ben Speggen can be contacted at Bspeggen@ErieReader.com, and you can follow him on Twitter @BenSpeggen.