(This diary entry was actually written on Friday, April 3rd. Friday marked exactly three weeks since life in the U.S. was turned upside down. Three weeks before, on March 13, 2020, the Governor [of Pennsylvania] announced that the schools were closing down for two weeks (which has since been extended “indefinitely”) and President Trump had his first Coronavirus Press Conference. We had known for a couple of days that the world was shifting, but I still had kids playing outside at my house that afternoon, restaurants were still open, people were still working, gatherings of a certain size were still permitted. So although panic and uncertainty were in the air, things were still more “normal” than bizarre.
Since then, however, things have spiraled out of control, faster than I could ever have imagined. And so on Friday, after an eerily uncomfortable trip to the grocery store, my first in two weeks, I came home and wrote down my observations of the world, or at least my little corner of the world in western, Pennsylvania, during this pandemic. This post is that diary entry so that I can preserve this harrowing snapshot of daily life forever).
Status Update: Just came back from the grocery store and what was undoubtedly the most unusual and unsettling trip of my life, to date.
- People are wearing masks, including surgical masks, cloth masks, scarves tied around their faces, bandanas, ski masks, or anything else (i.e.: plastic bags and birthday hats!?!) they can get their hands on to protect themselves from breathing in germs at the grocery store.
- Latex gloves litter the parking lots.
- Sneeze guards have been installed at the check outs, keeping customers and cashiers separated and “safe”.
- Tape has been placed on the floor at appropriate distances (6 feet) apart to keep shoppers from getting too close to one another in the check out lines.
- A mechanical voice reassures shoppers that “all measures” are being taken to protect us from coronavirus, including the suspension of returns and exchanges, and reminding us all to maintain “social distancing”, keep your hands away from your faces and, of course “wash your hands.” (Incidentally, none of the aisle blocking displays for holiday cake mix, coffee, cookies or other extraneous grocery offerings have been removed making it nearly impossible for two people to be in the same aisle at the same time. Nor have the aisles been designated one-way).
- Toilet paper, paper towels, hand sanitizer, household cleaners and disinfectant wipes remain perpetually sold out, even after three weeks.
- Stores are limiting the number of people who can be inside at any one time, so lines, also at proper 6 foot intervals, are forming outside store doors.
- Inside the grocery store, people practice various levels of “social-distancing” and grocery shaming. Too little in your cart, and you are looked at as irresponsible for shopping too frequently. Too much and people give you the evil eye for “hoarding” boxes of pasta and bags of chips.
- School has been canceled “indefinitely” and children are learning “remotely”.
- All “non-essential” business have been ordered closed, including: retail stores, [some] car dealers, banks (you can still bank online), movie theaters, dental offices, eye doctors, construction sites, garden stores, manufacturers, liquor stores and more.
- Entire professional sports seasons have been canceled.
- MLB and the NFL are considering abbreviated seasons, without fans.
- Concerts, tours, and music festivals have been “postponed”.
- The lights have gone done on Broadway.
- Museums and zoos are closed.
- Disney World and other theme parks are closed.
- Parks, playgrounds, tennis courts, golf courses, beaches and trails are empty and/or locked.
- Family reunions, weddings, and even funerals, are canceled.
- Churches are closed; services are canceled or broadcast online.
- Newscasters broadcast from their homes.
- Entertainers put on free performances on social media.
- “Social distancing” turned into stay home orders; first we were not permitted to gather in groups larger than 1000, then 250, then 100, then 50, then 10, then 6 and now zero, except for immediate family.
- Grandparents can’t see their grandchildren, save through windows.
- Our national borders are closed to non-essential travel; some state borders are “closed”.
- Health care workers are working without personal protective equipment because we do not have enough available masks, gowns or gloves.
- “Essential workers” including health care professionals and first responders, as well as minimum-wage cashiers and gas station attendants are both terrified to go to work and terrified to bring the disease home to their families.
- There may not be enough ventilators or ICU beds for critically ill patients.
- Car manufacturers are making ventilators.
- Clothing manufacturers are making gowns and masks.
- Distilleries and other manufacturers (including Jamestown) have shifted their production to make hand sanitizer.
- The streets are empty. The shelves are bare. There is no where to go.
- Fines have been established for people who break the rules. In one state violators of stay home orders are issued ankle bracelets.
- Makeshift hospitals are popping up in convention centers, sporting arenas and Central Park.
- Refrigerated trucks function as makeshift morgues.
- Millions of people are unemployed.
- The stock market has collapsed.
- The government is sending checks for $1200 to many Americans, although this process could take up to 20 weeks to reach everyone.
- Google and other tech companies are providing the government location data about their users to help monitor people’s movements.
- Primary elections have been put on hold.
- President Trump has daily press conferences to brief us on the number of new cases, the number of deaths, the grim projections and the latest restrictions.
This is the United States of America on April 3, 2020. This is the Covid-19 Pandemic.
I am afraid to see what tomorrow may bring.