May 28-May 29, 2020
“What a long strange trip it’s been,” goes the song. And it seems forever since New Year’s Day when the year was young and full of promise. If anyone had told me in January that we would be reopening in May, I would have asked, “Reopening from what?” But we don’t have to ask now. We know.
January 1: Front page, L.A. Times: Protesters attack the U.S. Embassy in Iraq. A family camps on the sidewalk to get a good view of the Rose Parade. An article suggests ways to get organized–always a good topic for New Year’s Day.
Jan. 18: Only two weeks later LAX and JFK airports starts screening arrivals from Wuhan. But the article assures us: “The likelihood that the virus will spread within the United States is still considered low.”
Jan. 25: Front page: “Virus is no cause to panic, experts caution,”. The article goes on to say that if this were a Hollywood movie, now would be the time to panic, but, since it’s just real life all we have to do is wash our hands and go on with our weekend plans. Our what?
Jan. 31: Front Page: “Outbreak declared a global health crisis.” WHO calls it a crisis because it has spread to 4 continents and has infected more than 9.000 people. (Now do we panic?)
Feb. 10: Front page: Oscar winners! “Barrier-breaking wins for ‘Parasite’ ” But back in section B (California) there’s a warning sign that for some Americans life has changed, as a couple from Santa Clarita describes their “Life on a cruise in virus limbo.”
In February the news covered China’s lockdowns in February. Then came northern Italy. In mid-March, WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Trump declared a national emergency and issued a ban on travel from Europe. My group got home from Portugal on Friday, March 13, the last day for arrivals from Europe. It wasn’t clear whether American citizens would be allowed to return later. The airports were packed with people trying to get out in time.
By Sunday, March 15, the entire front page of the L.A. Times was COVID-19 related: school closures, events cancelled, telecommuting recommended, concerns about Mardi Gras festivities. Spain locked down. Shortages of toilet paper and hand sanitizer which would last for months had already begun. This is when life changed noticeably in our part of the world.
A few days later the federal government announced the need to shut down nonessential travel, close restaurants, and prohibit gatherings of over 10 people for at least 15 days. Already six counties in the San Francisco area had issued shelter-in-place orders, closing businesses and schools at least through April 7. Universities closed dining halls and residence halls. Clubs cancelled meetings, businesses cancelled conventions, teams cancelled practices. A front-page article in the L.A. Times on March 18 read, “Grim Dilemma: Wreck economy or threaten lives?” On Tuesday, March 19, California’s Governor Newsom issued a statewide stay-at-home order effective through April 19.
By March 31, the Olympic Games had been rescheduled and more than one-third of the world’s population was on lockdown.
Nobody was sure how long our lockdown would last. A couple of weeks? Until Easter? Memorial Day? And it’s still not clear, even now. Because back in mid-March reopening seemed simple. Just open everything back up again, I thought.
On March 25 when President Trump suggested that restrictions might end by Easter, it suddenly became evident that reopening was not just a matter of opening back up again. For one thing, various lockdown orders had been put in place by many different layers of administration–states, counties, cities, school districts, private companies, churches, museums, you name it. Then specific guidelines had to be written to implement the shutdown orders from above. Closing a swimming pool is not the same as closing a restaurant, a library, or a church. Transitioning to telecommuting is not the same as transitioning to online classes. So much work was done in such a short time, and most of it behind the scenes to unless you were actually the one doing it.
Reversing the closing process–recovering inventory, employees, checking maintenance, safety, sanitation–is only part of reopening. Reopening while the coronavirus is still spreading requires integrating precautions that weren’t part of our public lives before, like social distancing, sanitizing, and masks. Some businesses won’t survive the economics of reopening
Our experience as consumers will be quite different. Restaurants will feel different with social distancing in place. Menus will be disposable or posted on the wall, staff and customers will wear masks. Stores will limit the number of people inside. Shopping will be visual rather than tactile. Do you touch the sweater to see if it’s scratchy or soft, turn it over to check the price tag? Do you like to leaf through the books, check out the font size, illustrations, or index, and then put them back on the shelf? Not any more.
Or maybe not for while. As time goes on the impact of the COVID pandemic on our everyday lives will evolve, whether due to more accurate knowledge of how it spreads, better prevention, improved treatments, an effective vaccine, more exposure, or a combination of these and other factors. The recommended precautions will continue to be updated, as they have been all along. By the holidays, we will be experiencing shopping, learning, traveling, vacationing, and worshiping differently. Don’t ask me how.
Some changes will stay. Some will vanish. Some were starting before COVID, for example, making an appointment before going to the Apple Store, ordering online and picking up your purchases in the parking lot, deciding what you want on line and then going into the store to check it out before picking it up.
In January I couldn’t have made all this up.
The strange trip isn’t over yet.
Today’s Notable Headlines
“Shopping reinvented: America’s stores, malls reopen with masks, curbside pickup and closed fitting rooms,” USA Today, May 28, 2020. https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2020/05/28/coronavirus-retail-changes-social-distancing-reopen-america/3110285001/
“Mayor Lightfoot Says Chicago Will Partially Reopen On Wednesday,” Yahoo News, Patch, May 28, 2020. https://news.yahoo.com/mayor-lightfoot-says-chicago-partially-182701985.html
“L.A. shopping malls reopen. The feel is more ghost town than Black Friday,” Los Angeles Times, May 28, 2020. https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-05-28/l-a-shopping-malls-reopen-the-feel-is-more-ghost-town-than-black-friday
“Sometimes the lights all shinin on me;Other times I can barely see.Lately it occurs to me what a long, strange trip it’s been….from the song Truckin’ (1970) on the Album American Beauty “. . . recorded by the Grateful Dead. Thank you for the correction/amplification, Father Paul.
Articles cited above are from the archives of The Los Angeles Times.
Why am I doing this?
The coronavirus pandemic will be indelibly written on our memories just as the Great Depression or the Battle of Britain left their mark on past generations. It is my intention to journal the events of these days from three perspectives: as a retired medical technologist, a historian (Ph.D., 2014), and an ordinary person living through an extraordinary crisis.
You are on History’s Edge.