Had a young woman asked me the other day if I was going to write a book about the virus. “It is history,” she said.
She’s right, of course. COVID-19 has already become a part of our history, and I write things about the history of Muleshoe, so perhaps I should cover it. I did write the story about Malina making masks for the quarantine, but what about how this virus and its social distancing, closing schools and businesses, cancelling major events, hygiene issues, what has all that done to our everyday lives and how do we think it’s going to play out in the future? I don’t want to write a whole book about it, but I can write about people’s thoughts on this life-altering situation. So I decided to take an informal, unstructured, amateur survey and ask people a few questions about what they thought about this pandemic, which is the way it will go down in the history books.
I have also chosen to make this an anonymous survey; no names will be connected to answers; that way no one can be taken to task for an opinion they willingly shared with me that someone else might disagree with. I didn’t try to match any poll-taking protocol, with a large number of diverse subjects chosen at random in a variety of categories like you would find in something like a Harris Poll. I asked people I know from around here and a few friends who live in urban areas. I did try to ask male and female, young and old, and after I had visited with a decent number of people, I figured I had enough information and quit asking. Not scientific at all, I know, but then, this is not a statistics class assignment, and I think you will find the results interesting.
I will have to say before I start sharing my results, however, that there is one group missing from my survey: people who have been laid off or lost a job because of all the “non-essential” businesses closing as directed. While those families and individuals affected by lay-offs and furloughs also live here, it happens that I don’t know any of them well enough, or at all, to be comfortable asking them to talk about their current situations. I wouldn’t want to embarrass anyone or make them feel singled out by asking some of these questions, so that demographic isn’t represented in the survey. I am sorry; I don’t mean to leave anyone out, and I suspect they would have some different responses to my questions and give some different insight to the issues, but I chose not to put people in an uncomfortable situation. So please forgive me for their omission.
When I asked how the virus had negatively affected daily life in this small town, I got pretty much the same response-not much. As for dealing with the toilet paper shortage, no one brought that up! Yes, meetings have been cancelled and everyone is trying to stay at home, but those with jobs were still going to work, but not getting to eat out and staying at home after work. Missing church services was seen as a loss of one of our basic civil liberties guaranteed by the Constitution by several people who were dismayed at how easily we let the government take that away. I heard concern over the possibility of carrying the germ home from work and infecting their family and making the effort to sanitize themselves and objects that could harbor the disease. Not being able to travel to other cities to visit family and losing the opportunity to just sit and visit with people, perhaps share a cup of coffee, those things have been missed. I heard the concern mentioned more than once that we may lose the friendly tradition of the handshake because of all the social distancing, but then in the next breath the comment would be made that probably here in the South it will come back. the expectation is that big cities will feel the effects longer, and we in small towns will get over it sooner. People are beginning to feel isolated, mood swings are hurting some people, and rudeness sometimes flares up. Everyone is ready for the social isolation to be over. And yet others told me we aren’t staying home enough and not listening to the experts about the value of social distancing.
The economy is a major concern for everyone. Small businesses will be hurt the worst, and that hurts us all. The comment was made that all businesses are essential in some way, and the list for the closings is somewhat arbitrary and can be taken advantage of. Those who were fortunate enough to still have their jobs felt really sorry for the families suffering from lost jobs and realize that others aren’t making it through this mess so comfortably.
Not only are businesses taking a hit, they are also seeing changes in the way they do business. Curb service shopping is more prevalent, and online shopping, which has always been popular, is being used more. Just as schools are looking to technology as a way to deal with social distancing, businesses are seeing more transactions taking place online. I was told this is actually easier and faster and therefore may be one thing out of the pandemic that will remain. Which is all well and good, unless you are one of the business people who actually enjoys visiting with customers in person!
One business that has seen major changes in the way they do things is Dr. Purdy’s office, and he is the only person I will name because, well, he is the only doctor in town, so talking about his office is pretty much a dead give-away anyway! To limit personal contact and the chance for spreading disease, his office is now only taking people by appointment, seeing four patients per hour, moving them through the lobby and into an exam room as quickly as possible, then having them leave via the back door so they don’t go through the lobby again. If you have no appointment but are truly sick, a phone call or rap on the front door will still get you in following the same protocol as with appointments.They are cleaning rooms and the lobby between patients, too. These are all positive changes that the office will most likely continue because they are good medical practices. He has also done some telemedicine even though he prefers to treat the patient in person, but it is one more tool at his disposal. He also said our nursing home has done a great job limiting visitors, enforcing social distancing, and keeping residents healthy. Dr. Purdy does hope that all this worry about spreading germs will have a positive effect and people will continue to be more aware of personal hygiene and keep up good practices like frequent hand washing.
Several people expressed frustration over how they think the media has blown this all out of proportion and how our elected officials are handling the crisis. Yes, people are dying, but the media is being blamed for giving us a steady diet of virus news and even fake news. Others feel the government and the President aren’t doing enough, and others expressed concern over too much government intervention and efficiency being hampered by their meddling. A few see the media-excess as a way to take down the economy before the election. America has experienced waves of other illnesses that caused deaths, but this time the media has created panic and people aren’t behaving rationally. Some expressed regrets that we really don’t know who to listen to or believe, and therefore many people just do what they want to do.
The stress level for all Americans has gone up, but especially in families that are suffering financially, and families, I suspect, that were under too much stress and tension to begin with. This has all made it worse. My urban contacts said reports of domestic violence have gone up in their cities as the imposed limitations, lost jobs, and business closings continue.
But in the midst of all this unrest, I was told about positive things coming out of the shut-down. Families are rediscovering each other and doing things together again. People are cooking at home and meals are actually enjoyed with the whole family at the table. Kids are going outside and playing in their yards, relearning how to play games with their parents. Several mentioned they realized how fast their lives had been moving when the restrictions slowed it all down, and they liked that their lives had slowed down.
With local churches being closed, more pastors are utilizing the Internet to broadcast church services. For many people that is a more personal and intimate connection to God and their church family than watching a service on TV from one of the celebrity mega-churches. It also provides the homebound a way to worship.
Neighborhoods are rising to the challenge of what to do with all this time on their hands in creative ways, too. I’m sure you’ve seen the bears around town or put your own out for the kids to hunt and count. I was told of a birthday parade with decorated cars cruising past the birthday person’s house honking and shouting out best wishes for the day. Easter eggs were displayed Easter weekend and some wrapped Easter eggs were dropped for kids to find. Bright lights have been put up in yards and sidewalks decorated with chalk to make things look cheery. One student played an informal mini-concert from his garage, and one person had a word garden with positive words painted on rocks in the garden. Others have reached out to help their elderly or disabled neighbors with grocery deliveries and unavoidable trips or errands.
One person said this has all made their family be more organized and plan ahead so that there are fewer trips to stores. Someone else said maybe we will come out of this with more appreciation for relationships rather than material goods, for what’s really important, for not working for money, but for time to be with loved ones. Grandmothers are even learning about technology and using Face Time with their grandchildren who live in other towns.
So in our little town, life goes on, but through uncharted territory. Bad things happen to good people, but good things can come out of a bad situation as well. Perhaps getting some of the issues out in the open and talking about them will help us deal with what has been thrust upon us. In fact, one person I interviewed said talking about it had in some way lessened the impact of the negatives and helped accept the fact that, yes, this too shall pass.
And it will.
You may have noticed that the pandemic’s impact on education was not discussed here. That’s another whole story. I visited with teachers and students on that subject. See what they have to say about this grand experiment next week.
My thanks to all the anonymous people who helped me with this story by graciously sharing their opinions and thoughts with me.