Stayin' Alive (at home; at a safe distance)
A hundred years from now, somebody may be in a research library, going through the pages of this issue of THE BEE, trying to learn just what it was like in the spring of 2020 when suddenly businesses closed, people lost their jobs, "social distancing" became a spectator sport, and folks walked around with bandanas over their faces as if they were going to rob a bank. And as the sun came out, sports of most kinds (except golf) came to a dead stop – and when people stopped driving and stayed home, the air turned as fresh as it had been a century before. What was that all about?
So here it is. The COVID-19 coronavirus, which is not a flu, but mutated from the class of viruses that produce the common cold, arose in Asia, apparently first in bats – and since it turned out to be quite contagious, swiftly swept around the world. Although most people didn't experience anything worse than a flu-like symptoms, some experienced much worse – up to and including death. So the only solution, lacking a ready cure, was to keep people from infecting each other.
That resulted in "social distancing" – keeping at least six feet from anybody not in your own family. And it changed everything starting in late March.Businesses were ordered closed where people congregate – restaurants and movie theaters and bars and sports arenas and schools led the way. Until the disease dies down, they were to remain closed, to keep people healthy. And everyone was strongly urged to stay home! All those closed businesses had no need of employees, so there were a huge number of layoffs, and filings for unemployment insurance went through the roof. The stock market fell off a cliff, and then bounded back up it again. The Federal Reserve reduced inter-bank interest rates to zero; and Congress passed laws making special payments to individuals and loans to business, in hopes of keeping a complete financial collapse from occurring.
Some people had jobs they could use a computer to continue at home, and suddenly found themselves trying to work that way. Instead of face-to-face communication, within less than a month everyone was familiar with a previously obscure business videoconferencing tool called "Zoom" – and schools, doctors, homebound residents, nonprofit organizations, and friends were joining the businesses already using it, videoconferencing like crazy. There was so much online activity, especially when so many people also tried to watch television on it, that the Internet sagged. Automobile traffic dropped to as little as 5% of what it normally would have been at times, and the air cleared up amazingly in major population centers around the world. Portland has some of the best air of any major American metropolis – but what it was like during the hiatus was like being in a fresh breeze on an open prairie somewhere. Kids, stuck at home, when they were not trying to attend their school classes on a computer, got out their sidewalk chalk – and used masking tape to design concrete works of art – or to write encouraging messages to passers-by.
Restaurants which normally did all their business in dining rooms, put a table in front of their door and posted signs offering "call-ahead take-out". (But of course most of their wait staffs had no role, with no dine-in customers, and had to be laid off.) On the other hand, restaurants which normally focused on drive-through or take-out just closed off any dining area they had, and proceeded with business as usual.Since this coronavirus crisis hit Southeast Portland at just about the time spring was getting underway, warm temperatures and sunny skies lured people out to the public parks. So many people, in fact, that the parks closed their parking lots and sent out Park Rangers to remind people keep their distance from each other. The NBA cancelled the rest of its season; baseball never got to start its season (but had not entirely given up the idea of eventually having a very short season in summer, if the all-clear were given in time to allow it). Golf continued (with social distancing being fairly easy, the way the game is played) at the open-to-the-public Eastmoreland Golf Course – but its clubhouse was closed for the duration.And how did people deal with all this? For many, it was painful – out of work, with little savings; government promised forbearance on rent payments and evictions, but the delayed rent would eventually have to be paid. The income tax deadline was moved forward a couple of months.But there was one reaction which puzzled the experts, and became the fodder for endless comedy: In this emergency situation, people went out and bought toilet paper.
Yes, toilet paper. In vast quantities. Week after week. There will be scholarly papers written in the future trying to explain that phenomenon.The overall community attitude was surprisingly positive – "we'll get through this together" was a phrase that appeared on windows, in ads, and chalked on sidewalks.And, to our future researcher, we suggest that after absorbing this introduction, continue through this issue of THE BEE. You'll find all the things that happened, good and bad, in Inner Southeast Portland in April – the first full month of the full "coronavirus crisis" in Portland.And next month we'll share with you in THE BEE just how May went, right here.
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