The departure date for a trip to India we’d been planning for more than a year was drawing near when we first started hearing about an outbreak of an illness in China. We kept an eye on it, much like people in this part of the country listen up for tropical storm development in the Atlantic.
Around the first of March, I started quietly checking the international news wires several times a day, first to see if the coronavirus had reached the Golden Triangle, and then to keep an eye on the Taj Mahal. Shortly thereafter, the Indian government closed the Taj Mahal to visitors, and 10 days before we were to leave, I postponed the trip. The next day, India closed its borders to travelers.
So we’ve been pretty cautious about the coronavirus at our house before it was much of a concern here, although the beginning of our pandemic can be traced to mid-March. I started working from home on the 16th; our last meal in a restaurant was a few days later, when we ordered carryout from Blue Plate, and then decided we’d eat at one of the outdoor tables on the porch. That may not really count as “dining in.”
We’ve had masks, and worn them diligently. We bought gloves, and wear them to the grocery store, which has been the only regular destination. We get carryout occasionally, but have eaten at home virtually every meal. We’ve met friends out a time or two, and have practiced social distancing. I worked from the patio for weeks, and am a bit uneasy about being in the office, although my workspace is solitary and my interaction with others is distant and infrequent.
I’ve tried to remain matter-of-fact about it, but the truth is I’d been fighting back a wig-out since I learned India had locked the gates of the Taj, shutting out 15,000 daily visitors to the 17th century structure.
However, the past week or so has been especially disquieting. We’d heard of celebrities getting sick, John Prine died, and it seemed every day would bring news of the loss of someone’s brother-in-law’s cousin, or the nephew of the guy painting the neighbor’s house. There’d been news of COVID-19 death, but it was always unknown, far-removed people.
But this week, a woman I knew died after being hospitalized several days with the coronavirus. I didn’t know her well. I worked with her brother years ago, and her husband was a classmate of mine since Young Junior High School days. I’d run into the couple just before the pandemic started, and we exchanged greetings.
But many people I know well were close to her, and witnessing their expressions of shock and heartbreak on social media really brings it home. On top of that, I’ve begun hearing of other people I know who have tested positive for the virus.
It feels like that tropical storm has developed into a hurricane. It’s been bearing down on us for months. Now the sky’s grown dark and it’s starting to rain.
My veneer of laissez-faire has grown thin. Last week, I was incensed by an announcement from a local watering hole railing against the governor’s long-overdue mandatory mask order. The proprietor stated that the order would not be enforced at his business. I made a mental note not to return to the place.
At the same time, I respect the decisions of others who see the pandemic in a different light. People have a right to think it’s a hoax, or that being forced to wear a mask violates their liberties. They’re wrong, of course; they have a right to their own opinions, but not their own facts. But when their refusal to follow safety mandates has the potential to endanger others, that’s a different matter altogether.
The other day, I phoned a friend to let him know I was bringing by a donation for an initiative he heads, and asked if he was at the office.
“No, I’m not” he said. “I’ll be out for a couple of weeks.
“You’ve heard of that coronavirus? Well, I tested positive this morning.”
That was jarring news. Subconsciously, I reached up and touched the black and white polka-dotted cloth mask hanging around my neck; my sister sent us several she’d made weeks ago. I searched for the right response, and couldn’t find one.
“Well,” I stammered. “I hope you don’t get sick. And if you do, I hope it’s mild.” Yes, I realize how stupid it sounds. But I had nothing.
So that’s where we are. The virus is capricious, and its path is unknown. It’s a storm that ravages and destroys some while leaving others unfazed in its wake.
The sky’s grown dark, the wind has picked up, and the rain is here.
Take care of yourselves.
Bill Perkins is editorial page editor of The Dothan Eagle. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Concerned about COVID-19?
Sign up now to get the most recent coronavirus headlines and other important local and national news sent to your email inbox daily.