As of today, March 14, 2020, it’s everywhere: coronavirus or COVID-19. I figured I would attempt to post frequently to chronicle what life is like in Ohio dealing with this but with a caveat.
My professional work involves helping my company deal with enterprise risk, and believe me, COVID-19 qualifies as one as it does for so many other companies. As a result, I’m part of a larger team that is handling what our response is as a company to this event.
However I am not an official spokesperson for our company, so you won’t hear me divulge details about what we are doing as a company. Maybe one day I’ll write a book or short story about what that has been like but for now, let me just tell you about life in Medina, Ohio.
Earlier this week, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. That same day, the governor of Ohio, Mike DeWine, held a press conference about the situation in Ohio and he’s held one each day since with Dr. Amy Acton, the Director of the Ohio Department of Health, by his side also delivering remarks in a clear, calm style. One of Gov. DeWine’s directives involved the closing of public schools for a minimum of three weeks and the ban of mass gatherings of 100 people or more.
Several Americans seemed to think the news about the virus was overblown. These sentiments certainly seemed to fall naturally along the massive political divide in our country, but not exclusively. Plenty of Ohioans thought school closings and mass bans were totally uncalled for.
I sensed something different. Maybe it’s because of the nature of my work, or my natural inclination to take things more seriously than most people. I already knew the reasons why the infection numbers in the US were so low in March is because we didn’t have enough test kits in the US to confirm presence of the virus.
For the governor to ban mass gatherings of so few people meant they already had reason to believe it was far more prevalent in our state than they were officially able to say. After all, Ohio was one of the last six states to begin testing for the virus. As of today, 26 Ohioans are confirmed with the virus, with over 10 times that many under testing.
Immediately people wondered how to handle daycare for their children, especially the young school-age kids. Several large companies in Northeast Ohio are prepared enough to send their white collar/ knowledge workers home to work for the same period of time, but there are plenty of jobs that simply do not allow for that luxury. Ohioans were simply plunged into emergency mode in short order. Grocery stores sold out of toilet paper, Clorox wipes, and hand sanitizer immediately.
So all three of my kids are now home for three weeks, one of which was our already scheduled “spring break”. It doesn’t sound like the school districts will be mandating any form of education during that period of time, unlike blizzards where some packets are sent as homework.
Our kids were initially quite happy about that. It initially felt like an extended Christmas vacation to them. My daughter gleefully announced that she and her friends had already planned a bunch of sleepovers until I burst her bubble, explaining that we are being asked to engage in social distancing and our family is taking that very seriously. I mean, she had a fever earlier this week, and my youngest had glassy eyes, sniffles, and a dry cough that developed literally overnight. Sure, it could be seasonal allergies, but who really knows.
Ohio, or maybe even the US altogether, is trying to avoid being in Italy’s situation today, a week from now. Our daughter is pretty angry with us for cramping her social style. Maybe her friends don’t seem to understand the situation. Maybe their parents haven’t chatted with them, gotten through to them, or believe themselves the gravitas of what’s being asked of us all. I’m chalking her reaction up to preteen attitude for the time being but it doesn’t make it easier to deal with.
I am working from home for that same period of time. And let’s be clear: I’m an introvert. In a very weird way, this is an introvert’s dream! I don’t have to physically interact with large groups of people for a while. Cool with me. I need a serious recharge as it is. I was really looking forward to spring break for that very reason but perhaps this season will give us a chance to change a lot of things about how we live our lives.
Our official spring break vacation and planned family trip is cancelled. We had planned to take my oldest on some college visits to see what universities he might be interested in attending when he graduates public school, but it seems as though most colleges have cancelled extracurricular events and released their students for an extended period of time, so we’re not traveling to these colleges, not in the near term. You could see the look of disappointment on my son’s face but it was mixed with a solemn, growing awareness of just how serious the whole situation is for life to come to a grinding halt.
The way Governor DeWine put it, which was so incredibly wise, is “Is it necessary? And is it necessary now?”
So we’ll stay put. With very few exceptions, most of us are not leaving the house for three weeks. My husband will head out to get groceries. My oldest has joined him to do it but maybe that isn’t the best idea. It’s a good life lesson to see empty shelves in the stores and execute Plan B, but I’m worried about the exposure each is getting by being out and about.
And this is where it gets interesting: my husband is president of our church. Churches are exempt from the ban inasmuch as they are encouraged to hold services online, and many of them are. However, we’re Orthodox Christian, unchanged (i.e., “old school”) in our administration of communion that we share a chalice and a spoon with everyone in church.
Our priest reminds us that the church over millennia has made it through pandemics before. We’re told to have faith that receiving communion is life-giving, it cannot harm us in anyway as it truly is the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Our church is overwhelmingly populated by people over 60 with all the underlying medical conditions that make them high risk individuals to a novel coronavirus. Like many churches, we struggle to pay the bills inasmuch as we are one of the better off Orthodox parishes, so a drop off in attendance is likely to result in massive deficits.
Money isn’t the biggest concern, nor is it the only one. Our bishop is visiting from Detroit this Sunday compelling many of us to attend to greet him. We were supposed to also welcome a second bishop from Kenya as our church raised money for an orphanage there, and he flew to the US to thank us tomorrow. However, he had to return to Kenya while the US and its rapid changes in travel policy this week allowed for him to do so.
Our priest will never tell people to stay away; he simply cannot. My husband also, as president, cannot tell people to stay away either. All he and the board of trustees can do is communicate with parishioners that they’re doing everything they can to sanitize the facility properly. Nevertheless, some parishioners are very nearly hysterical over the health implications that could devastate our long-time parishioners, our family and friends by gathering for liturgy during this holy season of Lent.
It’s a very tough situation to be in. I will readily admit that my faith is weak. I believe what the scientists are telling me. And all Ohioans, all Americans actually, have a very real opportunity to take all necessary measures to “flatten the pandemic curve” as we are guided to do so we don’t overwhelm our healthcare system. In this regard, Ohio’s governmental response is sound even if it is possibly too late to really help.
God bless the doctors, nurses, laboratory/testing team, other medical staff, EMT, police, firefighters, government officials, and anybody else I am missing who are on the front lines dealing with this issue. These people are not getting all the rest they need and they are at risk of becoming ill themselves. They need our prayers.
In other news, my husband teaches percussion on contract at a few of our local school districts and teaches private students in our home music studio. At first we thought we’d continue lessons as the studio is physically large enough to keep adequate distance between the people present, as it’s usually two or three persons at a time at most. We sent a message out to the parents and students saying as much.
But literally in the span of a few minutes of him, as studio owner, having sent that message, I felt incredibly uneasy about promoting an environment where we were not adhering to the social distancing concept. Even though we are sanitizing the studio and planned to do so throughout these days, I couldn’t bear the thought that we might be a source of the virus or a transmitter of some kind.
Within 90 minutes of telling our students and their parents that we would remain open, we notified them that we would go on physical hiatus for three weeks, to match the governor’s orders. We explained that my husband would be available to teach online, but I doubt anyone will take us up on it.
Between the studio closing and the schools closing, we just lost 1/3 of our monthly income. Now mind you, we are among the very fortunate that this situation simply means we adjust some of our financial habits, hopefully temporarily. I literally logged into our bank online and changed some of the bill paying and investing for the next few months. We’ll get by. But we had to explain to the kids that we’re taking a financial hit and our normal habits will need to change.
It makes me think of all the people impacted by this: the restaurants, hairdressers, small business people, therapists, librarians, etc., who are out of work or likely to experience a significant drop in business. I hope we can weather the storm but so many Americans live paycheck to paycheck. I don’t know how this will work without massive social, educational, financial, and business disruption not to mention the health kind. We will need to look out for one another. I contacted some of my neighbors, a few who are elderly and may not have family close by to help them, to offer our assistance should they need a grocery run or a pharmacy pickup.
I hope to God that this crisis makes America wake up and realize we have got to fix the way healthcare works in this country. There are easier and far less expensive ways of providing outstanding health care than the crazy system we’ve allowed to grow here unchecked, like tangled weeds in a garden.
The pantry and freezer are stocked, the finances are adjusted. The laundry is caught up, deep house cleaning is next, and then I am setting up my office away from the office in a separate room of the house to ramp up for the next three weeks and be as productive and helpful as possible. Work priorities will have to be shifted as this is not business as usual.
I even called the first of my two sisters to coach her to be serious about that “if you’re over 60, don’t leave the house” thing. I don’t think even she quite got it until I called her. And she, of all people, is a retired former hospital laboratory worker in charge of safety practices at her hospital. And the virus is present in her county. It didn’t click with her until I called, and maybe it still really hasn’t.
My oldest, a teenager, has already informed me that COVID-19 is already being called “The Boomer Remover”. That made for a groan-worthy laugh but it hits hard since so many of my extended family are boomers. And then there is the Coronavirus Barometer Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones. If he dies, we’re all gonna die, because that dude could likely survive a nuclear holocaust along with the cockroaches.
Really bad jokes aside, our kids have had a talking to and have been challenged to do something to enrich their minds and hearts during this unprecedented time. We told them we want them to be able one day to tell their grandkids, with pride, what they did with their precious, unprecedented gift of time.
In the meantime, this experiment with the five of us at home full time for three weeks and probably more, is on. Stay tuned.