Notes from a time when handwashing made headlines 

How long have we been ‘sheltering in place’ now?  Four months? Five? 

Less than three. 

Can’t be!

And it’s weeks. 

Three weeks. We’ve done the jigsaw puzzles, learned to play Set and Frozen Trouble, worked out a home-school schedule for the 8 year-old, set up an obstacle course outside, and given thanks for ‘screens’–our links to the outside world.

And I’ve spent some time wondering how people will remember this time. Will they smile while remembering the musicians of the Rotterdam Philharmonic performing together from homes scattered throughout the city? Or musicians such as Dave Matthews, Rob Thomas, and Garth Brooks broadcasting solo performances to entertain home-bound fans?

Will they remember how their hands stung from frequent washing?

And how schools wrestled with the problem of getting food to students at home?  Will they remember teachers planning to get activities on-line while fretting about the kids they know don’t have Internet access?

And kids restless with the loneliness of missing their friends?

Will ‘toilet paper’, ‘handwashing’, and ‘six feet’ become permanent additions to American humor? Or will they be considered grim reminders? (Time Magazine quotes the message board of an Austin restaurant: “Single man w/TP seeks single woman w/hand sanitizer for good clean fun.”)

Will we remember a time when sacrifice drew us together or when fear deepened the divisions among us?

A lot of Idahoans have complained that Gov. Little’s March 25 order to self-isolate was too little too late. Others complain that he has gone too far.

Theoretically, if we could stop all people with COVID-19 from interacting with others for two weeks, the disease would die out. Figures coming out of China indicate that’s working for them.

No one expects that will work here. To start with, 22 states do not have shelter-in-place orders (NYT, March 28).

Gov. Kay Ivey of Alabama called for non-essential businesses to close, but didn’t issue isolation orders because “we are not California.”  Alabama had 541 confirmed cases on Thursday and 762 by Sunday.

As a friend in Kuna posted, “I feel like the kid who has to stay in at recess because other kids have been bad.”

The problem is worse because we don’t know who is ill–and won’t until we can do a lot more testing.

The city of Vo, Iceland, tested all its residents and found that half the people with COVID-19 were unaware of it.

And, yes, some Idahoans with symptoms have to wait two weeks to get the results of their tests–14 days where not only hugs, but chatting with friends over coffee, is taboo. We’re not equipped to test everyone who might be a carrier.

Will this be remembered as a time when people called their neighbors to see if they needed anything?  When people supported stores that couldn’t open by purchasing gift cards? When the staff at the Y called their senior members to make sure they were all right?  When 20,000 Idahoans joined the Idaho Covid 19 Mutual Aid Group on Facebook?

Or will Americans be remembered as scalping toilet paper on Marketplace at $30 a roll?  As singling out Democrats, Chinese people, and New Yorkers as scapegoats? As calling upon “grandparents” to accept death in order to save the economy?

I long for a leadership that calls upon our best instincts and urges us to act on our humanity, not our fears. One that confers with a wide range of experts to pick a course that’s best for the country and sticks with it.

But, absent that, may we care for one another–and keep washing our hands.

Published by Judy Ferro

Judy Ferro is communication director for the 2C Dems and a columnist for the Idaho Press.

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