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  • Last modified 102 days ago (March 26, 2020)

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Catching the disease of the moment

If you think COVID-19 is deadly, you’ve seen nothing yet. The economic depression that’s likely to follow all our hand-wringing and hand-washing may make the disease look like a mild case of the sniffles — which, for something like four out of five sufferers, is exactly what COVID-19 is.

To be sure, we’re playing it safe not so much for ourselves but for the less than one in five for whom the disease could be more serious. It’s good we do so. But at times setting the rules is becoming perilously close to a contest in determining who can be holier than thou in dictating what is and isn’t allowed. And many times the true intent of a precaution isn’t followed.

What’s happened, for instance, to all the young men and women who otherwise would be in classrooms? Some stayed home, but a great number of them demanded to spend time with friends, especially “significant others” — boyfriends and girlfriends, who tend to engage in a lot more than just breathing in each other’s presence.

For a time, restaurants closed their dining rooms and, if there wasn’t enough business, even their drive-up windows but stayed open for morning coffee klatches, probably the most dangerous behavior that could happen in a restaurant, where dining tables, at least, are appropriately socially distant from those who aren’t sharing the same home.

Some businesses and government offices have been incredibly responsive, even if staffers have been sent home. Workers forward their phones to where they are and quickly complete tasks that might in normal times take days or weeks.

An email to Marion’s city office last Friday about a large bump in a street resulted in almost instantaneous repair. College students who don’t have computers sufficient to do homework from online classes often find faculty and staff almost falling over themselves to mail loaner computers to them.

Yet there also was the woman who was seen trying to get into the courthouse last Friday to get, according to her, a marriage license — something most people do just a a few days before the ceremony. The state court system had declared that only emergency work was to be done by judicial staff, who also handle marriage licenses, and when that work was done, everyone apparently went home. One wonders whether the vain visitor to the courthouse was able to exchange her vows or will have to wait until someone figures out, as the courts here are trying to do, how to do something like keep a single person in each office to be able to respond to matters that, while not emergencies, still are very important to the individuals involved.

Something’s just a bit off if regulations believe it’s vital to keep liquor stores open and even allow them to offer curb-side pickup but it isn’t an automatic requirement that at least one person remain in every office with which the public might have important dealings. At least drive-by liquor customers can’t make such great use of the product that they feel compelled to purchase a marriage license as a consequence of their actions.

Meanwhile, constipation no longer became a blessing Monday when the first rolls of toilet paper in more than a week began appearing in local stores, where shoppers were less concerned with whether it was squeezably soft than with whether it was for sale at any price.

The big problem is that, while gasoline prices have plunged, unemployment has soared, and woe be the typical local business that pays each week’s bills out of each week’s receipts. A week of no receipts could be a lifetime with no more business. Gone are the days when most businesses had a six-month or one-year financial cushion. Those cushions, if they ever existed, were moved into investments more lucrative — until the stock market began crashing. The paycheck-to-paycheck workers who depend on jobs in those businesses may soon find that the only area store they can afford to frequent is the food bank.

There’s not a lot we can do about this right now, but when society begins emerging from the lack-of-drugs psychotic break it’s currently experiencing, all of us need to make special efforts to patronize those businesses that in all likelihood will be uncounted in the COVID-19 toll but will suffer equally devastating damage to their health.

Government, too, can deal with this, not by offering loans but by giving preference to small, local suppliers whose payroll benefits to the community outweigh the few pennies government might save by buying from soulless corporate monoliths outside the county.

Even when the all-clear for infection is given, we’re all likely to be sheltered in place for some time economically. Just as it is when viruses are spreading, we’ll need to reach out to the less fortunate in the community and render whatever assistance is needed.

That — not whether one well-meaning public official could outdo another by issuing an even more restrictive set of unenforceable but dire-sounding guidelines — is what will determine how we recover from this crisis.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified March 26, 2020

 

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