As I think back on how the coronavirus pandemic played out in the months since March, I can’t help but be struck by the prevailing changes in outlook from one week to the next. The only thing that has been certain has been uncertainty.
In the early weeks of the pandemic, as the Local closed its office and worked from home, schools closed and then businesses, no one could really tell the extent of the danger we faced. There were warnings that a single coronavirus particle could linger on any surface for days and infect anyone hapless enough to have touched the spot and then themselves before washing their hands. Even taking in the mail every day was fraught with peril.
After a few months, and into May, it began to look like the worst days of the pandemic were beginning to fade into the past. The daily reports from city, county and state officials took on hopeful, optimistic tones and we executed a gradual reopening of businesses, from outdoor dining to haircuts – a semblance of normal returned. June offered promise.
July has been a big change for the worse. In Philadelphia, Montgomery County and much of Southeast Pennsylvania, our immediate sense of risk has been reduced greatly. But almost every other corner of the country outside of the Northeast appears to be in the midst of an explosion of the virus. For the week of July 21, the country experienced more than 1,000 deaths every day. It was the first time since late May that more than 1,000 died due to COVID-19.
I think many of us hoped, foolishly perhaps, that the nation would have gotten a better handle on the disease. Most of Europe has managed to control the spread of the disease as many countries prepare to send their kids back to school. The same has happened in Asia where a diverse set of nations like South Korea, Vietnam and New Zealand have demonstrated tremendous success at keeping their citizens safe.
But all the hope we had of following suit in June has been doused by cold realities that we in the Unites States don’t look anywhere near close to doing the same. So even in the Philadelphia region, which has done much better than most other regions of the US, officials are not certain we’re going to manage to follow overseas examples. Schools are going to remain closed with students learning online. It’s tough to imagine a return to indoor restaurants or office workplaces.
And so we wait. We wait for other regional and state governments to turn the spread of COVID-19 around. It’s clear that the federal government won’t help or provide direction on that front. We also wait for a vaccine. There are promising candidates out there, but no telling how soon one will be ready, or just as important, how quickly it can be made available to the public. It’s all frustratingly out of our hands. We can do our part, but so does everyone else. It’s been a long, hard wait.
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