Stutter Steps

Panic Attack, Sherri Grob, 2013

When in danger or in doubt,
Run in circles, scream and shout,
Panic, Panic!

I’ve posted this photo before, but I’m reposting it here because its graphics are reminiscent of the Coronavirus and what I am calling its antibodies. This image was taken from a quilt that was part of the 2013 Paducah quilt show, called Panic Attack, by the artist Sherri Grob. In light of the ongoing pandemic, Ms. Grob seems almost prescient with her artistry, if I do say so myself.

So, we’ve reached the end of month two of lockdown from this pandemic and many people are saying enough is enough. Or are they? That remains to be seen. Missouri, my state, is poised to lift many, but not all restrictions that have kept us sheltering in place. Some other states are doing this even more aggressively, while others are hanging back, watching and waiting.

Anne and I walked yesterday. It was cold, blustery and there was a wee bit of precipitation along the way. Not the warm eighty plus of the day before. We did our long neighborhood walk that took us through the De Mun neighborhood, where we had first lived, forty years ago. There is a small business district there that up until a couple of months ago was doing quite well. All of its store fronts are still occupied. When the lockdown was initiated some stores shutdown. Kaldi’s was one of these. Others plowed on. Apparently, laundromats are essential services. Most chose a middle road, by offering takeout, but as of yesterday, most of those places had also given up.

Next month the governor will relax statewide restrictions. Locally, Saint Louis city and county will maintain their closures, leaving the De Mun businesses still shuttered. Around 80% of all of Missouri’s COVID-19 cases have been in the Saint Louis metro area, with the county and the city being hit hardest. Metro East will still be closed under Illinois statewide ban, but the three Missouri counties that surround Saint Louis plan on relaxing their restrictions.

What will these relaxations really mean though? Pretend that the county had followed the governor’s lead and relaxed its restrictions, then those shops and restaurants could be open the next time we walked by them. The buildings that house these stores are all old, likely straddling the century mark. That means that my modern standards they are also quite small, with not a lot of room for social distancing. Seating patrons safely would severely limit the number of tables that could be run. Can a restaurant still make a go of it with only a fraction of their tables being usable? Most restaurants don’t have the margins to operate at these reduced capacities. It is cheaper for them to just shutdown. And what about their staff? Is it really worth the risk of working, for hourly wages? Then there is the liability issue. What if one of your employees gets sick? Reckless endangerment suits seem like a loss leader in this time of Corona.

Sure, some businesses will reopen. Their reopening will garner all kinds of press and be blown way out of proportion to their actual economic impact. Then a few weeks or months will pass and incidents of infection will rise again. Politicians are betting that they can manage this rise. These are the same politicians that have done such a great job so far at managing this crisis. (Testing anyone?) The problem is that what these politicians are betting are people’s lives. Is that a bet that you would be willing to take? I certainly would not. It is too soon.

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