The first stay-home directives I remember came with a date that seemed impossibly far away. Three whole weeks! That date was today, April 4. Now the orders, or certainly our intentions, stretch into the unknown future. Staying at home has become the new normal.
As the first-hand reports come in from the front lines, this order does not seem burdensome. People are dying hard, sudden deaths out there. Healthcare workers and systems are stretched to their limits and beyond. Staying at home is nothing, if it helps. And it does.
(I should say that staying at home is “nothing” for those of us who are not suffering immediate hardship from loss of jobs and income. My household and family are among the privileged in that way. So I am speaking for myself, as I usually try to do in this blog. I do not pretend to advise, speak for, or report on a broader segment of the population.)
Today I realized that a certain version of the new normal will have to last quite a while. Perhaps the endpoint will be the development and widespread deployment of a vaccine for Covid-19. How long will that be? Eighteen months, at least. Until that happens, there are certain things I just won’t do. Here are some.
Go to shows, concerts, any kind of mass public event.
On March 12 we bought tickets for the traveling Disney production of Lion King. Our tickets were for March 17. Family members were hoping to get in a quick visit and some fun before everything shut down. Several hours after we bought the tickets we learned that the production had been canceled. The family canceled their visit. Our personal lockdown began the next day.
The word from the theater was that we should hold onto our tickets because they would try to reschedule the show later, perhaps in the fall. Today, however, we received a full refund. Good thing, because no way would I be ready to go to a crowded auditorium next fall.
Or to a Notre Dame women’s basketball game. We had season tickets this year. Probably not next season.
Or to a movie theater. Well, we do mostly Netflix and Prime anyhow.
Not until there is a vaccine.
Get on a plane.
Way back in mid-February (less than two long months ago!) I decided to cancel plans to lead a delegation from our church on a goodwill visit to Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. The trip was scheduled for late July. If there was any sign of a global pandemic in the offing, the last place I wanted to be was in a crowded Third World city with a shaky medical infrastructure.
I felt a little foolish canceling this trip when others weren’t taking the outbreak terribly seriously. One physician in my church wondered why I was scared of a little virus when I hadn’t been deterred by the threat of Ebola on previous trips. I had my reasons. Ebola had been pretty much contained to areas far from where I was visiting, and on most trips I am responsible only for myself, not half a dozen other people.
Needless to say I was right but for different reasons than I thought. One is the travel bans or advisories now in place worldwide. A second is that the virus is more widespread in the First World than in the Third World so far, so the danger might be that we would carry it to them rather than vice versa. Also, it turns out that Kinshasa has gone on extreme but difficult-to-enforce lockdown to protect the rest of DRC. So far Covid-19 has only been detected in that city. So whereas Kinshasa has often been immune from the worst epidemics and violence that have plagued that country in recent years, it is exactly the opposite now. The Kinois are suffering immediate economic hardship. No doubt many more will die in a country where death too often and too quickly follows illness.
Regular tourist travel hasn’t interested me much in recent years but I miss Congo. I miss my friends there.
Still, I won’t go until there is a vaccine.
Go to a mall.
This is perhaps the easiest of the new-normal prohibitions for me. I hate shopping anyhow. I shop mostly online. I feel bad for the retail businesses that were tenuous already and will no doubt collapse altogether in coming months. I’ve always thought malls were a plague on our environment and cityscapes but empty malls are even worse. They are going to be around for a long time but I will stay out of them.
I am ambivalent about sit-down restaurants. High-end restaurants with great cocktails are a treat—and not for carryout!–but we’ll see. I hope they stay in business.
Until there is a vaccine.
Hug anyone except my family.
I would die for a lap-snuggle with grandkids but our children are playing the Enforcers and keeping their distance so as not to risk making that into a literal death wish. At some point in the not-distant future, however, I believe we will feel free to reassemble and touch each other.
At some point I believe we will feel free to reassemble with friends and have face-to-face church (God I miss the singing) but I believe we will also be very careful about touching each other. No peace hugs, no handshaking. I probably won’t snuggle other people’s kids for a while, either. We may wear masks. (Will masks become the new normal?) And we will continue to wash our hands a lot.
Until there is a vaccine.
So much has changed in two months. It’s hard to imagine how much will have changed in 18 months or what the new normal will be by then. I’m not in the business of prediction but I have already adopted some new rules for myself.
What’s your new normal and how long do you think it will last?