Sheltering in place

BY RANDALL RIGSBEE, News + Record Staff
Posted 3/20/20

On the face of it, self-quarantining — or extreme social distancing — doesn’t seem the worst thing.

Especially for a homebody like me who also enjoys solitary pursuits like reading, writing …

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Sheltering in place

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On the face of it, self-quarantining — or extreme social distancing — doesn’t seem the worst thing.

Especially for a homebody like me who also enjoys solitary pursuits like reading, writing and making things out of wood.

I did a bit of all those things over the past weekend, as coronavirus and fears of coronavirus spread across the world and forced most of us into self-isolation for self-preservation and to help reduce the virus’ spread.

As I was wrapping up my woodworking project Sunday afternoon, executing a concluding motion with a jigsaw, I decided that an activity that could lead — worst case scenario — to the loss of a finger might not be the smartest activity I could choose to undertake as the world understandably hunkers down, so I put the woodworking project and the tools away and undertook a far less risky pastime: we finally began watching the third season of “Victoria,” the historical period drama we’d recorded off PBS more than a year ago.

But whether woodworking or watching a drama about the crown during Queen Victoria’s reign, hunkering down is only so diverting, and for only so long. In the back — or, more accurately, the front — of my mind throughout all recent activity, COVID-19 looms large.

It reminds me of the old joke, which 155 years later still feels “too soon,” and for which I hope you’ll forgive me for repeating: “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?”

Other than coronavirus, things are going OK.

I’ve heard the words “coronavirus” and “unprecedented” uttered in unison so much in the past week, out of curiosity (and maybe a bit of fidgety energy from being self-quarantined) I Googled the two-word phrase and, given the genuinely unprecedented nature of this pandemic (at least in our lifetime), a lot of hits popped up.

This is, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a man whom we’ve all come to recognize by now, an unprecedented situation. And the unprecedented nature of this pandemic makes everything about everything feel eerily off.

It’s not unprecedented for us to shelter in place.

We’ve done it here in central North Carolina through, by my precise count, umpteen snow storms and hurricanes. In the early fall of 1996, this region was hit very hard by Hurricane Fran, for one example. I remember folks lining up at the Petro Mart in Pittsboro to buy bags of ice, which was in short supply at the moment. It felt then — with the power out everywhere — like gritty, sweaty survival during those extended days of Fran recovery, I recall.

And I remember past snowfalls that kept us grounded and without electricity for days at a time.

But those times were nothing like this.

Although we haven’t lost (yet, and I’m not saying we will, but...) the conveniences of electricity or water, as we sometimes do during natural disasters, the coronavirus has a distinctly more Stephen King feel to it than any previous shelter-in-place scenarios we’re all familiar with.

There are reassurances.

Dr. Fauci, for instance, has maintained a calm and calming demeanor so far during this crisis, which he has said we should expect to last “several weeks to a few months, for sure.” I hear that and it means to my ears that an end to this crisis will occur, even if we don’t know exactly when.

Stephen King himself attempted to reassure his fan base that the end is not nigh, tweeting that the cornavirus is “not anywhere near as serious” as the end-of-the-world scenario (flu-based, in fact) the author of horror novels depicted in his post-apocalyptic magnum opus “The Stand.”

“It’s eminently survivable,” King tweeted of the coronavirus. “Keep calm and take all reasonable precautions.”

From a public health standpoint, I think King’s words are right on the money.

But that doesn’t do much to temper wider fears or concerns about oddities such as stock market circuit breakers that keep going off, or monkeys running wild in the streets of Thailand as tourist traffic halts their normal food chain. That’s the sort of stuff that ought to be straight out of frightening fiction but is actually part of the current coronavirus reality.

One weekend into self-quarantine, I believe, hardly gives us even a taste of what’s to come. We don’t really know now what is to come, or for how long it’s coming, or whether toilet paper will eventually reign as the most valuable currency of all.

In the meantime, we’ll all continue to set new precedent — hand-washing, social-distancing, self-quarantining — as this unprecedented scenario evolves.


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