Notes from a Pandemic: A Summer of Shifting Sands and Uncertainty

Pictured Above: George Cork Maul gives a Zoom piano lesson.

by George Cork Maul

The way we live in the world is changing because of a virus. Things that we regularly did without a second thought have become dangerous. The invisible unknown killer is out there and we don’t yet know exactly how it gets precisely from one person to another. Places that were safe have become unsafe. Simple activities such as walking, jogging, bicycling, sitting outside, etc. have all become treasured moments. 

We don’t know exactly how or when the danger will end, or if somehow we will just adapt to it over a long period of time. It came out of nowhere. Everybody has been forced to look at the world differently.

Of course, there is something about adversity that brings out the best in problem solvers. It’s very interesting to watch all of the restaurants and other retail businesses going through contortions trying to figure out a new flow for their stores that works with new UV air flow, proper distancing and very innovative use of any outdoor space near their store. 

I noticed yesterday that the dumpster enclosure next to a restaurant in Riverhead has now become outdoor seating. Places that used to be popular because their floor layouts always to made things seem crowded and “happening” are now very boring with proper social distancing. Empty places that were always too big to reach the critical mass necessary to get a buzz going are now the new cool spots. 

We have to do something about this term “social distancing.” It’s not actually social distancing we are after. We are trying to hold onto social closeness while we are “physically” distancing. Everybody is putting up tents and awnings so we can be outside, and all the lumber yards are sold out of railroad ties, which have become the new way of separating the tables from the traffic in local downtowns. The police departments have been tasked with the new duty of monitoring six foot distancing on beaches and mask wearing in public places. Code enforcement is checking IDs to see if nonresidents are visiting town beaches. 

Thankfully, stores have taken it upon themselves to create very effective mask and space policies for their stores. How easily we fall into a line standing on the X squares laid out on the floor. We are creatures of habit, but now having a few drinks and letting your hair down could lead to sickness or death for you or for somebody you love, just because you stood too close.

I heard a story about a band of musicians who were playing at a socially distant venue and it became a dangerous situation because, as the band got a little louder, the people who were there started to talk louder and stand closer to each other, and of course the louder they talked the more droplets they exhaled and the closer they had to be to each other in order to talk, and of course it was harder to understand each other with a mask on and the whole place just got way too dangerous and they had to stop the music and separate everybody back to six feet again. 

When did playing music become dangerous? 

The local food trucks and the ice cream truck at the beach seems to be making out well in the current crisis. Will we grow tired of takeout food and online shopping?

It seems like an impossible equation. Get together and stay apart. No amount of technology can get you to the place where you’re able to pick up on the subtle nuances involved with breathing on each other or shaking hands or dancing or yelling at each other or singing together. Will older people be afraid of their grandchildren, who have been out with their friends and have higher Covid risk profiles? 

The plan for school for this fall is the next major concern. With no experience of this kind before, parents, teachers, administrators and government all seem to be floundering for an approach that will make it work. I’ve heard that Baltimore and Boston are both putting off in-person classes until January at the earliest. As of the writing of this article, New York is still undecided. They’re talking about concepts like ‘congregate space behavior.’ What the heck does that even mean?

During the 1918 pandemic, many cities left their schools open, with conscientious monitoring by the local health departments and the extensive use of masks. But attendance was very poor. Some schools were closed for 15 weeks as things got worse. 

Will education as we know it be replaced by some hybrid of online and in person education? Online sessions seems to be a boon for therapists and virtual medical consultations. But the general consensus is that online schooling in its present form doesn’t work for many children. Harvard University is trying very hard to explain to its prospective students why an online education is worth $58,000 a year.

Could we possibly have gotten through this without the internet — Telemedicine, Amazon, groceries through the mail, repair parts, local news and impulse shopping? Isn’t it clear that having access to the internet is now a necessity and Optimum’s internet service should be changed from a private monopoly to a regulated utility, just like its cable business?

Sometimes I feel like I would give up running water if I could just have a reasonable wide band connection to the internet that would allow everyone in the house to tune in without worrying that there will be a lag in the signal.

Saying hello and goodbye to close friends and relatives without hugging them is not fun. The simple act of touching each other is so precious and so missed. How many funerals, weddings and dentist visits have been put off indefinitely? When will things get back to normal? Will it take years? 

The true answer, of course, is that when we all leave this virus behind, the world will be changed inexorably…and forever. In many ways. Some good…and some bad. And we will have learned how to live in a new world.

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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