Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - March 20, 2020

Strange times

I've never experienced anything like the current coronavirus crisis. On a world level, air travel has been restricted; schools, universities and libraries have closed; major sports events have been canceled; and parades, lectures and social activities have been postponed. On a personal level, people are concerned about running out of toilet paper and have been told to "self-isolate."

The closest event in my memory that caused this level of disruption for the United States was the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. I was to fly to a convention the following day, but I knew the convention was "toast" and there wouldn't be any flights for days, if not weeks. Still, I was downright baffled to see people in long lines at service stations to get gas and to hear that people were hoarding food.

Other world events have precipitated similar reactions. The 1918 flu pandemic, the Great Depression and the world wars are a few of them. One of the problems then was lack of information rather than a glut of information - some of it mis-information - that appears today.

Husband Art and I are not "panic-at-the-first-news-of-a-crisis" people. He is a science guy and I'm a down-to-earth farm girl who knows life can take a turn at the least-expected moment. But after watching the news and checking websites to get fact-based information about the virus and not hysterical diatribes from pundits who have been rushed into TV studios to fill air time, we decided to try an experiment - to see if we can get along at home, going out only to get groceries or gas when needed.

We both fall into the "most-vulnerable" category - those over 65. Last year, I was sick with three or four different flu viruses over a three-month period, and I don't want a repeat of that. For Art's part, he has always been a "calculated-risk" type. During our annual Wisconsin holiday trips, we were often presented with snow storms on our planned return dates. He always balanced the weather against our need to get back. Sometimes we plunged ahead and sometimes we took our own personal "snow days."

In our current situation, we had no necessary engagements during the next two weeks, except to get some groceries. So we began our two-week "experiment" on Sunday. I took an inventory of food and other supplies and was surprised it took so long - an hour and a half to go through our cabinets, refrigerator and freezer. We had 15 rolls of toilet paper, but Art said if we had been short, he could just hose me down! We also had plenty of canned vegetables and soups, but I wondered if 10 eggs would be enough. We had a lot of good staples: a bag of shrimp, four pot pies, a box of rice, three packages of pasta and even a treat - a chocolate chip cookie mix.

TV news programs have shown people in long lines trying to get food from almost-empty shelves. On Sunday, after we made our grocery list, Art shopped at the local Walmart. He said milk and eggs were low, and, probably as consequence of our American quest for a healthy diet, shoppers had pretty much wiped out the frozen pizza and french fries. But other than that, all was pretty much normal.

Daughter Katie and her husband Matt have been preparing for awhile.

"We bought a lot of fresh veggies from the store several days ago and are now blanching them and freezing them. We did onions and carrots yesterday and then Yukon and sweet potatoes today."

She said this process will help them when they get the harvest from their garden and means they won't waste what they can't eat right away. I told her I thought it was neat that she was learning to do what both of her grandmothers did - freezing food for the future.

Sister Gaila in Bolivia said all schools are closed. Our friend Jan in England said, "... The over-70s have been cautioned to stay indoors for 4 months!!!" Jan, who seems to always be on the go, commented, "How do you do that?!!"

German "daughter" Nadja said schools and other venues are closed for the foreseeable future. French friend Francis, who loves to entertain in his home, said, "Now we have to drink on our own!" I joked with him that people should be stocking up on wine instead of toilet paper, and Art commented that it was good Francis buys wine by the trailer load.

Friend Tom injected some humor into the situation with the following email:

... The English are feeling the pinch in relation to the recent virus threat and have therefore raised their threat level from "Miffed" to "Peeved." Soon, though, that level may be raised yet again to "Irritated" or even "A Bit Cross." The English have not been "A Bit Cross" since the blitz in 1940 when tea supplies nearly ran out. The virus has been re-categorized from "Tiresome" to "A Bloody Nuisance." The last time the British issued a "Bloody Nuisance" warning level was in 1588, when threatened by the Spanish Armada ...

We're lucky. Art has his own small engineering business and usually works by himself. The university president mandated that all campus activities, including in-person classes, commencement exercises and other events be suspended through the remainder of the semester. So I'll be working from home, communicating with other faculty and students via email and conducting other business using my laptop.

But some, such as those in manufacturing positions, parents whose children are now home for an indefinite time, those in the health and emergency-responder professions, retailers, airlines and many others, are not so lucky. Some businesses will not survive the shutdowns.

These are indeed strange times. But we will come out of this if we take care of ourselves and each other and, like Tom, keep our sense of humor.

Left-top 3: Announcements on the "K-State Today" website. I missed the lecture I arranged last year due to my illness and the one this year due to the threat of illness; lower-left: the parking lot in front of the donut shop, Subway and other businesses on Manhattan's west side at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, March 18; Right: but not everyone is sheltering in place. At the top, two workmen involved in replacing a bridge west of Manhattan, while, lower, a crew works on an addition to the K-State Student Union across from my office.

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Other columns from 2020 may be found at: 2020 Index.
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