Home/Rod Dreher/Pandemic Diaries 6

Pandemic Diaries 6

Natalie McKnight marries Charles and Kayla Conoly in Charlotte, NC's Freedom Park (Photo by Rick Rotondi / Cenacle. )

From Colorado:

Thanks for running these stories–it’s been strangely comforting to read about other people’s day-to-day experiences over the past few weeks. Makes it all seem a little less surreal and gives me a sense of human connection as we’re all so distanced from each other.

I live in Colorado, where it seems like the government is on the aggressive side in comparison with other states. Not as intense as California and New York, but we’ve been trending just a few days behind those states in terms of restrictions, so we’re just waiting for the stay-at-home order to come in.

My husband and I live in the country with our toddler, next door to my little brother, so we haven’t seen a huge lifestyle change… My husband working from home now instead of going into the office, and I’m not taking our son out to playdates and on adventures. It’s been unnerving for us (like all Americans right now) to have to go to multiple grocery stores just to get basic goods. I haven’t found white flour in two weeks, and today I got the last box of baby wipes at Walmart. I felt a little guilty taking them.

We’re expecting our second baby in three weeks, and I have to admit I’m pretty nervous. I am not prepared mentally, emotionally, or physically for a home birth, so we’re going to the hospital as planned, but I’m so unsettled by the idea of going to a hospital in a county that already has multiple COVID-19 deaths. I struggled with severe postpartum depression after my first, and I am very nervous about what might happen for me psychologically with all of this happening at the same time. In addition, my mother has stage four cancer and is quarantined at home with my dad, and my in-laws who were planning to come out and meet the new baby are probably not going to make it. It’s a small thing, but I was looking so forward to feeling surrounded by family with this birth (last time we did not live near any family), and it does not look like that will happen.

We’re trying to support our local businesses as much as we can, but I’m getting more and more nervous about even going into a coffee shop to pick up pastries for take-out, so I’m not sure how long we’ll be able to keep that up. It’s been very strange to have no public Masses (they’ve all be cancelled in Colorado); I didn’t realize till now just how much going to Mass regulated my life. We’re streaming online from the FSSP and that has been good, but of course is not the same.

All that said, we feel pretty blessed that we’re both able to work from home, and that so far everybody is healthy. Prayers going out for everybody affected by this, and I wish there was more we could do.

From Jamaica:

As of March 21 there are 19 identified cases, 1 death. Our patient zero came in from the UK, followed by a person from NY. The eastern section of the island has been quarantined, as patient zero attended a funeral and it is not clear how many were affected. All schools and universities etc. are closed. Yesterday the government closed the island to all incoming passenger flights/boats. This is devastating as we rely on tourism for much of our income (35% of GDP).

The positive: While there is no real safety net here, healthcare is heavily subsidized by the government. Cuba has sent close to 100 nurses/doctors to strengthen local care. The largest rum company is mass producing hand sanitizer – it is being made available to buses, taxis, supermarkets etc. People are cooperating and using it before boarding/shopping. Crime has plummeted – I guess even criminals are afraid of the contagion…

The negative: Some taxis are refusing to pick up nurses/hospital staff – the police have promised to prosecute offenders. We are chronically short of equipment in hospitals – we certainly don’t have enough ventilators – so the only option is to be strict with quarantines; soldiers are being used to enforce lock downs. Price gouging is a problem; snake oil cures are a problem.

We are a poor country, but the population is actually pretty satisfied with the job the Ministry of Health is doing.

The government has also called for two days of prayer and fasting. That is a comfort to a lot of Jamaicans, even if it is a sign that very little is in our control on a small island that earns its living by being open.

From Concord, New Hampshire:

Greetings from New Hampshire, the “Live Free or Die” state. Like our motto, the mood here is turning fairly grim. I live in Concord, the state capital, and last week as I went about my business—to the supermarket, the bank, and church—folks seemed somewhat skeptical about the actual direness of the situation. Yes, shelves were emptying fast at the supermarket, but many people seemed to think the whole thing was a joke. Among the giddy crowd hoarding groceries, I saw only two people wearing gloves and covering their faces (with scarves, not masks), and each of them was met by mocking sneers from a number of fellow shoppers. This Saturday, on my return to the same store, many older folks were now wearing surgical masks and plastic gloves. Yet more noticeable than this was the collective mood: the “Snow Day” atmosphere of the previous week was no more, replaced instead by an eerie sobriety, an unnerving solemnity, almost a sense of doom.

Closer to home, I worry about family. My parents live nearby and they are elderly and in poor health. My father especially is in a vulnerable state: he has leukemia and heart trouble and each breath he takes is accompanied by a painful wheeze. Yet is he taking COVID-19 seriously? Hell no. He’s a Trump and a Fox News guy, and thinks the whole thing is overblown by the press. So he continues to go about his normal routine, heading off to his gun club during the week to be with his buddies. Of course I love my father and I don’t want to judge him—his life is nearing its end, and I wish him to be as happy as possible in the time he has left. But what if he catches the virus? Not only would he die within days, but no doubt he would pass it on to my mother and, because the rest of the family would rush to their sides to care for them, he would then pass it on to us. Hopefully in the coming days, as the cases and deaths in the country continue their inexorable rise, he will reconsider his behavior.

As for me, like everyone else who is paying attention I fear not just for myself and my loved ones but for the country and the world. Economies collapsing, mass unemployment, social unrest, lives lost, futures ruined, governments curtailing civil liberties and grabbing ever more power at home and possibly waging wars abroad—all are very real possibilities that could commence very soon. Last Sunday I went to church, and this Sunday I was forced to watch it on TV. As the liturgy began, the camera panned from the priest to all the empty seats, and I, very unexpectedly, became emotional, eyes stinging and tears spilling down my cheeks. I’m still not sure why this happened—for one thing, I knew the seats would be empty; after all, that’s why I was home watching on TV. Perhaps it was because a liturgy without the faithful had previously been, for me, unthinkable, unimaginable. Or perhaps it was something even more ominous, something existential—a sense that the thing most dearest to my heart was in jeopardy of being lost, possibly forever.

From Charlotte, North Carolina, filmmaker Rick Rotondi writes:

I wanted to share this photo from Charlotte’s Freedom Park of the marriage of Charles and Kayla Conoly. It’s an example of what love looks like in a time of pandemic.

No bridesmaids. No groomsmen. No packed congregation, or reception to follow. Just simple vows before a few close friends and passersby, separated by 6 feet.

Two weeks ago parkgoers would barely have noticed. Today we few lucky enough to witness stayed, watched (at a safe distance), and cheered. We know what we’ve lost in the last weeks. And we see what we still have, more clearly than ever. It was another “seeing the Parthenon” moment, such as you experienced streaming your parish’s Divine Liturgy. One of the surprise blessings of these times.

From Delaware, Ohio:

The Governor of Ohio just issued a Stay at Home Order shutting down all non-essential businesses through April 6. I fully expect this will be extended further. We have been slowly heading this way for the past week and a half. The schools closed last Monday and the boys are transitioning to online learning. My employer, a nearby local government, has had voluntary telecommuting in place for the past week. I guess that becomes mandatory for those of us who are able to starting tomorrow. Police, Fire, Sanitation, Water and Wastewater field personnel are considered essential and will still need to report to work. There really are many government employees whose work is necessary for society to function. They perform the jobs no one thinks about until the system breaks. Think about it when you get a glass of tap water or wash your hands or flush the toilet.

The weather here is still hit or miss. Cold and rainy mostly but today we had sun and the temps hit the low 40’s so my wife and I went for a walk around our neighborhood after church (online). We saw maybe a dozen people outside, the streets were mostly deserted. When we got back home I threw the football around with the boys in the back yard. I have four teenage sons. They are all athletes and very active. They are missing their team mates and my wife and I are missing the outlet for all their energy. My oldest is very discouraged as he is a swimmer and has been training the past eight months for Y Nationals in North Carolina. That meet, along with all the other championship meets were canceled. He is a junior in high school and is stressed about how all of this will affect his college recruiting. My second son is holding up well but is missing his track buddies and it looks like his spring basketball league may not be happening. The twins are taking things in stride.

The biggest problem we face is keeping enough food in the house. Active teenage boys eat a lot.

I have been checking in with my parents via the phone. They live about an hour north of here in an independent living community that is owned by their church. They are doing well, all things considered. They both have serious health issues and have been staying at home. I visited them in person two Sundays ago. I just felt convicted to head up on a whim and am glad I did so now. I don’t know when I will be able to see them in person again. I firmly believe that the Holy Spirit was convicting me to make that visit. I also checked in with an elderly couple up the street yesterday and made sure they were doing alright.

From San Antonio:

It’s almost embarrassing how little my daily routine has changed since the advent of the coronavirus. My wife and I work at home, and most weekdays we leave the house only for daily Mass. We have one employee who normally works at our home, but we asked her to work from her own home beginning last Monday; a step we thought prudent if not overly cautious since she had traveled to another part of the state the previous weekend.

During the week prior to March 15, the Archbishop of San Antonio suspended all Sunday Masses. At our Ordinariate parish the Masses continued as regularly scheduled on the 15th. We attended the 7:00 am low Mass hoping to avoid the larger numbers at the later sung Masses. Alas, the church was full, both with other parishioners seeking to avoid the crowds and members of the archdiocese not content to have been absolved from Sunday Mass observance.

Early last next week, our pastor began celebrating daily Mass in a private manner, meaning the faithful were able to attend the priest’s private celebration but not able to receive the Sacrament. Fortunately, these celebrations were moved from the small chapel to the main sanctuary. We were getting nervous about the close quarters in the chapel.

By the middle of the week, the bishop of the Ordinariate suspended all public Masses for Ordinariate parishes. On Thursday we found out that a member of the parish tested positive for COVID-19. The parishioner attended the 10:00 am Saturday Mass on March 14, which I also attended. The virus has come close to home.

Now my wife and I begin our day with Morning Prayer and Rosary at the makeshift family altar set up in our living room. Friday evening we returned to our little chapel for Stations. This morning we watched (and participated in, if such is possible) the a celebration of Mass recorded earlier today. This is something I though I’d never do.

We’re still having my very healthy 83-year-old mother over for dinner, but encouraging her not to go out otherwise. My wife and I tell ourselves this is ok since we’re both isolating and taking lots of precautions. Mom is cooperating mostly and has agreed to let my wife take care of her groceries, principally through online order/delivery.

I’ve been spending too much time analyzing the reported rates of infection in various countries, states and cities, and taking (false?) comfort in the low number of cases in Texas relative to its population.

Looking at cases by population is illuminating. Iceland is off the charts, with nearly twice the rate of infection as Italy. Luxembourg isn’t far behind. These numbers could be accounted for by higher rates of testing made possible in small countries with sophisticated healthcare systems. But what does that say for the rest of us?

Switzerland is approaching the same rate of infection as Italy. New York has slightly higher numbers than Spain, again relative to total population. New York has 7.7 times the rate of infection as the U.S. as a whole. As of the latest numbers compiled by Johns Hopkins, 45% of all U.S. cases are in New York.

The reported numbers for India are impossibly low. Likewise Mexico. Both countries have low rates of testing and tepid responses to the pandemic. I fear both are headed for unmitigated catastrophe.

Last week I chatted with a business contact who lives in a fairly large city about 90 miles from Mumbai. She and her husband are Indian nationals who lived for a few years in the Southeastern U.S. She tells me Indians just don’t go to the doctor or hospital when sick, so the rates of testing there are minimal. The most local health officials can do is to ask those few who do test positive for all their recent contacts, and try to test and isolate all of those contacts.

After reading the post from the Florida supermarket employee, I realized one aspect of this situation that hasn’t become real to me is the panic buying. My wife does the grocery shopping so I haven’t witnessed first-hand the lines and empty shelves at the local grocery chain.

The potential economic consequences are more real to me, but still somewhat surreal. One becomes too accustomed to reading about catastrophes one never fully experiences.

My view of the situation is naturally framed by the industry in which I work. We run a small business that serves a segment of the hotel real estate industry.

In what seemed like a matter of hours, the public response among hotel companies went from complete denial to candid acknowledgement of the severity of the problem. But this came only after their appeals for a “balanced” approach to the crisis and encouragement of continued “safe” travel (bolstered by promises of enhanced sanitation protocols) fell completely flat.

The hotel industry’s change of posture also coincided with a White House meeting in which company executives pleaded for a massive bailout. Not one to let a good crisis go to waste, the CEO of Airbnb is lobbying congress for tax breaks on behalf of the company’s U.S. hosts. Apparently, these industry disruptors have now become so integral to the U.S. economy as to deserve special tax treatment.

Last week my wife and I were to attend a large industry conference in Atlanta. Tuesday of the previous week we decided the trip would be unwise. Airplanes, airports and national/international conferences full of globe-trotting business types are like petri dishes for the cultivation of this virus.

The conference organizers (hotel industry leaders no doubt wanting to set an example of resilience to the traveling public) remained defiant until just days before the conference was to begin. Finally the event was canceled.

But just because industry executives are consummate opportunists doesn’t mean the financial carnage isn’t real.

On Thursday, the cancer-stricken CEO of Marriott released a video message declaring COVID-19 to be having “a more severe and sudden financial impact” on the company than 9/11 and the 2009 financial crisis combined. Marriott has seen revenues drop by 90% in China and 75% in most other world markets. By comparison, the company’s worst quarter during the previous crises was off 25%. The company is closing hotels and furloughing tens of thousands of workers in hotels and its corporate offices. Marriott has ceased brand marketing initiatives and is even suspending non-essential travel. A hospitality company suspending travel! The downstream effects will be enormous.

Admirably, Marriott’s CEO and Chairman pledged to forego any further compensation for the balance of the year, and the CEO’s executive team will take a 50% pay cut. It’s encouraging to see this type of gesture, which might have been taken for granted in earlier times. My cynical side says: It remains to be seen whether this is only an accounting maneuver that excludes other forms of compensation.

Though our own business hasn’t dropped off as sharply as Marriott’s, a prolonged travel shutdown and the resulting effects upon hotel development and hotel real estate transactions could be catastrophic for us. For now, we can only keep calm and carry on, as much as is possible given the realities of the situation. And we do so with the knowledge that carrying on could become significantly more difficult in the weeks to come. We will do what we can to continue serving the needs of our clients, but if across-the-board budget cuts are widely enacted, as they most certainly will be in a prolonged shutdown, we will find ourselves on the chopping block along with many others.

This past week I’ve begun to realize how much I, like the Rich Fool, have taken comfort in stored up goods, be it my now-shrinking retirement account, the equity in our home or the sweat equity I hope I’ve accumulated during my two decades in business. I am not rich, but I’ve given far too much thought to scenarios under which I might someday retire with little financial concern. All that could dissolve in a very short period of time. If that were to happen, could I give thanks to God not in spite of it, but because of it? Though I haven’t the fortitude to embrace poverty voluntarily, I know it would benefit my soul. If I believe what I say I believe, how could I not give thanks?

From Nashville:

It’s Saturday the 21st, I’ve been working remotely from home for the last week, my wife (SAHM) cares for the three children. Found out on Tuesday that a co-worker I had last seen on last Friday had tested positive for coronavirus, so I’ve been in self-quarantine since then. No symptoms so far.

Early this week the mayor ordered all bars and restaurants closed, including the tourist bars on Broadway. I decided this evening after the kids were down that a little driving, not getting out of the car but only wandering the highways, would be good for my sanity. I grew up on the open roads of West Texas, and just driving and thinking has always been relaxing. So I drove downtown.

Normally on Saturday night in Nashville, Broadway would be undrivable with all the partiers, college kids, brides-to-be, musicians, everybody spilling out into the street from the sidewalks, as various buses, tractors, and pedal taverns carry drinking revelers around. Tonight I drove down a side street, came to First Ave along the river, and then turned up Broadway. All the bars were lit up in neon like any night, but they were closed. Maybe a dozen people wandered the sidewalks on groups of two or three.

It was eerie and quiet, except for a slight sound of someone that I couldn’t quite make out from inside my car.

Then I looked to the right, and I saw a black man in a full tuxedo, swaying lightly with a microphone in hand next to his amplifier, crooning away as the neon lights danced about him.

I suppose he makes his living busking, and buskers don’t get paid sitting at home. We’ve all been upended by this emergency. But there will be nothing as surreal as a black man dressed up with nowhere else to go, singing in front of a closed honky-tonk beneath the yellow and blue flashing lights, singing to no one at all, in the hope that someone passes by and gives him a dollar to help see him though the next week.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

leave a comment

Latest Articles