Reflecting Pool

Reflecting Pool

The Pandemic Arrives in Manchester

By Maude McGovern

The weirdest thing was how fast and completely everything changed.  It wasn’t overnight the way 9/11 was, but, unlike 9/11, it affected everyone’s daily life.  Shutdown came like a tropical night descending—fast, steadily, inexorably.  A curtain pulled down separating “before all this” and “now.”

My appointment book and journal tell the story.  I’m retired but always have a lot of activities posted for the next few months—meetings, classes, concerts and plays, family get-togethers.  And for fifty years, I’ve kept a diary.

February:  I don’t pay much attention to the sporadic news of the novel coronavirus.  SARS and MERS and various flus have come and gone without significantly impacting my world.  On Sunday, March 1, Reverend Josh briefly mentions the possibility of cancelling in-person services, which sounds strange and unlikely.  People hug and shake hands, but we practice (awkwardly) elbow bumping. That Tuesday, I briefly join a meeting via something called Zoom—very handy this new tech.

March 4, a friend in Maryland asks me if I’m stockpiling groceries.  Uh, no.  (Such an alarmist!)  Around then I ask a couple of neighbors if they’ve been affected at all by this new disease.  Yes, one couldn’t visit a friend in a nursing home.  The other decided to cancel a trip to Florida.  A day later, I get my first cancellation—a senior citizen trip to NYC.  I cross it off my calendar.

On Sunday, March 8, I participate in a volunteer event.  I shake hands with a number of people I meet.  At home, I wonder to myself, “What were we all thinking?”  Monday and Tuesday evenings, I have meetings—the novel coronavirus comes up in conversation.  It’s definitely on people’s radar now. Tuesday, I go to bed feeling “a bit antsy” according to my journal.  On Wednesday, WHO declares Covid-19 a global pandemic.  The garden club cancels that night’s meeting.  I comment in my journal, “This is new for us—we’ve read about the 1918 flu and saw those horrible pictures from the Ebola outbreak.  But this is new territory.”

Thursday, March 12, I take a long-planned trip with a few family members to a local art museum.  The employees at the front desk greet us enthusiastically.  The four of us may be the biggest crowd they’ve had all day.  The galleries are almost completely empty.  Lovely for seeing the artwork.  Also, creepy and ominous.  One guard irately assures me that this is all the media’s doing.  I don’t get into a discussion.

The next day, I join the throngs stockpiling groceries at Stop & Shop.  Looking back, I’m not exactly sure what that was all about.  Perhaps no one, not even the authorities, really knew – except it made sense for everyone to be prepared in case… of what, we didn’t know.  Maybe in case you had to self-quarantine for 14 days.  What was clear was that the library would be closing in a few days for an indefinite period.  I stockpile books, especially my “drug of choice,” cozy mysteries.

Sunday, March 15, UUS:E holds its first-ever virtual service via Zoom.  Lockdown begins.  My appointment book is empty.  My journal fills up with fears, observations, speculations.


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