Saturday, April 4, 2020

Strange times in E-town: 3 weeks of COVID-19 observations

I experienced more than a little foreshadowing three weeks ago.

As the Elizabethtown Area Middle School track coach, I happened to be in the athletic office at the high school on Friday, March 13, at about 2:20 p.m. when Principal Maura Hobson interrupted with an announcement.

Students, she said, should take all of their books, Chromebooks and any other academic materials home with them "in case of a prolonged school closure."

I went out to the track for practice, and by 3:15, not only had EASD announced that school would be closed the week of March 16. Gov. Tom Wolf announced that schools statewide would be closed for two weeks.

As we all know, the world is pretty much shut down now, thanks to the pandemic caused by the disease COVID-19. It's a strange time, as news outlets all over have documented, with grocery store shelves bare (no toilet paper, frozen vegetables wiped out, shortages of eggs, bread gone) and typically busy places such as Times Square in New York City empty of people. This is because people are staying home, avoiding as much contact with other people to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Although the disease has been making headlines since January in far-away places, it was just three weeks ago today that it all came to a head here in Pennsylvania and Elizabethtown. At least from my observations.

Ever since Friday the 13th – yes, indeed, it was – things have been weird, here in town, in Harrisburg, and in Washington, D.C. Let's just focus on the local weirdness, though. Here are my experiences and observations:
  • The school closures meant everything in school was canceled. Thankfully, the cast of Elizabethtown Area High School's "Shrek: The Musical" managed to get in its opening night on Thursday, March 12. Many other high school productions in Lancaster County and beyond were not as lucky. (And, for the record, what a fantastic production "Shrek" was! The talent on stage was impressive: singing, dancing to student-choreographed numbers, set design, costuming – you name it. Well, done!)
  • I work at Elizabethtown Public Library, which had to shut down to the public when Gov. Wolf ordered businesses to close. For one week, thanks to Library CEO Deb Drury's commitment to the community, we provided curbside service, taking books and other items to people in their cars. No one except employees was allowed inside the Library, and team members took precautions of wearing gloves and maintaining proper social distancing. Then someone reported us to the Elizabethtown Police Department, and we had to stop. As of this writing, the Library is waiting for a waiver from the state to resume curbside service.
  • The governor has announced that schools will be closed indefinitely. The EASD has been working to get online instruction up and running. And because so many school districts nationwide are in the same situation, the technology has been crashing.
  • Elizabethtown Borough had to remove the rims from the backboards at the basketball courts in Community Park because people were playing games and not practicing proper social distancing. People! We also closed the restrooms in the park.
  • Even though Gov. Wolf has issued a stay-at-home order, we can get outside to exercise. I have taken my bike to the Conewago Rail Trail/Lebanon Valley Rail Trail several times, and it has been busier than normal. I'm not surprised, except that it's as busy on a sunny summer day even when the weather is overcast and temperatures the upper 40s.
  • As of this writing, there have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 at Masonic Village. Still, they have taken the extra precaution of closing the campus to visitors – including the trails where many people run and walk. I appreciate the concern and the step in an effort to prevent infections there. And it's really strange to see barricades and signs directing traffic to the main entrance, where cones and security officers are stopping vehicles.
  • Elizabethtown College also closed off access to its track and posted signs for no fishing at Lake Placida. As a runner who uses the track frequently, it's a disappointing dose of reality and another observation about how strange things are right now.

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