Talking about COVID-19

I live in a college town in Kentucky. Friendly. Small. Busy during the school year; not so much when students are out of town. Like now. It’s Spring Break week but the dorms will not refill this weekend. Dorms will only re-open long enough for students to get their stuff and get out. Studies for the remainder of the semester will be online thanks to the coronavirus that is rattling the world. Governor’s orders.

Our governor, an excellent man who was elected by a razor thin margin last November, is aggressively leading the curve to get and stay ahead of the virus. Some of his moves have been unpopular, but necessary.

Citizens have been advised to stay home if they can, work from home if possible and get out only when needed. My wife, a professor at the now shuttered college, and I have largely complied. We understand that the risk is real.

Still, you shouldn’t be a hermit. I ran a few needed errands yesterday. I was out early and at the bank not long after the doors opened. I was the only customer and, as we’ve all been advised, stood several feet from the cashier while we conducted our business. The newly-appointed bank president, a young woman about my daughter’s age, walked by, flashed a friendly smile and noted the rainy weather. It was surprisingly pleasant in a normal sort of way.

Later in the day I stopped at the tire store to have a damaged tire replaced on my wife’s car. The shop had called and said the replacement tire was in and ask if I could come that afternoon. I waited in the customer waiting area, alone, while the manager and his helper quickly completed their work. The manager came in and gave me the bill. The place doesn’t take cards so I paid with a check. I stood to leave and he walked with me to the service bay door. We stood about four feet apart.

“What do you think about all this?” he asked.

I knew what he meant. He meant the coronavirus and the disruptions it was causing and was going to cause. I didn’t know this man. We were about the same age but life had lead us down different paths. One neither better or worse than the other, just different.

I answered him as honestly as I could.

“I think it’s serious business and it should be taken seriously,” I said. “I know people are hurting and businesses are hurting but what’s being done is being done from necessity. But no one really knows what’s going to happen.”

“Trump says he does,” he said. “But he don’t.”

I agreed but was unsure how to proceed when he continued.

“I can’t stay home,” he said. “I do this.” He pointed toward the two-car service bay. “I got to get inside peoples’ cars.”

Like me, the guy was probably just inside the “at risk” 60 and older age group. And, like me, he probably gives this little if any thought. He makes his living with his hands.

“I think we just need to be careful,” I said. “Be cautious. Wash your hands. Keep your distance. Get people in and out as fast as you can. If you’re careful and do those things you’ll be alright.”

He pointed out the door toward a small building across the street. An insurance agency. “That guy keeps his door locked,” he said flatly. “Got a sign on the door and lets people in then he wipes down the door handle and wipes it again when they leave.”

I was unsure how to respond to this. “I don’t know that that’s really necessary,” I finally said. “You just need to be careful. But I think if someone came in here that you didn’t feel good about it’d be okay to ask them to wait outside. Or to leave. It’s your shop.”

“Yeah. I guess so.”

He pushed open the door. We walked into the service bay and I opened the door to my car.

“Be careful,” he said.

“I will. You, too.”