Scenes from a pandemic




As I write this, my church has suspended public worship services at the direction of the bishop, who restricted all gatherings to no more than 10 people.  The Lenten service tomorrow will be accessible online, broadcast through Facebook.

Also as of this moment, the number of cases of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) in Pennsylvania stand at 2 in Chester County; 5 in Delaware County; 20 in Montgomery County; and 4 in Philadelphia.  Scrolling around the Commonwealth, for the moment this seems to be a disease of the eastern and affluent counties, with few in the rural portions of the state and two cases west of Cumberland County and two north of Bucks County.  There are four cases in the State of Delaware and 69 cases in New Jersey.  Those numbers keep going up.

Yesterday, Governor Wolf of Pennsylvania ordered all K-12 schools to close for 10 business days starting on 3/16/20.  He ordered all non-essential retail stores and gyms to close and cancelled all recreational activities in Montgomery County on 3/12/20.  He's expected to issue the same order for Chester and Bucks counties this afternoon.

Gas stations, pharmacies, grocery stores, and essential government functions are expected to continue, but here's a look at the milk case at a grocery store in the Philadelphia suburbs last night.


I didn't take a picture of the egg case because I did not want to create a scene or embarrass anyone at the store, and I removed all of the metadata from these pictures.  It's the same everywhere, just like a blizzard:  no eggs, milk, bread, or toilet paper to be had.  Everyone makes French toast and poops.

Perhaps you would prefer cereal instead?  These were your options in the same store last night.


One of my favorite ice cream places has just reopened for the season, in Montgomery County.  Initially, they were going to be take-out only, asking customers not to sit in the shop.  It's a nice day and would have been worth a walk there and probably safe enough to find a bench and enjoy the spring and the ice cream, but the store has closed outright, instead, with a plan to reopen on 3/27.

I'm a Mason, and the Right Worship Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania has suspended all Masonic gatherings until the end of April.  It was a good move, for the safety of the brothers and the reputation of the fraternity.  If you are old enough to remember or young enough to search for Legionnaires' Disease then you can see my point.  Those guys at the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in July 1976 in Philadelphia didn't know what was coming and they probably would have chosen differently if they could.  There were 182 known cases and 29 fatalities and the disease still bears the name of the organization.  It's not their fault.  Nobody knew any better. 

We do now, so I miss the time with my brothers, but I am grateful for the strong leadership to keep us safe.  Many of our events happen at Masonic Villages, hubs of the fraternity that are also residential communities and care facilities for our most vulnerable brothers.  We need to keep our distance to keep those men, and their wives, safe.

Those are reasonable measures.  There are some ridiculous things, like this guy walking around with a giant doughnut around himself to enforce a 6-foot social distance, and probably to get some attention.  The odds are pretty good that anyone reading this post has already been exposed to COVID-19.  Disaster management agencies hold drills for responding to diseases that are more dangerous than this one.  The machinery is in place.  We have the procedures and we know what to do.

The term that I keep hearing is panic, which is properly defined as irrational and groundless aggression or flight in response to a threat.  Panic typically only happens when people perceive a threat and believe that they are trapped and helpless and the only way to survive is to escape, which may include what is called, in clinical terms, anti-social behavior. 

I've been in a lot of stores lately.  Nobody has punched me when I reached for milk, and yes I have some.  I saw nobody sprinting to the egg cases or yelling at store employees for being out.  Remember the irrational element of panic.  There's nothing irrational about grabbing a stash of non-perishable foods if you anticipate being unable to leave your home for two weeks.  It would be irrational not to stock up under those conditions, and in fact the belief that you can act to promote your own safety and survival by grabbing some cereal and soup and putting some meat into the freezer is the kind of belief and action that will prevent panic.  People who think that they can take care of themselves do so, and they may be afraid, but they don't panic.

There are lots of misconceptions about how people respond to disasters and the good science is finally gaining traction in dispelling those misconceptions.  Most of the time, communities unite in mutual support during difficult times.  It's unlikely that your neighbors are coming to kick down your door and steal your toilet paper.

You see the shift on the expectation of panic in how much better government has become with distributing information.  Tell people what's going on and that gives them the ability to make their own decisions for their own benefit.  Panic is possible, but it's not likely.

Instead, we're seeing things like this, at Wawa stores:


and announcements like these:


  • Longwood Gardens - temporarily closed
  • Levante Brewing - still open but no beer festivals and no personal growler fills
  • Tyler Arboretum - open but no public programs and the visitor center is closed

COVID-19 happened and is happening here, just like it has and is around the world.  It is frightening and it will cause some changes in how we live.  Some of those changes will be temporary and some may endure.  Handwashing is always a good idea.  Supplies of non-perishable foods are always a good idea.  The danger is real and the fear is justified and we will get through this.

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