Yesterday, both the President and the Governor of Ohio announced their plans for reopening broad economic activity in the wake of the coronavirus shutdowns. Interestingly, both the federal plan and the Ohio plan turn on a two-week period — and the ancient English word for a two-week period is a “fortnight.”
On the federal level, fortnights will be used as a measuring stick for the “gating” criteria that define and separate different phases of economic activity. If a state or region shows a decline in reports of influenza-like illnesses and a downward trajectory in documented cases or positive tests for a fortnight, they can pass through the gate and move to the next phase. Each successive phase involves fewer restrictions on economic and social activity. Some states will have already passed this fortnight test and will be in a position to move to phase one immediately; others will be looking at their metrics and their data curves and evaluating when they can pass through the gates.
In Ohio, where the “shelter in place” edict came early and the coronavirus curve has been “squashed” according to state officials, the fortnight is being used for a bit different purpose — it’s the period between now and May 1, when the state will “reopen.” I put “reopen” in quotes because the process will be gradual and the precise details are still being worked out. The process evidently will involve some novel activities, like taking your temperature before you enter the workplace, wearing masks in offices, maintaining social distancing, and repeatedly wiping down surfaces. It’s definitely going to be a change from the norm — but boy, it will be good to get back to the office under any circumstances.
“Fortnight” is an ancient word derived from the Old English phrase fēowertīene niht, or “fourteen nights.” The resulting truncation, “fortnight,” seems apt in this coronavirus context, doesn’t it? For weeks now we’ve all be staying in our homes, as if they were individual forts, and it has undoubtedly been a dark period, like a very prolonged night.
But now, as states and regions begin passing the tests and moving through the gates to progressively greater economic and social activity, we can hope that the dark period is ending, and we’ll all be able to emerge from our little fortresses and begin the process of getting back to normal. Soon, we hope, our “fortnight” will be over.