One thing about the coronavirus: you can’t really get away from it. At least not for long. You think about it as soon as you wake up and automatically consider what you’ve got going that day. You feel it when you sit at your home office and work remotely. You see news stories about it dominating every news show and website, and you notice it, again, in the absence of the baseball games and basketball games and hockey games that you would normally be following and the fact that ESPN is showing footage of decades-old sports event. You see its fine hand, again, in the absence of any social events to look forward to on your calendar.
And even on something simple like a morning walk on a fine, bright spring day — and thank God for us all that we are still allowed to take those, incidentally! — the specter of the coronavirus looms over everything, like the shadow of a giant beast that has crept up from behind and is getting ready to lay waste to a group of stupid, oblivious teenagers in a bad scary movie. I find that I am acutely aware of the spatial orientation of every visible car, pedestrian, jogger, and cyclist, and am constantly calculating and recalculating the clearance vectors and paths around trees and cars so that I can safely pass everyone else who’s out. I find that I get a bit anxious and irritated when somebody gets too close and, even inadvertently, invades my now-extended zone of personal space, although I haven’t called out anyone for that, yet. That’s a big and somewhat unsettling change for me, and I’m hoping it’s not permanent.
And there are things that I used to do that I wouldn’t do now if you held a gun to my head — like petting a friend’s dog, stopping to chat with a cluster of people gathered on the sidewalk, texting while I’m walking and losing immediate cognizance of where everyone else is during those moments of distraction, or picking up a piece of blowing trash to keep our neighborhood looking neat and clean. Now I not only won’t pick up random debris, I probably wouldn’t pick up a $50 bill — at least, not without thinking pretty long and hard about it.
It’s bad enough that COVID-19 had wrecked school years, and college visits, and spring breaks, and long-planned weddings, and has prevented people from gathering for funerals or concerts. The big issue will be whether the coronavirus will continue to cast its long shadow after the curve has been flattened and the case counts stop dominating the daily news. How much of the changes in our daily lives will become a permanent feature, and how much will vanish like the wisps of that rapidly receding nightmare?