Back Under Curfew

Starting tomorrow, I will be back under a curfew for the first time since I was in high school. Ohio’s Governor Mike DeWine has imposed a three-week, statewide curfew on all Ohioans, requiring us to stay in our homes from from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. every day in an effort to stop the latest spike in COVID-19 cases. The curfew is being imposed in lieu of an order closing bars and restaurants.

As curfews go, Governor DeWine’s order is pretty tough. Back in high school, I don’t think I ever had to be home before 11, and it might have been midnight. There could have been some super-strict parents (or, more likely, parents who didn’t want to have to stay up waiting for their kid to get home at a later hour) who set a 10 p.m. curfew, but that was the exception. And if you violate Governor DeWine’s order, you aren’t just going to be “grounded” for a week or two — violation of the order is a second-degree misdemeanor, punishable by 90 days in jail and a $750 fine.

Will this three-week curfew make an appreciable dent in coronovirus cases in the Buckeye State? Since the scientists and public health experts seem to be struggling with figuring out exactly how the virus is transmitted, that’s hard to say. Curfews are notoriously inexact disciplinary measures, because they presume bad things only happen late at night, and any high school kid knows that just isn’t true. We do know one thing for sure: if random drunken encounters at 12:30 a.m. are responsible for the latest spike in cases, the curfew will make a difference. And if that isn’t the reason for the latest surge, we’ve nevertheless shown the coronavirus that we “mean business.”

This will be the easiest governmental order to personally comply with in my lifetime, too. It’s pretty rare for us to be out and about after 10 p.m., and it won’t be a sacrifice to make sure we’re home by the curfew hour. Back in college, of course, we often didn’t even go out until after 10. College students and singles — to say nothing of bar owners who do a lot of business between 10 p.m. and closing time — will be bearing the brunt of this latest public health command.

The Virus That Wouldn’t Go Away

The coronavirus continues to rage through Ohio, as it is in other states. The Buckeye State has experienced a significant spike in cases, but it is not alone; cases seem to be on the rise everywhere, causing all kinds of cancellations and maximizing the uncertainty we’ve all been dealing with during 2020. If you were looking forward to watching the Ohio State-Maryland football game on Saturday afternoon, for example, you’d better make new plans: the game has been cancelled due to a spike in positive COVID tests in the Maryland program.

Ohio’s Governor Mike DeWine addressed the latest coronavirus developments yesterday. He said that, thanks to the increase in cases, we are at a new, “crucial phase” in the pandemic — the latest “crucial phase” in a year full of “crucial phases” — and detailed some changes in the Ohio mask-wearing rules to address apparent slippage in mask-wearing by some businesses and the general public. He announced that he will be issuing orders that public gatherings must be limited to 10 people or less, that “open congregate” areas at weddings and funerals must be closed, and that dancing and playing games will be banned. And he added that, if the current trend lines continue, in a week he may need to order the closure of fitness centers, restaurants, and bars — again.

The Governor recognized that people are tired of all of this, and many are discouraged. He urged people who have relaxed their approach to coronavirus prevention to get “back to the basics” of vigorous hand-washing and mask-wearing. (In our little corner of Columbus, I haven’t noticed any slippage in mask-wearing and social distancing among people who are out and about, nor in our Friday night visits to restaurants over the past few weeks.)

Let’s face it: whether we’ve tested positive for COVID-19 or not, we’ve all got a serious case of coronavirus fatigue. The virus won’t go away, we’ve lurched from one “crucial phase” to another, and the efforts we’ve taken haven’t prevented additional spikes in positive tests. There’s a nagging sense that we’re all going to have to live with these conditions for the foreseeable future — and that’s where the possibility of another bar and restaurant closure order becomes so dispiriting. Much as I think our home cooking has improved, and much as we have adhered to social distancing and remote work concepts, it’s nice to have the option of going to a restaurant, experiencing a change of scenery, and eating food that you haven’t cooked yourself as a kind of safety valve to break up the monotonous sameness.

Perhaps we’ll get a vaccine that changes this grim paradigm, or perhaps it will end when so many people get infected that we reach the “herd immunity” point that some public health experts talk about. Until then, the big challenge is to keep going, accept the uncertainty, and recognize that, one way or another, this bleak period is going to end at some unknown point in the future. It’s not a very encouraging message, but sometimes that how the real world works.