Pedestrians wearing face masks cross the street near Union Square in New York on March 27, 2020. White House advisers and public health officials are engaged in a fierce debate over recommending that all Americans wear masks when they leave their homes, with such a dramatic change in Americans' social behavior deeply dividing the Trump administration. Image Credit: The New York Times

Late most Monday afternoons, weather allowing, neighbours here in our Irvine neighbourhood [California, United States],gather in our community park for a get-together, a happy hour of sorts to start the week rather than wait until Friday to end it. There’s a core of about a dozen of us, but sometimes the crowd swells to twice that.

Today, none of us will be there.

Most of the group are north of the age line 65 years who should avoid going out in public as the coronavirus courses its way through the nation and the world.

But one couple in their 50s began “social distancing” a few days ago, as the reports became more dire. Their son returned early from a college that shut down. Now one of them is frantically trying to help her parents navigate the logistics of an early return to the US from a world cruise.

Dream cruise cancelled

Another couple, in their 70s, have been shut in by what turned out, fortunately, to be a bout of the flu. But as the coronavirus spread, they had already cancelled a dream cruise to Norway to watch the northern lights.

My next-door neighbour, also in her 70s and still working, returned home from work this morning when her employer gave people the option of doing so. My paper told employees that if they could work from home, they should do so, so I (and the rest of the editorial board) am. The neighbours on the other side are from Iran, but I haven’t seen them in the past few days to ask how their family and friends back home are faring.

My wife’s employer, the Irvine Unified School District, is closed for the next two weeks, and then has spring break the week after. Teachers and staff are at work today as they sort out how to do remote teaching, no easy lift for an elementary school. But my wife’s looking at three weeks of disorientation.

more off the cuff

Friends who work in a local restaurant are waiting to hear if they will be scheduled for reduced shifts, or, worse, if the restaurant will be ordered closed by city or county officials. One is a senior at a local university, which has shut down for the semester. “Last Thursday was my last day on campus as a student and I didn’t even know it,” she texted. “A little bummed about that.”

A friend who owns a children’s bookstore announced that she’s cancelled all March events and will happily meet customers in the parking lot to hand them pre-ordered books so they don’t have to enter the building. Our youngest son, an Orange County jazz bassist, just saw his income for the next few weeks take a significant hit with cancelled gigs.

Social distancing

We have a longtime friend a couple of towns away who is physically disabled with a compromised immune system, and who lives with her octogenarian mother, who is also her caregiver. We called Saturday to cancel plans to visit that afternoon. Too much risk of inadvertently exposing them.

My brother, who lives in Pennsylvania, is a salesman but his employer has banned flying for business purposes; with ever-more-stringent limits on crowd sizes, he suspects his trade shows will be cancelled anyway. Our sister in New Jersey cancelled plans for a Caribbean cruise. Our oldest son and his wife, who live in the Washington, D.C., area, were supposed to have left Saturday for a vacation in Malta, but it was cancelled as Europe began closing down.

Fortunately, none of these folks have at least for now fallen ill to the virus. Still, the disruptions in their lives are all manifestations of the pandemic.

And, in many ways, it’s only just beginning.

— Los Angeles Times

Scott Martelle is a veteran journalist and author of six history books.