Apart from necessary shopping and canine medical emergencies, we haven’t been out of the house since late February. Donna broke away twice for weekend trips to a ranch in Queen Creek with her friend Millie; I saddled up for a couple of day rides with my biker buddies. That’s it, if you don’t count yesterday, when Donna and I drove to Phoenix to take out a home equity loan at a credit union in Gilbert.
It’s amazing what counts for excitement these days. Going on a long car trip together. Uncrowded freeways. Checking out the COVID-19 precautions at our favorite freeway rest area. Stopping at a Denny’s for breakfast, the first restaurant we’ve been inside since the pandemic began, then visiting Chompie’s, a favorite Phoenix-based deli, for takeout before driving home.
Okay, maybe “excitement” isn’t the right word. “Novelty” is more like it. Doing normal things again after five and a half months of lockdown almost feels like you’re doing them for the first time.
Everywhere we went yesterday, people were wearing masks and not being assholes about it. Everywhere, people and businesses were taking precautions. Denny’s was particularly interesting. I “checked in” on Facebook while we were there and several friends expressed surprise restaurants here were even open. Pandemic restrictions differ from state to state; Paul’s Thing readers in some parts of the country are probably asking, What pandemic? What restrictions? Readers in other places are probably thinking Arizonans have it easy, compared to them.
Arizona restaurants were allowed to partially reopen in late June, limited to 50% indoor seating capacity. At Denny’s, every other booth and table was closed, the few customers well separated. You had to keep your mask on until your food arrived, then mask up again before paying and leaving. When Donna asked for salt and pepper, the waitress brought individual packets rather than the normal shakers god-knows-who might have touched … but also plunked a bottle of Tabasco Sauce on the table, definitely pawed over by others. Interesting. The menu was restricted as well, presumably limited to food that can be prepared with minimal human contact. We ordered pastrami sandwiches to go at Chompie’s, so I don’t know what restrictions they’re operating under, but imagine they’re similar to those at Denny’s. Oh, I mentioned that freeway rest area: again, everyone I saw there was masked and maintaining separation, the restrooms were open and clean, the soap dispensers full … much nicer than I feared it’d be.
Just from what I’m seeing, a third of the population, maybe more, is either working from home or out of work. They’re not out and about. If they were, freeways, restaurants, and businesses would be as crowded as they were before the pandemic. If a substantial number of us weren’t staying home, there’s no way masking up and maintaining distance from other people would work, nor would there be any way to enforce restrictions.
The key to slowing the spread of COVID-19 until a vaccine is developed and available isn’t just masks and social distancing, it’s staying home. Many businesses have made it possible for employees to work from home, but what about the millions who lost their jobs when the pandemic began? Expanded unemployment benefits made it possible for many to pay the rent, keep a roof over their heads, and stay home. Eviction moratoriums helped others. What happens now that expanded unemployment benefits and eviction moratoriums have gone away? I shudder to think.