Waiting for the pandemic

What a weird time this is.

It’s been getting weirder by the week — the narratives from the Democratic primaries, told to us with absolute conviction, change constantly, news from Washington gets more and more jaw-dropping — and the coronavirus stalks in the background, like King Kong in the first movie, the one from 1933, where the monster kept changing size — apparently not on purpose — and he didn’t seem very scary. Until he was.

Now it feels like that monster, grown to full size, has thundered up the Empire State Building, in real life, and here we are, staring upward, all agape.

Because there is no such thing as a news cycle any more, because we read about everything, unfiltered, all the time, we can watch the virus get closer and closer, step by step, inch by inch, millimeter by millimeter, as if it were a horror movie. We can’t just watch it on television at 11, or read it in the morning Times or whatever the afternoon paper used to be, or even at the top of the hour on the radio news station. It’s always there, always getting closer and slowly, inexorably close.

It seems most likely that by far most of us will be fine. Many of us will get the virus, some without noticing, and most of us will survive it easily. But those of us who already are immunosuppressed, or who are old — those of us whose bodies are not equipped to handle it — will have a much harder time.

No one really knows. Not the CDC, not the task force, not the scientists. One of the things that we do know is that there are answers, and scientists, using science, can find them. It just takes data and time, and of course also money. It takes honesty and transparency; it does not take politics.

For now, though, it’s weird. None of us knows exactly how to react. We can wash our hands until each of us becomes a Lady Macbeth, until our hands grow raw and our winter-harshened skin cracks. We can avoid touching our faces — as if, but we can try — and we can avoid touching doorknobs and elevator buttons — it’s hard but doable.

We don’t even know what to call it. It’s a coronavirus, called SARS-CoV-2, which causes the disease covid-19. None of those names are easy to say, and the differences in what they mean are hard for nonscientists to grasp. (“Her name was Magill, and she called herself Lil, but everyone knew her as Nancy…”)

When schools are closed on short or no notice — as SAR, the Westchester Day School, and the Westchester Torah Academy all were on Tuesday — parents of elementary school children have to find childcare. When people have to stay home from work, some of them can work from home, but others will have to scramble to make the rent. And to be realistic, quarantine can get boring. How do you occupy yourself? By reading scary news online? By obsessively following politics online? By scaring yourself even more with politics than with pandemic news?

This is a time when we as Jews see that we are entirely part of the larger world. It is purely coincidental that the first schools ordered closed in New York were day schools, that the first university in state to have quarantined students was Yeshiva University — one student was an undergraduate, the other a law student at Cardozo — but it does underscore how connected we are. That’s a good thing, of course — until it isn’t.

If this does turn into a pandemic, in the next few weeks we will have to figure out what to do. What about weddings? Bar and bat mitzvah parties? Going to shul? Going shopping?

It really is a brave new world out there….

We hope that all our readers, and everyone they love, and everyone else too, stays safe and uninfected, or at the very least unaffected by being infected. 

About the Author
Joanne is the editor of the Jewish Standard and lives in Manhattan with her husband and two dogs, so she has firsthand knowledge of two thriving and idiosyncratic Jewish communities. (Actually that's three communities, if you also count the dog people.)
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