We asked our Los Angeles correspondent Rebecca Cringean to describe the situation in her home town.
"I remember that everything changed on Friday the 13th. Friday, March 13th to be exact. The ominousness of the date sticks in my head while contrasting with the fact that I can’t remember any other dates since then.
On the morning of Friday, March 13th, Los Angeles Unified School District, serving over 600,000 students, called it quits and the “powers that be” across the rest of California announced school closures until April 20th, which was quickly pushed until May 3rd and has now been shoved to early September and perhaps even further. The University of California system is even rumored to be cancelling the rest of 2020 with only online learning until at least January 2021.
California itself has been on what they’re calling “Shelter in Place Orders” since about March 20th. They said we’d see some lifting of restrictions around May 15th but San Francisco, a city that my town of Long Beach looks up to like a grade school kid to a pro basketballer, is staying inside until at least the end of May. Most likely, my city will follow their lead.
The Shelter in Place Order means that all non-essential business is shut. What does essential mean? Go figure. Gardening is essential but car washes are not. Dog grooming is essential but barbershops are not. It’s not the most logical and thought out system. In practice, it means that essential shops are limited to about three to five people inside, with bouncers outside halting entrance. All must wear masks and, for the most part, the public is encouraged to stay at home and watch “The Tiger King” on Netflix for the third time (Carole obviously did it).
Restaurants are open for take away and delivery but, week after week, more shutter as their supply chains break down and profits dwindle. Restaurants can only hold on for so long. Many have opened bodega type tables offering basic grocery items to supplement the larger chain grocery stores with dismal shelves. We are, thankfully, “allowed” to go outside for jogging, strolls and bike rides as long as social distancing of at least six feet is maintained. Courts are closed with a backlog of over 40,000 civil cases that will make the usual trails and tribulations of the past soon seem trivial and jails and prisons, overcrowded already, are releasing offenders early in case the delicate souls get the disease.
Now, what the “order” portion of the “Shelter in Place Order” means has been a very touchy debate between lawmakers and citizens. With an already weak police force that doesn’t do too much for petty crime on the best of days, the thought of arresting people for having a picnic seemed outlandish. Yet allowing folks to act wisely and use common sense went out the window quickly, especially in a cramped beach city where people are used to having the entire outdoors, parks and beaches as their backyards. Take, for instance, this past weekend where temperatures hit 90 degrees and beaches, closed or not, were packed to the hilt as if it were any normal summer day. Not smart in anyone’s book.
The other thing that has worked is self-deputized citizens. With the majority of neighbors smiling and waving, happy to be outside of their homes for any supposedly essential errand or exercise, there are a small miniority of haughty tattle tales, calling in businesses for having too many in line, taking photos of people playing soccer in the park and screaming at cyclists for riding too close in the cross walks. Perhaps this is necessary but it doesn’t generally evoke calm. And, going by my “snitches get stitches” rule, it is not appreciated behavior.
That being said, there’s a great deal of fear about a virus that is not understood by anyone and a timeline that is constantly in flux along with steady warnings that life as we know it will never “get back to normal.” Reports of asymptomatic carriers, reinfections, death toll accounts and gray hair roots growing out are now dueling in the news and on social media with others who insist the cure is much worse than the disease, economically.
On a local website called Next Door where people generally post lost pets, weird noises and bike theft, it is very common now to see people wish death upon “stupid Trump lovers who insist on sitting in the park!” Still others whine that we should have an immediate return to normal life since Democrats know nothing. With an upcoming US Presidential election looming in November and a battle among US states to self govern, it is, perhaps, no surprise that this virus has divided itself almost entirely and completely along political lines.
In the middle there is, of course, some sense to all of it but very little of it is common sense. We should not be packing ourselves like sardines onto beaches. Come on, Southern Californians, use your heads. But we should also not be allowing our local businesses to lose their shirts. Long Beach city has formed a task force to discuss things, a favorite tactic that generally amounts to a lot of good moments for the press and a lot of general inaction. The economy must get moving again and cabin fever in an already outdoorsy community cannot sustain itself either. The way forward depends on how the virus and the community behave.
I don’t have too much hope for either but I have faith that, one day soon, I can get my nails done – not essential for me but essential for the lady who has sunk her life savings into her salon."