March 18, 2020
What started out as the postponement and cancellations of sporting events on television, came home to our corner of Northwest Illinois as Illinois shut down the schools, the casinos, banned events with more than 1,000 attendees for the next 30 days and urged businesses to allow employees to work from home.
Naturally, the general public's first reaction was to get mad. Then, also predictably, they got a bit crazy. A run on the grocery stores in Freeport was so intense that stores ran out of supplies that sent shoppers desperate to "stock up" out to the smaller towns. The Sullivans in Lena got bombarded by customers from Freeport, and if not for a delivery from Malcom Eaton – Sullivan's would have been totally devoid of toilet paper.
(Talk about priorities)
Limitations have been placed on how many items people are allowed to buy in order to weather the sudden rush, but the underlying message those scrambling for supplies have not thought of yet is that the delivery trucks are all still on the highway.
Let me be blunt – there will NOT be a shortage of supplies throughout the mandated attempts by the State to quarantine everyone to battle the spread of the virus. While the schools have been shut down physically, they are all still in operation as the directive from Springfield was that snow days could NOT be used.
This is not, I repeat NOT, a two week holiday or extended Spring Break – although schools with a Spring Break scheduled over the period will be less affected, and other schools with breaks after the March 31 deadline are allowed to "move" their breaks into the two week window to lessen the impact, school will still be in session ... just over the internet.
Teachers will still be teaching – whether they are physically at school, or doing it from home – online learning – giving lessons over the internet, whether that be in the form of video lectures, or Google forms to turn in assignments, or other e-learning elements that modern technology has made available – will all still be taking place. And while the State Board has mandated that work is not to be graded, that too has a large potential to change.
Everything is still fluid at this point, so the best thing for everyone to do in terms of the School Districts is to keep in touch of changes on their school's website because they will not all be handled the same. Accommodations are being made at some districts to allow kids without computers or the internet at home to still be included – but again – those vary by district, so ... check your local school website.
The important thing for everyone to remember was ingrained in the words of FDR during the Great Depression, "The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself."
Now, I am not talking at this point to anyone over the age of 65 who has COPD, or Asthma, or Diabetes, or any other form of respiratory or cardiovascular issue. They are the ones to whom this virus could prove to be fatal. So, by all means, stay at home.
However, for everybody else who does NOT fall into that demographic – let me clear ...
Businesses are all still open – you can go to the bank like you always have, or get your mail from the post office, or stop into any of the local shops, bars and restaurants as if nothing has changed – because in many ways, it hasn't. In fact, the biggest worry for area businesses is if people are too scared by the shut downs to continue their every day lives.
"It was completely dead in here on a Friday night," one bar owner said. "That just doesn't happen. We're hoping that pattern doesn't keep going, but ... right now nobody knows exactly what's going to happen."
"We've seen a downturn in patrons coming into the restaurant," one manager told us. "But we've seen an increase in 'To Go' orders."
That is a major key that needs to be pointed out. We called several restaurants and bars in the area, and all of them are staying open. In fact, all but two of them mentioned how they are – or currently have been – offering delivery, or have 'carry out' as an option, and have taken additional precautions.
"We put a lot of hand sanitizer out for people to use," one bar owner said. "I think people are being a bit crazy – there aren't even any known cases of Coronavirus anywhere in the area. But it doesn't matter what I think, we need to adapt to get through this like everybody else."
Getting through this is the biggest concern. If people do actually self-quarantine in mass numbers, several local businesses will get hit – and hit hard.
This is not to diminish or belittle those who are scared to go out of their house. But we can't emphasize enough how your favorite pizza probably delivers, and your favorite restaurant probably has 'carry out' available if you don't want to go inside.
The television news out of Rockford Friday night interviewed a woman who told the story of an elderly couple too scared to get out of their car to go inside to buy groceries. That's a shame, and while we fully support those who want to be safe and take precautions – if it scares people to the point of paralysis, you're simply trading one danger for another.
The important thing is to keep our wits about us.
Keeping everyone safe and healthy is naturally the number one priority, but at the risk of sounding too Republican, we can not forget all of the local businesses and establishments that could be seriously hurt if the quarantine is taken to the extreme. It is imperative to point out how our area businesses will need your support to get through the next couple of weeks too.
The movies will still be playing at the Lindo in Freeport. Area businesses will still be open. And there will not be a shortage of supplies – the only shortage that took place was when people over-reacted and made a rush on the local stores.
Of all the businesses in the region, the ones in the most jeopardy revolve around entertainment and social gatherings. Bars, restaurants, theaters, bowling alleys, will all be challenged and should find out quickly how loyal their customer base is to them.
We firmly hope things remain as close to business as usual as possible. In fact, it is the newspaper industry that might struggle the most. It's going to be hard to fill our pages with stories about sports and events taking place, when there are no sports or events taking place.
The bottom line to all of this is simple – we all have major events throughout our lives where we remember what we were doing, or where we were when they took place. Whether it was 911, the Space Shuttle Challenger, or JFK being shot – the memories are ingrained upon us – but life went on. This too will leave lasting memories and stories about how we "got through" the Coronavirus quarantine.
And trust me, life will go on.
But where things like 911 drove everyone together with a new sense of pride, in order to best combat the Cornovirus we are all being driven apart. And while the closings and quarantines may indeed be prudent, we still need to function as a community to make sure that the quarantines themselves don't bring unintended consequences to our region.