Americans adjust to new life, hunker down amid coronavirus
Workers lost their jobs, parents came up with impromptu home lesson plans for children kept home from shuttered schools. Families fretted over dwindling retirement accounts, the health of elderly parents, and every cough and sneeze in their midst.
Millions of people settled into new and disrupted routines Thursday as the coronavirus began to uproot almost every facet of American life.
The spate of event cancellations that drove home the gravity of the outbreak a day earlier only intensified Thursday, with Disney and Universal Orlando Resort shutting down theme parks, the NCAA calling off March Madness and Broadway theaters closing their doors in Manhattan. All the major professional sports announced they are halting play, and officials ordered a shutdown of every school in the state of Ohio for three weeks.
And with the cascade of closures, a new reality set in for American households.
In the Pacific Northwest, parents scrambled to devise homeschooling using library books or apps. Others, desperate to get to work, jumped on social media boards to seek child care or exchange tips about available babysitters.
Parents rushed to college campuses and drove away with their children’s belongings and bags of their clothing. College officials scrambled to pay for plane tickets home for others.
A mother in Seattle organized small outdoor play dates where the kids are told not to get too close to one another. The parents stood awkwardly, several feet apart.
Most big tech companies in San Francisco and Seattle have told employees to work from home, emptying out the downtown neighborhoods that are a hub for tech and venture capital firms. The restaurants, food trucks and other businesses that thrive off lunchtime crowds say that businesses has pretty much ground to a halt.
Keny and Nancy Pham own a pair of businesses outside of the Salesforce Tower in San Francisco — a nail salon and a Vietnamese Banh Mi restaurant — where they say sales have dropped more than 50 percent this week. The salon was empty Thursday at the usually busy lunch time.
Nobody wants to get manicures — because that involves hand touching. The salon typically gets about 100 clients a day and this week is down to about 10 a day, said Nancy Pham, co-owner of the Pampered Hands Nail Spa.
Keny Pham says he is concerned about finances and paying their $10,000 monthly rent, but he has other worries as well. They have a child and live with Keny’s elderly parents, whose health he is most worried about. And it’s hard not to look at customers as potential germ carriers. Pham has asked his half dozen employees to rotate shifts and work alternate days, for now.
"We don’t want to lay anyone off," he said. "We have to come up with a way to survive."
In Las Vegas, where so much of the economy is wedded to big crowds from concerts, tournaments, conventions and tourists, many suddenly found themselves out of work.
Las Vegas bartender Rique Rose works part-time at three different locations on the Las Vegas Strip, tending bar in event centers at the MGM Grand, the Mandalay Bay and in the T-Mobile arena, where the Las Vegas Golden Knights play.
First, he lost Friday and Saturday shifts with the cancellation of the Pac-12 men’s college basketball tournament. Then, he saw that the NHL was suspending the rest of its season. He’s still waiting to see if the Post Malone concert he was scheduled to work Saturday night will be canceled.
Every cancellation means more than missing out on his $8.25 minimum wage pay; he also loses approximately $200 in tips. He wonders how he will pay his bills.
"I guess we’re just going to have to endure it," he sighed.
And American Airlines announced Thursday that one of its pilots based at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport tested positive for the virus.
More than 1,300 people have tested positive for coronavirus in the United States, and 40 people have died as of Thursday evening. About 128,000 people have been infected globally.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus.
In every state, officials were taking dramatic new measures each day to keep the virus from spreading deeper into the country. And with each shuttered school, canceled outing, lost shift and work-from-home directive, people’s lives were being transformed in profound ways.
Mom Natasja Billiau came up with a quick homeschooling plan for 8-year-old Victor and 5-year-old Anna Laura after their public school in Seattle closed for the first full day Thursday. They kept as close to their regular school schedule as possible, she said, with recess times and lunch built in.
Billiau’s husband has been working from home since last week, and the family is moving to a new house in two weeks.
"Everything’s up in the air. I don’t know how I’m going to get it done, we’ll see," she said. "It’s a day-by-day situation."
She went forward with play dates, but everyone kept apart at a safe distance.
"And of course, as soon as we get home everybody has to wash hands," she said.
Despite the scrambling and closures, for many people, life continued as usual. Hours after Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, announced it was sending students home and would complete the semester online, customers stood in a busy line and ate lunch elbow-to-elbow at a crowded taqueria not far from campus. Many were working to see the upside of hunkering down and "social distancing," swapping recommendations for Netflix shows or good books.
Students at the University of Maryland in College Park are heading off to spring break this week and classes are moving online. On Thursday, students were packing up their belongings on a campus that was noticeably emptier than usual.
Signs posted on the front doors of the University of Maryland’s journalism school said, "If you are sick, please go home."
Mike Davis, 60, drove over from Annapolis, Maryland, to help his son Nick, a 22-year-old senior, pack up his stuff. Davis said the school’s decision to keep students off campus for several weeks make sense.
Besides, he was looking forward to having his son around the house: "I’ve got three bags of mulch ready for him to spread."