Our local COVID-19 infection rate (as reported to the health department) is now in excess of 30 new cases a day. This is the highest we have seen during the pandemic. For a few weeks in March and April, when people were taking things seriously and almost everything closed, our numbers got as low as only one new case a day. But then America’s Id, led by Donald Trump, won the battle over America’s Superego, and all Freudian hell broke loose.
Our county’s daily new case rate hit a mid-May peak of about 12, falling to 7 in mid-June before resuming its climb, with no flattening now in sight. The numbers are so daunting that I have stopped charting them.
We are still just doing grocery stores and gas stations, with the occasional take-out meal. Others, though, in the little town we live in, are being more adventuresome/adventurous.* Based on reporting by local journalist Mackensy Lunsford, I presume that most of those pleasure-loving and risk-taking people are tourists.
Ms. Lunsford is, in my opinion, probably the best of the dwindling number of journalists still employed by our not-really-local-anymore newspaper, Citizen-Times. She recently interviewed a number of restaurant owners/workers who were surprisingly forthcoming about the behavior of their “guests” in the midst of this pandemic. For example:
• The owner of one restaurant, open for takeout only, blocked its doors with a prep table. As the owner recounted to Ms. Lunsford, “I walked out [into the restaurant] and there was a couple sitting at the bar saying, ‘We need drinks and you should really move that table.'”
• Then a server lamented, “We mostly cater to an older crowd who think it’s all a hoax,” relating how one customer mocked masked employees by “trick[ing] them into shaking hands or getting way too close.”
• And from the manager of one of our town’s most popular breakfast spots: “When this first started and we were in our shutdown times… the [locals] felt our pain and the tips were absolutely amazing, and we felt the love and kindness from everyone. Then the tourists came… I do appreciate their business, don’t get me wrong, we all need it. But man, what jerks. No mask, no tips, bad reviews and bad attitudes.”
Someday, someone has to explain to me what turns an American with a ten-dollar bill in his hand — or a distorted notion of his constitutional rights in his head — into a veritable King Kong, thundering through and trampling down anything in his self-righteous path.
For once, I will rise to the defense of the people who live, actually live, in this little town. With some exceptions in the exurbs, folks here did an admirable job trying to keep the lid on this pandemic. But now, at 30 new cases per day, our per-capita daily case rate is about 15% higher than in the suburbs of Richmond, Virginia, and 15% lower than in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio, two similarly-populated places that we happen to care about.
Our numbers are proof enough that careless people spread their carelessness everywhere they tread. Freedom-loving Americans, they say. Free to be… ugly.
* In another post a few years back, I used the word adventuresome to describe my mood as I decided to order a specialty cocktail at a restaurant. This sparked a discussion with a good friend on the difference between adventuresome and adventurous — he maintained that my behavior was actually adventurous, since adventuresome implies a degree of recklessness in the undertaking. I still prefer adventuresome and wish it were the right word. Adventurous sounds too much like adulterous and perfidious, whereas adventuresome brings to mind wholesome, handsome and awesome, i.e., some of my best qualities.