The streets of Philly are eerily empty. Looking out my window during what used to be rush hour, there is just a trickle of cars; at last count, almost 15 seconds between each one.
As of Sunday night, the total number of Covid-19 cases in the city had topped 12,500 and the death toll had reached 472. But I still consider us lucky. The tidal wave of infections hit New York City about two weeks before it reached Philly. So, our Governor and Mayor were able to get a glimpse of what was coming … and react. First the city’s Health Commissioner, Thomas Farley, advised a two-week quarantine for anyone traveling from New York.
On April 1, Governor Tom Wolf issued a stay-at-home order for the whole state. Schools and non-essential businesses were closed. People were asked not to go out unless it was to shop for groceries or other essentials. However, we were still allowed out to walk, run, and bike, as long as we did it solo. Since then, Wolf has had news conferences nearly every day, talking to us clearly and directly about numbers, precautions, and closings.
Here in the Fairmont/Museum area most people made the adjustment quickly, adhering to social distancing rules. Our local Whole Foods immediately shut down their in-store restaurants and their bar but kept selling groceries. Their staff started wearing gloves and masks; and seniors were given early access [7 a.m. to 8 a.m.] for an hour of uncrowded shopping. The store also instituted the six-foot rule for those on the checkout lines, with staff directing the shoppers. Target, just one block away, adhered to the same guidelines.
The building in which I live took similar measures. Management immediately closed down our gym and required the staff to start wearing gloves; masks were added to that mandate a few weeks later. There are warning signs in the elevators to maintain a safe distance, though many tenants are opting to ride solo. And the staff has been furiously cleaning and re-cleaning every public space. Since mid-March, the building has also been sending out daily updates on the state’s latest Covid-19 guidelines as well as suggestions on what to watch, where to find take-out, and how to entertain the kids.
Still, some people don’t “get it.” Running along Kelly Drive Saturday morning, lots of runners, walkers, and cyclists were out there without masks or gloves … oblivious to the fact that they might spreading the virus to others, or even worse, bringing it home to friends and family.
What’s also disturbing are the number of small local businesses that have been shuttered and may never come back to life, including a nail and hair salon just across the street from me, which thrive on walk-in business. Others, like the Rite Aid, are still open but now have plastic dividers at the checkout counters and all of their staff are wearing plastic face shields.
The Wawa at the end of our block has signs all over their front windows reminding people that they will not be allowed into the store without a face mask and then only until a maximum of 10 people is reached.
Like every other locked-down city, restaurants are some of the hardest hit by the pandemic. According to the National Restaurant Association, over 75% of their workers in Pennsylvania have been laid off or furloughed since early March. While many owners have applied for SBA small loans, few have received them so far. Others are now relying on take-out or delivery to keep their businesses afloat. Some are offering pre-packaged meals to go; and I recently did a “zoom” wine tasting courtesy of one of my favorite restaurants. But how long owners can continue this and how many will make it through this time is anyone’s guess.
Most colleges in the area went on-line about a month ago, with students accessing classes via zoom. K-12 schools – which were closed as of April 9 and will not open again this spring – are having a tougher time. Thousands of kids in the Philly area are eligible for free breakfast and lunch during the school day. Now their parents need to pick up the meals from a handful of locations around the city … before they go to work. Another issue for the schools is at-home learning. Despite many organizations donating computers to the kids, nearly 40 percent of students in grades 3-12 don’t have access to the internet, according to School Superintendent, William Hite.
The good news? The weather is warming up and most of us are able to spend more time outside. The “curve” appears to be flattening. And everyone is looking forward to May 8th, when Governor Tom Wolf plans to start relaxing restrictions on businesses.
And every night at 7 p.m. my neighbors open their windows and shout, sing, and bang on pots and pans in recognition of health care workers, supermarket employees, and all the other front liners who are helping us through it all.
Photos by Paula M. Levine