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Here in Jacksonville, we do not yet have any confirmed cases of coronavirus, but we are preparing for that certainty in the very near future. Part of that preparation means coming to an understanding of what life will be like until the virus no longer threatens us. Life in lockdown means an unprecedented shrinking of our normal activities.

Lockdown

We will probably not have a national lockdown. China, Italy and Spain have already declared that people should not leave their homes, except for absolutely necessary trips to buy food or medicine or visit sick relatives. But local lockdowns are spreading as quickly as the virus itself. Seven counties around San Francisco imposed “shelter-in-place”, banning all nonessential travel. California Governor Gavin Newsom suggested this might be extended to the whole state. New Jersey imposed a statewide evening curfew, and New York and Connecticut also “strongly discouraged” non-essential travel between 8 PM and 5 AM. Several New Jersey cities were in lockdown as of Monday. Whatever new rules come into play, we are contemplating a voluntary lockdown of our lives, and trying to figure out what that will mean.

No going to the movies, no meals out, no concerts or plays, no parties. Dinners with friends are probably out. Sports events are all cancelled anyway, and going to the gym is a bad idea. Classes are being cancelled across the country, from preschool to university. Work from home is being mandated by every company that can manage it. Shopping should only be for necessities, many of which are gone from the stores anyway.

Perhaps the greatest inconvenience, in my view, is the unpredictability of the end of lockdown. Shutting down our normal lives and remaining at home for a week or two is very different than for 3 months.

What can we do? Phone friends and relatives and talk for hours about what we are not doing. Watch TV, but that will also be much more limited than before. Professional sports are gone. Shows that provide needed laughs, like Stephen Colbert’s “Late Show”, have no audiences. I expect that many normal TV shows will not be made. Movie sets will be abandoned, which means that months from now there may be no new movies.

Travel will nearly disappear, meaning hotels, airlines, taxis, train services, restaurants and every business which caters to travelers will take a hit for months. Some won’t survive. I question every impulse I have to drive somewhere local. How close will I need to get to people? Will I have to exchange things, like money? Are their door handles wiped down?

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Movie ticket sales fell by nearly half this past weekend over last, meaning the worst weekend since data began to be collected in the 1980s.

Perhaps the greatest inconvenience, in my view, is the unpredictability of the end of lockdown. Shutting down our normal lives and remaining at home for a week or two is very different than for 3 months. Already a number of responsible people and institutions have signaled that we should be thinking in terms of months. Carnival's Princess Cruises are stopping for two months. The Louisiana presidential primary has been delayed for 2 months. On Monday, the NY Times quoted some experts who predicted that the crisis will not begin to abate for another 2 months, and that already seems outdated. Trump said on Monday that the outbreak might not be controlled until July or August. There apparently is a good chance that the virus might abate during the summer and then return in the fall.

By the time that normal life returns, whenever that is, it won’t be normal. Many businesses will close because they couldn’t survive weeks or months without revenue, especially small businesses, like stand-alone restaurants, coffee shops, boutiques. Home repairs will be postponed, depriving plumbers, electricians, appliance repairers of income.

I’m not complaining. We are retired. We have no responsibilities to other people that could put us in a dangerous place. Our pensions and Social Security payments arrive in our bank account.

But we can’t offer much help to our children, who are staying home with their children. We won’t be distributing money through the economy, providing incomes for others. We are enjoined to keep ourselves safe, which means to isolate ourselves from everyone else. The more self-sufficient we are, the better. The interconnected world, the global community, is disintegrating. Every country, every town, every family for themselves.

What kind of world will we come back to, when we unlock our lives?

steve hochstadt

Steve Hochstadt
Taking Back Our Lives