In a normal year, the topic on this March 17 probably would be a lighthearted piece about those who gather to party in the name of an Irish saint that wasn’t.
This is hardly a normal year. More than 7,531 people have died worldwide from the coronavirus that has infected more than 190,000 residents of planet Earth.
The second victim of the virus officially called “COVID-19” died in Virginia Monday. At least 67 infected residents of the Old Dominion are, experts say, only about one-tenth of those among us who actually have the disease.
Even though we live in Southwestern Virginia, the only part of Virginia that has not, yet, found even one confirmed case of the disease, we live under the same conditions where public gatherings are not allowed, schools remained closed, a roll of toilet paper cannot be found on a grocery store shelf and normal life no longer exists.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam ordered an end to public gatherings of more than 10 people, a reduction in one day from his order of under 100 on Monday, which is double the limit of 50 recommended by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and ten times what the latest recommendation by American president Donald Trump, who just last week called the coronavirus outbreak “no big deal.”
“No big deal” has shuttered restaurants, closed down music venues, darkened movie theaters and has sent America and the world into an increasingly worldwide depression.
Virginia Tech sent students home for a Spring Break that may not end and they will continue studies online. Same for Radford U. and other colleges and universities in our area, state and country. Floyd County public schools remain closed until at least March 30 and most likely longer.
Roanoke, Salem, Vinton and the counties of Roanoke and Botetourt declared “local emergencies” Monday, which gives their government officials the authority to mobilize resources quickly to respond to virus emergencies.
Blacksburg’s Town Council meets Tuesday but has asked the public to not attend
“It will be broadcast, so we will be retaining the public nature of the meeting without risking people’s health,” Blacksburg Mayor Leslie Hager-Smith told The Roanoke Times.
Floyd County’s board of supervisors is scheduled to meet next week and has not announced any changes yet.
Circuit and other courts in Floyd County are on a 21-day hold, effective Tuesday, by an order of the State Supreme Court, which declared a “judicial emergency.”
Nationally, the situation is worse.
In some places, public officials and private business owners moved with stunning speed. In others, paralyzing hesitancy, defiant bravado or blithe disregard dominated. But by Monday, it was clear everywhere that most of the American economy was grinding to an unparalleled halt and would remain that way for months.
California took some of the most aggressive steps to curb the spread of the coronavirus, with San Francisco and its surrounding counties telling residents to “shelter in place” and not leave their homes unless necessary. Primary elections in Georgia, Kentucky and Louisiana were postponed.
On the East Coast, Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey recommended a blanket curfew from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. for his state’s nine million residents. In New York, owners, waiters, chefs and bartenders arrived for work Monday as if for a funeral, ordered to close by Tuesday morning.
On Wall Street, brokers and analysts were acting as if an economic collapse were inevitable, despite the Federal Reserve’s emergency moves on Sunday night to stoke economic growth through an aggressive bond-buying program. The S&P 500 fell nearly 12 percent on Monday and global oil prices slid below $30 a barrel, the lowest level in more than four years.
“We’re calling the recession,” said Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics. “We have the three elements to make that call — a profound, pervasive and persistent contraction in economic activity.”
Local and state officials and business owners say the changing and contradictory response by the White House and the federal government is making a bad situation even worse.
“You can’t have one state taking actions that are different from other states,” said Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York said on Monday “What good is it if New Jersey closes its bars if people just drive across to New York or Connecticut to drink and then return home. This is a national pandemic and there are no national rules.”