At the risk of being sensationally obvious, I’ll just have to say this has been quite a week or two.
Two Saturdays ago, my wife and I attended a crowded early show at Casa Cantina, where a great out-of-town band, The Randys, were playing. While news of the COVID-19 virus already was dominating international news, it still wasn’t the overwhelming news it would become here several days later. We and a packed house of other hipster geezers (I’m copywriting that phrase) blithely enjoyed the show, shouting boisterously at one another over the music, invisible spittle shooting from our pie-holes like wood chips. Were any of these evil germs hitching a ride on those bits of spit? Apparently not; otherwise many us would be sick (or worse) today.
Notwithstanding that good fortune, the following Saturday, March 14, after several days of increasingly frightening news (as immersive an education as I’ve ever experienced) about the increasing spread of this coronavirus, I’d wager that very few of we geezers from March 7 would have been as foolhardy as to venture into a crowded bar.
But with age comes wisdom (with some sad exceptions – you know who you are), and a much younger cohort of Athens residents – current OU students – showed no sign of wisdom or common sense Sunday evening when they packed the saloons of uptown Athens, for a last hurrah before the bars closed at 9 p.m., a closure that will last until further notice.
Sunday afternoon, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine – who has shown surprising leadership in aggressively preparing for our state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic – ordered dine-in/drink-in services at all restaurants and bars to be halted as of 9 Sunday night.
The idea behind this order is simple. When people come together in large, haphazard groups (such as in a crowded bar), anyone who’s infected with COVID-19 will spread it much easier than in another circumstance where social distancing is being practiced.
The younger folks may be suffering under the illusion that since they’re young and healthy, the worst they can expect from COVID 19 is something akin to a bad cold or mild flu. That's faulty thinking based on more recent reports showing younger people are also at risk of contracting serious illness from the coronavirus. On top of that, those Sunday evening Corona-festers obviously weren't thinking about themselves becoming carriers.
I – and I suspect many of you – harbored the same misapprehension until some point last week when the sharp, searing light of science obliterated the illusion. In my case, my wife, a retired family nurse practitioner, pounded the truth into my noggin: While healthy individuals might not have much to fear, she explained (maybe 10 times before I got it), they can carry the coronavirus and infect folks for whom catching it could be considerably more dangerous or deadly.
While the degree to which asymptomatic individuals can infect others with COVID-19 is uncertain, the science has confirmed that it can and does happen, and maybe at a high rate.
So while those frolicking Sunday night uptown partiers may have thought they were enjoying some innocent fun (much like we thought eight days before), and carrying on an absurd but harmless OU tradition (blizzard-fest, criminal-fest, whatever-fest), they were potentially endangering others whom they infect, and whom those they infect encounter over the next week or so. That includes elderly family members (65 and over) and/or family and friends with serious underlying conditions.
Surely, these Sunday evening bar-flies had heard the term “social distancing” lately. What did they think that meant? Driving an hour to a party?
In defense of us geezer hipsters at Casa the week before, at that moment we still didn’t have the benefit of a GOVERNOR’S ORDER and a never-ending number of other closures near, far and wide to tell us that congregating at a bar was a bad idea.
I’m not being critical of the bars that served these bar goers on Sunday evening. They had businesses to run, employees to pay, and until the order from Gov. DeWine Sunday evening, not many Ohioans imagined he would go that far, that quickly. I’d hazard to guess that nobody was closing their bar or restaurant in Ohio before DeWine’s order.
Until Monday of this week, the same sort of blithe indifference to the gravest public health crisis in their lifetimes (my lifetime, too) show by Corona-festers Sunday evening appeared ready to manifest itself again, starting this weekend when the first of the student street festivals (Milliron Fest and Mill Fest) were scheduled. In fact, Mill Fest, the bigger of the two, had been sardonically renamed, you guessed it, “Coronafest.”
Fortunately, the city, university and Athens City-Councy Health Department aggressively discouraged these events, with the Police Department ready to arrest anyone who gathered in numbers larger than 50. The online group that had been promoting the fests – all the way through mid-April – also backed away from doing so on Monday.
So it will be surprising if crowds of fun-loving OU students materialize on Mill Street Saturday afternoon. But I also never under-estimate the foolishness that undergirds OU/Athens party-school reputation (full disclosure – I was very much a part of that during my college years).
Granted, as sad and chagrined as OU students will be about missing out on their coveted spring fests, they’re not alone. This spring we’ll all miss the dozens of spring events we’ve come to look forward to over the years, some of them enjoyed by both students and townspeople.
A partial list of community and student-oriented events: The street fests, the International Street Fair, Kidfest, Souper Bowl, Athens Marathon, Race for a Reason, Dairy Barn Fest, Take Back the Night March, countless shows at local live music venues, both indoor and outdoor, and ultimately, OU’s commencement on May 1 (which, yes, has been canceled). We’re all still holding our breath about what happens with big events further into the late spring and summer.
My advice – replace all the highly anticipated spring events that make Athens an incredible place to live with your own special events. Go outside and enjoy southeast Ohio’s glorious springtime weather. COVID-19 won’t do a thing to stop the green from bursting from our trees, the vibrant colors exploding from our flower beds, the beautiful parks, forests and lakes that grace our region. Likewise, there’s nobody to tell us we can’t enjoy a wealth of outdoor activities such as hiking, kayaking and canoeing, sight-seeing, hill-country drives or bike rides, dog-walking, bird-watching, camping or picnicking in small family groups, etc., etc.
Instead of mourning the absence of all the traditional Athens area events that won’t be happening this spring, make your own glorious memories in the great outdoors. And hope that not too many of your neighbors, co-workers or family are suffering sick at home.