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And being human.
It’s Friday! We made it through yet another week. I’m so proud of you!
I’m sorry this newsletter has been patchy this week (but I don’t really feel that bad). I’ve been publishing several articles and working on several more, and I’ve got some more big news. Loyal subscribers have already been hearing about the anthology I’m editing — but it’s finally official!
And there’s already a preorder link here! What!!!! Stay tuned for the cover, too — it’s going to be amazing.
Next week, I’ll talk a little bit more about the book and how it came to be. But today, I want to talk about sheltering in place.
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Shelter in place
It’s a phrase that brings to mind, for me at least, natural disasters. Earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes.
I’d never heard it used before for a health crisis. But it makes sense. Sheltering in place means staying home, wherever home is for you right now.
But not everyone is so eager to stay in place. Many people have fled cities for smaller towns, or left apartments for larger houses. Some people have returned home to be with family, while others have struck out with their families in tow, trying to turn the pandemic into an adventure.
But leaving your current location, wherever it may be, is antithetical to the idea of sheltering in place.
The reason local leaders and officials have recommended these rules isn’t just to protect you from going out into the world and encountering the coronavirus; it’s to keep others safe from you, in case you’re harboring the virus without even knowing it.
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Yearning for a quiet refuge
I grew up about half an hour away from the Delaware beaches. This time of year, the beach would normally still be shut up for winter — still a little too chilly, quiet, with many of the stores boarded up and shuttered.
Every summer, the town awakens, pulsing with heat and humidity and tourists — thousands of tourists. Most of them rent homes and apartments for a few days or weeks. But many others have homes along the coast, and they would seek shelter from sweltering cities along glittering shores.
We locals didn’t resent tourists — other than the omnipresent traffic jams of summer. We needed them. They filled out hotels and restaurants, our bookstores and keepsake shops.
But, it must be said, they filled our hospitals, too. Usually, then, it was with quotidian conditions — sunburns, broken limbs, grilling mishaps, drinking too much. Each summer, the health system geared up for the influx of new patients. We knew that going to the hospital on a Saturday night would mean long wait times and a harried staff.
Now, I’m terrified for these beach towns.
If hospitals were straining to keep up with tourists when they knew they were coming, what will they do now, before the summer season has even begun? And if they were racing to help people with “normal” ailments, what happens during a pandemic?
Many people who left their cities and apartments for quieter shores say they’ll self-isolate before going to the little local grocery store. That’s something, I guess. But what happens if symptoms develop in that time? Will it mean even more people needing intensive care in an already small and strained hospital? Will it bring COVID-19 to doctors and nurses in a previously sheltered community?
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Escape to the Arctic Circle
The story of escape that has most blown my mind happened far from the beaches of the Atlantic Ocean. (I wrote more about it here for ArcticToday.)
In Canada, a 30-something couple drove and flew thousands of miles from Quebec — the hardest-hit province in the country, with more than 3,500 coronavirus cases — to the remote, isolated community of Old Crow in Yukon.
Old Crow is an Indigenous community of about 250 people. Until now, they didn’t have any cases; hopefully, that continues. They definitely don’t have a hospital. The couple, perhaps unwittingly, put the entire community in danger.
But there was something about the story that has stayed with me.
“To me, this is a very human story,” said Dr. Brendan Hanley, Yukon’s chief medical health officer.
“It’s a story of two people who were afraid, who wanted to seek refuge, and who thought they were going to a safe place,” he said.
Their desire for safety doesn’t make up for the harm they could have (and may have) caused. But seeking safe refuge is a very understandable desire. I get it — we all want to be in the safest place possible right now.
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Helping others find refuge
This story has me thinking about all of the ways we flee — not just changing our physical location but also checking out of difficult conversations, avoiding close examination of our motivations and actions. It made me think of the ways we search for home, for communities that aren’t ours but feel like refuge.
This pandemic can bring out the thoughtlessness of others as they seek reprieve and try to protect themselves and our families. That doesn’t make their actions okay; but it does make them understandable.
Here’s one way we can help: A wonderful journalist named Kelsey Osgood (who is also a contributor to What We Didn’t Expect) is linking up empty homes with health workers who want to protect their families by self-isolating.
If you or someone you know left a house or apartment in New York for quieter pastures, you can offer your home up to health workers terrified of bringing the virus home to their families and roommates.
And if you’re not in New York — perhaps you might consider starting a similar movement of your own. If you do, or if you know of other ways to help, please share below.
In order to survive this, we’re going to need this kind of empathy — and we’re going to need to think carefully about the ways we prioritize our safety and well-being alongside that of others.
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Do you have questions, concerns, or ideas for what I should cover? Please leave a comment below or email me at email@example.com.
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