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'I hate this virus’: Lancaster County spends a month on hold [column]

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LNP's front page on March 18, 2020, reporting the first case of COVID-19 in Lancaster County.

On Wednesday, March 18 — a month ago today — someone in Lancaster County was diagnosed with a newly discovered virus, for which doctors have no treatment or cure. 

The next day, the front page of LNP shouted: “FIRST CASE IN COUNTY.”

And so it began.

My story about this past month and the changes brought by the COVID-19 outbreak is different than your story, except for this: We’ve had to adjust.

Through January and February, I absorbed the early reporting on the novel coronavirus as if it were background music. I felt no connection to the sickness arising out of a poultry and seafood market in central China, spreading through cruise ships and making American landfall in Seattle.

How things change.

Can you be angry at a virus? I suppose not. But how can you not be angry about life in hiatus, about effort lost?

A reporting project I began in November and expected to continue through April is in limbo. That’s minor compared to athletes, especially those in school, who trained for competitions that will never happen. What can you say to them? What can you say to any young person? Or any person?

It’s not just that futures are on hold. 

It’s that the future we envisioned is now incomprehensible.

I hate COVID-19 for that. I hate it, down to its grating moniker.

I hate this virus

We can only try to adjust.

My sister lives out west. A little over a year ago, she lost her mild-mannered, dependable husband in a skiing accident. She has lived alone ever since, and COVID-19 has only intensified her isolation and grief.

My wife and I have reservations to fly in July, see my 88-year-old mother and celebrate my sister’s birthday. Those plans are in doubt.

I hate this virus.

I have a 2-year-old grandson 7 miles away who laughs when I’m goofy. I pinch my finger with a clothespin, feign agony and beg him to take it off.

It’s been weeks since I’ve chased him and held him.

I hate this virus.

Lancaster County is a place defined by work. 

People may not get paid a lot. This isn’t Silicon Valley or lower Manhattan. But they work, creating $26 billion in economic output, equal to a fourth of Philadelphia’s.

Now much of the workforce is told to sit home and collect unemployment. That’s offensive to Lancaster County’s ethos.

But in keeping with who we are, let’s be grateful for those who must work: those caring for the sick, elderly and disabled, those responding to emergencies, those producing food, driving trucks, stocking shelves and checking out groceries, those with children at home.

I’m thankful the governor considers reporters “essential workers.”

My first byline in the Lancaster Intelligencer Journal appeared in 1978, when I was 21. After 41 years of being a newspaperman here, I’ve chafed at assignments that felt like “been there, done that.”

Well, nothing about now makes me say that.

Nothing.

I’ve had a month of being part of a reporting team documenting unheard-of things.

No rush-hour traffic. No tourists. No toilet paper.

No one at church on Easter.

I still have a job in a field shedding workers — LNP Media Group has not been immune — and I wake up with a sense of mission about reporting on these times. This is why I became a reporter.

I am grateful for this opportunity.

Disruption hasn’t been all bad

OK, a confession. The disruption, for me, hasn’t been all bad. My wife and I have stayed healthy. We eat-in-place. We watch Netflix. We eat-in-place. 

In one month, over 80 people have died in Lancaster County. 

I try to not dwell on the death count and what it portends.

I have the luxury of looking out the kitchen window and watching a pair of cardinals make a nest in the hedge. If I was working at the office, I would’ve missed the wonder of building with beaks.

Recently, our daughter-in-law FaceTimed us, and we saw our grandson. I got a clothespin and snapped its jaw menacingly. It bit my finger.

“Ow!” I yelled at the screen.

My grandson looked at me with wide eyes. Then he reached for the screen to try to pull the clothespin off my finger.

Someday, if he asks about the pandemic of 2020, I will tell him about that.


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