You know what I’m glad I didn’t do? Run for governor in the last election. Of ANY state. I’ll wager there were some candidates who thought, “Hey, this’ll be cool. Get to live in a mansion, ride in limos everywhere I go, or fly in helicopters and sleek airplanes. The media will hang on my every word. People will call me “Governor” for the rest of my life. I won’t be one of the ‘little people’ anymore. Cool job.” Very few, if any, winners probably ever thought they’d be making decisions about shutting down their states and/or re-opening them because of some unseen enemy that threatened the health of their people and their states’ economies.
As Kermit the Frog sang, “It’s not easy being green.” These days, it’s not easy being the Chief Executive of a state. You’re pretty much a pariah no matter what you do. Close all the schools and the parents and teachers aren’t gonna like you. (The kids might, but they don’t vote.) Shut down restaurants? Lots and lots of small business owners and waiters, waitresses, cooks, pot washers, and bartenders are going to pitch a fit. Tell everyone to stay home? Thousands will shout, “Are you crazy? Do you know who I live with?”
Now, hopefully on the cusp of the other end of total lockdown, governors are taking an awful lot of heat for wanting to open their states back up. As of this writing, in Georgia, South Carolina, Texas, and a few others, there are tentative steps being taken toward letting the capitalist entrepreneurs purvey their wares and services, albeit with strict limitations.
In restaurants, giant bottles of bleach may well be sandwiched up next to the salt and pepper shakers on each table. Not for an additional condiment, mind you, but as a reminder to table-washers to disinfect with aplomb after each diner is finished. Bowling alley personnel will want to use an entire can of Lysol on every bowling ball touched and pair of shoes rented. Movie theater popcorn may have a decidedly antiseptic smell mixed in with the buttery topping.
Total rollbacks of restrictions probably aren’t going to happen for quite a while. Masks will no doubt continue to be part of most everyone’s work outfits and uniforms for the foreseeable future. And individual hand sanitizer bottles will occupy pockets opposite those holding phones.
As you probably know, we’ve been through this before. Well, not literally “we,” although some centenarians may have a smidgeon of remembrance. The oft-talked-about Spanish Flu pandemic back in 1918 had similar restrictions to daily living as our battle with Covid-19. In its infancy, the virus was downplayed by many in government. Cities were slow to respond. The ones that took immediate precautionary steps such as St. Louis fared much better than those that didn’t (and those are too numerous to mention). (NOTE: In 1918, apparently no one knew what a virus was. It seems scientists didn’t have sophisticated enough equipment until over a decade later to discover that.)
Everybody, though, knew the flu was transmitted from person-to-person through respiratory drops (talking, coughing, and sneezing). That virus was more infectious than Covid-19 and less discriminatory, affecting young and old alike. There was no vaccine, of course, much like today. And the very best thing people could do was called “crowding control.” We know it better as social distancing.
Military men were told to gargle with saltwater. Cities shut down schools, churches, and movie theaters, and mandated that everyone wear a mask (a dictate that lasted well after the worst of the outbreak was done). One thing that made the 1918 pandemic so much worse than ours was that there just happened to be a world war going on at the same time. (Actually, soldiers returning home probably did more to spread the virus than anything else did.) A large share of the country’s money was going to fight the battles in Europe. But more was printed to hire healthcare workers. Nurses, it seems, even treated patients out of their own homes.
A report I saw said 50 million people across the world died from the virus. And that included 675,000 Americans. With a much bigger global population now, that worldwide figure would be equivalent to 300 million or more.
In 1918, much as today, people were eager to get that thing over with and get back to normal living. So, what’s a state official to do? That remains to be seen. But it will be interesting to see which governors go on a dinner, bowling, and movie date night any time soon.
©MMXX. William J. Lewis, III – Freelance Writer