You had to see it to believe it: a man riding a horse in the grassy median of Summit Avenue on Saturday afternoon while wearing a bandana across his face.
No, a bandit from a black-and white Western movie hadn’t suddenly sprung to life in northeast Greensboro. It was only another image of life in the time of the new coronavirus — a mixture of the surreal, the outrageous and, most of all, the uplifting.
Banners shouting hope and encouragement. Friendly waves from people wearing masks, so you’ll know they’re hiding a smile. The cheerful banter from an overworked checkout clerk at a local grocery store, who asks, from behind a Plexiglas barrier, how your day is going. Artful chalk scribblings on sidewalks from youngsters combining a hopscotch grid with cheers to “Stay Strong” and “Wash Your Hands” while referencing Bible verses.
In our efforts, rightly, to maintain our social distancing, we may have overlooked some of those scenes. Some other things we may have missed in a time when so much is happening so fast even as we seem frozen in our isolation:
Open up now?
Drowning out requests from police to maintain a safe social distance, about 100 protesters in Raleigh on Tuesday demanded that the state reopen for business immediately.
The News & Observer of Raleigh reported that many of the protesters were skeptics who believe the threat of the coronavirus is mostly contrived and — incredibly — that something else may have killed more than 120,000 people worldwide.
“We are in violation of Comrade Cooper’s order,” said Leonard Harrison of Mebane, referring to Gov. Roy Cooper’s stay-at-home executive order. “If I get locked up today, I’m OK with that. As North Carolinians, we need to get back to work.”
We sure do. But at the right time. As we’ll say yet again, we know how difficult this is. We know the toll on the economy and the strain on families. But the bitter pills of sheltering in place and social isolation are acknowledged broadly by experts as the best long-term answer to the crisis. A premature return to life as usual risks a wave of new outbreaks.
As a great American once said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” ... and willful ignorance.
Case study: South Dakota
As a cautionary tale for those Raleigh protesters, consider South Dakota — one of only a handful of states that didn’t issue shelter-in-place orders.
Citing “a herd mentality,” Gov. Kristi L. Noem had left it to individuals whether “to exercise their right to work, to worship and to play. Or to even stay at home.” Now the state faces one of the most severe coronavirus “clusters” in the country. A Smithfield pork processing plant in Sioux Falls has been shuttered after 300 workers there fell ill from the virus.
Noem had huffed that South Dakota “isn’t New York City” in dismissing sheltering in place in her state. Now, we suppose, she can argue that Sioux Falls isn’t the rest of South Dakota.
A new leader
The Greensboro Housing Coalition has a new executive director, Josie Williams, who knows firsthand the affordable housing crisis here: She has been homeless herself.
Williams, who joined GHC in 2016 as its director of community engagement, is well-known for her work with diverse residents in the Cottage Grove community. She appears well-equipped for the post — and it’s a good thing: According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 33.6% of the city’s households are “cost-burdened,” meaning they spend at least 30% of their income on housing. That percentage has declined since the Great Recession, but now COVID-19 threatens a setback. Greensboro also ranks nationally among the top 10 cities in evictions.
We congratulate Williams and expect the community to continue its strong support of this vital nonprofit.
United we stood
Ann Parsons’ column in Saturday’s News & Record retold the story of how, in 1948, Greensboro rallied as a community in building a 134-bed hospital for polio patients in only three months. Parsons, the director of public history in the UNCG Department of History, noted that the city had been ravaged by the polio epidemic, with 249 cases, the highest per capita rate in the nation that year. She also noted how, during a time when local hospitals were segregated, this one wasn’t.
“It operated for a decade, serving hundreds of people from across North Carolina,” Parsons wrote. “At a time when many other hospitals in the area discriminated against African Americans, the polio hospital provided medical care and employed people of all races. In this way, the polio epidemic caused many community members to turn away from racist beliefs and policies — another lesson for us.”
And now, history repeats, with Cone Health dedicating its former Women’s Hospital building and Wesley Long Hospital to treat severe cases of COVID-19.
We appreciate you
Finally, wouldn’t it be a good thing if we in Greensboro figured out a way, collectively, to say thank you to the people on the front lines — who mend us and protect us and help keep us fed? In New York City (yes, New York City, Gov. Noem), residents pause once a day to collectively applaud. Could we do something like that?
Applaud at an appointed time? Display a certain color of light on our front porches? Or, better yet, even light the downtown skyline in some distinctive manner? We suspect they know how much we value their hard work and sacrifices. But it wouldn’t hurt to show it.