GUEST EDITORIAL: As the storm breaks, hold on to your neighbor
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There's a scene in the movie "Woodstock," the documentary about the landmark 1969 concert, where ominous clouds roll in, winds swirl and black skies open up on the crowd of 500,000.
"We're going to have to ride it out," intones stage announcer Chip Monck as the rain starts to fall. "Hold on to your neighbor, man."
Half a century later, it's about the best advice we can proffer as a monumental storm of a different type breaks.
Dramatic measures designed to combat the coronavirus outbreaks came in rapid succession this week. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis closed bars and nightclubs, shuttered public schools through April 15 and asked Florida state universities to implement online learning for the rest of the spring semester.
By the time you read this, even stricter measures may be in place. Six counties in the San Francisco Bay area are already under "shelter in place" orders, requiring individuals to stay home and businesses that do not provide “essential” services to send workers home. Officials in New York City are talking about implementing the same policy.
We hope such measures aren't necessary in Florida, but ultimately, they might be. We may be staring down the barrel of a massive economic and societal shutdown.
Yet what other options are there to slow the spread of the virus, COVID-19?
It's a matter of sacrificing now to avoid greater suffering later. And we've no choice but to ride it out.
Let's do so, however, with a clear understanding of what will be required of us, both now and when this is all over.
Due to all the closures, unemployment is spiking. Florida's unemployment rate was just 2.8 percent in February, but could double, triple or more. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin warned Republican senators Tuesday the national unemployment rate could hit 20 percent if they fail to act on a proposed COVID-19 rescue package.
Many of your neighbors already may be out of work or working fewer hours due to the crisis. This will ripple through local communities, local economies.
How many small, local businesses will be closed? How many local residents, already just a paycheck or two away from financial disaster, will face eviction or foreclosure?
The need in our communities may exceed anything we've ever seen.
What of elderly local residents unable to secure such basic necessities? Toilet paper and other items continue to be snapped up the moment they hit the shelves.
Will high school seniors graduate on time? Will schoolchildren complete enough coursework this year to be promoted to the next grade? What of those without reliable child care who now face the prospect of the kids being home for a month — or ultimately longer?
The questions are endless, the answers uncertain, the duration of this shutdown unknown. All that may lead to feelings of powerlessness and despair.
But there is something you can do:
Hold on to your neighbor.
Volunteer for a local non-profit charity. Many existing volunteers are older and more susceptible to the virus, so they aren't giving as much of their time.
If you have time or money to offer, give to a worthy local cause that helps meet the need in your community.
But "holding on to your neighbor" needn't be so formal. Check in with elderly residents to see if they need anything. Fire up the grill invite a neighbor or two (no more than 10, per CDC guidelines) for dinner.
Don't hoard supplies.
Help out with child care where feasible. Make and deliver meals to those who might otherwise go without.
Practice basic human kindness. It's about the best we can do right now.
We may not be able to stop the rain. But we'll all get through this storm together.
This editorial was originally published in the TC Palm.