As the COVID-19 crisis continues to grow more real to Oregon residents, businesses and other organizations have been adapting to what seems like new realities every day.
National, state and local restrictions aimed at stemming the worldwide spread of the novel coronavirus grew tighter every few days, with Gov. Tony Evers declaring on Tuesday, March 24, that only essential business operations may continue. What qualified as essential was a long list that included all food service, professional services, charity organizations, construction, delivery and financial institutions.
That 16-page edict – foreshadowed four days earlier with an update to the governor’s March 17 mass gathering order – forced many Oregon businesses to adjust their models or close, at least temporarily. Sit-down restaurants and bars either stopped serving or switched to curbside pickup, funeral homes restricted visitors, while grocery stores and drive-thru restaurants stayed as busy as ever.
The Oregon Area Food Pantry shifted to offering pre-packaged food for guests, while governing bodies further encouraged absentee voting and consolidated polling locations and health clinics consolidated their services to a main hub.
And teachers prepared to begin online schooling beginning March 30, with no certainty they’ll return to in-person instruction before the school year ends.
The COVID-19 crisis accelerated quickly in the United States starting March 11, when the World Health Organization declared it a pandemic. At that point, just over 4,000 people had died of the disease, which causes respiratory distress in addition to influenza-like symptoms. By March 23, it had claimed more than 16,000 lives, with 375,000 confirmed cases worldwide, about 10 percent of them in the United States, according to the Center for Science Systems and Engineering.
In five days, it went from a curiosity and a concern many people in Oregon and elsewhere shrugged off, to a national emergency.
By March 13, almost all major American professional and college sports were canceled as a handful of high-profile positive tests made the spread of the virus more tangible.
In Wisconsin, all schools were either closed or soon to be closed and high school sports and other school activities canceled. Three days later, state orders prevented restaurants, bars, churches and many other businesses from functioning by restricting the number of people allowed to gather to 10.
By the time Evers announced his plan to sign the “Safer at Home” order on the morning of March 23, more than 10,000 people had signed a Change.orgpetition asking for it.
That order, apparently patterned after the March 19 Safer at Home order Los Angeles passed, made only incremental changes to those limitations. Similar to other states’ Shelter in Place requirements, it’s encouraging people to stay home, rather than stay wherever they happened to be, Evers and his staff told reporters on a March 23 media briefing.
In addition to the order, Evers urged people in tweets and again in the media briefing to severely limit social interactions.
“That means no sleepovers, no play dates, and no dinner parties with friends and neighbors,” he tweeted. “Please don’t take any other unnecessary trips, and limit your travel to essential needs like going to the doctor, grabbing groceries, or getting medication.”
With Americans increasingly worried about their financial situations, national, state and local leaders tried to reassure people they are protected. The U.S. Senate debated a $1 trillion bill that would provide $1,200 per person and bail out struggling businesses while Wisconsin prohibited utility companies from shutting down services and Dane County announced it would not enforce evictions.
Evers’ tweets clarified some workers who could continue to go to their jobs.
“That includes folks like healthcare professionals, grocers, family caregivers, among other people whose work is critical for folks across our state,” he tweeted.
While only 70 of the roughly half-million people in Dane County had tested positive for coronavirus as of March 23, scientists are expecting a sharp rise in the number of cases because of the virus’ long incubation period.
That duration between catching the virus and showing symptoms is typically more than five days, according to astudy published in Science Daily, and sometimes 11 days or more, compared with about two days on average for the flu. That means people can carry and transmit it to many people without knowing it.
While the virus typically is most deadly to older people and those with underlying health conditions, one of the biggest concerns expressed by political leaders and health experts is the potential collapse of the health care system by having more people in need of ventilators than hospitals can provide. This has been the case in Italy, where nearly 10 percent of the more than 60,000 infected had died by March 23.
In Dane County, about one-fourth of people who had tested positive March 23 had no known exposure to anyone with a positive test, travel history or health care, according to that day’s release by Public Health Madison Dane County.
“This tells us that community spread is happening,” the release stated. “Every person who stays home makes it more difficult for COVID-19 to spread.”