By Joey Kennedy
Not knowing is much worse than knowing. You know what I mean?
If I had a terminal illness, I’d want to know it. I’m that curious! Yet, here we are, socially distancing, sheltering in place, and we don’t have a clue what’s on the other side of this world disaster.
Oh, we know the economy is basically destroyed. It’ll come back, sure, but some businesses will never return. Are we looking at proration of the state budgets as early as this year, because state revenue has to be way down (though we’re killing it on the sales taxes for groceries)?
I haven’t passed by a Publix or Aldi or Walmart that wasn’t slammed.
What about our public institutions? The hospitals have been busy with the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), but elective treatments – normally a bigger money maker than treating illness – have been postponed. My wife needs a cardioversion to stabilize her heartbeat, but it’s been moved to early May. But there’s no guarantee it’ll happen then, either.
I’ve been running my classes from an undisclosed location on the UAB campus that has first-rate Wi-Fi and privacy. I can’t teach from home or grade papers there; the dogs always want to help, and they will not take “no” for an answer.
So I get up each day and go to my little office, make recordings of class overviews, make a class list, drop in appropriate videos, and try to grade.
The atmosphere on campus is really sad. Usually vibrant and active, few people walk the grounds these days. Everybody but a few of us are working from home. The most activity we had was after the big thunderstorms on Easter Sunday when Hulsey Hall, the Alys Stephens Center, and the Spencer Honors House were flooded. A whole army of ServPro fixers stormed those buildings to dry them out.
I can’t imagine what it must have been like when that wall of water crashed into the buildings late Easter night. The water mark on the Honors House is two feet high.
We already know classes this summer will be online. The question hovers over the important fall semester. Will enrollment catastrophically off? Will we be back in the classrooms? Will there be a football season, and soccer, and cross country, and basketball?
We don’t know. And that is scary. If we know, we can make plans. If we don’t, we are in lousy limbo.
What we don’t want to do is come back too quickly. I’m happy that the estimates of COVID’s damages were too high. Fewer people are losing their lives than predicted. Still, plenty are dying. But if we return to business as usual too fast, the disease will start spreading again.
What’s really sad is we know quicker action from our national leaders, and specifically Donald Trump, could have saved thousands of lives. But there was that time, about 70 days’ worth, that Trump played the pandemic down, stuck his head in the sand, ignored the experts, and was practically paralyzed. Strong governors had to step in. Testing was slow. Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) ran out. People, having been coddled for most of their lives, refused to socially distance themselves.
And then the bottom fell out. For the first time in history, all 50 states were declared disaster areas. A $2.2 trillion bailout passed by Congress started off really shaky. As of this writing, few people have received their checks, and businesses are having a tough time getting the guaranteed loans they need to survive.
One friend was furloughed and his position as an electrical engineer was eliminated. Another was laid off by Honda and is looking for a job. Any job. Another friend can’t work because his hair salon is closed.
What happens to them? My wife and I depend on our Social Security to make ends meet – and they don’t always. My teaching and journalism and her small pension feed us and keep our car gassed and maintained. Our dogs fed.
Should any one of those sources of income disappear, and we, like so many others, are on the brink.
And we’re at ages or in challenged health situations that we’re practically unemployable.
We needed strong leadership at the federal and state levels to get through this. Both have been major disappointments. But, again, we’ve never been here.
But we’d never had a civil war, until we did, and Abraham Lincoln’s leadership took us through.
We’d never had a World War I or World War II until we did, and progressive Presidents Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt guided us to victories.
Now we’re hearing that the recession we’re falling into may be much worse than 2008; may be nearly as bad as the Great Depression.
But we don’t know, do we? And that is scary.