Society Magazine

The Coronavirus in Kansas: The First Week

Posted on the 18 March 2020 by Russellarbenfox
[Cross-posted to Wichita Story]
It’s dark and quiet Wednesday morning here in the Fox household, March 18, 2020. It’s been dark every morning–and mostly gray and cloudy and cool all through the days as well–for pretty much a whole week now, appropriately enough. Partly that’s because our schedules, both external and internal, haven’t caught up with the hour in the morning we lost less than two weeks ago when Daylight Savings Time began. But most, I think, it’s because of the gloom which has descended upon many of us here in south-central Kansas in the past seven days, with the weather–unhelpfully but perhaps unavoidably, reciprocating.
A week ago, on Wednesday, March 11, I was wrapping up my classes in anticipation of spring break. Students were handing in their midterms, and telling me about their travel plans. Of course people were aware of the coronavirus threat; I’m originally from Washington state, and my mother still lives there (my father having passed on some years ago), so as the news tumbled forth from Seattle and elsewhere about cancellations and quarantines, I got regular updates from siblings and others. We all knew it–meaning both the virus and the panic--would be in Kansas soon; every informed person did. Yet from the top of the national government on down to the local level, the mood was...ordinary.
Maybe that’s not what you were feeling a week ago; maybe you’re a prepper that had already rushed out and stocked up on toilet paper back in February. Most of us aren’t that, and I certainly wasn’t, and neither were any of my colleagues at Friends University. Our president spoke at a regularly scheduled university-wide community meeting that afternoon, and she said she didn’t anticipate anything out of the ordinary. We talked about the mission of our small liberal arts college, talked about the integration of Christian values and higher education, talked about and made plans for all the usual things. She wished us all a good spring break, and we left to get our Thursdays and Fridays in order.
But, of course, they weren’t in order.
Late that Wednesday night, the cold weather rolled back in, and the University of Kansas announced–following the decisions of various major institutions of higher education around the country made that same day–that they also would extend spring break by a week, ask students to vacate student housing, and go to online education thereafter. Immediately, the dominoes started to fall. An NBA players tested positive for the virus, and by the following morning the word was out: the league was suspending all games until further notice. Throughout Thursday, March 12, the announcements kept coming. Other local universities were following KU’s example, telling students not to return after spring break, but to work from home. March Madness was announced to be going forward without an audience, and then was cancelled altogether.
By Friday, March 13, there were reported coronavirus cases throughout Kansas, including one patient who had just been released from Wesley Medical Center here in Wichita. Our younger daughters were home, with their spring break having begun, but I was attending another, hastily-called, university-wide meeting, where our president, having been in conferences with other college presidents and Sedgwick County officials since 7:30am, informed us that Friends was following suit: two weeks of spring break, followed by online instruction. The rush was in full swing. Sedgwick County and Wichita started issuing the first of their cancellations and restriction orders, with the grand re-opening of Naftzger Park being the first casualty. And still the weather remained cloudy and cool.
It was a rough weekend, as anyone who went shopping can attest and looked in vain (as I did) for certain particular items can attest. The early farmers market that Saturday, March 14, at the Sedgwick County Extension Center was cancelled, so I couldn’t stock up as I prefer. (I ended up driving to Hutchinson to hit up our long-time local meat connection, Phil Nisly, at his farm-slaughterhouse directly.) There was a death in our extended family–not coronavirus-related; it was an elderly relative, and had long been anticipated. But there would be no funeral, in the same way that there was no church on Sunday, March 15, as our congregation had cancelled all gatherings at church buildings for the foreseeable future. So no chance to say a final farewell, no chance to mourn with family we almost never see. We needed to cheer ourselves up and so, anticipating that movie theaters would soon close as well, we snuck out over the weekend to see the new Pixar film, Onward, in a mostly empty theater. Just in the nick of time, as it turned out.
Monday, March 16, dawned--sort of, anyway--and the long-process of sorting out the weekend and finding a new routine begins. The YMCA had announced they were closing their facilities on Sunday, cancelling all its classes; hence, my wife did her Zumba class in front of a screen. She went into work, wondering how Watermark Books, where she has been a bookseller and event coordinator for eight years, will ride out these quarantines and cut-backs (shop local everyone–keep Wichita’s small businesses alive!). Our second-oldest daughter consoled herself with the fact that, while her end-of-semester concerts were cancelled, at least the Chipotle she works at has a drive-through, and thus may be able to survive social distancing better than some others. Yesterday, Tuesday, March 17, the state board of education finally dropped the other shoe, as we all knew they would: all public schools are closed for the remainder of the year. Our sixteen-year-old is freaked about what shifting to online assignments will do to her grades, and our almost-fourteen-year-old, usually a dismissive teen-ager, kind of teared-up, realizing that her eighth-grade formal won’t happen, and sadly counting up all her friends that she never got contact information for. And still the gray skies continued, with an oozing, tail-end-of-winter wet accompanying us all through Monday and Tuesday.
The Coronavirus in Kansas: The First WeekStill, the seasons respect no virus; springtime is here (or will be, officially, tomorrow–and there’s even a chance of some proper sunshine by the end of the day on Thursday!). So all day yesterday, ignoring my wet socks and the mud, I did as I’ve been planning since January: redesigning and improving my garden space, with the aim of making for a more productive and more attractive crop this summer. So I plowed everything up, raked it, purchased boards, built new raised beds, laid them down, and hauled ten wheelbarrow-loads of compost over. It looks nice. One week into the full effect of the coronavirus panic here in Wichita, and we’re hunkering down for the long haul, like everyone is. Someday it will be summer, and there will be fresh peas and tomatoes to enjoy. Keep your eyes on the (still-distant) prize, everyone. Eyes on the prize.

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