For the past several weeks, restaurants have been forced to close their dining rooms and operate a take-out only business under an executive order by the governor of Florida. Some couldn’t survive the cut and closed their doors temporarily (we hope). Most boutiques and shops have gone to online shopping only or shopping by appointment – some have closed temporarily (we hope). Vacation rental properties are empty by order of the governor – for two more weeks. And who knows how long it will take to put visitors back in those places. Hair and nail salons are closed for now. Churches are preaching and praying online and some faithful are taking communion in their living room. There is something strange about it all.
We never thought we would see a time when the government orders or highly encourages all of the above. A bustling economy halted in its tracks. I can almost hear the airbrakes give a big heavy sigh as it screeches to a halt. For the sake of containing a virus, we have fired or furloughed a record number of employees across the state, Santa Rosa County notwithstanding. Some who still have jobs have had their hours cut significantly and some still have had pay cuts and/or both. And through no fault of their own.
The uncertainty has led people to hoard grocery store items – mostly toilet paper, disinfectants and apparently bread. Grocery stores have put a limit or ration on how many of the hot items you can buy. There is a line of people waiting to get in first thing in the mornings. People are panic buying, like a Cat 5 hurricane is headed our way.
If we put this in perspective, the United States as of press time Tuesday, has 592,743 cases of COVID-19 and 23,709 deaths, or about a 4% mortality rate. During this 2019-20 flu season, about 23,000 have died this season from the flu. In the 2018-19 flu season, 34,200 died and the year before that 61,099 people died from the flu – according to the Centers for Disease Control.
With those numbers, we are left scratching our heads wondering if there is something we don’t know. We don’t react that way to the flu. We don’t close our curtains and shutter the doors because 115 people throughout our entire county have the flu. The governor doesn’t shut down businesses and order us to stay home except for essential business over the flu. Most of us don’t normally wear masks to the grocery store or maintain six feet of distance from one person to the next during flu season. Perhaps, because this is a novel virus, we are protecting ourselves from the unknown – the novel part. Or maybe our society has lost sight of what overreach is in the name of being protected. And we go along because they said so.
On the list of things we never thought we would see, one thing tops the list…a pastor of a church being arrested for opening the church doors to his congregation. Or, the Kentucky State Police recording license plate numbers of church goers on Easter Sunday and turning the list over to the State Health Department to issue quarantine orders. In this big thing called life, we have choices to make. The beauty of living in the United States of America is waking up every day and making choices. And there are consequences for every choice. If the church doors were open, we could choose to go and take our chances, or we could choose to stay home and find a service online. Freedom of choice. And best of all, the government didn’t tell us we couldn’t go to church. Until they did. And they arrested a pastor. And made a list of church goers. And its worrisome. We walk around saying, “Oh, we have freedom of religion, that could never happen here.” And next year we will say, “We have freedom of religion except under these specific circumstances.” When we add the word except behind a freedom, it becomes compromised. A treacherous road for the United States of America.
The bill of rights would read something like:
Amendment 1: There shall be no laws against the freedom of speech unless you are saying things that are not nice.
Amendment 2: The right to an unarmed militia, baseball bats are OK but not guns, they kill people.
Amendment 4: The right against unlawful search and seizure, unless you have something super important that could help other people and you won’t let them have it.
And we could go on. It sounds ridiculous, but two weeks ago it was ludicrous to think a pastor would get arrested for holding a worship service in the church building. What about all the people going in and out of grocery stores and home improvement stores? Why don’t they all have to quarantine? Oh, right, they are essential. So are houses of worship – churches, synagogues. And you know what else is essential? Our right to choose to go or not.
Whatever your opinion, we can all agree there will be uncountable lessons learned, hardships endured – or not, freedoms compromised, economies crushed, families broken, jobs lost, storefronts shuttered for good and an oversupply of toilet paper.
We will probably never return to the normal of two months ago. But hopefully we will find new opportunities and acts of kindness in the state of the new normal we find ourselves in. One thing is for sure about Navarre. Tragedies and crisis bring out the best in our residents.