Spring in the Time of COVID-19

What a crazy spring this has been! Lacking both topics and motivation, I haven’t written any blog entries for a long time. But, this is a diary after all, so documenting our 2020 COVID-19 experiences seems appropriate.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler and county officials made the tough decision to cancel South by Southwest on March 6th, one week before it was scheduled to begin. At the time, most of us were surprised, but in hindsight, this was a wise and appropriate decision: Austin would have become a COVID hot spot if all of those visitors had converged here. The University of Texas began spring break week one day earlier than planned, then extended the break to two weeks, and eventually moved to online classes for the remainder of the semester.

Austin’s initial Stay at Home – Work Safe Order was issued on March 24th. Schools, daycare centers, restaurants, bars, and churches were closed. Employees were encouraged to work from home whenever possible. Walkers, runners, and bicyclists filled our neighborhood’s sidewalks and streets. Families organized teddy bear scavenger hunts and chalk art walks.

Like many places around the country, folks panicked in those early days. Austin grocery stores ran out basic items such as toilet paper, paper towels, cleaning supplies, and even bottled water (probably confusing a hurricane with a pandemic). Our local H-E-B tried to calm everyone down by announcing that they had been increasing their warehouse stocks since January. Stores restricted shopper access, implemented one-way aisles, added plexiglass shields at checkout counters, and expanded curbside and delivery services.

Wholesale distributors found themselves with lots of extra food and supplies, so they began selling produce boxes for pickup or delivery. In early April, I picked up a box that supplied us with fresh vegetables (plus milk and paper towels) for over two weeks. Restaurants were restricted to take-out only, but several also offered “Make at Home Meal Kits” and online markets. Farmers markets remained open with limited numbers of shoppers and more spacing between booths.

Spring holidays came and went without much celebration. St. Patrick’s Day is typically one big party during SxSW week, but a sad decoration on a random fire hydrant was my only evidence of this celebration. Easter Day and Mother’s Day were undistinguishable from other days, except for Zoom meetings with our extended family.

In mid-April, local clinics started offering drive-up coronavirus “assessments” because the actual COVID-19 tests were not widely available. Several friends (in Austin and elsewhere) came down with the virus. Some were hospitalized, one person was on a ventilator. Most have recovered now.

PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) was hard to find here until mid-May. Thanks to generous neighbors, Bill and I had obtained three handmade masks in April. One mask looked more like a potholder, but it did the job. Now our collection has been supplemented by fashion statements created by former refugees working at Open Arms Studio in Austin and from an Etsy store called Little Kate Designs.

A flight path into the Austin-Bergstrom Airport goes just north of our neighborhood. Based on completely unscientific observation, air travel has dramatically decreased. Plane sightings are far-and-few-between. Except for occasional fighting children or delivery vans, the world seems quieter now. I swear that chirping birds and croaking bullfrogs are easier to hear on my walks, although some experts disagree. I’m sitting outside more, watching the neighbor’s outdoor cat relentlessly stalking the chickadees or a small green anole lizard (“Lizzo”) scurrying to-and-fro on the fence. Yep, I give names to lizards now.

Golf has been a back-and-forth situation here. In early March, all municipal golf courses were abruptly closed. A few days later, their gates were unlocked for residents to play again, but clubhouses remained closed and golf carts were prohibited. Bill reported that there were no tee markers and flags, so he had to guess where the hole might situated be on the green. We wondered whether a hole-in-one would still count, however this quandary remained hypothetical. Once Austin’s Stay at Home order was issued, the courses closed again. A few weeks later, they reopened with flagsticks, foam inserts in the holes (making them shallower), and more spacing between foursomes. Bill would like readers to know that, under these improved conditions, he has broken 80 and had an Eagle.

After attending the Austin Music Awards back on March 11th, we switched to online entertainment. Bill has been supporting Master Pancake Theater, a local comedy troupe that makes fun of movies. I’ve been watching livestreams featuring local musicians and benefitting non-profit organizations. Besides SxSW, favorite spring events like the Zilker Kite Festival, Pecan Street Festival, Eeyore’s Birthday Party, WEST, and O. Henry Pun-Off, were all cancelled. Music concerts, including the Rolling Stones No Filter Tour, were postponed until next year.

Along with a pandemic, Mother Nature also gave us a beautiful spring. We had relatively cool weather with lots of rain—just right for a plentiful crop of bluebonnets, even within the city limits.

Now summer is fast approaching, and the hot-weather wildflowers are blooming. Governor Greg Abbott has been lifting restrictions in Texas, although big city mayors are still urging caution. Austin’s Stay at Home order expires on June 15. Whether this order will be extended is unclear and depends on our COVID-19 dashboard numbers. Our world has changed significantly in the past three months. Everyday language has expanded to include new words and phrases like zooming, social distancing, flatten the curve, and of course, COVID-19. And certainly more changes—and challenges—are ahead of us. Stay healthy and safe, Austin.

© Austin Downtown Diary, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Austin Downtown Diary with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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