The virus has been hitting closer to home these past few weeks. Vermont has been largely spared—until now. There were no deaths at our local hospital until just this month. Three people from our county had died from COVID-19, but they were in a neighboring hospital across the border in New Hampshire.
For our family, our only direct knowledge was a friend who tragically lost both her mother and her step-father. They lived in the New York City area, which saw huge losses early on.
But that is changing now.
Two weeks ago, we received the robo call from the high school: they reported two active cases. This week, a robo call came again, this time to tell us about two cases in two of our elementary schools.
Even closer to home, however, are close friends. In mid-November, one college sophomore we consider an extended family member was diagnosed with COVID while still on his campus at Syracuse University. Feeling truly sick for only a day or two, he’s made a fast, full recovery.
Yesterday, the news came that the mother to one of son’s friends was diagnosed through routine screening testing. Happily, she has just a small cough and feels fine. In fact, she is surprised by the news.
For the past ten days or so now, our neighbors and friends have been quarantining and staying in isolation just up the road. Their daughter, a recent high school graduate, has felt ill—and her testing came back positive. We’ve watched the contact tracing play out, especially important as she was working part time in a restaurant and a café. So far, her boyfriend has been in the clear, but a close friend is now diagnosed positively as well.
As I write this, I am wondering how much our story mirrors many others? When this first started, it seemed the larger cities paid the largest toll. We in small towns watched in horror—and admittedly some disbelief. Back in April, I remember talking to a friend who moved here from Brooklyn, New York. She still has many contacts there. She recounted the anguish they were telling her about walking by refrigerator trucks being used as morgues… the long hours her medical friends were working… the seriousness the situation brought to the every day lives of New Yorkers…
Here in our small town, some four hours away from New York City, we took precautions. Our region lives off of tourism and second-home owners; New York is both “far away” and “close by” simultaneously (and both beloved and annoying to most Vermonters as well, if one is completely honest). All the upper New England states realize that while we live in very rural environments, we are in a highly populated area. It’s a big reason a lot of people live here, of course.
Vermont closed itself down hard—and our state orders against social gatherings and possible contagion are still stronger than any that I see coming across in the national news.
But now here we are, personally seeing the virus coming into the area we call home.
For the past few weeks, as the case numbers spiked and the proverbial “chicken has come home to roost,” I have been asking myself: what can possibly be a silver lining out of this? It’s one thing to look for a silver lining when we are not so affected. For the past ten months, we Vermonters have given up traveling, hosting groups of friends, gathering in groups, in-person schooling, running businesses in normal ways. And yes, some of us here have complained—quietly and quite respectfully for the most part. But we have seen results in very low levels of actual COVID. Vermonters accepted it as the “right thing to do”; the strongest evidence is the overwhelming re-election of our Republican governor.
Up until now, with few exceptions, the silver linings I’ve written about have been ways we’ve found to live with the mandates. The stay-at-home orders, the closures of businesses and the radical changes to schooling our children all impact us, too. They are real; looking for silver linings has been a real challenge for most of us when our day-to-day lives are so changed.
Today, I am touched by my friends’ enthusiasm they shared with me last night. The two parents were coming home from their second round of COVID testing when they called. Still experiencing no symptoms themselves, they are hopefully optimistic that they will be out of quarantine soon. Since their daughter’s diagnosis, all of them have living separately–within one house. The parents took the downstairs, the daughter stayed upstairs. They prepared her food, but there was no direct interaction. Beyond phone calls and an occasional conversation through the stairway, they relied on a nightly video-call to check in.
Last night, the family was celebrating by having supper together.
It is an odd silver lining that a normal family supper becomes a celebration. But it’s also good, happy news that deserves to be commemorated.