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ANNA SMITH: Love in the time of COVID-19

I am not exactly a homebody, so the last week has been rough. And as Dr. Jennie Weiner, an associate professor of educational leadership, wrote in the New York Times, “I refuse to run a coronavirus home school.” It’s maddening to work from home with a toddler masquerading as a tornado and an adorably needy 4-month-old. I long for dinner in a crowded restaurant with the hum of patrons all around, a walk on a busy street, a live theater production or a visit to a museum. An afternoon in a coffee shop sounds heavenly. We’re city folk and don’t do quarantine all that well.

Everyone is facing challenges during this bizarre time. And I can’t stop thinking about those dealing with health and economic stresses far greater than cabin fever.

My family and I have been self-isolating for over a week now in our home, only leaving for necessities like food and medicine. None of us are sick with coronavirus or part of the vulnerable group of individuals most at risk of complications if we were to contract COVID-19. Nevertheless, we feel it is something like a civic duty to hunker down and help flatten the curve of this growing pandemic.

Unfortunately, not everyone is taking this global problem seriously or feels the same responsibility.

Many are throwing around #socialdistancing like it’s just a new trend, some even bragging about getting a table at ordinarily busy establishments, comparing a pandemic of the novel coronavirus to the seasonal flu. Elbow bumps seem inadequate in a world where Italians are dying by the thousands from the spread of a virus that has been swift and terrifying. While I love attempts to remain hopeful, these reactions negate the seriousness of the situation. The incongruity is disconcerting.

Due to a delay in testing and the nature of this virus, experts warn that there are many infected people walking around right now who are asymptomatic or have very mild cases. This invisible group continues to spread the virus to everyone around.

This is why when I cautiously ventured out of our neighborhood for the first time in days, I expected ominously empty streets. Oh, how I was wrong.

I traveled to Target to pick up a prescription at the pharmacy, and while the aisles with cleaning products, paper towels and toilet paper were barren, the parking lot and checkout lines were not. There were people everywhere; you’d never have known we are in a national state of emergency. There were groups of children playing together, friends hugging and shaking hands. Apart from one woman wearing a face mask to her car, the scene was not unlike a normal, sunny afternoon.

I’m not advocating for fear-based paranoia but fact-based action. Even before California’s shelter-in-place was ordered, scientists, epidemiologists and health care professionals urged us to avoid gathering in groups and refrain from close contact with anyone not in our immediate families. I wish more people would listen.

This is all coming from a small business owner. I write this column about local businesses. I have made it my mission to support, promote and advocate for business owners and the clever ways they improve and enrich our community. It is my passion to support entrepreneurs, especially those located in the heart of our city. It takes courage, vulnerability and a lot of heart and soul to materialize the dream of owning a small business and serve residents day in and day out.

I understand the inclination to wholeheartedly rally behind small businesses in times like these, afraid a dip in sales will hurt their bottom line, or worse, put them out of business. But I would argue the local hysteria has been misdirected.

We should worry first about the fatality rate associated with this health crisis. We need to be concerned about losing a parent or grandparent with multiple preexisting conditions, a friend who just received cancer treatment, another with asthma or an autoimmune disorder. If you’re not worried about someone in your own household getting sick, worry about the elderly, the immuno-compromised and those with underlying health conditions.

Politics aside, I am proud of our state leaders for making the difficult decision to enact a shelter-in-place order. This path will have immediate economic repercussions, but they acted like leaders should. They listened to the experts and recognized that without swift action to curb the spread, this pandemic could take hold in our communities. We could see the number of sick increase at one time and overwhelm our medical system. They reasoned that action now will reduce the number of residents in intensive care with ventilators — or worse yet, dead.

Gov. Gavin Newsom explained in his address last week: If California acts strongly now, the state can keep the number of victims under the number of hospital beds. "Let's bend the curve together,” he said.

Once we beat this coronavirus, we will celebrate. For now, we need to stay home and slow the spread.

While the virtual hugs, FaceTime happy hours, online class meetups and neighborhood walks have been buoying in these uncertain times, I personally can’t wait to get back to gathering again in real life.

Anna Smith writes a weekly column about Bakersfield. She can be reached at The views expressed here are her own.

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