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Published April 7, 2020

THE VIEW FROM MY SEAT

The greatest challenge in our lifetime

By Ernie Williamson / The Bulletin

I thought I had seen about everything.

In my 73 years, including almost 50 as a journalist, I have lived through the Vietnam War, Hurricane Harvey, the Great Recession, 9/11, and the assassination of a president.

But I have never seen anything as frightening and as impactful as Covid-19.

I was determined not to write about the coronavirus this week because I am sure that you, like me, are emotionally drained. But really, there is no choice.

The virus is dominating every aspect of our lives. Even if you are fortunate enough to escape the virus itself, you can’t escape how it is impacting your job, your finances, your activities and even the food you eat. Who would have ever thought going to the grocery store would be risky?

So, I will write about Covid-19, but will leave the actual reporting of the tragedy to other media. All I can offer from my isolation is a few observations.

A BIZARRE DAY: March 26 began with the Labor Department reporting that jobless claims skyrocketed to a record 3.283 million, far more than expected.

Then it was reported that the death toll in this country had climbed to more than 1,000.

Media coverage showed lines of people trying to get treated at New York City hospitals. Outside, morgues were being built.

By the end of the day, we had more coronavirus cases than any other country.

And what did the stock market do? It climbed 1350 points.

Don’t try to convince me that Wall Street reflects what is happening on Main Street.

SLOWING DOWN: As stay-at-home orders are issued, more people are becoming reliant on the internet to communicate, work, learn and stay entertained. The pressure is building on the internet infrastructure, and we probably haven’t yet seen the peak.

The average time to download videos, emails or documents has been increasing all over the world. Netflix and YouTube are reducing streaming quality in Europe for at least a month to prevent the internet from collapsing under the strain of unprecedented usage.

BLAST FROM THE PAST: As in every crisis, there are economic winners.

Covid-19, for instance, has made winners of Netflix, Amazon and Costco. The New York Times reports that the virus has also been a boon to an industry long given up for dead. It turns out drive-in movie theaters - there are only 350 left - are seeing increased traffic as families seek entertainment without leaving the car.

“I think we’ve got a lucky opportunity,” said one drive-in owner in Kentucky. “But I also wonder if it is a too-good-to-be-true kind of thing.”

ECONOMICS 101: Rising stockpiles and lowered demand are bringing back something we haven’t seen in years. According to the Washington Post, a handful of fueling stations across the country are selling gasoline at the decades-low price of only 99 cents. It started in Kentucky, Tennessee and Oklahoma.

Now that we can afford the gasoline, it’s just too bad we aren’t allowed to go anywhere.
GROW UP: I have resisted writing about all those spring breakers on the beaches in defiance of social distance guidelines. I can’t resist any longer.

My first reaction was anger. I am sure I sounded like my dad when I shouted, “What the hell are they thinking?” while watching the beach gatherings. Did these kids not know that in the space of a month one infected person leads to about 400 additional cases?

Once I calmed down, I realized that most of those college-age kids haven’t seen a war, haven’t lived through a depression or haven’t experienced a tragedy such as 9/11. They haven’t yet learned about sacrifice, selflessness, or civic responsibility.

This is their first real test. They need to learn from it. They, as well as the rest of us, need to rise to the occasion.

(Ernie Williamson welcomes reader input. Please contact Ernie at williamsonernie@gmail.com. Or, send letters in care of The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516)