It’s the year 2035, and you have been asked to write a chapter on the pandemic of 2020 in a history text book to discuss its impact on Southern Illinois. (By 2035, Southern Illinois is NOT referred to as “flyover country. ” It becomes a highly sought after cultural, culinary, and natural destination… ) What would you title it? The COVID-19 Pandemic? The Global Bio-socioeconomical Experiment of 2020? Something else?
Like the rest of the world, Southern Illinois has been affected by that “novel coronavirus” referred to as COVID-19. It’s been a destructive pandemic in more ways than just medically. Trial on error policies have been created nationally and locally to try to adapt and keep people safe from contagion. Some seem logical, while others have appeared more experimental. Even medical recommendations at the international level have kept changing. Hopefully, hindsight will at least help all of us to better prepare for any future pandemics.
Businesses have had to adapt to new safety requirements and ways of operating. (Some probably had to hire a whole new person to add all those “Walk This Way” floor decals and six foot tape lines…) On that note, shopping has now become a bit like trying to navigate a town made up of one way streets. It sometimes takes twice as long to do. Getting inside a store, due to COVID-19 limited capacity requirements, can be a bit reminiscent of camping out by the SIU Arena for concert tickets before the days of line tickets… (Was anyone else there in the late 90’s trying to get tickets to Def Leppard? Metallica? There used to be so many great bands that came here…)
HerrinFesta Italiana has been an unofficial start to summer for this region. Festa, as some affectionately refer to it, has paired with The DuQuoin State Fair for decades to bookend a season filled with wonderful outdoor activity and events.
Many events had to postpone or cancel. Others were able to adapt to social distancing ordinances or utilize technology. The Centralia Balloon Fest modified to a drive through format in four locations for the popular Balloon Glows this year. Many spring and a summer sports were cancelled. Fall football and marching band season has also been affected. The Missouri Valley Conference, to which our beloved SIU Salukis belong, recently announced possible plans for a spring season. Even playground equipment was closed off to help prevent spreading germs.
Fairs and festivals aren’t just for fun. Many area food and entertainment venues rely on annual income from these events. Others, such as those who raise dairy and other livestock animals or craft and and exhibit other items prepare all year for county fairs, 4-H fairs, and The DuQuoin State Fair. They are also part of our region’s identity and opportunity to be part of a community.
All of the sudden closures and reduced business hours delivered a huge blow to our economy. The scarcity of toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and face masks as well as meat, milk, and pantry staples may have sent sales soaring for some businesses to record highs. Sadly, others had to close.
Almost an entire wing of the University Mall in Carbondale appears to have closed. For those of us who remember shopping there as kids in the days when J.C. Penney was the west end with Sears as the east end, this is particularly sad. We remember a thriving mall where it was somewhat entertaining to ride up and down the Sears escalator… Many of us remember when the “new” addition came that extended the mall from J.C. Penney to Famous Barr (it later became Macy’s.) In fact, I still marvel at how the sidewalk into the “new” entrance glitters like it did when it was created. (Keep that in mind if you are doing construction–whatever that material is, it holds up well…) My mom and I loved going to the little Pier One Imports store in the mall before it moved into a larger building off the Giant City Road intersection. That nice “new” store closed this spring without benefit of a long going out of business sale due to the pandemic. S & B Burger Joint, where they served wonderful burgers and spicy fried cheese curds, also closed this spring.
Relationships and mental health have suffered some big hits. Some relationships have suffered from distance, while others have become stressed from sheltering together. As we weren’t created to do life alone, in isolation, loneliness has been an issue for many. Research tells us that it can worsen and actually lead to mental health issues. Neuroscience shows that trauma also has a huge impact on emotional and behavioral health.
Obviously, severe illness and loss of life are often traumatic. Many, such as graduating seniors, have suffered a series of sudden losses this past spring. Proms, parties, college visits and more disappeared. Just the fear generated by having to stay home and fear of no longer seeing little friends, family, and favorite teachers can deeply impact children. Birthday parties, graduations, bar mitzvahs, weddings, and more have been cancelled, postponed, moved, and downsized. Some foreign exchange students and international college students either found that they had to return to their countries to avoid indefinite travel restrictions. These were all significant losses. People in long-term care facilities, treatment programs, and hospitals were isolated from family and friends.
Humans are designed to have connection to others. For those who self-identify as “huggers,” not being able to hug friends, relatives, and church family when they do finally see each other is brutal. Not shaking someone’s hand during an introduction or in a professional setting can also seem awkward.
My take on all this is that nasty devil threw COVID-19 at us to create confusion, grief, anger, chaos, and strain relationships. Since he is the author of confusion, that is not a far stretch. However, as a Christian, I know God can take what was meant to hurt us and use it for our good. It’s times like this that make me especially thankful that He does still have control.
People were placed on lockdown and quarantined. One side effect was that some families have been able to spend more time together. The fast-paced, stressful life of many has slowed down to a more manageable, healthy speed.
We have been fortunate to see many different people step up to help others out in difficult positions. Children and adults have shown gratitude and appreciation for those who have been on the front lines. Positions and jobs often taken for granted have been highlighted for their efforts to keep people safe. School employees delivered meals to students at home. Various churches and community groups such as the Southern Illinois Collaborative Kitchen provided meals to those on the front lines or in need. Individuals made countless face masks for front line workers. Hospital workers in various towns were greeted with sidewalk chalk messages of hope, thanks, and encouragement. Cities like Murphysboro encouraged residents to participate in The Great Bear Hunt (Around the country, toy stuffed bears were placed in house and business windows for families to drive around and spot.) Others posted hearts in windows or lights in their yards as symbols of hope and care. People in towns including Carbondale worked together to create and maintain community gardens.
Some people were able to spend more time with their families while others may have finally gotten a bit of rest and relaxation. Some of the new recreational activities have been gatherings via video conference, digital Corona Bingo, and Guess Who Is Behind That Face Mask… Fur babies rejoiced to be spending more time with their humans. Humans became more appreciative of their furry family members’ unconditional love for them. Some of my favorite hashtags this year have been #hopeismorecontagious and #SouthernIllinoisSTRONG.
Others were able to get out and enjoy nature and experience the natural wonders of Southern Illinois. I know the teens in my house have enjoyed hiking at The Arboretum and Giant City State Park among other spots. Stephen Mather, who pushed and worked to establish our National Parks over 100 years ago, recognized the importance of nature in physical and emotional health. He reportedly used nature as an effective means to help cope with his own bipolar disorder.
Fortunately, some churches have been able to increase their use of social media to keep members connected and continue at least broadcasting services. Medical and mental help professionals have been able to provide some services by phone and video conference. Curbside pick-up and delivery services flourished, and the price of gas actually went down for a while. Farmer’s markets adapted with drive thru formats and eventually, social distancing with face masks and ample supplies of hand sanitizer. Some VBS (Vacation Bible School) programs and summer camps were able to adopt a video conference format to accommodate sheltering in place requirements.
Just as Southern Illinoisans worked together to bounce back from that May 8th Derecho in 2009, we will survive this pandemic. We may be a quilt pieced together from different preferences, beliefs, traditions, and cultures, but we are resilient, and we are capable of working together. We do not know the upcoming twists, turns, or outcome of this current pandemic, but we can persevere.
Despite all of our struggles and setbacks, beauty may still emerge from ashes. Pressure can sometimes still produce diamonds. Rainbows do still appear after storms.
Rainbow over Elkville