The world has watched as, over the last few weeks, the outbreak of COVID-19 has grown to become a global pandemic. For many like us, these are uncertain times that spark significant fear over what may be to come over the coming weeks.
We’ve all seen the warnings: wash your hands, distance yourself socially, stay home from work, schools and daycares are closed, and avoid all unnecessary travel. For those who are adhering to those guidelines – I applaud you. But unfortunately I’m not seeing that.
Here at Vogel State Park I watch everyday as more and more spring breakers pour into the campground. I watch as children swarm the playground. I watch as people line up outside the bath houses in the mornings. I watch as people pour into the visitors center to check in, get maps, and buy firewood and souvenirs. I am seeing car tags from Florida (by the dozens), Tennessee, North and South Carolina, nearby Georgia counties, and even from Wisconsin.
I spoke to a camper this morning (from a safe distance) who said that they had planned to go to Disneyland for spring break but when Disneyland closed they decided to come here instead.
I think there is something that these people are fundamentally overlooking or ignoring.
Disneyland and other places are closing because we, as a country, need people to stay home right now. That doesn’t mean that you should change your plans and find some other place to crowd. It means that, if you have a home to stay at, then stay home.
For us, these crowds are extremely troubling. We have no sticks and bricks home to go to. We live in our camper – a <200 sq ft space in which we depend on campground hosting to have somewhere to stay. To ensure our placement I must fulfill my daily hosting duties which includes cleaning the bathrooms that hundreds of campers are using daily. I cannot opt out of this or we will lose our placement at this park and will have no other place to go. Furthermore, with daycare closed, I am now required to do this with my 18 month old son with me full-time.
Sure, we are young and healthy and will likely overcome the illness should we contract it. But if we do, in fact, contract COVID-19 we will be forced to self-isolate for 2 weeks. I think (or I hope) it’s probable that the staff at the campground will be compassionate and allow us to stay during that time, if it should come to that. But my husband is self-employed and if he doesn’t work then we have 0 income. With little savings, a 2 week self-quarantine would leave us in significant financial turmoil. We’re already facing significant financial turmoil as the markets continue to plummet and unemployment continues to rise as it is likely that, over the coming weeks, Chris’ customers will begin to cancel the home-improvement projects for which they had him scheduled. So a 2 week quarantine would seriously diminish our chances of getting ahead of any future dry periods of work.
Aside from us, I worry about the other folks here at that park that are being placed at risk by the influx of spring breakers. Most of the women in the visitor’s center are over 50 or 60 years old. The other campground hosts here, and for the vast majority of state parks, are over 60 years old and therefore in the high-risk group. The park cannot operate without us; as volunteers we are the only people responsible for maintaining the campground facilities and if we all decided to leave then it would place a massive burden on the park staff who have become like our family.
I understand that, particularly for families with young children, canceling spring break plans can be devastating. But I am urging people to consider the wider consequences of their actions. Overnight I watched the number of confirmed cases in Georgia jump from 197 to 287 and the death toll leap from 3 to 10; numbers which continue to grow by greater margins daily. I have watched the local stores empty of ALL toilet paper, canned goods, bread, meat, cleaning supplies, and now fresh produce.
I am NOT suggesting that this is a time to panic. The stores will refill and officials are working to mitigate the effects of the shut downs on citizens. There is simply no need to panic right now.
There is, however, a need to very strongly and carefully consider the impact that your actions will have on EVERYONE around you when you make the decision to leave your home. Now is not a time to go on vacation, now is the time to collectively sacrifice for the most vulnerable in our society; the elderly, the immunocompromised, the low-income, and the self employed. You may think that this is no big deal and that this will blow over – but that’s likely because you have little to lose in this situation. For folks like us, there is so much at stake and we are surrounded by uncertainty.
So, while it may suck to have to abandon your spring break plans or let those cheap flight and hotel prices pass you by, please help your fellow humans who are dependent upon your responsible decision-making during such turbulent times. By all means, get out and take a hike on a trail, or explore the great outdoors, but only if this can be done without visiting public areas where the risk of the spread of the virus is high.
We will all pull through this and one day look back on it and be glad that it’s over. For now, though, let’s do what we can to help each other out.
Please share and encourage your friends, family, and neighbors to abandon all unessential travel plans. Thanks!