Storm Lake copes as well as anyplace



Seldom has there been a quieter week in Storm Lake.        

Peach the Newshound and I had the Buena Vista University campus to ourselves on Sunday morning. We saw no more than a half-dozen cars on our hour-long hike along Lakeshore Drive. Church was off, so were the buffets. The only thing happening was the snow squall slowly melting on the north-side driveway at our house.

The neighbor kids are lovely, endearing and bored as we are, off from school til who knows when. They ring the back doorbell wanting to pet the rabbits. It’s a killjoy to shoo them home next door. They know all about the virus yet invite us over for a big feed of pazole and we beg to decline. These guys are seven-years-old and want to comfort us with food, which suggests community we cannot temporarily afford.

When you don’t have it you realize what you miss, that open back door.

But we are old and gray and must keep it closed, so we do as we are told. It’s Iowa. With some common sense we will ride it out, or so we figure. They say it will come in waves, first in San Francisco and New York, then in Iowa City and Des Moines, and maybe later in sparsely populated places like western Iowa. With severe management, perhaps infection rates might not soar quite as high for sheer lack of density. We also know that rural areas have a higher rate of vulnerable: elderly, diabetic (especially acute in the Latino population), more male smokers than average, with less access to nearby health care facilities. That suggests higher death rates particularly among the elderly. Higher mortality also is expected for rural hospitals, half of which were losing money before the pandemic.

Most of us around here are being socially austere, given you could shoot a canon down Lake Avenue and not hit anything. The bank lobby is closed. So is the sandwich shop, and Puff’s White Cap Inn. No more than ten people space themselves six feet apart in The Storm Lake Times office hoping in vain that the phone will ring. The nursing homes are closed to visitors and the hospital is screening the limited number of guests it will allow. Walking past the empty college dorms, you imagine a regional coronavirus ward if necessary. We have capacity if we organize it, even here. It could come to that.

It’s going to be terrible for a lot of small businesses. If they don’t have debt and the lockdown lifts they might be able to make up for lost time. Nobody knows long this will go on — 45 days or a year? — and what lies on the other side. Food production and processing is an essential service. The USDA has announced its commitment to keeping the food supply chain unbroken. Tyson is running. When it shuts down is when you start cozying up to that prepper you heard about. But it is not likely to happen. Those immigrants from Latin America, Asia and Africa are industrial warriors. They deserve to be treated as such with federally paid sick leave, free universal health care and daycare. So does the woman working at Midtown who punched on the credit card machine so I didn’t have to touch it to pay for my gas. She is essential. The grocers need help. So does the laid-off waitress.

The schools are feeding the needy and paying the hourly staff. The police are reminding everyone to stay smart. The hospital reports that it is training with other regional providers in the UnityPoint network to take on the assault. We are left to hope that they have enough equipment and protection and that our curve is flat. We sit inside and look out the window, and get up to wipe the door knob and wash our hands. Just doing our part.

It could be worse, and probably will be quickly as the state saw a 50% jump in cases over the weekend. One popped up in Sioux City. Storm Lake might see its first case by the time you read this. I swallow and feel my forehead and all remains well. When it’s March and dank and the markets are crumbling you can feel the worst. But I remind myself there are worse places to be than the empty park on the north shore or next door to pazole if you ever really need it. Esteban might deliver if you let him pet the rabbit. Outside.

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