• Georgia Skuza

Pennsylvania's COVID-19 Crisis

written April 11th data and statistics taken from that time

So far, 2020 has been a whirlwind of a year, and for anyone else who is still confused as to what month we are in, we’re only in April. To say that life has been crazy would be an understatement. For many people, we didn’t think that it could, or eventually would, get this bad. If you asked me two months ago if I thought that I would be sent home from college, and a week later be placed under quarantine, I would have laughed in your face and told you “you’re crazy,” Looking back, I’m telling myself that I was crazy and so naive to think that things wouldn’t spiral out of control. But unfortunately, they did, and here most of us are on day, I can’t even remember, maybe 25, of quarantine.

I am a student at Jefferson, and like my friends and peers, I was sent home about three weeks ago, even though that is hard to believe. I went back home to the Lehigh Valley in Northampton County, and more specifically to Bethlehem, which has a population of a little over 75,000 people, and currently has 1,039 positive cases of COVID-19 and 23 deaths.

Coming from school in Philadelphia, I was considered to be leaving a high-risk zone. When Jefferson closed its doors for the rest of the semester on March 12th, there were 0 confirmed cases in Philadelphia county and 13 in Montgomery County, our neighbor to the west. As many of us know, the epicenter of the virus is in New York City, an extremely populated city with domestic and international travelers coming and going every single day.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly is on track to be one of the United States’ epicenters, with a total of 6,022 positive cases, a 130.7% increase since last week, and 130 deaths, a 441.6% increase from last week, and unfortunately only climbing higher. The hospitals and healthcare facilities are inundated with people thinking they have the virus and those that do have the virus.

Governor Tom Wolf has pleaded with the public and, with a little guidance from the President and his administration, there has been a new term circulating through our country: social distancing. As with anything, people have their interpretation of what social distancing entails. It seems to me that people think that if you stay home and away from the stores one day, and the next day, you are immune to the virus. According to Merriam-Webster, the official definition of social distancing is as follows: “the practice of maintaining a greater than usual physical distance from other people or of avoiding direct contact with people or objects in public places during the outbreak of a contagious disease to minimize exposure and reduce the transmission of infection”. Not sure about everyone else, but at least half of my friends on Snapchat and Instagram think that social distancing consists of staying away from the stores and then hanging out with their significant other the next day. For someone whose family is immunocompromised, it is extremely frustrating and there is nothing that I can do about it.

The majority of the population of Pennsylvania lives in the eastern portion, near Philadelphia, New York City and New Jersey. As you move west, there are scattered large communities and once you hit Harrisburg, the population increases again, settles down, and once more rises near Pittsburgh. The hardest-hit areas are the more populated areas of PA; the Philadelphia metro area and the surrounding counties. Montgomery County was on a lockdown/quarantine before most of Jefferson’s students knew that the rest of our semester was being moved online.

We have seen a slow start to the rise of the positive cases in rural Pennsylvania, because of the lesser population and less exposure to domestic and international travelers. Unfortunately, as the days go on, we will most likely see a rise in rural PA. As of today April 11th, there are 16 confirmed positive cases in Middleburg, Snyder County, Pennsylvania, and only 1 death. We can avoid the high mortality rates in rural PA as we see in bigger cities if people stay home, and flatten the curve.

I lived in East Stroudsburg when I was in middle school, and I remember a lot of my friends’ parents commuting to the city for work. When the COVID-19 crisis broke out, there was a complete surge of New Yorkers coming into PA trying to escape the havoc that was ravaging the city. I saw on Facebook memes of the “WELCOME TO PENNSYLVANIA” sign at the Delaware Water Gap entrance and then a smaller sign saying: “Sorry, we’re closed.” However, in all seriousness, the panic that ensued caused people to flee the city and resulted in these people bringing the virus with them. Monroe County was placed on a “shelter in place” or a “lockdown” type restriction in mid to late March. According to Don Seiple, who is the president of St. Luke’s Hospital’s 90-bed Monroe Campus in Stroudsburg: “Monroe County is currently a hot zone for COVID-19.” They currently have 774 confirmed cases and 22 deaths.

A study by St. Luke’s Hospital in Bethlehem showed that the more people are out in public (i.e. stores, social gatherings, family events), the more this virus will spread. Then, Northampton County was placed on lockdown because, I kid you not, people are acting like there is not a global pandemic happening. I haven’t been back in Philly since the 17th of March, but I would assume the same goes for them because Philly’s cases are skyrocketing day by day.

I go to the pharmacy and store only when I need to; I don’t go out because I am bored at my house. I take the precautions of washing my hands, not touching anything I don’t have to, and I wear a mask made out of my dog’s old bandana. No matter how stupid I look, I wear it because I want to keep my family safe. When I see people going to the store willy-nilly, not wearing any protection, and not caring, it hurts and it scares me. I have sat in my car crying at the grocery store because of the number of people that were there, and the number of people that were not practicing the guidelines mandated by the CDC.

When I see my friends, my neighbors, and people from my community not caring, I realize that it doesn’t matter to someone, until it affects them, or their family. My grandparents are not young anymore, but thankfully they’re in good health. I am scared for them, every single time they go to the grocery store. My grandfather, who is a diabetic, works at Lowe’s. They have made it clear that the protection they provide (hand sanitizers and gloves) is for the customers and not for the employees. My mom is also immuno-compromised; today was the first time in three weeks that she has gone into public because she is terrified of contracting the virus. We have had a conversation of God forbid anything happened to her, my fifteen-year-old sister would live with our aunt and uncle, and we would both be fine. That is not the type of conversation I want to be having with my mother at eighteen years old.

My heart breaks for the families of the victims of COVID-19; it affects all of us in some way, shape, or form. For the sake of your health, and the health of your loved ones, please stay home. This will be over soon, but it can’t be done if people continue to go out without a care. No one has ever been through this type of situation, so we have to all be patient with one another. It is a hard and stressful time for everyone; check on your family members, check on your friends, check on your professors. Our country and our world have gotten through tragedy before, and we can do it again.

And as the great Jerry Garcia sang: “We will get by, we will survive”.

Stay safe, and stay healthy.

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