After having lived nearly all of my life in medium-sized American cities, the transition to life here in Richland Center hasn’t always been easy. There’s a lot to love about this place — the quiet has helped me in more ways than I even thought possible — but as often as I miss my old haunts in Toledo, there are just as many times when I miss the conveniences of cities. Having to drive over an hour just to get to a Little Caesars can be depressing, and don’t even get me started on the difficulties of finding top-quality produce here. Living here involves a lot of tradeoffs, and I like it here most of the time, but I’d be lying if I said that I don’t miss Toledo, and the amenities of larger cities, at least once every week.
Being in such a rural area during the current pandemic might be a good thing, if only for the fact that I’m not around that many people on a regular basis to start with. I honestly can’t remember the last time I left my apartment, and thanks to a couple of my colleagues offering to help with grocery runs, I’m not even sure of the next time I’ll need to leave here. This isn’t to say that I’m not worried about contracting COVID-19 — far from it — but minimizing my risk has been a lot easier for me than it is for most other people, and I intend on continuing that minimization for as long as I can here. As much as I miss seeing my students, and having the kinds of conversations with them that can only be had in a shared space, I don’t want our normal campus activities to resume until medical professionals agree that it is safe to do so.
As of this afternoon, Richland County has still only had eight confirmed cases of COVID-19, and while I strongly suspect that infection and death rates are grossly underreported right now, we’re doing much better than a lot of other counties in America. Unfortunately, our county experienced its first COVID-19 fatality last week, and getting that news hit everyone here kind of hard. No reasonable person here would think that we were somehow immune from deaths related to COVID-19, but getting that first confirmed fatality kind of hammers the point home in a way that nothing else could.
I’m still more worried about people’s reactions to this pandemic (especially after the events of these past few days) than the virus itself, but having a death in my county certainly makes things feel a whole lot different now. As hard as I’m working for my students here, and trying to catch up on research for my next book, it still feels like most of my life is in a holding pattern, and it’s for the best if that doesn’t change for at least another few weeks, if not another few months. There’s a temptation to want to believe that we’re in the worst of all the problems now, but especially after so many people have taken it upon themselves to make things worse in the past few days, I’m not taking anything for granted here. This self-isolation is testing even my introversion, but it’s still a whole lot better than the alternative.