Report from Louisiana: Phase 2

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Louisiana is expecting news today from Governor John Bel Edwards regarding moving into Phase 2 and reopening the state.

Whatever else this pandemic has been, it has certainly been the cause for many businesses and restaurants to close permanently. Maybe they were already on the brink of closure and Covid just pushed them over the edge—I don’t know. It seems now that people are just “over it.” I’m seeing fewer people wearing masks than I did a week or two ago. The rioters and looters on my television aren’t wearing masks, either, for the most part.

Louisiana State University has released their plans for reopening the college for the fall semester; plans include social distancing, increased sanitation measures, and random testing of the campus population:

Random testing between 10 and 16 percent of the populations of all LSU System campuses statewide for COVID-19 this fall. Participants would be selected randomly from lists of students and employees, and those selected would be encouraged to participate in the testing, although, not required. Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 would be interviewed in an effort to determine who they have been with recently so that accurate contact tracing can be achieved. Every effort would be made to locate and test anyone believed to have been exposed. The goal of this plan is to determine the incidence of the virus on LSU’s campuses and to locate and mitigate any possible clusters of the virus.

The public school system in which I work has not yet released any specific plans, but the discussions sound much like everything else with social distancing and increased sanitation. I’m having a hard time envisioning my 15 and 16 year old students practicing social distancing in the hallways and the very small classrooms. On our campus there is just not a lot of room to spread out classes to keep kids six feet apart or have smaller classes.

Will they have to wear masks? Will I have to teach theme, symbolism, and literary analysis through a mask?

It is hard to imagine.

I have seen discussion in neighborhood social media groups with parents who will opt to home school rather than send kids back to “an environment of fear.” So be it.  That, too, will be interesting to monitor. For example, mine is a Title 1 school in a high poverty neighborhood and not many parents are interested in home schooling their kids. That is not to say none will or that all of our kids are in poverty; that’s not the case. There is a high percentage that are and many struggle just to have regular meals.

The virus numbers do seem to be leveling off, but our challenges are not.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: Closing the Classroom

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – I went up to do my end-of-the-year cleanout in my classroom this week.  It was incredibly sad.

On a Friday morning at 10:30, second block should have been winding to a close and kids should have been anxiously waiting for the lunch bell at 10:40. The mid-day announcements would be coming over the intercom.

By the time I left, about 11:00, there should have been kids in the halls, duty teachers monitoring those kids, microwaves across campus warming up teacher lunches. The office should have been bustling, Mrs. Kiper, the secretary, laughing and lobbing wise cracks with kids and administrators. The library should have been filled with kids using the computers or playing board games at the tables. The courtyard should have been filled with kids burning off a little energy before third block. Teachers should have been making that last dash to the restroom before the long afternoon classes start.

None of that was happening.

The parking lot was empty.

There were ZERO students on campus.  My room was quiet as a tomb.

My room would have normally had a couple of kids in there eating lunch about that time of the day.

Instead, I found empty desks, library books abandoned in the baskets underneath.

I sighed, looked around, and went to get my things that I needed to work from home.

I missed the sound of kids, and the notes they would leave for me if they came by while I was out.

Every single kid was important to me, is important to me, and it just feels like we didn’t get to finish what we started. It feels tragic and sad…unfinished.

Their journals were still on my desk, graded, ready to return.

We left school on the Friday before Spring Break: March 6. My assignments from that day are still written on the board.

We all expected to come back to school when we left that day. Kids took library books home, textbooks, projects to finish, uniforms to wash, schedules to fill out for next year, and plans. They had plans for their graduation, prom, ring ceremonies, sporting events, and yes, academics. None of that happened.

So yes, all of that literally hangs in the air when you walk in the halls now. It’s a tangible thing.

I cleaned out the snacks I kept in my desk for kids that needed something to eat; that won’t keep until August. I took home my coffee cup, emptied the water in the Keurig. I looked through projects that weren’t finished, some that were, and I scored a bottle of GermX from my supply closet. I erased my board, bagged up things I needed to take home, and I turned out the light.

I am very curious, and perhaps nervous, about what school will look like when we return in August. While the Moderna coronavirus vaccine shows some early promise, there is still a long way to go before we have that option. A larger trial is expected this summer, but obviously won’t be ready before fall.

So, what will opening of school look like this fall? Smaller classes?  Online options? The typical high school classroom is not overly large and is usually filled with thirty or more students. Crowded lunchrooms, auditoriums, and even at university level, think of the crowded lecture halls. How are we going to manage these things?

Schools in Denmark opened several weeks ago with new distancing and hygiene measures in place and restrictions all across Europe are easing. Things such as staggered classes, sectioning off parts of campus, and no large gatherings are all options to consider. What of transportation? School busses filled with kids could also be a danger zone.

What are we to do? Hide from this virus? Wait for a vaccine? Or ignore it and get back to life as usual?

I don’t have the answers. All I know for certain is my own little world, my own small classroom, where sixty-five kids were upended in the middle of their academic year.

So much unfinished business.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: Contact tracing the new normal?

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – I was quite interested to read John Ruberry’s post on this blog this weekend in which he discusses the impact of Covid-19 in Illinois under the leadership of Governor J.B. Pritzker.  It all sounds so very familiar.

In Louisiana, we are waiting once again for Governor John Bel Edwards to move Louisiana to Phase One and reopen businesses. We expected this announcement two weeks ago, but Edwards surprised us all by extending our stay at home order until May 16, infuriating business owners, citizens, and a large number of Republican lawmakers.

As of last week, Louisiana’s unemployment rate was around 22%.

One of the components for reopening the state that Edwards will discuss today will be Contact Tracing.  Right now, Louisiana has 70 people trained for contact tracing which does NOT meet suggested guidelines, but Edwards plans to hire hundreds more.

Many are obviously suspicious about the concept of contact tracing and what information will be gathered, not to mention who will be gathering it. According to Governor Edwards:

The state’s plan considers people who have been in close contact with someone if they are:

Household members of the person who tested positive.

Intimate partners of the person who tested positive.

People who have provided care to you in the household or outside.

Anyone who has been in close contact – that is defined as someone who has been within six feet or closer for a time period greater than 15 minutes.

In New Orleans, Mayor LaToya Cantrell is taking this a step further by requiring shopkeepers to keep records of everyone who shops, or comes into, their stores.

It is all very “Big Brother” and many are suspicious of giving information to a contact tracer. One new contact tracer described her first day this way:

Some people are a little suspicious. Some people hang up after I ask for their date of birth and address. I understand that, the mistrust of the government, having grown up under communism. But it’s too bad. I feel like they can benefit from this information: how to quarantine themselves, how they can protect their families, and what kind of support is available. Probably 50%, maybe 60%, of the contacts that I call on my shift don’t answer. Some don’t have voicemail set up. But I leave a message when I can, and several people called me back yesterday.

NPR details how contact tracing works and how it has been used in other countries:

The idea behind this public health strategy is simple: Keep the virus in check by having teams of public health workers — epidemiologists, nurses, trained citizens — identify each new positive case, track down their contacts and help both the sick person and those who were exposed isolate themselves.

This is the strategy that’s been proven to work in other countries, including China, South Korea, and Germany. For it to work in the U.S., states and local communities will need ample testing and they’ll need to expand their public health workforce. By a lot.

And while Google and Apple would love to jump in and get a piece of this governmental financial pie, high tech is not really what works in this case:

It’s not super complicated to understand why technologists are having a hard time getting traction. Traditional contact tracing has been honed over decades of response to disease outbreaks. Officials ask patients where they’ve been and whom they’ve been near; they then suggest those people get tested for the disease and make sure they quarantine, if necessary. Quickly identifying and segregating people carrying the virus can slow the spread of a communicable disease. “It works by building a human bond between two people,” the patient and the contact tracer, says Tom Frieden, the former head of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the New York City Department of of Health and Mental Hygiene. “It means actually talking to someone and answering their questions, addressing their needs and concerns, and building, earning, and maintaining their trust and confidentiality.”

Contact tracing is not a new concept and has been used widely in many other outbreaks, but perhaps never to this extent.

At this point, we are all ready to get back to normal, or new normal, whatever that is. We broke out of quarantine as soon as Texas opened their border to Louisiana again and went to eat in a restaurant. We had to wait outside (in a crowd) for an hour to get in because they can only operate at 25% capacity. There were no salt or pepper shakers on the tables, nothing that has to be repeatedly sanitized. Menus are all paper and disposable. There were a lot of obvious changes.

The new normal will include a lot of changes that make us uncomfortable and perhaps suspicious. But by and large, America is ready to go back to work.

Let’s do this.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: Reopening Discontent

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – We broke quarantine yesterday and crossed the border into Texas.  With Louisiana still shut down and under stay-at-home orders for another two weeks, Texas looks pretty good right now.

For weeks the border has been closed to Louisiana residents, but now that has been lifted and Texas shops and restaurants are open, so we headed west.

We headed to Jefferson, Texas, a small, historic town in East Texas. Residents of Marion County supported Trump heavily in the last presidential election with a 71% strong vote over Hilary Clinton (27%).  Many of the people there are thrilled to see Louisiana customers back in Jefferson; the town has a quaint historic district filled with antique shops, specialty fudge shops, and eateries that have suffered financially since the closure. There are a couple of old, historic hotels and at less than an hour away from Shreveport, Jefferson is a popular day trip destination. People in Louisiana spend a lot of tourist dollars in Jefferson, so opening the state back up to travelers was a welcome move. They have been hit hard by the COVID closure.

Shopkeepers, bartenders, servers, residents, literally everyone we talked to, was thrilled that the state is open and people are coming back to spend money and browse the shops. We talked with several people who praised Trump’s COVID response and others who were firmly rooted in the belief that Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards is keeping Louisiana closed only for federal dollars.

The rhetoric in Louisiana circles is becoming more and more divided over the Edwards response. As it turns out, his stay-at-home order was very non-specific and would have allowed many businesses to stay open in some capacity, significantly reducing the large numbers of people forced into unemployment. The original stay-at-home order, issued March 22, specifically closed salons, gyms, tattoo shops, among others. Businesses not specified could stay open with restrictions, however that was never clear. As a result, places like Barnes and Noble, Ulta Beauty, sporting goods stores, craft stores, among others, closed when all along they could have stayed open with restrictions.

It has all been very murky and now the discontent is rising:

The catalyst is Gov. John Bel Edwards’ decision to extend Louisiana’s statewide stay-at-home order through May 15. The Democratic governor said the move is rooted in science and public safety. Republicans are bristling, preferring a parish-by-parish approach to loosening restrictions that have shuttered businesses and forced hundreds of thousands into unemployment.

At stake is “hundreds of millions of federal dollars in disaster aid for businesses and the state.”

Is Edwards playing it safe and only looking out for the health of Louisiana residents? Or is he parlaying the entire situation into a federal dollar windfall for the state? Has he been intentionally vague about his stay at home order? The answers depend on who you ask.

The bottom line is that the longer Louisiana stays closed, and with neighboring states returning to normal, the pressure on Edwards to reopen the state will increase. Louisiana dollars will be spent in the shops, restaurants, and hotels of other states.

Louisiana legislators return to Baton Rouge today, reconvening their session after a COVID hiatus and even the timing of the legislative return has been contentious.

Looks like the new normal in Louisiana is a lot like the old normal.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: Education Disparity during Covid Closure

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – One of the issues this pandemic has exposed has been the complete and utter lack of preparedness by education systems for such an event. Granted, nobody could have expected a nationwide shutdown of the economy and stay-at-home orders for weeks on end. But, in Louisiana at least, this is not completely without precedent. When Hurricane Katrina decimated New Orleans, we dealt with extended school closures in specific areas of the state. The difference, of course, as far as education goes at least, is that those displaced students had other school systems still in operation where they could transfer. That is not the case now.

What has emerged is a patchwork of fixes and plans between school systems. Each district is working in different ways to educate their students and there is little uniformity between systems much less within each individual district.

The result is that some students are receiving an education and others are not. The Advocate reports on survey results by the state Department of Education:

Educators said the coronavirus pandemic has exposed a national digital divide that is especially jarring in a state like Louisiana, where about two-thirds of students — nearly 500,000 youngsters — live in low-income households.

When the shutdown order came, the school in which I teach, for example, was winding up Spring Break. We walked out of our classrooms that previous Friday fully expecting to return in ten days. My classroom right now is exactly as I left it on March 6.

School districts across the nation scrambled to enact a plan. Nobody knew how long we would be closed. Students did not leave the campus with textbooks, work packets, or technology.

In a Title I school, like mine, the problems are compounded by the fact that many of our students do not have home computers or Wi-Fi.  But, in another school across town, kids have Wi-Fi, strong parental support, and personal computers.  

What were districts to do? How can you level this field over night?

We did the best we could, I guess. We set up dates where students could come to the school and sign out Chromebooks if they needed technology, but that doesn’t solve the Wi-Fi problem. Some students were given copied work packets. We enacted a “do no harm” policy where students can be graded on the work they turn in, but can’t be given a zero for work they don’t do, and overall a student’s grade can not go down from what it was on March 6.

Is this ideal?  Nope. But what’s the answer?

And how do you prepare for something like this?

Some school districts across the country have set up mobile Wi-Fi hotspots in buses parked in the neighborhoods, but obviously this has not been a uniform practice.

According to the survey:

Officials in the East Baton Rouge Parish school district told the state that 55% of their students lack access to a laptop; Central, 50%; Jefferson Parish, 40%; Livingston Parish, 38%; St. John the Baptist Parish, 65%; West Baton Rouge Parish, 65%; and St. Landry Parish, 60%.

At the other end of the spectrum for students lacking laptops is Ascension Parish, 1%; Lafayette Parish, 20%; Orleans Parish, 20%; St. Bernard Parish , 15%; St. Charles Parish, 5%; Plaquemines Parish, 10% and Zachary, 0%.

The shortage is even worse in rural areas, where five mostly north Louisiana school districts say 75% or more of their students lack access to a laptop or tablet at home.

Governor Edwards is planning to begin to reopen Louisiana for business at the end of the week and will announce his plans during a press conference later today. He has cautioned residents to temper their expectations and notes that this will be a very gradual process.

One of the things we certainly must address in the near future is to develop some kind of emergency plan that does not contribute to the already huge disparities in our education systems. While it’s impossible to prepare for what you don’t know, it is possible, now that we DO know, to create some kind of contingency plan for our students.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: Sleep Anxiety

By: Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – As this lockdown continues, I have seen more and more people comment on the disruption of their sleep patterns, and I would be lying if I didn’t admit to experiencing this myself.

In a normal world, I am in bed by 10 and up by 5:15. I am a teacher and have to be at work at 7:05 (although I always get there about 6:40.) On the weekend I might sleep until 7 or 7:30. In this new Covid-world, I have been waking up at all hours of the night and sleeping later in the morning. I mean, wide awake at 3:00 kind of awake. And what difference does it make? I don’t have to wake up at 5:15, I’ll tell myself.

It is odd to me because I don’t feel especially stressed or worried about anything; I haven’t lost my job or my pay. I do not suffer food insecurity. I’m not any more worried about bills than I ever am. Nobody in my immediate family is ill. And, overall, I’m basically perfectly content staying at home, so what’s the problem?

Many people are reporting disruptions in sleep right now and there is an explanation for this:

Stress is both the short and the long answer. Whether it’s insomnia, daytime sleepiness, struggling to stay awake in the evenings or waking earlier than usual (or, if you’re really lucky, a combination), sleep-disturbance is a well-documented manifestation of stress. And while stress is usually a precursor to the fight-or-flight response we’re in the slightly odd situation where having to reckon this stress is wreaking havoc on our bodies while we’re safe in lockdown in our homes. We are in a high-alert state; our brains busily preparing our bodies for dealing with disaster, even if it doesn’t fall into our direct path.

In short, our stress hormones are on overload. Compounding the problem, we are not releasing stress in some of our more typical ways like going to the gym or socializing with friends, so everything stays all bottled up. We eventually run out of closets to clean out, fences to paint, garages to clean out.

Experts have many recommendations for easing this sleep anxiety that many of us seem to be facing, such as limiting screen time before bed, avoiding too much news, avoiding sugar, and eliminating that afternoon nap.

Face it, our world is different now and may never be the same. Certainly many of the social distancing policies we now practice will remain part of our daily lives for some time to come. Maybe this is part of our anxiety.

As states now begin to figure out ways to reopen and get back to a new normal, perhaps we can all get a good sleep.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: Passing Time

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Because COVID-19 was not enough drama, tornadoes ripped through the South on Easter Sunday, leaving 19 dead at last count. The band of storms had been anticipated and talked about for days and days before the event; they blew up over Texas over the weekend and rolled into Louisiana around dawn, moving on across the southern states throughout the day. Seems like it happens here every Easter.

Like the rest of the nation, we remain sheltered in place, although people interpret that with various degrees of fidelity. Grocery stores, WalMart, and garden centers remain quite crowded. Some stores around here are limiting the number of folks allowed inside at one time, but not all of them.

The tone of the quarantine seems to be changing; more and more people are calling for businesses to reopen. The initial fear of the pandemic seems to be easing and now people want their liberties back. Personally, I’ve cleaned out every closet, pantry, and drawer, scrubbed the baseboards, polished the furniture, weeded every flower bed, brushed the dog, and eaten a gallon of BlueBell Ice Cream (Cookie Dough Overload). I’ve gained five pounds. I’m thinking of taking up yoga; those yoga pants are really comfortable.

I’ve met more people in my neighborhood than I have in the thirty years I’ve lived here – from six feet part, of course. I have one across-the-street neighbor who doesn’t come outside much but pops open his front door every day, looks around, waves, then goes back inside. My next-door neighbor fires up his blower and blows his driveway every single day, at least once. Sometimes more than once. I spend a lot of time watching the dog a couple of doors down dig holes in his front yard, tail happily wagging. There’s another guy across the street who sits in his big picture window every day, just watching the neighborhood. He waves when you look over there. There’s neighborhood bar at the end of my street and I can see the owner sitting outside alone on the deck sipping a beer and watching traffic.  Lots and lots of people are walking; with gyms closed, people are trying to get their exercise any way they can.

I can not fathom the economic toll this is all going to have. I totally understand all of the worry and angst about the economy and it’s going to take a far better mind than mine to figure out how we come back from this, but I know one thing: we will. There’s no other option. We will.

Once we all get back to work, we will be doing the Monday morning quarterback routine on how all of this has been handled and there will be blame, fault, and second guessing all around. It will be a political mess. I hope that as Americans we will be able to pull together instead of apart, and get ourselves back on track to prosperity, and I hope we do it with kindness and a new appreciation for what we have.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: The Exponential Numbers

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Coronavirus hit close to home this week; my husband and I learned of the death of our friend Ann who fell victim to this virus. One moment alive and well, the next moment she’s gone. It’s a terrible, terrible thing.

Here in Louisiana, we have over 13,000 positive cases and as of yesterday, 477 deaths, and over 1,800 in hospital. Officials are warning that this week will be bad and that everyone should avoid going anywhere at all unless absolutely essential. We are taking that seriously in my house and have only left home twice this week for quick grocery trips. I would love to do curbside pick-up for groceries, but the wait time for your order is two weeks!

Meanwhile, people are practicing social distancing with various degrees of seriousness. One couple I know attended a birthday party at a friend’s home this week, while another person I know met up with her girlfriends in a parking lot to share a bottle of wine and “hang out.” Even the caretakers of LSU mascot Mike the Tiger are taking more careful measures than some people I know.

Some states have already declared this school year officially done, but we are still awaiting that call. Our “stay at home” order extends until the first of May, so it seems highly unlikely that we would have to report back with only three weeks left, yet that call has still not been made.

The border between Louisiana and Texas is closed and checkpoints have been established at the state line. Commercial traffic is allowed to pass freely but everyone else must be screened and fill out paperwork before entering Texas. This is obviously causing travel nightmares.

As we monitor these numbers, these daily death toll reports, be sure to check out Stacy McCain’s post in which he does some pretty interesting analysis of the numbers:

There is an enormous variation in the death rates, with Italy’s rate being about five times higher than the U.S. rate, and the death rate in Washington State, Michigan and Louisiana being more than twice the rate in Florida and Texas. Will these rates change? Maybe, but the fact is that the same virus is having different impacts in different areas, and the “experts” on TV are doing a bad job of explaining this differential, insofar as they are not completely ignoring it. While I don’t claim to be an “expert,” my hunch is that it probably has something to do with viral load at first exposure to the virus. If you attend a two-hour event with dozens of other people, some of whom are infected — or if you’re on a two-hour commercial airline flight, or riding New York City’s subways on a daily basis — then your initial exposure is likely to be a high viral load. On the other hand, a brief encounter with an infected convenience-store clerk will expose you to a lower viral load, and if you do become infected, your case will probably be milder. That’s not an “expert” opinion, just a common-sense interpretation of what some experts are saying, and one which would seem to fit the available data.

This brings me back to my friend that went to a birthday party. What was the exponential exposure?

I’m afraid that a lot of people are not taking all this seriously enough and won’t until it hits too close to home.

Stay safe, friends, and stay home.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: Unfocused

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – We are now three weeks into this quarantine business, so how’s it going for you? I thought I would be so productive and get some projects done, make some progress on my book, do some inspired writing…nah. Not happening. My creativity is dry as a bone. Gone.

I did a little blog post about that on SIGIS, and got a lot of unexpected feedback with people feeling the same way, which was reassuring in a way. It’s not just me.

It feels a little like the days and weeks following 9/11, to me. An overwhelming powerlessness and anxiety. Turns out there are a lot of people feeling this same way.

I’m incredibly frustrated with the inability of people to follow simple directions and stay home. Once again, this church in Central, Louisiana held services yesterday with 500 people in attendance this week, which thankfully is about half of what he had last week.

Pastor Tony Spell of the Life Tabernacle Church says, “The virus, we believe, is politically motivated, …We hold our religious rights dear, and we are going to assemble no matter what someone says.”

He’s not alone in his commitment to disregard the stay at home order issued by Governor Edwards. In New Orleans, a growing epicenter of COVID-19, authorities had to break up a large gathering this weekend where people gathered for a Second Line event. Video on social media shows revelers in the neighborhood drinking, dancing, and playing music. Now, warrants have been issued.

In an attempt to slow down the spread of COVID-19 in Texas, Governor Greg Abbot has put a travel ban of sorts in place. If you travel to Texas from Louisiana, you have to fill out paperwork indicating where you will self-quarantine for the next fourteen days. This does not apply to commercial traffic and the like, obviously.

The grocery stores are beginning to level out however there is still no toilet paper, Clorox wipes, or hand sanitizer anywhere and there has not been for three weeks. My grocery store, apparently depressed by the long empty shelf, now is stocking laundry baskets on that aisle.

The big-box stores in our area, Sam’s Club, sometimes gets those items in; Saturday morning the line to get into Sam’s wrapped around the building as they let in twenty-five people at a time. Hundreds of people in line, much closer to each other than six feet, mind you, and VERY close to each other the closer to the front of the line they got. Insanity.

I’ve mad a couple of quick grocery store runs and have found that some people are keeping their distance but there are others who completely disregard your personal space. I was looking at the eggs yesterday when a man leaned right in front of me and grabbed a carton.

I’m looking at grocery delivery services now or curbside pickup; the turnaround on curbside pickup is days out however. If you need something quickly, too bad.

At any rate, this is our new normal. With Trump’s federal distancing extended to the end of April, I expect that our school year is effectively done, which saddens me somewhat.

Now, if I could just get my creative spark back.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: Stay at Home

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Finally, yesterday afternoon, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards issued a “stay at home” order across the state. All “non-essential” businesses are shut down; restaurants are still open for curbside pickup and delivery, you can still take your dog to the vet, and liquor stores are open.

So, not much has changed under this order from what has been happening all week.

Via The Advocate:

Louisiana has the fastest growth rate of confirmed cases in the world, Edwards said, citing a University of Louisiana at Lafayette study. Louisiana ranks third in the nation — behind New York and Washington State — in per capita cases of people infected with the deadly novel coronavirus. The growth trajectory shows Louisiana increasing its confirmed cases on the same steep angle as Italy and Spain, where the virus has become exceptionally widespread.

Most of the cases in Louisiana are in Orleans parish with a known cluster of cases in an assisted living facility in New Orleans, but like everywhere, COVID-19 is spread throughout the state.

It is not likely to improve for a while as there are still far too many people that don’t appear to comprehend the gravity of what is happening.

Sunday, in East Baton Rouge parish, The Life Tabernacle Church hosted over 1,800 people at their Sunday morning service. Pastor Tony Spell said “if anyone in his congregation contracts covid-19 he will heal them through God.”

If anyone still doubts the severity of this virus, take a look at a viral Facebook post by Chicago resident Michael Bane.  He describes the progression of COVID-19 as it has attacked him after a “brief encounter” with someone who later tested positive for the virus. Bane wanted to put “a human face” on the virus and stress to people the importance of staying home.

The numbers in Louisiana continue to climb and as I write this, there is plenty of traffic I can still see outside my window. Our shut-down order doesn’t take effect until 5:00 p.m., and grocery stores (which will remain open) are packed with people clearing the shelves of whatever staples remain. As with much of the country, there has been no toilet paper, hand sanitizer, rice, dried beans, or bread for at least two weeks. If you catch it right, you can get milk or meat as stockers work frantically to keep shelves stocked.

On the plus side, random acts of kindness are on the uptick. One of my neighbors left a gallon of milk and a loaf of bread on my porch yesterday. Neighborhoods are pulling together to support one another, and people are getting creative in keeping the little ones entertained. One activity I saw yesterday was a “bear hunt,” where neighbors put a stuffed bear in their windows for kids to spot, or find, on walks with their parents.

I’m counting my blessings right now and staying inside.

Stay safe wherever you are, stay home, and wash your hands!

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.