Wednesday, July 8, 2020
July 8, 2020

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Brunell: While they were gone, it all changed

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In America today with our around-the-clock news and instant texting, can you imagine anyone not hearing about our coronavirus pandemic for nearly a month?

That’s what happened on March 14 when a dozen Colorado River rafters emerged from the Grand Canyon after a 280-mile trip. The group was away from phones, internet connections and the rest of the world. After all, people go to places like the Grand Canyon to escape the news, not catch up on it.

“When they departed President Trump had recently granted clemency to Rod Blagojevich, the disgraced former Illinois governor, and Bernie Sanders had a double-digit polling lead heading into that night’s Democratic debate in Las Vegas,” The New York Times’ Charlie Warzel wrote. 

Many Mariners fans were in Peoria, Ariz., a couple of hundred miles south of Grand Canyon National Park, for spring training, and Gonzaga was preparing for a run at the NCAA men’s basketball championship.

“Cases of the coronavirus were showing signs of decline in mainland China, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued its first Level 1 travel notices — ‘practice usual precautions’ for travelers heading to Hong Kong and Japan,” Warzel wrote.

“After all, the COVID-19 outbreak had been in the news since last fall; however, it was happening in the Far East — mainly China.”

Rafter Sarah Knaack, a nurse, learned that those working in health care would be working long hours and be exposed to the COVID-19 virus. Medical supplies (masks, gloves and gowns), hospital beds and ventilators were in short supply.

Another adventurer, a teacher named Zach Edler, emerged to find that education had shifted from classrooms to online to avoid transmission of the virus.

Mason Thomas, also on the expedition, told The New York Times: “We’re sitting here trying to piece the world together. What does a toilet paper shortage mean?”

Coincidentally, on Feb. 19, the day on which the rafters initially put into the river, we arrived at Grand Canyon National Park by train. We’d planned the trip ahead of the tourist season. We also wanted to escape and just enjoy being in a beautiful remote place.

Luckily, it was not crowded and the weather was comfortable. The tourist season wouldn’t ramp up until March.

But now there are few visitors. Park hotels, restaurants and visitor centers are closed. The Grand Canyon Railway and park buses have suspended service. While the park remains open, the post office, village general store, bank, a grab-and-go cafe and the trailer village operate on restricted schedules.

Our life, like most senior Americans, is far different and we are sheltering in our home. We even go to church online because gathering places of more than 10 people are closed.

We all know people suddenly thrown out of work, particularly from restaurants and bars. We also have family, friends and neighbors who are doctors, nurses and emergency responders. They not only are working long hours, but are directly exposed to COVID-19.

On the brighter side, while there is still political sniping, elected officials are working together. The common goals are to find a cure, treat the sick and stop the contagion.

When the coronavirus pandemic finally subsides, there will likely be more people working from home, renewed discussions over bringing manufacturing back to America — and a reordering of priorities in general. It will not be back to life as we knew it a few weeks ago.

Some changes hopefully will endure — businesses and government partnering, a more civil discourse, and more offshore factories returning to America.

A crisis of this magnitude seems to come along every 100 years or so. Hopefully, what we learn will prepare us better for the next pandemic.

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