I didn’t plan to be on the road during the pandemic, but this adventure developed unexpectedly. Since I live full-time in my Airstream travel trailer, I drive with my own home and facilities and can easily distance myself. After arriving and completing a travel self-quarantine in Montana in May, I hoped to stay there. But, a leak in my Airstream meant a trip back to the factory in Ohio, as dealer appointments were not happening near me. As part of my pandemic road trip, I was able to visit some friends and family in Virginia with appropriate safeguards.
Now that Alvie the Airstream is fixed, I am back on my way back to Montana for the rest of the summer. Along the way, I had the chance to visit the only Marian apparition site in the United States formally approved by the Catholic Church. You can read about that here. What I’d like to share in this post is the variety of approaches in different areas to the pandemic.
Signs on the Road
First, I noticed many different highway signs during my original trip West, mainly in Kansas and Colorado. Near Salinas, Kansas, in mid-May a highway sign cautioned “Stay Home, Stay Safe.” Later, near Hayes, Kansas a sign informed me “It Is Your Job To Keep Others Safe.” Before exit 128 on Rt 70 West, the highway sign advised “Social Distancing Saves Lives.” A short while later, the road sign warned “If Fever Strikes Stay Home.” The admonition “Stay Home, Stay Safe, Save Lives” followed. While leaving Douglas, Wyoming, I saw a highway sign advising “Coronavirus – Get the Real Facts” with a website address for the state health department. On my way back, I did not notice road signs with such messages as I traversed South Dakota, Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
At Gas Stations
Second, on my first trip on the road during the pandemic, in most states, everyone had a mask and gloves on at gas pumps. On my return trip to Montana, I rarely encountered people wearing masks outside at gas stations.
Third, places of worship varied widely. Most scrupulously required masks, provided hand sanitizer, taped off pews and places to stand for social distancing purposes, and explained the safety measures taken. Some, despite having posted instructions to wear masks and stay six feet apart, did not enforce that at all. Several of the Catholic churches I visited strongly encouraged people to receive Communion in the hand, to lower one’s mask only when receiving Communion, then reposition it before heading back to the pew. Others encouraged kneeling for Communion so that one’s face was not near that of the priest. All had hand sanitizer immediately available to the priest to clean his hands if he accidentally touched the hand or tongue of a communicant. Ushers directed people unless part of the same family group to sit or stand six feet apart.
In some churches, Confession was outdoors in a garden or drive-thru style in a parking lot. Others still used closed booths inside.
Urban versus Rural
Fourth, rural and urban areas differed greatly. In one city in northern Virginia, robots were delivering food and groceries to people. Mask wearing was common in stores and even on the street. An hour’s drive west in a more rural area few people wore masks or kept their distance from others. All stores, however, had tape marking directions and spaces on the floor to encourage social distancing. Hand sanitizer and wipes were widely available for use by customers.
Fifth, businesses also varied greatly. Some had signs but pretty much ignored it if customers were not wearing masks. Others, like the Airstream Factory, were meticulous in their communication and enforcement. At Airstream, customers could not enter the service waiting area without a temp check, a mask, and completing a form.
When I purchased food at restaurant (or a wine slushie at Tippy Creek Winery in Indiana!), I usually ordered take out and ate outside. Once, I met a friend at a spacious restaurant where inside dining had just re-opened. Tape cordoned off tables and plexiglass divided booths. Servers wore masks. Overhead fans circulated air.
The variety of approaches may reflect contradictory advice about protective measures and diverse opinions about how contagious the virus is when one is outside or is not close to others. Some people are extremely careful; others feel it is a useless or even nefarious imposition on their individual freedom. Governments that limited religious services and imposed strict masking and distance requirements completely lost credibility when they excused protests from such compliance. Also, high numbers or low number of cases in an area seemed to correlate to being more or less likely to take more precautions. There was less mask wearing in rural areas and more in urban areas.
Since I travel and live full-time in my RV, I wear a mask in public places, keep my distance, and wash my hands or use hand sanitizer frequently. As a matter of charity, I am glad to take on some inconvenience to mitigate risk to others (and myself), but not to isolate myself completely. I avoid crowds, but not all people. There are some risks in life worth taking while using reasonable precautions. For me, these include being present at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and seeing friends whom I may not see again for quite a while.
What has your experience been? Is there “covid fatigue” or resistance to government mandates where you live? Or, are people still trying to maintain distance and wear masks? Is it as a matter of charity towards the vulnerable or out of personal fear?