There’s a war waging worldwide, and it’s between those people who want to re-open society and those who advocate for more caution to prevent a second wave of the virus. States such as Washington, California and New York as well as German chancellor Angela Merkel are on one side. Most of the Deep South, the Midwest, the individual German states, and US President Donald Trump are on the other.
When armed, right-wing protestors took to the streets in the U.S. to demand the shops open back up and they be allowed to go to work, I laughed from the comfort of my urban European home, pitying those who were foolish enough to think that waving a gun could ward off the virus, as well as those unfortunate enough to live near them. I laughed too soon – within a week, European protests of a similar stock began to take place, with more xenophobia and less guns.
On May 4, hair salons were allowed to re-open, but under strict conditions. Visitors must make an appointment, everyone must wear masks, everyone must have their hair washed (no “dry” haircuts), the number of people inside the shop at a time is limited, and please try to keep your distance. I for one am very curious as to how hair cuts are supposed to function for those of us who crop our hair short around our ears if we have to be wearing a face mask at all times. I haven’t had the chance to find out yet.
Also on May 4, my office opened again, but physically going in to work was optional. The majority of employees – myself included – continue to work remotely. My employer has created a seating chart to enforce social distancing measures. Desks which usually hold six people may now only hold two. There is a maximum number of people allowed to be working in each room at a time, and people must sign up in advance via an Excel sheet to make sure the maximum isn’t exceeded. I’m really glad that they are offering in-office work as an option now, but not requiring it. For some people, dealing with child care, loneliness, or cabin fever has had an effect on their mood as well as their productivity, and they welcome the change of scenery and the opportunity to return to a normal working environment. Others prefer to play it safe, stay home, and avoid the public transit. I think this solution works for everybody. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to do remote work, and grateful to be given the choice about when I’m ready to return to the office.
As citizens grow restless and regional leaders fold to the pressure to return to normal, chancellor Merkel is the steady rock urging for caution, lest a second wave should take effect. Many business owners and workers are itching to go back to work. Seaside communities on the Baltic Sea and the North Sea are debating whether the economic benefits of re-opening to tourists is worth the risk. Families are left in limbo wondering whether they’ll be able to take their summer vacation, and artists long to perform in front of a crowd again.
Today, I just read, a sort of compromise has been reached: German states will be allowed to re-open society as they see fit – with the caveat that if the new infection rate rises above 50 infections per 100,000 people in seven days, the restrictions will be put in place again. Social distancing measurse in Germany will be extended through June 5, but there are rumors that people may be able to meet with people outside of their immediate household again.
Playgrounds are open again, restaurants and hotels should come next, and starting May 25, children should be able to at least partially attend school again.
Since the mask requirement took hold, there has been an explosion of tailors, fashion labels, hobby seamstresses and private people sewing cloth masks and selling them online. Businesses have signs on their doors saying “no entry without a mask.” Though people are quite good about wearing masks inside shops, on the streets and in public areas, it’s hit or miss. Sometmes you see people wearing masks at open-air markets or narrow shopping streets, but they’re more rare in less-crowded areas.
I’ve given up trying to cycle with a mask because I feel like I can’t breathe and have contented myself with just wearing one indoors (except at home) and on my way to and from the shops. I see many people on the streets wearing their masks under their chins, or on top of their heads, which I don’t really understand. I assume they put them on to go into the shops, then pull them away from their face again as soon as they leave so they can breathe freely. There seems to be less resistance to mask-wearing in Germany than in the U.S., but still, not everybody is happy about it here. Some people argue that if businesses require their customers to wear masks, they should provide them for free.
A conspiracy theory regarding forced vaccinations is spreading around social media in Germany, despite the fact that there is no evidence to suggest this is even being considered. Even Germans, it seems, are not immune to fake news. Just another incentive to limit screen time.
In both Germany and the U.S., small seaside towns that normally welcome a wave of tourists at the start of spring are now fighting to keep tourists out. While it seems pretty obvious that, with hotels and restaurants closed, now is not the time for a beach vacation, whether or not day trippers and part-time residents should be allowed is up for debate. In both Pacific County, Washington and Schleswig-Holstein, Germany, small-town residents have been treating people who they view as tourists or visitors with animosity – even, in some cases, people who own property, pay taxes, and live part-time in those towns. At least the situation in Germany is now clear – Schleswig-Holstein, Germany’s northernmost state which borders both the Baltic and the North Sea, officially re-opened to visitors on May 4.
Recommended reading: a former colleague of mine was living in Guatemala teaching documentary filmmaking when the pandemic struck. She shared her experience choosing to stay put in “paradise” and then eventually getting on a repatriation flight back to Australia in an article last month.