As the impacts from the novel coronavirus pandemic spread to our communities here in Alaska, it’s all too easy to feel overwhelmed. Every day, the sense of urgency has ramped up — globally, nationally, locally.
But there are signs around Anchorage that even without the daily social interaction that we’re used to, amid the turbulence and fear and panic buying, people across the community are finding ways to support and connect with one another. And that’s something worth highlighting.
The state has halted dine-in food and beverage service at restaurants, cafes and bars, in addition to closing entertainment facilities like theaters and gyms through the end of March. In Anchorage, a “hunker down” order runs from 10 p.m. Sunday to March 31; the order shutters the premises of businesses considered non-essential and urges Alaskans to stay home as much as possible.
These measures are important: Public health experts have emphasized that social distancing is one of the most effective ways to “flatten the curve” of the outbreak, and keep health care facilities from being overwhelmed. Over 20 cases have been confirmed in Alaska so far, in communities ranging from Ketchikan to Fairbanks to Anchorage to Soldotna, and that number is only expected to grow.
These restrictions directly affected thousands of workers and business owners whose economic realities changed in an instant. Still, Anchorage-area restaurants, now limited to takeout and delivery, were finding ways to support others: like the Pay It Forward board at Humpy’s, which lets people buy meals for strangers in a tough situation, or the free meals for kids being offered at Kim’s Cuisine in Eagle River. Some were giving discounts — like Little Italy Restaurante on the south side — or adding new options for curbside pickup or delivery to encourage customers.
Generosity is part of the Alaskan way. So is dealing with adversity with a combination of humor and utility. Case in point: Kriner’s Diner, which was giving away a roll of toilet paper with each food order. They’re calling it their “emergency toilet paper distribution program.”
This pandemic affects every Alaskan. It’s easy to feel helpless. But if you’re in a position to do it, there are small measures that collectively can have a big impact: Throw your favorite restaurants some love by ordering takeout or delivery. (Here’s a list of restaurants that are open.) Buy a gift card to a local business, if they have the option by phone or online; they’ll get the money now, and you can use the gift card later. Consider donating to local bands and performers who have nowhere to perform, or nonprofits whose fundraising events have been canceled.
Small acts of kindness go a long way in times of disorder. Alaskans are helping other Alaskans in ways that might seem minor but could mean the world to an overstressed parent, a concerned elder, a scared kiddo, or those workers who aren’t sure how they’ll get by without a paycheck.
At the Midtown Carrs recently, an employee was restocking bags of rice on empty shelves. He smiled, greeted me and asked, “Do you have your rice yet?” (I still have most of a 20-pound bag at home.) I asked how he was dealing with the pandemic. He was working 20-hour days, he said, but he loves his job and he believes it’s important.
“It’s for the community," he told me.
We all have a part to play as this public health emergency unfolds. It might be something as big as what state officials are doing: delivering mandates to curb the spread of COVID-19 across the community, and minimize the strain on our limited health care resources. Or your contribution to society might involve staying at home after traveling to the Lower 48, even if you’re not feeling sick, to avoid potentially spreading illness to vulnerable populations. Your job might be to stock shelves, or wipe countertops, or provide health screenings, or make sure your employees and your family are taken care of. We also all need to take care of ourselves — physically, emotionally, spiritually — so we’re in a better position to endure and recover.
Whatever role we serve, it’s important to hold on to those moments of humanity that connect us, even when we’re asked to stay 6 feet away from one another. Empathy matters. Life goes on, even from a distance.
As I moved on to other aisles at the grocery store, where shelves were being steadily refilled on pantry items, I could hear that employee chatting with other people, asking them how they were, cracking jokes and laughing. Before they left, he told them what he had told me earlier: “You have a great day, OK?”
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