Coronavirus in Columbus: Scenes from the Crisis

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly
Andi, Georgia and Henry Buddendeck jump in puddles after a heavy rain in Bexley. The siblings were out playing during a Go Out and Scream neighborhood event in Bexley to let loose some of the frustrations of being under the pandemic COVID-19.

Roman Holiday

My 13-year-old daughter used the F-word on FaceTime with a friend the other day, and I didn’t even flinch. Under normal circumstances, I would have at least uttered a halfhearted, “Watch your language.” But I didn’t even bother with a raised-eyebrow glance. 

Among the many casualties of COVID-19 is good parenting. At least in our home. Most of the things we used to badger our kids to do—interact with friends, participate in extracurricular activities, join sports teams—are now universally prohibited. We’ve decided the best way for them, and, frankly, us, to get through this time is to replace the activities we used to allow with those we’ve always forbidden. 

Bad words are the least of it. Excessive screen time is where we’re truly failing our children. We used to allow them an hour or two per week playing Minecraft or whatever other games they like. Now they’re on it pretty much all the time. Social media was another swift compromise. It was only in February we denied our daughter’s request for a TikTok account. We gave in on that by Day 2 of the quarantine. As for family entertainment, the question wasn’t about whether to drop our rule against R-rated movies, but which one to show them first. My vote was for “Fargo,” but my wife advocated for “Gladiator.” I was outvoted, and my 9-year-old son declared it the finest film he’d ever seen. 

We could use this time to lean into parenting. I’m sure there are moms and dads out there teaching their kids to crochet or speak Mandarin, and they’ll be better off in the long run. But I’m worried about how to get my kids through today. If watching Russell Crowe slaughter Romans makes the time pass more quickly, I’m all for it. —Dan Williamson

Information is critical. Read our latest reporting on the coronavirus response here.

Creatures of the Ravine

The Walhalla Ravine is alive, filled with cats, dogs, dinosaurs and pixies.

Dinosaurs and pixies? Yes, along with lots of other trinkets, toys and tchotchkes, carefully placed among the rocks and trees of the ancient ravine and creek in Clintonville. All this bric-a-brac and open-air art has popped up and proliferated in recent days, left by someone, or a growing number of someones, determined to bring a little joy to those of us who live nearby and need a few minutes of sun, exercise and connection with humanity.

Who left them?

Good question. My wife, for one. “Did you find the ones I left?” Susan texted back, after I sent her photos of a dinosaur, pixie and some sort of jubilant insect.

“No, I’ll keep looking.”

“Look, over there!” someone shouts, and several of us glance where she’s pointing, into the craggy slate across the creek, where someone’s left a vase and fake flowers. 

“There’s an owl,” someone else says a few minutes later, as I continue down the ravine.

“Have you found them all?” someone asks as I snap a photo.

“Not yet, but I’ll keep looking,” I answer, from a safe distance. —Steve Wartenberg

A trinket found in the Walhalla Ravine (Photo by Steve Wartenberg)

The Office Pack

My 2-year-old rescue dog, Nala, is an expert at social distancing.

Though she adores humans, our Labrador mix is “dog reactive.” If she sees a dog while on a leash, she goes crazy—barking, pulling, growling. She lasted a few months in doggy daycare—an amazing solution for working pooch parents without a yard—only to get kicked out for acting “like she owned the place.” 

Fast-forward to the COVID-19 crisis. While my fiancé and I have struggled to adapt to our work-from-home routine, Nala has been living her best life. We’re a pack, not just for a few hours a day—but all day, every day. In the morning, we move her bed into the office and place it between our desks. Work breaks now mean spontaneous games of fetch-the-tennis-ball. Sometimes, she curls up on our slippered feet, keeping them warm during conference calls while co-workers are none the wiser. Other times, Nala and other quarantined canines are the stars of Google Hangouts meetings, providing comic relief in an anxious time. 

One suspicion has been confirmed: Nala is useless as an assistant, unable to transcribe interviews (for me) or make investment recommendations (for him). Despite being a high-energy dog, she’s incredibly lazy and snores most of the day. 

Some families have found this the perfect time to welcome a new pup or foster one. One friend adopted a puppy while sequestered at home with energetic twin boys. Smart. Meanwhile, the Franklin County Dog Shelter & Adoption Center has expanded its fostering program during the pandemic. 

Cats may be ready for humans to return to the daily commute, but dogs—I suspect—are thinking one thing: Stay. —Erin Edwards

Nala, who belongs to Columbus Monthly dining editor Erin Edwards (Photo by Erin Edwards)

Guilt Trip

I’m not an anxious person. But I am an avid news junkie. So in January, the quarantining of an entire Chinese city of 11 million piqued my interest.

My wife and I were supposed to go on an overseas trip in mid-March, shortly after St. Patrick’s Day. The plan: surprise my mother-in-law on her 60th birthday with the trip of a lifetime to Ireland, planned by my father-in-law. 

Two months out, as we were booking reservations and other things to do, I began voicing concern: Is it refundable? Mostly, I was worried about getting stuck at an airport. I can’t explain it, but something just felt different about what was happening in China.

In early March, when cases began piling up in Europe but flights were still happening and events still scheduled, I suggested we delay the trip. Still, my wife hung on, fearing we’d regret canceling it: What if the virus is contained? What if the airports stay open? What if we’re overreacting?

What if?

Soon enough, that decision wasn’t ours to make: Flights were canceled, the Guinness brewery shut down, the Jameson distillery shuttered, the castle closed its doors. Emails came flying in from places we planned to see and experience.

The lead-up to the Ireland cancellation was a slow drip until, suddenly, it seemed downright foolish to think it wouldn’t happen. And now I feel silly to even be disappointed over something like a trip, as I stare at my out-of-date calendar describing my Irish itinerary (falconry at the castle, a side trip to London) and compare it to what I’m actually doing (watching Tiger King, obsessively walking my basset hound).

I still have my job and got back much of the money put down for the trip. People my mom’s age are dying; people my age are becoming bedridden. This entire moment is something none of us will forget, and I wonder if, 40 years from now, I’ll even think of Ireland. —Tom Knox

What, Me Worry?

“Erin’s sick.”

“What do you mean, Erin’s sick?”

“She thinks she has it.”

Damn. We all know now what “it” is, and it’s not good. The first person we know with the virus is our own daughter. My wife runs down the symptoms: fever, a hacking cough, shortness of breath. We share a look of dread: What can we do? And the answer is: nothing.

Just the day before I’d seen a map showing virus hotspots around the country and sure enough, there was one out in California west of Reno in the Sierra Nevada, where Erin lives. How a hotspot could pop up there is beyond me—it’s rugged, mountainous, sparsely populated country; you have to drive for hours to get anywhere near a city of any size (or anywhere near a hospital for that matter). Not optimal for someone with a potentially lethal virus. This was mid-March when testing was scarce, and doctors were advising people with mild symptoms to avoid stressing the health system. So we told her: just stay home. She’s 25, healthy—a little caution, a little prudence, a good chance she’d be OK.

Caution and prudence are not the first words that come to mind with Erin. Since leaving home she’s lived in a commune in Virginia, on a farm in Vermont, on the road in Hawaii and in a dicey neighborhood in downtown Cleveland. We’ve made our peace with her lifestyle (I first left home at 16, and it was a while before I settled down) so we were cool with her decision to move to the Sierras and run a restaurant that’s part of my brother’s mountain biking business. It was supposed to be a temporary deal, but my wife knew better: “She’ll end up living there, you’ll see.”

So she met a guy and went to work in his family’s business after her other gig ended, got a roommate and set up housekeeping with her dog, a stray she brought home from Hawaii, making extra cash tending plants at a marijuana farm her boyfriend’s mother owns (it’s fully legal out there). As for my daughter working on a pot farm, all I can say is the bud doesn’t fall far from the plant. My only problem is that she’s 3,000 miles away, and the country is going to hell in a handbasket. In an apocalypse you want your people close.

Anyway, by April the news was encouraging: Erin was feeling better and was even contemplating a road trip to Oregon in her new camper. “Erin, your mom told me you were planning this trip. I’m not so sure it’s a good idea. Just stay home.” 

“I already went. We just got back.”

My daughter. I love her, I miss her, and I’m going to kill her. —Jeff Long

Writer Jeff Long’s daughter (Photo courtesy Jeff Long)
Laura Arenschield's library books (Photo by Laura Arenschield)

Literary Love (and Longing)

To get to the children’s section of the Old Worthington Library, you walk through the trunk of a giant tree. Tigger and Owl, from the original “Winnie the Pooh” storybooks, perch in the branches, and my son, who’s almost 4, likes to wave at them when we pick out new books on our almost-weekly visits to the library.

That tree has always felt to me like a metaphor for libraries as a whole: Come inside this story, it seems to say. So many new worlds await you. There’s magic past this tree. What, I wonder, will my kid think when I tell him we can’t go to the library for a little while? 

Is there any greater social experiment than a library? It is open to everyone—regardless of wealth, education, family, age. Some Central Ohio libraries loan out vinyl records, guitars and art. Ours has a playroom where my son sometimes spends a happy hour on the weekends, building train tracks and constructing with Magna-Tiles. You can learn about anything at the library—and, I’ve marveled since childhood, they’ll let you take the books home for free. Our library offers the option of a printed receipt at checkout, listing at the bottom the amount of money you would have spent if you’d purchased all those materials at the store. Last year, our total was in the thousands. 

Maybe that’s why it felt so strange—like a scene from a dystopian novel—to know that the library was closing. Maybe that’s why I choked up when the librarian offered me a stack of Mo Willems books for my son.

One day, when we’ve seen ourselves out of this crisis, the library doors will open. It will be a different life, to be sure. But I do know that whatever happens next, some answers will come from our libraries, where stories flow, information is free, and people are equal. —Laura Arenschield

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