The Hudson Valley in the Age of COVID-19
By Cody Elliott
These past few months have been characterized by remarkable uncertainty. If things seemed chaotic before the virus, the sudden disappearance of phrases like “let’s meet over coffee” or our newfound lack of ability to predict what the next few months look like herald a new level of craziness. Of course, this will eventually end, and it’s not the first time humanity has waded through a pandemic. As discussions move toward reopening, the new task is to interpret exactly what all this means, and what a world informed by the pandemic looks like. People have lost a lot- their lives, their family, their careers, their businesses, their homes, and their notions of security. No one has been unaffected, although some certainly have nicer boats to ride out the storm in. Many are being forced to work in incredibly hazardous conditions, all the while suffering the indignities of pay cuts and long hours. As they might say in the South (where I grew up), hootin’ and hollerin’ at 7 is a nice gesture, but it ain’t nothin’ to shake a stick at. The enactment of global lockdown measures as never seen before is a history-altering event, and wrestling meaning out of the enormous ethical questions it has posed will take years.
While reopening does indicate the return of some normalcy, it, unfortunately, does not mean the end of our problems. Jobs are not likely to return in a major way quite yet, and a lot of people will continue to need assistance. A great collection of resources for those in need is gathered up over at The River. They have many bases covered- where to find the best up-to-date information, where to volunteer, where to find food assistance, or where to find help getting a loan. It’s really a wonderful collection of resources, and I highly recommend perusing it- you might uncover a new way to help others, or yourself.
If you are looking to volunteer, there are great initiatives working right now, such as The Table at Woodstock, which operates Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday from 4 pm-6 pm at the Woodstock Reformed Church. They’re looking for volunteer bakers, helpers, and donations of any kind. The Dutchess County Government has put together a resource for those looking to volunteer or who need assistance, and it’s quite comprehensive. The Ulster Corps, a volunteer organization dedicated to community organizing and involvement, also maintains a useful list. The basic needs right now are the same everywhere- blood donations, monetary donations, and volunteers to serve food and field calls. If you’re young and healthy, these represent low-risk ways of helping out the more vulnerable.
I have many colleagues in the theatre world, and it’s worth pointing out the particular financial stress many there have been subjected to. Freelance artists on the whole always have little job security, and since many of these fields depend on large group gatherings, their prospects at the moment are incredibly limited. If you yourself are an artist, the COVID-19 Freelance Artist Resource has a great and frequently updated list of national resources such as job postings and financial relief options.
I hesitate to call it advise, as this much uncertainty means that even the strongest guidelines are often modified a few days later, but here are a few general things I’ve been thinking about as we pivot towards reopening. It looks possible that we’ll either get the go-ahead to do so at the end of May or sometime in June, but there is always lurking in the background the chance that if contact tracing and other preventative measures don’t go well, we may have to reintroduce lockdown measures. I find it helpful to not think about this as opening up as “back to normal,” but instead, the chance to feel ever so slightly more comfortable doing a few small things that I have missed. I’m looking forward to some socially distant meet-ups with friends in open places such as parks, maybe getting a to-go coffee, and going to one of the newly reopened Drive-in theaters. If these things sound similar to what some people have been doing anyway than that’s exactly the idea. The reopening will probably look very similar to how things look right now. Any real security is going to be somewhat artificial, but after the monotony of lockdown, I’m looking forward to even the small changes.
There’s been a decent bit of griping about them, but I’ve come to think about putting on a mask as something of a social ritual. Clothing is often said to be a form of language- for instance, we communicate that we’re ready for the job by wearing the right suit or dress. If this is the case, I think wearing a mask is a form of signaling to everyone else that I care about their safety, and that I’m taking their concerns seriously. It’s also a great way to support a small business, especially when you probably aren’t shopping for a whole lot of clothing at the moment. Although out of stock at the moment, my favorites so far are the ones over at Rowing Blazers. There’s also a good list of places to get a mask locally here. It looks like we’re going to be required to wear them if we want to go anywhere, so now is the time to stock up.
It’s also the perfect time of year to go on a long drive. Fortunately, the Hudson Valley is one of the prettiest regions of the country. The first green and sunny weekend of the year always leaves me awestruck, and that was the same this year, even in quarantine. Over at Hudson Valley Contemporary Homes, they’ve gathered up a list of their five favorite scenic drives. I’m also an advocate for getting a little lost in the mountains this time of year- the dirt roads around the Andes, over in the Catskills, wind their way through some of the most beautiful country I have ever seen.
In crises like this one, everything too easily becomes abstract. The news reads like an endless list of numbers- cases, deaths, calculated risks of transmission, re-opening metrics, etc. It becomes far too easy to forget that this isn’t about some abstract hypothetical risk, or about getting “stubborn” numbers to cooperate, but is instead about actual humans, including ourselves. I’m finding myself thinking about patience a lot these days- patience with the world as it slowly reorients itself towards the opening, patience with myself as I make goofy decisions and have strange anxieties or patience with chaotic and contradictory guidelines and leadership. I remind myself to have patience with even those who have “broken” social distancing, as times like these are incredibly trying and people respond in unique ways. This doesn’t mean that I am not upset, it simply means that I attempt to frame the suffering right now as an informative one that could lead to change or enlightenment later on. To be angry, upset, and composed will probably always be a better stance than to be angry and bewildered.