Two weeks and two days ago, on March 11, 2020, I participated in an act of reckless endangerment to the public. If I did this thing today, I would rightly be held up to public scorn and possibly even reported to the authorities. By next week, the same act might well be illegal.
At the time I was aware of doing nothing wrong. It was a regular school day at the adult-education centre where I teach — our third-last school day for the 2019-2020 school year, most likely, although we didn’t know that at the time — and the middle of our Spirit Week. And as part of Spirit Week, I and another staff member, and one student, stood behind tables in the lounge with big 4L containers of ice cream, scooping up ice cream and spraying on whipped cream, encouraging everyone to dip a spoon into communal bowls of toppings, or pass squeeze bottles of syrup from one person to another. Then everyone sat down less than two feet apart from each other and ate their ice-cream sundaes.
At the time, having a make-your-own sundae ice cream bar seemed like a fun, team-building activity. We had already heard news of the coronavirus in other parts of Canada, but nobody had tested positive in Newfoundland at that time, and while we all washed our hands well before and after serving, nobody wore gloves or masks or suggested that serving ice cream to fifty people was a bad idea.
Two weeks later, our centre is closed, as is everything else not deemed an essential business. And the very idea of communal ice cream sundae bars, or eating a meal next to anyone who doesn’t live in your house, seems like an exotic relic from a past civilization. Things are changing so quickly it seems trite to say that things are changing quickly.
Three days later, on Saturday, March 14, our church held a long-planned musical worship service. It was more poorly attended than we would have liked, since some people were already staying home out of caution. We cancelled the potluck lunch that was supposed to follow it, and we dispensed with handshakes and hugs during the greeting time. We left church that day not knowing it would be the last time we’d gather as a congregation for, potentially, quite a long time.
That same day, Newfoundland reported its first positive case of Covid-19. That night, Jason and I had another couple to our house for a long-planned board game night — again, an activity that seems positively exotic now.
Also on that day, March 14, the Canadian government warned Canadians who had returned from outside the country to self-isolate for two weeks, even if they were not showing symptoms of Covid-19.
On Sunday, March 15 — as everyone in this province probably now knows — some grieving families gathered at a local funeral home for visitation, just as people did in funeral homes all over the province. I don’t know any of the people who were there, but I’m sure people hugged and shook hands and maybe handed each other tissues as tears were shed. And, as we also now know, someone at that visitation, between March 15 and March 17, later tested positive for Covid-19.