Rational regard: Will shelling be the new normal?

By Clark Brooks, Editor & Publisher


It is the word I started using about a week or so ago in informal conversations to refer to sheltering-in-place. In our homes and apartments we are much like hermit crabs, turtles and clams safely tucked within our sanctuaries from a virus to avoid infecting or becoming infected with the coronavirus.

There are early indications that shelling may become the new normal - at least for a while longer than we all care to think about.

First, let me say I'm not a fan of shelling. I fully understand the urgent need to shelter in place to prevent family, friends and customers, as well any other American from contracting the Covid-19 virus.

Nature's predatory culling the herd of the human species is extremely disconcerting. Personally, I have no desire to inflict the severe, life-altering symptoms, or ultimately death, on and anyone. And hopefully, neither should you.

A few days ago Governor J.B. Pritzker hinted during his daily coronavirus briefing that Illinoisans may be shelling past the April 30 date established in Executive Order 16 back on April 1.

"I think everybody needs to think seriously about canceling large summer events," he said. "From my perspective today, I do not see how we are going to have large gatherings of people again until we have a vaccine, which is months and months away. I would not risk having large groups of people getting together anywhere. I think that's hard for everybody to hear, but that's just a fact."

Days before Gov. Pritzker's press conference the committee for the annual Freedom Celebration in Champaign-Urbana for 2020 was officially canceled. The decision came on the heels of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign decision to cancel all university summer camps through July 10, 2020 and all summer events held on campus until further notice.

Two days ago, Illinois State University President Larry Dietz announced that all summer camps, conferences, events, and activities held on campus scheduled through July 31, 2020 have been postponed or cancelled. Students who want to take summer classes at ISU will now take them online.

America improvises, adapts, and then overcomes. It has been what this country has done better than any other since 1776.
While Eastern Illinois University, home to the Illinois High School Association's boys and girls state track meets, has not released any information regarding campus events as of yet, it is likely administrators will follow ISU and the University of Illinois' lead and adopt the same policy through the beginning of their next fiscal year. It goes without saying should the EIU administration take the same approach, it will deliver a serious blow to the IHSA and dreams of thousands of high school track athletes throughout Illinois who continued training and held on to the hope of competing this season.

The response to COVID-19 by universities around the state, given many are the sites for IHSA sectional and supersectional contests, is just one more nail - I pray that I'm wrong - for next week's coffin to bury the spring 2020 sports season in American history.

Shelling does appear to be successful measure in the mitigation of CV-19. The spread of the Coronavirus in Champaign County had been minimal compared to other cities around the country. There have been just 21 new confirmed cases reported by the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District in the last seven days. Currently there are just 40 active cases in the county with another 40 that were diagnosed with the infection, now listed as recovered. Eight people are hospitalized according the CUPHD site which is updated daily.

Already, there are 15 counties in Illinois with more than 70 confirmed cases. The Illinois Department of Public Health reports that Cook has 5,242 cases, Kane lists 339 and nearby McLean County has 75 cases.

It is neither pleasant or convenient, but shelling seems to be working for Illinois. The question is how much longer will we need to stay sheltered in place. When will things go back to normal?

Last Thursday, Vice President Mike Pence's tone was not exactly optimistic.

"No one wants to reopen America more than President Donald Trump," Pence said, hinting that reopening the country at the end of April are perhaps unrealistic. He added that the White House would consult collected data to "inform the president’s decision and timing."

While I am praying for the exact opposite, I'm confident we will still be shelling after May 1 when Illinois current executive mandate ends.

Around April 24, give or take a few days, I expect the governor to announce we will need to continue shelling for another 21 days despite a gradual decrease in confirmed cases. Logically, this move would be justifiable in light of border states like Missouri and Wisconsin started shelling about two weeks after Illinois. Then there Iowa, one of a handful of states that has not instituted a stay-at-home order, obviously banking on the herd immunity strategy to combat the spread of the virus. Contaminated individuals traveling from or transporting goods through those states could cause resurgent hot spots or flare ups in Illinois.

I think it would be wise, especially if the antibody tests or a vaccine is not made available to the general public soon, to mentally preparing oneself for the inevitable roll of several back-to-back shelter in place extensions until at least July.

If the shelling works as planned, in three months we will be able to roam the planet freely again.

We will be free to laugh in the company of friends and family at a wedding, bar or outdoor venue. Free to listen to live music with hundreds of fans. Free to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries or the passing of a loved one. Free to touch, kiss and hug once again.

But, for how long? Behavior biologists, virologists and microbiologists say expect COVID-19 to make encore appearance months (may be weeks) after we reach the all clear level. Reluctantly, after the taste of fresh air and the warmth of the sun across our faces, we will be required to return to our shells once again when infections from the coronavirus rise again.

America improvises, adapts, and then overcomes. It has been what this country has done better than any other since 1776 and counting. With a little experience under our belts, returning to our shells, won't be easier, but it will probably feel almost normal.