I was teaching a class of high school students on Tuesday morning when my wife sent me the news via WhatsApp: the Czech Republic had suspended school indefinitely to lessen the spread of the coronavirus.
This, of course,
would change 50 hours later to be even more restrictive, including
banning gatherings of 30 or more people, closing bars and restaurants
at night, severely limiting travel and making it a crime to knowingly
spread the coronavirus.
Yet, on Tuesday
morning, in front of a class of teenagers, the school-closure news
rendered useless my lesson about European geography and the way
country names change into adjectives. Instead, I told the students to
take out their mobile phones, find a reputable news source, translate
it and explain what was happening.
adjustment worked, kind of.
* * *
understandable that teenagers would be happy to be free of school.
I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t find this situation
fascinating, if worrisome.
We may feel the
same as we did yesterday, but that is precisely what makes it so
disconcerting to hear that doctors and scientists consider the
coronavirus to be a dangerous global threat. Huge cities are not
locked down for no reason. Countries do not suspend school on a whim.
And capitalist societies do not hurt their bottom lines without
Everyone knows an
elderly person. Everyone has heard of the Black Plague, SARS and
AIDS. My wife and I had to cancel a post-Easter week in Northern
Italy. I have elderly parents in Washington State.
The scariest part
is that there are so many questions that experts cannot yet answer:
– How long will
our lives be upended by this coronavirus?
– Will there be
food and supply shortages?
– Will this
country be overwhelmed with patients like Italy?
– Will doctors
here have to make life-and-death choices for who will receive
– Are little
kids, and young people in general, really unaffected?
– What about
pregnant women or people who have survived cancer or other health
What about me? I
smoked a moderate amount of cigarettes for about two decades. Does
that mean that my lungs are extra susceptible to this COVID-19
Only time will tell.
* * *
has made life in this city exceedingly strange.
down on Tuesday. The World Health Organization officially labeled the
coronavirus a pandemic on Wednesday. Then, Thursday dawned as a
beautiful and unseasonably warm day. Everything was still abstract
and far away — but still top of mind.
At my main job, I
found myself looking out the window, watching trains coming into Brno
from the south while pondering the coughing and sneezing of my
colleagues and me. Anyone could be unwittingly carrying the virus.
In the afternoon,
many people were walking the bike paths, drinking beer outside
snack-bar pubs and watching their kids play on jungle gyms and
slides. Teenagers were battling for space in a skate park. The
Svratka River was flowing and the birds were chirping. It was a
pleasant, late-winter afternoon.
Yet, in a few
hours everything would be shut down for the night.
In a few days or
weeks, perhaps, an outbreak would change the world forever.
On Friday — the
13th, no less — we woke to find out that local hospitals
had been subject to a cyberattack. The internet had small hiccups
throughout the day. And, while I was frantically working on a
deadline document, I got notifications in the corner of my computer
screen: A New York Stock Exchange sell off trigged an automatic stop;
Tom Hanks tested positive for coronavirus; the NBA suspended its
season; Disney World and the Louvre will close; and The Show Will Not
Go On: Broadway Theatres Go Dark.
notifications, including the ones from BrnoDaily.com, are important
and informative — but anxiety-inducing, too.
* * *
I was in
Manhattan on Sept. 11, 2001. I remember the quiet and somber
atmosphere of a Chelsea supermarket as people tried to buy food and
supplies, and the emotional dinner in a restaurant that night. Every
overheard conversation was about the terrorist attacks. The sense of
uncertainty was palpable.
To a large extent, Brno feels like that now.
A State of
Emergency has been declared and we are waiting for the next piece of
will use their experience and education and street smarts to make the
I hope that this column will provide thought-provoking observations of local life that will be interesting for a Saturday-morning read. If you have any suggestions or comments, please pass them along to firstname.lastname@example.org.