Reflections on Civic Life and the Pandemic: Robin Lee on the Impact of Covid-19 on South Bethlehem

As of June 2020, Pennsylvania has more than 66,258 confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to the PA Department of Health. The state’s first positive diagnoses appeared on March 6th in Delaware and Wayne Counties, and ten days later Governor Tom Wolf declared a state of emergency, urging the closure of all non-essential businesses. On March 18, the first Pennsylvanian died in Northampton County, and by the end of March there were more than 4,800 cases in the state, and more than half the counties in Pennsylvania were ordered to stay home. Now, Pennsylvania is reporting 4,984 COVID related deaths, and next week, beginning June 5th, businesses in the Lehigh Valley will begin the ‘yellow phase’ of reopening.

The emptiness we witnessed in the streets of South Bethlehem throughout April and May would have been unimaginable to us even a few months prior; the blooming dogwoods and black medic weeds along the Greenway, which usually hail community gatherings like Spring on the Southside, flowered unseen this year as residents persisted in staying home and reducing virus-associated risks. The photograph above is part of a series created during April called How To See WithOut, about the visible sense of communal solitude throughout the Southside. The streets, then, were still and only sparsely populated, and shop windows were marked by handwritten “Closed” notices:

Sorry We Closed Temporarily. Be Safe Everyone.
Worship will be held live stream at 10:00 AM on Sundays.
Molly’s will be closed until this passes and runs its course. Stay safe one and all.
STOP: No more than three customers are allowed in at the same time.
Stay Strong Southside.

When the photograph above was taken, it would have been difficult to imagine shop windows removing these “Closed” signs in a matter of weeks. The few people visible on the streets donned face masks and latex gloves and kept apart. The glove in this photograph blew like a tumbleweed along the sidewalk outside the Southside branch of the Post Office at the corner of Broadhead Ave and 4th Street; our city felt almost cinematically empty. It is, though, filling again as more and more restaurants are offering carry-out services and the warm weather is drawing us more and more out of doors. We have, for many weeks now, been alone together, and clearly we have missed our communal life. And while it is difficult to predict what our reopening will look and feel like next week, I think even the most cautious of us are relieved, and are hopeful.

And as strange as our neighborhoods looked when they were deserted, after these quiet two and a half months they’ll surely seem strange to be full of people again.

One comment Add yours
  1. This is such a beautiful insight into the feelings that so many people shared all around our country. It just shows how much alike we are, regardless of our differences.

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