Rambling Roads: Virus Changes

By George A. Hancock

The current coronavirus issue is similar to long-distance training. A runner trains diligently running the miles, staying fit while eating healthy. The goal is some distant race or running event. The runner is putting time, effort, and even money into this endeavor. However, so many factors can temper the race-day outcome.

Likewise, so many of us are following the recommended virus guidelines. We tweak those guidelines where necessary, perhaps enhancing their standards with new techniques and practices. Our goal here is staying healthy and safe thus avoiding illness or death. So many realize that despite being healthy it’s possible to carry and transmit that virus to others. And, like running we are not 100% certain of the outcome down the road.

I’m still running every day. My daily run goes on. I’m in the midst of my third lifetime running streak. This streak is over 20 months long. I’m a retired road racer. So, the cancelled or postponed races are not hampering my daily run.

Yet, I always face an intriguing running adversary. Daily weather is my current nemesis. Mother Nature after a mild winter decided to create a wet and cool to cold spring. So, we dress appropriately and run on.

Every morning run finds me reviewing the morning news. I live in the Greater Johnstown, PA region located in Cambria County. Clearly, there is a disconnect between what is happening in the large urban areas versus suburban to rural areas like my own. The Covid-19 death rate and sickness rate is much higher in metropolitan areas.

Cambria, Somerset, Bedford, and Blair counties are border counties. The coronavirus death rate here is miniscule as is the hospitalized sickness ratio. Cambria County for years had a high death rate. This is due to our aging senior population. Plus, we have a high death rate among young adults due to opioid drug use. This sad statistic has not changed. Although, the opioid death rate seems lower now.

Our region really did not need a total shutdown. Practicing the recommended medical and safety guidelines like frequent hand washing, wearing a mask, and avoiding large crowds helped thwart the coronavirus. Now these practices no doubt should be employed during the flu season perhaps preventing the spread of the nasty regular flu.

Yet, I wonder if most local small business firms and various other companies could have continued on in a safe manner. The answer appears yes in hindsight.

Running through the deserted Pitt-Johnstown and Penn Highlands Community College campus grounds is surreal. The nearby Richland High/Middle School and Greater Johnstown Vo-Tech schools are similarly devoid of normal activity. Closing these facilities was understandable. The higher-education locations have an international flavor. These students travel extensively.  Picking up and transmitting an unwanted bug is possible. The high schools are larger with more people and activity too.

One story I mulled for several daily runs dealt with this question: Did we learn anything with these school closings? The answer was sadly yes we did.

Despite the “booming” pre-virus economy so many children depend upon the school system for food. Several of the children’s daily meals came from the schools. These students would go hungry without this basic food-support system.

Cambria County has an extensive backpack food program that provides meals to students on the weekends. Various organizations, companies, groups, etc. provide monetary and food donations to keep this program running. Many volunteers from the educational realm volunteered their time to keep this food program running.

Another key point we learned revolved around home internet and high-tech access. Home schooling depends upon available internet and reliable equipment access. Many folks reside in regions with poor to no internet service. Other students did not have access to reliable computer equipment. Huge sections of many local counties need significant internet and WiFi access upgrades.

Plus, many individuals discovered the hard way that major internet providers like Comcast/Xfinity are not strong enough to handle the increased work/school load from home. This system weekdays, from 10am to 4pm, was extremely slow. Necessary work was not completed due to the staggered overloaded network.

We run, we study, we read, and we learn so much. Life continues on as spring continues growing towards our summer season.

Run smart and stay safe!

River Runners (Harrisburg, PA) get ready for a group run during a pandemic, using appropriate social distancing.

Categories: Features

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