A spike in COVID-19 cases. Six deaths in Santa Clara County. And a moratorium on all nonessential gatherings and businesses that started Tuesday for most of the Bay Area. For Farish Haydel, facing the domino-like effects of the new coronavirus pandemic brought her to a brief, emotional halt.
"I cried a little," Haydel said this week. "The announcement and the overwhelmingness of it all."
On Monday, public health officials of six Bay Area counties, including Santa Clara, issued a sweeping order that urged residents to stay at home, shut down all nonessential businesses and limit any outside traveling to necessities such as grocery shopping or picking up medication — all the while keeping 6 feet apart from each other. It's the latest and most aggressive push so far by local government officials in the U.S. to enforce "social distancing," a recommendation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.
Despite the dramatic announcement — or maybe because of it — Haydel and other Palo Alto residents are taking a moment to turn to their neighbors and connect with each other. As Marin County's public health officer Dr. Matt Willis emphasized at a Monday press conference: "We are not expecting empty streets. Social distancing does not mean disconnection from each other."
Haydel and her neighbors in Midtown are building community through a "daily wave" at 6 p.m. Each night, the blares of a vuvuzela will signal Haydel's neighbors to come out and say hi in an effort to maintain some semblance of a connection during the shelter-in-place mandate.
"It's just to have that in-person contact with other people," Haydel said. "I dropped off some supplies to my dad in Berkeley ... and I'm a little worried about him so I stayed my 6 feet away, but it was still nice to see him in person. It's different than talking over the phone."
Daniel Lilienstein of Barron Park is still socializing with his neighbors. But it's a bit different from his usual organized gatherings.
A resident of the neighborhood for 28 years, Lilienstein hosted all kinds of block parties and informal dinners for his neighborhood, describing himself as the "jungle drummer" of Barron Park — someone who spreads the word around and keeps his community connected.
"We just love our neighborhood," he said. "And the part of what we love about it is that we have great neighbors."
Those parties that once attracted anywhere from 20 to 75 people, replete with singing, chatting and shaking hands, now have to be put on hold. Instead, Liliensten invited a few neighbors to his porch last Thursday with a few simple instructions: Bring your own chairs, food and drinks, stay a safe distance apart and arrive before dusk — "the beautiful time of day," he said.
Then, after they situated themselves in a circle, they talked.
"We were just sharing experiences," Lilienstein, 64, said. "Chatting and having a good time instead of focusing on fear, isolation and loneliness."
There's nothing ingenious to Lilienstein's idea. What his neighbor, Eric Spector, called a "Social Distancing Get-together" is nothing more than a few friends sitting in a circle and enjoying each other's company. However, in the time of the new pandemic — setting off social distancing, panic-shopping and fears of an impending financial market collapse — a conversation uninterrupted by the five-syllable word respiratory illness will be increasingly rare, most likely impossible and in some cases desperately welcomed.
"We've got to be able to see around this isolation business and not just hunker in the bunker," Lilienstein said. "We've gotta get out and still be the people we are."
Haydel of Midtown has also joined her neighbors in arranging grocery runs for those who are most vulnerable to the symptoms of the virus or choosing to remain inside. It's another way she's trying to maintain the continuity of neighborhood life.
Haydel also said there are future plans at the daily wave for a cello serenade, reminiscent of the trending videos of Italians currently on lockdown and singing in front of their balconies.
For Lilieinstein, if the weather is right, he'll continue to keep in touch with his neighbors through his small social functions. But at a reasonable distance.
"Share nothing," he laughed. "Share nothing except your presence and good humor."
• How are you building community amid the shelter-in-place order? Tell us by sending an email to [email protected].
Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and Almanac here.