It’s hard to believe how much has happened in just one week. The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak has been all-consuming. Last week at this time I was filled with fear, anxiety and stress. I was also a little bit frustrated because we were nearing the last of our toilet paper supply. Don’t worry, we found some.
But wow, what a week it’s been. It feels like we’ve lived a month in just one week with how quickly things have changed and how rapidly events have unfolded. In all truthfulness, I’m still a bit fearful, a bit anxious, and certainly a bit uncertain of what’s to come in the days ahead. But, I’m also hopeful and starting to see — dare I say — some unintended benefits that the COVID-19 outbreak may have brought our way. Three things stick out to me:
People Are Supporting One Another and It’s Inspiring
Everywhere I look I see people coming together to offer a helping hand. In a time of deep-rooted polarization, we are uniting in our efforts to navigate our way through this and make sure that our most vulnerable community members are taken care of. Neighbors are reaching out to neighbors, making sure that people have the groceries, medical supplies, cleaning supplies and other goods needed. Educators are figuring out ways to help their students continue to learn when schools are closed. Schools, food banks and park and recreation professionals have stepped in to make sure that youth and families who rely on federal nutrition programs can still access meals. Community-based and local government organizations are offering childcare for essential workers that don’t have the option of staying home. Park and recreation departments are opening their doors for people experiencing homelessness to shower, eat and sleep. Childcare workers, grocery store employees, countless other professions, and of course, healthcare workers, are putting their communities first each day as they treat patients, support families, and respond to this situation with professionalism and humility.
The way we’ve come together, looked out for our friends and neighbors, and put others first is inspiring.
While We’re Physically Distancing, We’re Connecting in So Many Other Ways
We’re staying six feet apart and avoiding non-essential travel and outings, but we’re still connecting — and perhaps in more meaningful ways. This week, as my partner and I were walking on our local trail (social distancing ourselves from other trails users), we couldn’t help but notice how many families were spending time together — a dad taking their daughter on a nature walk, a college student chatting with her mom about her classes this semester, a mom sitting on the bank of our neighborhood stream watching her son fish, siblings riding bikes, kids and adults taking pictures of the bluebells — it was pretty amazing actually. I can’t remember the last time I saw so many families spending time together connecting and sharing these meaningful experiences. While we may not be able to go out to dinner, hit the gym, attend concerts, visit museums, or — my favorite past time — enjoy a local winery or brewery, we are still connecting. We’re connecting with old friends, catching up on their lives and sharing our support for one another. We’re arranging virtual “social hours” to stay connected to colleagues. We’re connecting with our local community. We’re connecting with the outdoors and the beauty of the natural world. And, we’re enjoying something that’s been missing from our society for a while — time to allow these connections to happen — and that’s inspiring.
The Environment is Healthier
Over the past few weeks, images and videos have emerged from around the world showing reductions in air pollution, clearer water and wildlife emerging. In China, for example, amid the economic slowdown and the reduction of cars, trucks, buses and fuel being burned in factories, NASA captured images of significant reductions in air pollution. In Venice, Italy, where the country is on lockdown, the canals that are normally murky and congested with tourists have clearer water. And in Northern Italy, an area that has been on lockdown for several weeks, you can also see reductions in nitrogen dioxide. According to Jacqueline Klopp, co-director of the Center for Sustainable Urban Development at Columbia University in New York City, she expects to see greenhouse gas emissions plummet across the board because of the quarantine measures. There are obviously real economic challenges to navigate in this situation and this may not be sustainable as we return to our day-to-day lives, but the images speak for themselves and speak for a greater need to take actionable steps on climate change.
In just a matter of weeks, we’ve seen some of these environmental transformations, and that’s inspiring.
So yes, there is fear. Yes, there is anxiety. Yes, there are tough decisions and uncertainty. And yes, there will be loss. But there is also some beauty to be found. People coming together, lending a helping hand and thinking of others first. Families spending time together and reconnecting. Appreciating our natural environments and the outdoors. Breathing in cleaner air and looking through clearer waters. There is reason to be hopeful, and parks and recreation is a big part of that.
As we enter a new week and continue to make every effort to stay healthy for ourselves, our families and our community, let’s stay hopeful and continue to inspire each other.
For more information about NRPA’s response to COVID-19, as well as available resources for park and recreation professionals, please see our Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) webpage.
Allison Colman is NRPA’s Director of Health.