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Letters from the Homefront: Uncertain Times

The following “Letters from the Homefront” account is part of our new initiative, Collecting in Quarantine. Inspired by the poignant letters in the Maryland Historical Society collection documenting past adversities from the Spanish flu of 1918, to the Annapolis yellow fever epidemics of 1793 and 1800, MdHS is calling on Marylanders to send their personal stories of how the pandemic is impacting their lives.

Spring blooms
Working at a nature center, this contributor would normally be seeing spring blooms like the one depicted in this image. Flowers, photograph by unidentified photographer, circa 1930, PP92.256. Emily Spencer Hayden Photograph Collection, PP92, H. Furlong Baldwin Library, Maryland Historical Society.

March 27, 2020 – On this day, Anonymous from Towson writes:

Dear reader,

When you read of the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020 and how it affected citizens of the Free State, you may wish for one word to sum it up. For me, that word would be uncertainty.

The virus moved deceptively slowly to the U.S. We saw a few news stories in early January about a novel coronavirus sickening people in Wuhan, China. By late January, the disease had a name, Covid-19, and it had killed a couple hundred people there. As people traveled from China, the virus spread across Asia, to Europe, and the U.S. By the end of February, the virus claimed its first victim in the U.S., in Washington state. Today, less than four weeks since then, there are nearly 600,000 cases worldwide and the U.S. leads the world with 100,000 confirmed cases and 1,607 deaths. The virus has taken hold of New York City, where hospitals are overburdened with sick patients and lack essential medical supplies. Doctors describe the hospitals there as “apocalyptic.”

As of now, Maryland has 774 confirmed cases and five deaths. But one thing is for certain: the caseload will grow here.

Just two weeks ago today the Maryland Superintendent of Schools announced all public schools would close for two weeks starting on March 16. Two days later, Governor Hogan closed casinos and racetracks, and the next day announced all bar and restaurants would close to sit-down diners. The following day, he announced the presidential primary set for April 28 would be pushed back to June 2. And then earlier this week, Gov. Hogan announced schools would remain closed through April 24—an additional four weeks.

Life these days is uncertain. All businesses are shuttered, except for essential services like grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations, and medical facilities. Many people have been laid off from their jobs, or if they’re lucky white-collar employees, they are working remotely at home. We are constantly told to stay at home, wash our hands, clean all surfaces with disinfectant, and avoid meeting anyone outside our household group. We are told to maintain a “social distance” of six feet from anyone in the store or on the sidewalk. The news coverage is wall-to-wall Covid-19 stories.

The uncertainty of life caught up with me on March 11 at a doctor’s appointment when my physician told me to take a leave of absence from my job. I work as a naturalist in a Baltimore County park. Some Saturdays in the spring as many as 500 visitors come through the nature center where I am the lone staff member. They come in to ask questions, use the bathroom, or just hang out. We have two dozen live animals on display as well as several dozen taxidermied animals, a “please-touch” nature table, a Thomas the Tank Engine train table, and other fun activities for children. I also took a leave of absence from my work of helping several handicapped people once a week. I planned to continue with my pet care jobs, but with people working at home and non-essential travel discouraged, my dog-walking and house-sitting jobs just evaporated overnight. So, now I have no income.

My husband is already retired, but our adult son, who in December completed his Library of Science master’s degree, was supposed to start his first full-time job as an archivist in Washington, D.C., on March 16. Because of Covid-19 uncertainty his start date was postponed to March 30 and he is now going to be working remotely from home, rather than moving to D.C.

Every day there are new restrictions and shortages of household supplies. Sometimes grocery store shelves are completely empty of bread, milk, eggs, meat, and strangely, toilet paper. It is nearly impossible to find any kind of disinfecting cleaners at stores, especially disposable wipes and gloves and hand sanitizer gel. We are all being careful to not touch any surfaces with our hands when we go out.

On the positive side, it is spring and many people in Towson, where I live, are out walking in the neighborhood with their dogs and children. Everyone is cooking at home since restaurants are closed. And since we are discouraged from going anywhere, people are spending more time at home with their families. Like everyone, we are worried about what is ahead. But we try to stay healthy and hope the virus will be gone in a month or two.

Please note: The views, information, and opinions expressed and shared on the underbelly through the Collecting in Quarantine project do not necessarily represent those of the Maryland Historical Society. Our staff does not verify for accuracy the information contained within these submissions or edit the content beyond minor modifications for formatting. Just like the historic letters in our collection, each letter presents the writer’s own perspective. The primary purpose of this series, with the permission of contributors, is to share and collect the experiences of Marylanders living through the COVID-19 crisis at this moment in time.

To learn more about the Collecting in Quarantine project and how to share a story of your own, click here.