In Missouri the number of Covid-19 cases has been growing. As of March 21, 73 cases had been reported and three deaths (the total population of Missouri is about 6 million). Daily life has been seriously affected, as there are shortages in certain everyday items, most stores, businesses and shopping malls are closed, and restaurants and bars are either closed or their clientele has shrunk drastically. On Monday, March 23, the state, county, and municipal authorities imposed a mandatory stay-at-home rule for anything other than essential needs. All schools are temporarily closed. Elementary, middle and high schools have extended their spring break, and although classes are scheduled to resume in early April, most people expect that this date will be pushed back.
University campuses have been shut down and face-to-face courses are being converted to online. Although the technology for distance learning is available, the problem is that there are students who either do not have computers or reside in rural areas without internet access. To deal with this problem, the University of Missouri allows students to check out laptop computers, provides them with mobile hotspots, and identifies internet-accessible places in remote areas. The activities of the chair in Greek studies have also been affected. Although all of our courses have now been switched to online, we were forced to cancel all of our public lectures and activities for the rest of the semester. Also, our study abroad programs have been temporarily suspended. Although this decision will be re-evaluated in April, I fear that we may not be able to bring our students to Greece this summer for the excavation at Iklaina, as we have been doing each year.
As far as the Greek community of St Louis is concerned, social gatherings and parties have stopped. Following a directive by the Metropolis of Chicago, liturgies will take place behind closed doors, with only the priest, the chanter and the altar server, and will be live-streamed on the churches’ Facebook pages.
If there is a positive side to all this, it is that people here seem to have taken social distancing seriously and remain, to the degree that this is possible, in their homes. Everybody hopes that all these measures will slow down the spread of the disease and flatten the curve. We are navigating in uncharted waters, and the only certainty is that we need to maintain our cool-headedness, our patience and our humanity, by supporting our healthcare workers and our fellow human beings who belong to vulnerable groups.
Michael Cosmopoulos is the Endowed Professor of Greek Studies and chairman of the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology at the University of Missouri-St Louis.