March 12, 2020 / 11:01 PM / 24 days ago

'People are terrified': Daily life on hold as Americans face coronavirus threat

(Reuters) - In Texas, a photographer worries about paying his bills. In Pennsylvania, an aspiring dancer struggles with a canceled audition. In suburban Los Angeles, a mother wonders whether anyone will show up for her son’s bar mitzvah.

Across the United States, the coronavirus outbreak is shuttering schools, emptying sports arenas and clearing out offices as Americans practice “social distancing” - staying at least 6 feet (1.8 m) apart from one another - that health authorities say is necessary to slow the advance of the deadly pandemic.

Like any attempted remedy, there are unpleasant side effects.

In New Rochelle, New York, National Guard troops delivered groceries and other necessities to the more than 100 people who were ordered to stay in their houses after testing positive for the coronavirus. College professor P.L. de Silva, who was given a clean bill of health by his doctor, said he was headed out to stock up on rice, beans and other dried foods with a long shelf life. “Those things last, right?” he said.

The suburban town is eerily quiet, he said, as residents trade news about who may have gotten sick and workers at the local laundromat say they are too nervous to keep coming to work.

“People are terrified,” he said.

Beth Randolph Taylor, 50, did not touch her 94-year old father when she visited him on Wednesday in an acute rehab facility in Kansas City, Kansas, where he is being treated for a broken hip and pneumonia.

“I stood 6 feet away and gave him air hugs,” said Taylor, whose mother passed away in February. “I thought: ‘This might be the last time I get to see my dad.’”

Analysts say the virus risks plunging the world’s largest economy into recession as people put their lives on hold - canceling travel plans, staying home and steering clear of restaurants, movie theaters and other public spaces.

More than 1,300 U.S. cases of coronavirus have been confirmed and 38 people have died.

‘MY HEART IS BREAKING’

Austin, Texas, cinematographer Kyle Osburn estimates he lost $20,000 in business because of the coronavirus - nearly half of that due to the cancellation of the South by Southwest music and arts festival, which pumps $336 million into the local economy.

As a self-employed freelancer, he worries he may not qualify for unemployment aid and other safety-net benefits for those who lose their jobs.

“It’s always feast or famine for creative freelancers – and right now, we are in an extreme famine,” he said.

As colleges cancel classes, students struggle with the realization that their academic careers may end with a whimper, free of the graduation parties, final recitals and other capstone events.

The Life Care Center of Kirkland, a long-term care facility linked to several confirmed coronavirus cases, is pictured in Kirkland, Washington, U.S. March 12, 2020. REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson

Others wonder whether they will be able to complete science courses that require laboratory work.

“People just get very anxious when there’s so much up in the air and out of control, especially on a college campus in the city where germs run rampant,” said Alexandra Tananbaum, a 23-year-old post-baccalaureate medical student at New York University.

High school students are encountering new barriers as they look at college.

Aspiring Pennsylvania dancer Katie Kunselman, 18, will no longer be able to shadow a dance professor as part of her senior project, and her audition at Oklahoma City University was canceled, said her mother, Deborah Kunselman.

“She looked at me so sadly yesterday when she asked me whether she’ll have her senior prom and her high school graduation,” Kunselman said. “My heart is breaking because I have no answers, and she may be deprived of these milestones.”

In San Francisco, Erin Costa, 29, and her son Carter Noonan, 8, faced disappointment when the Golden State Warriors National Basketball Association team said on Wednesday it would play its game against the Brooklyn Nets in an empty arena. The NBA later said it was suspending its season because of the outbreak.

Costa and her son had flown out from Boston for the game.

“I’ve been wanting to go to a Golden State Warriors game since I was about 4 years old. I’ve always wanted to do it and it just gets canceled the day before,” Carter said.

“It stinks,” Costa echoed.

‘HOLDING PATTERN’

In Pasadena, California, Monica Levine worried that coronavirus worries might scupper her son Jared’s bar mitzvah. Twenty family members from the East Coast had already pulled out, and others asked whether they could leave every other seat empty to minimize the risk of transmission.

Levine considered canceling the event but is proceeding for the sake of her son, who has been working hard for a year to recite a portion of the Torah at his bar mitzvah.

“He has been really looking forward to it,” she said.

Business executive Amy Hammer Nelson had to pull the plug on a cocktail reception at a conference in Maryland earlier in the week, losing $5,000 and a chance for her company to boost its profile in the insurance industry. Now she was considering whether to cancel other business trips.

“Everything feels like it’s in a holding pattern right now,” she said.

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Cindy Cooper, however, is determined to hold a memorial lunch in honor of her recently deceased mother, inviting about a dozen friends age 90 and older, to the April 5 gathering at an elderly housing community in Princeton, New Jersey.

    “The benefit outweighs the risk at this point, assuming we take normal precautions,” said Cooper, 65, an obstetrician-gynecologist, who said she would use a disinfectant spray on her flight from her home in the San Francisco area.

    “To all get together and have social interaction - the residents have very little social life, they are in their 90s and this was a good friend of theirs for 50 years,” said Cooper. “These people are starting to pass away themselves. Let’s do it!”

Reporting by Andy Sullivan in Washington, Nathan Frandino in San Francisco, Nichola Groom in Los Angeles, Brad Brooks in Austin, Texas, and Lauren Young, Barbara Goldberg and Gabriella Borter in New York; Editing by Ross Colvin and Peter Cooney

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