1 America, 1 pandemic, 2 realities

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In a pandemic reality, restaurants are crowded. There is no coronavirus limit in bars in University Town. No social distancing points speckling the ground. Some people wear masks, but even a weak proposal to make it a requirement in a city has sparked an uproar. Welcome to South Dakota.

In another, hundreds of kilometers to the south, much of life is closed. No meals in restaurants. Capacity limits at Walmart. Closed bookstores, museums, hairdressing salons, parks. A mask culture so widespread that someone put one on an old statue. Welcome to New Mexico.

This is the perspective of America’s two dissonant and dissonant pandemic realities.

The pandemic and the country’s disjointed response have taken the notion of two Americas to a new extreme. As virus cases in the United States surpassed 196,000 cases on Friday, more than on any other day of the pandemic, the daily routine of millions of Americans is now shaped by their zip codes and governors and their beliefs about the virus: do they wear masks? ? Go to school in person or online? Go to the restaurant? Being exposed to the virus?

Hospitalization rates in South Dakota have been the highest in the country, but a conservative borderline philosophy dominates the state’s approach. Some cities, stores, and school districts require masks or social distancing, but, overall, South Dakota has the fewest restrictions of any state, with no mask warrants or significant business limits. Gov. Kristi Noem, a Republican, called the award a badge of freedom and criticized the restrictions as ineffective and economically destructive.

“You wouldn’t even know there is a pandemic going on,” said Heidi Haugan, mother of four young children in Sioux Falls, South Dakota’s largest city.

As the virus increased in New Mexico, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, on Monday subjected the state’s two million residents to some of the toughest restrictions in the country, issuing a two-week stay order at home, banning restaurants. , set capacity limits in grocery stores and close indoor malls, theaters and gymnasiums.

Boundaries collide with the feeling of wide openness of a place where skyscrapers are mountain ranges and have exacerbated months of anxiety and economic suffering.

“This is something my postman said several months ago,” said State Representative Angelica Rubio, a Democrat who represents Las Cruces. “He said we should never have started calling it social distancing. What we should have called it was physical distance. The basic concept of the language we used to try to dissuade people from being physically together – how could we still have some kind of community apart from that?

I felt like I was stepping back in time. A Saturday night in Vermillion, home to the University of South Dakota, and bars and restaurants were teeming with parents celebrating after the state high school football championships.

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Chad Grunewaldt hung a “Expected Masks” sign on the front door of his two-story bar, the Old Lumber Company. Like many businesses, he left the decision to staff and customers. Some waiters and bartenders fell ill, and Mr Grunewaldt said he sent them home and welcomed them back to their recovery. But he was wary of growing calls for mask orders and restrictions on business.

“It is not a dictatorship,” he said.

In New Mexico, the virus has hit the economy, which has long been one of the poorest in the country. Unemployment in the state rose to 8% during the pandemic – about the same as that in Arizona, its Republican-led neighbor – and small business owners are expressing widespread fears about the shutdown.

South Dakota’s economy, which Governor Noem has declared “open for business” during the pandemic, has performed better, with an unemployment rate of 3.6%, well below the national average of 6, 9%. But critics question the public health costs of staying open.

Currently, South Dakota has the second highest rate of new cases in the country. More than 7% of state residents have tested positive. New Mexico has fewer cases per capita, but a more alarming trend line. Although reports of new infections have started to level off in South Dakota, the number of daily cases has more than doubled in the past two weeks in New Mexico.

In New Mexico, Tom Hutchinson laid off 80 employees at his two restaurants in Mesilla, a small town near Las Cruces, on the first day of the governor’s ban on food service. Due to the ban on large gatherings, many workers found out through an online scheduling system and posted notices in restaurants.

“It’s a hell of a way to tell someone,” Hutchinson said. “I would love to be able to pay them, but we have no income to pay them.”

Before the pandemic, it had 170 workers. Now he has about 20.

Its 81-year-old restaurant, La Posta de Mesilla, is sort of a museum, if museums smacked of enchiladas. Nested in an old adobe stagecoach stop, it stands in front of the building where Billy the Kid was convicted of murder in 1881.

“It’s sad to walk through this place and not see anyone,” said Hutchinson.

In Sioux Falls, Joy Howe has never worn a mask or taken a Covid test. She swears she never will.

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She has shaped a life apparently unresponsive to the pandemic raging around her: church services unmasked on Sunday. Piano lessons in person for his children on Tuesdays and Bible lessons on Wednesdays in their evangelical church. Sioux Falls served a mask warrant this week, but Ms Howe said she would not follow him.

She’s cooking up a menu of turkey, carrot casserole, and strawberry-glazed fruit salad for Thanksgiving, when 20 family members crowd into her house.

All of this is deliberately, resolutely normal. “We have never stopped doing what we have always done,” she said. The rest of America, she said, “are losing their soul. And with that, they will lose this country.

In New Mexico, Mary Helen Ratje, 67, typically wears a mask when venturing outside. She has been tested four times. She doesn’t do it so much for herself, but for her father, who turned 100 in August.

Her father, J. Paul Taylor y Romero, who served for 18 years in the New Mexico legislature, stays indoors almost every day in his adobe house, except for trips to the doctor and a occasional commute with his family.

“I think if the governor and our city had not taken the steps they had taken, people would feel more free to hang out with old people like my father,” said Ms. Ratje, who teaches at a school in charter named for his father.

Asked by phone, Mr Taylor said he was doing pretty well “for a 100 year old man.”

“My kids protect me a lot, I should tell you that,” he said. “I think they all think I’m going to die, but I’m not ready to die.

Allison Byington, who lives in South Dakota, said her mother recently called her a murderer for refusing to wear a face mask. “We don’t have a relationship anymore,” Ms. Byington said.

Ms Byington does not consider the masking to be her decision. She doesn’t wear one when she leaves on Mondays to browse thrift stores for the online resale business she runs with her husband. They took their 8-year-old son out of school when the district needed masks.

Ms Byington’s mother, Jeannie Ammon, says she is just trying to keep herself alive, along with her husband and a sick eldest daughter. She said her youngest daughter had defused her on Facebook.

“It caused a lot of tension in the family,” Ms. Ammon said. “We feel like we are blowing up landmines.”

In the suburb of Sioux Falls, the pandemic has made Lacey Wingert’s family feel foreign to their home country.

As the family cloistered in their home next to the farm fields, their Instagram feeds were an endless stream of birthdays, soccer games, corn maze weekends, kids unmasked and happy and alive. a life that no longer existed for the four children of the Wingerts. .

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“Some people don’t care,” said 8-year-old Nolan.

Ms Wingert’s 13-year-old son, Conner, is at high risk due to heart disease and a collapsed lung he suffered at birth. A few weeks ago, as cases increased and many students were maskless at school, Ms Wingert decided to enroll her children in online classes. Conner said he wanted his school to insist on masks.

“They didn’t even try to help me,” he says. “They just abandoned me.

Between 12-hour shifts in a Covid-19 neighborhood in Sioux Falls where every bed is full, Dianne Dansman attempted to pop into a dollar store. Inside, there were so many people. Almost no one in a mask. She ran away.

She would like people to stop calling her a “masker” or “one of those” when she wears a face mask. She grinds her teeth when shoppers curse the volunteers who offer masks at the entrance to grocery stores. She would like not to feel this hopeless.

“No one is on the same page of this book,” she said. “There are days when you come home in tears.”

In Las Cruces, relatives snuggle up in front of the windows of the intensive care unit at Memorial Medical Center, watching their loved ones. Beside the bushes and shrubs, they put their hands on the glass and attach trinkets and crucifixes to the windows.

Since no one is allowed inside, a family uses a wooden pallet as a stool, as some windows are too high from the ground.

Family and friends of 60-year-old Sylvia Garcia have gathered outside since her arrival three weeks ago. She used to tease her kids by telling them that she didn’t have three kids, but hundreds of them. She has been a teacher for decades.

Dominic Garcia, 26, the youngest of her children, said no one knew how she got infected. He walks every evening to the ICU windows straight from work, his hands and cargo pants still coated in paint.

“You can’t even describe the feelings you have when you’re outside a window, and you can’t go in,” Garcia said. “You’re starting to think I should have hugged her a little tighter.” I should have held her hand a little harder.

Early one evening, a stranger approached the Garcia family and another family in front of another window. The woman was holding two pizza boxes. She handed each family a pizza and quickly walked down the sidewalk.

She had a mask on her face and tears in her eyes.

Mitch smith contribution to reports.

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