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Phase 1: The Coronavirus De-Escalation Plan

We have been in quarantine in Spain since midnight on March 13.

After 9 1/2 weeks, we are ready to get on with our lives…but we are also cautious about the possible dangers ahead.

One week ago, we were supposed to leave Phase 0 and enter Phase 1 of the Covid19 De-escalation Plan. However, the City of Valencia failed to meet certain qualifying criteria. The government looked closely at case count, death count, hospital capacity, necessary staff and equipment in case of a surge, etc. Thus, Phase 0 was extended.

The bright spot is that the government has recently eased up on the Phase 0 restrictions somewhat, making this more like Phase 0.5. Thankfully, we are now able to go outdoors for exercise within 1 kilometer of our homes during designated hours of the day.

This has led to large crowds in Turía Park and on walkways along the beach. Videos have been posted online of mobs of people without masks and appropriate social distancing. Public outcry has erupted, along with fear of a fresh wave of contagion.

We live in the suburb of Torre en Conill so crowds are not a problem here. Even so, the streets and sidewalks are a promenade of people walking, jogging, and riding bikes during their designated times.

Spaniards love their dogs, so there are almost as many dogs out as people. After years of complaining about dog poo in public places, hefty fines are now in place for people who don’t clean up after their pets. This has helped ease the problem somewhat, but not everyone is compliant so we still have to sidestep some piles on our walks.

Meghan and I have been struggling with our eyeglasses and finally scheduled an appointment for an eye exam last week. I felt like a kid on a field trip…yay, a trip to the eye doctor!

After our eye exam, we called in a to-go order for dinner and had our first restaurant meal in over 9 weeks. Honestly? It wasn’t that great. Although I was grateful for a break from the kitchen, I found my own cooking fresher, healthier, and cheaper.

Driving into the city from the suburbs for these outings was a treat. However, I was shocked at the noticeably overweight Spaniards out walking and jogging. I marveled that 9 weeks of inactivity and confinement could have such an effect on the human physique.

With fresh, abundant local foods combined with sunshine, walking, and public transportation, the average Spaniard is much fitter than the average American.  Of course, they also get ample time off for holidays, personal leisure, and vacations, which creates a more relaxed lifestyle.

Gonzalo and I have been diligent about our diet and both of us have lost weight while in Spain. My cortisol levels are in a much happier place here, as well.  This overall quality of life could be difficult to emulate in the US but is something to which we are giving careful thought.

As of May 18, we entered Phase 1. We hope to move into Phase 2, then 3, then 4, after a couple of weeks in each phase.

Phase 1 means that restaurant terraces can open at 50% capacity. Churches may open at 30% capacity. Wakes may be held but with a maximum of 15 family members in attendance.

Non-vulnerable friends and family members can meet in groups of up to 10 but they must maintain social distancing of 2 meters and practice good hygiene. Smaller shops can open but at 30% customer capacity. Hotels can accept guests, however, the common spaces must remain closed for cleaning. Outdoor events can host no more than 200 people.

Agriculture, fishing, and social services will be back at work within certain guidelines. Museums and libraries will open but with limited capacity. Outdoor participatory sports and nature activities are allowed but no crowds, no changing rooms, and no contact sports.

The best part about Phase 1 is that it allows for travel within the Valencia region. Gonzalo and I have been searching Google Maps for places to visit on day trips or short overnight stays.  Given that much will still be closed or operating at reduced capacity, we are unsure of what we can actually do when we get to these places.

Our teenagers think everything sounds boring and they prefer to lay around on their screens all day. In our 50s, Gonzalo and I are ready to go hiking, touring, and road-tripping.

How can mid-lifers have more energy and enthusiasm than a couple of teenagers? This is a parenting mystery for which I have no answer.

In opening ourselves up to travel, there is still an element of fear…or of concern, at least. This virus is clearly bad news and it can boomerang. We need to take a stand as a human population and re-enter daily life. Yet we will also need to be cautious.

Finding that balance individually and collectively will be critical. Getting it wrong will increase human suffering and casualties, so I don’t take this lightly.

Here in the Mediterranean region, people live in small spaces and in close proximity to one another. They stand close to one another when they talk. As the conversation grows more spirited or intense, they move closer.

They hug and kiss. They pack themselves like sardines into the Metro after big events downtown. Strangers brush up against one another on sidewalks and in crowded places. No one minds. There is warmth and comfort in that human contact.

When I think about a “new normal” it occurs to me that it will be dictated somewhat by local cultural preferences. However, cultures can and will shift and adapt if needed.

What will we embrace that will make us better as a result of this?

What parts of our cultural – and human identity – will be tragically lost forever?

I don’t want to imagine a world without choirs, instrumental groups, church services, sporting events, or public schools for my daughters.

But doing all of those things amidst a globally connected and well-traveled populace will require more globally coordinated efforts.

We don’t live in a bubble. As the earth rotates, it moves through space at an incomprehensible speed. The air that I breathe in Valencia today can be in Kansas City within a few days. And vice versa.

Mystics and meta-physicists have been ahead of the curve in articulating our universal human connectedness. In a global pandemic, their contributions no longer seem so “out there”.

Thinking more like “we” and less like “me” will require some personal sacrifice, especially in an individualistic society that values personal liberty like the United States. We will have to embrace the ethos that what benefits the human family also benefits me as an individual.

Our distrust of politicians and big corporations to take care of us collectively is well reasoned. But don’t they work for us? Can’t we demand more of them as we also expect more of ourselves?

End of side rant…

For now, I will be bravely venturing out with my small family to re-engage in public life in the Valencia region. It feels a little scary but if we want our lives back, we have to take that risk!

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