Thursday, June 25, 2020

Home is where the festival is -- June 25, 2020 column


One of summer’s pleasures in Washington is the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

Since 1967, for about 10 days around July 4, musicians, dancers, artisans, cooks and storytellers have entertained large, sweaty crowds on the National Mall.

Not this year. Like most events, the folk festival has wisely moved online because of the new coronavirus pandemic.

Even though the festival took place outdoors and many people are eager to return to some semblance of normalcy, those who can avoid risking their health should.

For some of us, the more things open, the more we want to stay home.

I’m in this camp, although the urge to nest makes me feel guilty. As a freelance journalist, I work from home, but millions of Americans have been out of work for months. The economy depends on consumers for recovery.

With no national strategy for a safe reopening, though, people suffer when states pretend the virus doesn’t exist and rush back to business.  

New coronavirus cases are surging nationwide. In 33 states, from South Carolina to Oklahoma to Washington, the number of cases from the most recent week is  higher than the two-week average, a Wall Street Journal analysis released Thursday found. That compares with 21 states at the start of June.

Although the White House insists case numbers are up because we’re testing more, some states are swamped with record numbers of hospitalizations for COVID-19, the disease the coronavirus causes.

While death rates overall have declined, public health officials warn deaths typically lag hospitalizations by weeks.

Governors of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, having tamed the spread in their states, yanked the welcome mat for visitors from Arizona, Florida, North and South Carolina, Texas and a handful of other states with high per person infection rates. They’ll need to quarantine for 14 days.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott urged residents to wear a mask, wash hands, maintain safe distance, and “importantly, because the spread is so rapid right now, there’s never a reason for you to have to leave your home unless you need to go out.”

And, he emphasized: “The safest place for you is at your home.”

The safest place for everyone is at home, even in Virginia where rates of infections and deaths trended down in June. Most of Virginia’s nearly 60,000 infections and 1,700 deaths are in Northern Virginia.

Since the federal government hasn’t drawn up workplace safety rules for the coronavirus era, Virginia is working on such rules, a good move.

“Getting back to normality is going to be a gradual, step-by-step process and not throwing caution to the wind,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told a House panel Wednesday.

Caution definitely seems thrown to the winds in Old Town Alexandria, where I live. Crowds throng the Potomac waterfront to enjoy drinks and meals at tables set out on King Street, where a block is closed to car traffic.

It’s a celebratory scene, as though the virus is history. Few walking around wear masks and most ignore social distancing advice.

And that was before Phase 3, which, as of July 1 allows groups of 250 to gather, and stores and restaurants no longer have limits on the number of customers.

The District of Columbia is still in Phase 2, and Smithsonian museums remain closed.

Yet the Smithsonian Folk Festival Beyondthe Mall continues online through July 5.

Programs center on solutions to social and environmental problems with a focus on the United Arab Emirates, Northeast Brazil and the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathalon. 

I’m a long-time fan of the free festival but to me it lost something when it shifted from being the Festival of American Folklife in 1999 to international topics.

Fortunately, the American FolklifeCenter has many programs online, including a Homegrown Concerts series through September. Next at noon July 1 is folksinger John McCutcheon.

So, take advantage of festival offerings online. Staying home for now makes sense and has summer pleasures of its own. Stay safe and cool.

©2020 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

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