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TIM BURKE: Road trip during pandemic was eye-opening ordeal

Updated April 28, 2020 - 12:05 pm

The COVID-19 pandemic and the governor’s order to self-quarantine change almost everything about our normal daily decision-making process.

Recently, I faced a decision on whether to travel by car for several hundred miles or to wait until the stay-at-home order lifted. I needed a critical repair part that generally would be shipped overnight. Because of the problems freight companies are having keeping up with the demand during the pandemic, they could not guarantee that the item would arrive timely. I had to decide whether or not I was risking my health, and was I breaking the governor’s order if I drove to the warehouse in California and picked up the item myself? I opted to be proactive and drive to get the item.

Packing my bag was different than past road warrior business trips. Facemask, check; hand sanitizer, check; food and water, check. Once properly prepared, I headed out, driving the back way from Pahrump toward Baker, California, where I would pick up the I-15 westbound.

A few things were immediately apparent as I started my drive. Traffic was less, but there was still a lot of drivers on the road. Passing by the Dumont dunes, I noticed that there were still several RVs with off-road vehicles parked at the dunes.

Baker, which is usually bustling with activity from motorists stopping for gas and food, was a modern ghost town, empty and desolate. As I merged onto Interstate 15, I encountered none of the usual bumper-to-bumper traffic that slowly moves from Las Vegas towards urban California on a typical Sunday afternoon. But the road was far from empty, with traffic moving in both the eastbound and westbound directions, but the mix was different.

The ratio of commercial trucks to cars was almost one to one. The right lane had a steady stream of semi-trucks and was a stark reminder of how our freight delivery system is straining to keep up with the demand for goods by residents quarantined in their homes. The farther I drove into California, there were more and more cars on the road. The images of empty highways posted on social media are false, traffic was less, but the roadways were busier than I expected.

Something that I should have anticipated but never even considered before I headed out was that not only are inside services for food closed, but restroom facilities closed too. Stopping for gas, I dutifully put on my facemask before I headed inside the open convenience store of the gas station only to find the restroom closed to the public.

No worries, I thought, I will stop at the next roadside rest area. Nope, closed too. My next option was finding a big box store that was still open. When I hit Barstow, I located the nearest Walmart, and I found it packed with shoppers. I found it ironic that the only place to use the restroom was probably also the most likely place to be exposed to the virus because so many people were inside the store. By closing most businesses, a higher concentration of people is in fewer areas.

Nine hours of driving gives you plenty of time to reflect on the COVID-19 pandemic and its fallout.

There are far more questions than answers. What will a post-quarantine world look like? When will we return to a somewhat healthy life? Which businesses will survive? How bad is unemployment going to get? Why is the government paying more to be on unemployment than at work? Where is all that money coming from that the government is using for disaster relief and the paycheck protection programs? How much are we adding to our national debt? Why does it seem like most small businesses aren’t getting any help?

Does the current order to quarantine violate my rights? What about our right to assemble? Does the quarantine order violate the separation of church and state? How many people have the virus, and what is the real death rate? Why can’t the politicians move beyond their party agendas and work together to come up with solutions? When will we get real answers on how contagious the virus is, and why the quarantine? I usually am not a conspiracy theory type of person, but the government’s response at every level seems to be exponentially higher than what the virus warrants. It leaves the nagging question of why? Why did we have to shut our society down and cause this financial and social crisis?

Without reliable answers to these questions, people will start to ignore the call to quarantine and will go back to their regular routines. It will happen sooner than later.

Tim Burke is a businessman, philanthropist, educator and Pahrump resident. Contact him at timstakenv@gmail.com

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