The mood was muted in downtown Culpeper Saturday after a week of increasing COVID-19 cases reported in Virginia.
The first death in the state was announced Saturday resulting from the novel coronavirus that originated in China and has been spreading rapidly across the globe.
During the past week, concerns about the pandemic have led to delcarations of national and Virginia states of emergency, with all schoolchildren in the commonwealth sent home for at least the next two weeks, the cancellation of church services and most events and activities. The annual March Madness NCAA College Basketball Tournament is off, the NBA season was cut short and professional baseball’s spring training delayed.
“I’m a fan, but losing sports for a little while isn’t going to amount to much,” said local businessman Joe Daniel Saturday on East Davis St.
Daniel said he stopped shaking hands in favor of fist-bumps and elbow-taps about five years ago after a bad bout with the flu, and hasn’t had the flu since.
Daniel said he expects changes will result from the nation’s current encounter with the coronavirus.
“Just like after 9-11,” Daniel said. “That was mostly changes in how we travel. Before that, people would just board planes and nobody thought twice. Afterward, everybody knew they were gong through security procedures every time.”
Daniel said his family’s businesses, Jefferson Homebuilders and Culpeper Wood Preservers, have 30 sales reps located around the East Coast who have been grounded for the indefinite future.
“They can still do business, they’re just not taking flights and staying in hotels,” Daniel said.
“I don’t even have an office anymore. My office is right here,” Daniel said, holding up his phone. “People are going to learn a lot about how to do business and how to educate people because of this virus.”
On East Davis Street Saturday afternoon, Sumer Dames of Reigning Cats & Dogs said, “It’s been a ghost town.”
Dames noted that many tourist draws, including the Museum of Culpeper History at the far end of East Davis Street, ware closed Saturday due to concerns over the potential spread of the coronavirus.
“It’s been quiet for the last few Saturdays, and Saturdays are our busiest days,” she said. “I think it’s just that time between it’s being cold and it’s getting warm.”
A few doors away at Frost Café, co-owner Lisa Stuart said Friday night also had been unusually quiet.
“I’d say our weekdays have been down about 30 to 40 percent,” Stuart said. “I’ve had customers ask me if we’re going to close down, and I tell them, ‘Unless someone comes along and closes us, we’re staying open.’”
Stuart said the café has initiated additional sanitation procedures during the past week to make certain everything is safe for the customers.
“We were running our silver through the machine twice between uses, but now we’re doing it three times,” Stuart said.
“We’ve been using Purell (sanitizer) all along, but now we use it every time we wipe down a table that’s been used,” she said. “We’ve always used it for our food prep areas and anywhere meat comes in contact with counters. We’ve just stepped it up lately to make sure everything is as clean as we can possibly make it.”
Stuart said the wait staff has also been directed to wash their hands every 15 to 20 minutes during shifts.
“And anytime someone touches the money,” Stuart added.
Stuart said it has not been a problem yet keeping food and restaurant supplies in stock, although area residents have reported milk, bread, bottled water, sanitizer and toilet paper shortages at some area markets.
“Milk seems to be gone at the stores, but our suppliers are still stocked,” she said.
Pam Glascock, who owns Shear Artistry on Sunset Lane in Culpeper, said she has a child attending a private school in Virginia. While the schools will be shut down, Glascock said her son is going to be reporting to class via the internet at 8 a.m. each morning.
“And they are going to take classes at least until noon,” she said.
If any of these changes will find their way into the nation’s future approach to doing things remains to be seen, but Daniel said he sees the virus as a potential ‘introduction to healthier living.”
“This is not going to be a six-week event and then we all go back to the way things were,” he said. “American people have got plenty of smarts; they’ll adapt and life will go on.”
In the meantime, it all comes down to staying healthy, Daniel said.
“If you can stay healthy, everything else will take care of itself,” he said. ”My advice is to go to work and use good judgement.”
Daniel’s son, Josh Daniel, who is president of Jefferson Homebuilders/Culpeper Wood Preservers, said that he has recently joined “Joe Daniel’s fist-bumping army.”
While there’s no way to tell what next week may bring, Josh said eliminating hand-shaking is not a bad place to start preparing for a healthier future.
‘It’s a way of life for moving forward,” Josh said.