2020
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April 13, 2020
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TODAY’S INTRO

In a puzzling time, puzzles deliver

Our Monday stories look at urban-rural divides around COVID-19, help for elderly people amid physical distancing, the struggles of India’s migrant workers amid lockdown, an unconventional music label, and the many ways we can still engage with nature. But first, a puzzling point.

When it became clear we were headed toward a period of physical distancing, my thought turned to puzzles. Their allure for me has always been modest. But long ago, they offered some happy warping of time and space at my great-uncle’s home in rural Vermont. So I ordered two 1,000-piecers. 

As did a whole lot of other people. Puzzles now appear to rival toilet paper as a hot commodity. The German manufacturer Ravensburger has seen orders surge past Christmastime levels. The director of Yorkshire Jigsaw in northern England told The New York Times his company feels almost as if it’s on a “war footing.”

Leaving aside a dispute I noticed about whether referring regularly to the picture on the box is cheating (seriously?), puzzles do seem particularly well suited to the moment the world finds itself in. They amuse – as did a conversation about border edges that spurred reflections on grouping pieces. They surprise – as did my improving assessment of shapes as I tackled a monochromatic patch. They make us get over ourselves – as I did when I (sort of) gave up the desire to blame the cat for a “missing” final edge piece, and then found it hiding in plain sight. Perhaps most important: They remind us there are many strategies and approaches that can move us all down the road to making everything fall into place.

‘It can’t happen here.’ Coronavirus hits rural America.

Where Americans live can have a lot to do with how they see the coronavirus crisis. In rural areas, there was initially a false sense of security. But that may be changing.

Amelia
Erin Bormett/The Argus Leader/AP
Lexus Larson draws with sidewalk chalk outside her house while her friends, Maliah and Makinley Walsh, play in their own yard across the street on April 6, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Lexus’s mom says she can’t cross the middle line in the concrete as a safety measure amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Some 9 in 10 Texans live in or near a city, but the state boasts vast stretches of ranchland, scrub, and desert. Until early April, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott preferred to let cities and counties decide for themselves the wisest course of action.

As more cases were reported, Lyle Larson, a Republican state representative from San Antonio, was calling for weeks for a statewide order. He understands the various interests the governor had to balance, however, including broader health care realities, such as 26 rural hospitals that have closed across the state since 2010.

People in rural areas have social distancing “already built into their lifestyle,” Representative Larson says, but when the statewide order went into effect, “people took that seriously.”

The U.S. has adopted a state-by-state approach to battling the novel coronavirus. But there’s also a divide between steps taken in America’s large cities, where the disease hit first, and its rural counties, where people might not be able to even see their nearest neighbor.

Now, as COVID-19 sweeps into small-town America – with two-thirds of rural counties reporting at least one confirmed case as of last week – a new pandemic geography is emerging.

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1. ‘It can’t happen here.’ Coronavirus hits rural America.

Rep. Vikki Goodwin’s district in Texas took swift action to protect residents from the novel coronavirus in early March. Austin canceled the popular SXSW festival for the first time in more than three decades, losing an estimated $350 million in revenue.

But last week, 30 miles out in her district, which stretches into the sparsely populated Hill Country, the town of Lago Vista's golf course was still open – a week after Republican Gov. Greg Abbott issued a statewide stay-at-home order.

In more suburban and rural stretches of Texas, there seems to be a sense that the virus is a distant, perhaps overblown, crisis.

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

“That’s a concern to me,” says state Representative Goodwin, a Democrat. “In rural areas the feeling is it hasn’t gotten there yet and it won’t spread. There’s maybe a false sense of security.”

The U.S., as has been widely reported, has adopted a state-by-state approach to battling the novel coronavirus. But there’s also a divide between steps taken in America’s large cities, where the disease hit first, and its rural counties, where people might not be able to even see their nearest neighbor and social distancing has long been a way of life. The idea that “it can’t happen here” also plays on cultural suspicions that date back to Aesop’s Fables, where the country mouse tells the city mouse she prefers her plain food and simple life in the country with the peace and security that go with it.

Now, as COVID-19 sweeps into small-town America – with two-thirds of rural counties reporting at least one confirmed case as of last week – a new pandemic geography is emerging. In a recent poll, 74% of Democrats support restrictive policies to protect people, including some infringements on civil liberties, as did 71% of Republicans.

“The initial take among a lot of elected officials and Southerners in general, especially in rural areas, was ... ‘This is their problem. We don’t see it,’” says Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “When you put the importance of church with the small government ethic and where people don’t want to be told what to do, it’s true, you can do the wrong thing for a good and understandable reason and still pay a very heavy price.”

In rural America, that’s playing out from pews to boat ramps.

In St. Augustine, Florida, some 10,000 people have signed Eric Hires’ petition to reopen the beaches of St. Johns County, despite the state’s 20,000 confirmed cases.

“People have called me selfish, but this has become much bigger than me,” says Mr. Hires, a surfer in his 30s, in a phone interview. He points out the golf course was allowed to stay open, and says he just wants early and late-morning hours with no congregating. “I’m more libertarian. I don’t like the government infringing on rights or freedoms. But there is also an element of personal freedom. If you live near the beach and the ocean is your sanctuary, you should be able to go there.”

Where social distancing is built in

Some 9 in 10 Texans live in or near a big city, but the state boasts vast stretches of ranchland, scrub, and desert. Until early April, Governor Abbott preferred to let cities and counties decide for themselves the wisest course of action.

As more cases were reported, Lyle Larson, a Republican state representative from San Antonio, had been calling for weeks for a statewide order. He understands the various interests the governor had to balance, however, including politics and broader health care realities, including that 26 rural hospitals have closed across the state since 2010.

Ricardo B. Brazziell/Austin American-Statesman/AP
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott expressed optimism during a coronavirus news conference, April 10, 2020, in Austin, Texas. Governor Abbott also said the state's death toll was lower than many other states.

“Some people don’t like the government making blanket declarations on what they can and can’t do, and there are others who want a total shutdown,” says Representative Larson. People in rural areas have social distancing “already built into their lifestyle,” he adds, but when the statewide order went into effect, “people took that seriously.”

A handful of states with large rural populations have yet to order statewide lockdowns, trying to balance local interests against what former FEMA director Craig Fugate calls a “slow-rolling disaster.”

“What is happening is that there is much less coordinated federal control in this emergency than in past ones, so you do see an absolute flowering of federalism driven by ... geography, demography, and ideological makeup,” says Mr. Jillson. “That means if you are in the South or Mountain West and you have a diverse state geographically – a few major cities and large open stretches between them – you have been conflicted as to how to proceed.”

Noting a regional difference, “we’ve been pretty aggressive as a geography and I think that’s important,” Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, said on CNN. Governor Whitmer issued a stay-at-home order in March, one of the first governors to do so, but Michigan remains one of the hardest-hit states, with about 25,000 cases.

In contrast, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, a Republican, told a press conference in early April that “the people themselves are primarily responsible for their safety.” And, she added, “South Dakota is not New York City.” Over the weekend, one of the largest pork processors in the U.S., Smithfield, announced it was shutting down its Sioux Falls plant indefinitely after 293 workers tested positive.

People talk about infringements on constitutional rights, but “what I think people forget about is their constitutional responsibilities: You live in this country and you have a duty that includes not endangering others,” says Polly Price, a professor of law and global health at Emory University in Atlanta. “This kind of effort relies on citizen participation.”

“Scratching my head”

On Tybee Island, the stakes have risen dramatically. On March 20, after spring break crowds flocked along Tybrisa Street, the city barricaded the beach.

But in early April, as part of a statewide lockdown order, Republican Gov. Brian Kemp reopened the beaches to allow Georgians to access their common outdoor property. His chief of staff even urged, “Go to the beach!”

Patrik Jonsson/The Christian Science Monitor
Two Georgia state troopers try to keep a minimum six foot distance on April 5, 2020, as they prepare to patrol the beach at Tybee Island. Gov. Brian Kemp reopened Georgia's three beaches, including Tybee, superseding local closure orders. That means law enforcement is walking a thin line ‘between a rock and a hard place,' says one trooper after his shift.

As a precaution, Governor Kemp sent dozens of state troopers and game wardens to patrol to make sure social distancing protocols were observed.

Ken and Jessica Branch drove down from North Carolina, where beach communities have closed off access to outsiders.

“As long as we abide by the rules, I think we’ll be OK. We needed a break. We needed this,” says Ms. Branch.

Tybee local Dan Lockwood, on the other hand, watched beachgoers violate six-foot distancing orders as they passed each other on narrow dune overwalks. “Governor Kemp is basically saying, ‘Stay at home, but don’t take it seriously,’” says Mr. Lockwood.

Like many Republicans along the conservative Georgia coast, state Rep. Jeff Jones, a carwash operator, has struggled to come to terms with the governor’s decision.

On one hand, he says, “I think media reporting of the CV-19 outbreak is overblown.”

Yet Representative Jones disagrees with Mr. Kemp’s decision to reopen the beaches, including those in his district at St. Simons Island.

“I am scratching my head,” he writes in an email. “Locally, we logically knew that if people travel away from their homes, the chances of spreading the highly contagious CV-19 increased exponentially. This has, no surprise, turned out to be correct.”

To Mr. Fugate, who served as Florida’s emergency director under former Republican Gov. Jeb Bush and as FEMA director under Democratic President Barack Obama, the case-by-case approach underscores larger failures of communication as the pandemic moves into arguably more vulnerable populations, given health and welfare disparities in the South.

“Until we have enough ability to do rapid testing and until everybody self-isolates, we are still on the front end of the pandemic,” says Mr. Fugate, who hails from a Southern tobacco farming family and vacations on Georgia’s Jekyll Island. “We’re seeing places like New York explode, we’re watching New Orleans explode, and then now Albany, Georgia, and these micro-areas that don’t have a lot of depth [in their health care systems]. We know what to do, yet we are reluctant or slow to embrace the only tools that we have. It’s a brutal math: Do people die or do businesses die?”

No cruise ships, but no lockdown

The fears of outsiders played out in Huntsville, Alabama, as the crisis began in late February.

A federal plan to house stricken cruise ship passengers on a decommissioned Army base fell apart amid a conspiracy theory-fueled pushback from residents and politicians. Seeing what he considers a lack of resolve in the federal response, Michael Barton, Calhoun County emergency management director, initiated the state’s first infectious disease task force.

Until two weeks ago, Alabama had not recorded a single death and Republican Gov. Kay Ivey had resisted a lockdown. “Y’all, we are not California,” she said. “We are not New York. We are not even Louisiana.”

But by last week, as the state recorded 1,400 cases – including 200 nurses – Governor Ivey switched course, ending a press conference with a prayer for Alabamans’ safety.

“Those numbers are increasing and that gets people’s attention,” says Mr. Barton, a former special deputy United States marshal. “Sure, we have some people saying it’s overblown. But the mantra we are following here is we are going to prepare for the worst and work for the best.”

On Tybee Island, the crowds never really arrived. While the beaches are technically open, the city fought to keep the majority of narrow dune crossovers closed to enforce distancing. And after the town of 3,000 people – which has at least six first responders in quarantine and two hospitalized city employees – became inundated with requests for short-term rentals, the governor reinstated the ban on rentals in an amended order Wednesday.

“This is the challenge with mixed messages in a crisis: Telling people what to do isn’t really always effective,” says Mr. Fugate. “What is effective is telling people the why and giving them the information to make a decision.”

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

Prayer calls and pet therapy: How seniors stay connected in a pandemic

Would you be willing to ride in a bucket truck up to your mother’s third-floor window so you could wave hello? That’s just one example of how people are trying to stem isolation for elderly people.

Amelia

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Residents in nursing homes are among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s not just the immediate threat of a disease that disproportionately afflicts the elderly and vulnerable. In order to slow infection rates, nursing facilities have had to bar visitors and end communal activities, and that exacts its own toll on older people who are struggling with isolation and loneliness.

Out in the community, many seniors have also become cut off from personal contact with family or friends, adding to the risk of isolation. But there are many creative ways to stay in touch, and community organizations and volunteers are going all out to ease the isolation of a lockdown.  

Richard Dobbey, a church usher in Chicago, checks on the seniors in his parish, and makes sure food for funerals still arrives. He is starting to look beyond the present crisis. “Some of these things you’re doing now, these are things we should do all the time.”

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2. Prayer calls and pet therapy: How seniors stay connected in a pandemic

Julia Adams looked forward to two family outings a week: Thursday dinner and Sunday lunch. That changed last month when the 80-year-old’s assisted living home in New Middletown, Ohio, closed to visitors as a COVID-19 precaution.

“Mom had kept asking about going out to dinner,” says her son Charley Adams. “I just had to keep telling her: ‘Mom, you can’t leave, and I can’t come in.’ ”

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

He could hear her disappointment on the phone. The facility has arranged Skype sessions to help families connect, he says, but he doesn't know how to use it. So one Sunday he took matters into his own hands.

Mr. Adams, who owns a tree service business, went home to get his bucket truck. It extends 55 feet into the air, more than enough to reach his mom’s 3rd floor window.

“I called her on her phone – she had her blinds closed – and I said, Look out your window, Mom.”

“Oh, it was wonderful,” says Ms. Adams on a call from her room. She says her son’s surprise appearance was a big hit with the other residents, too. 

Courtesy of Corrie Adams
Charley Adams visits his 80-year-old mom, Julia Adams, at her assisted living home in New Middletown, Ohio, on March 22, 2020. Mr. Adams has used his bucket truck to keep connected with his mom during the pandemic.

Senior care organizations are scrambling to stave off the novel coronavirus as related deaths at these facilities mount – more than 3,600 according to the latest count from the Associated Press. Residents in nursing and retirement homes are considered particularly vulnerable because of their age, and many have underlying health conditions. 

Staff, too, are affected. Last week, a nursing home in Riverside, California, had to be evacuated because staff were too frightened to work. Dozens of residents, including employees, had tested positive for COVID-19.

Yet as these facilities bar visitors, group activities, and communal dining, staff and families are finding creative ways to ease the isolation of elderly residents, from virtual pet therapy to window weddings. Ideally, that stream of love and dedication should continue even after the pandemic, say experts, who point out that seniors in an aging nation already struggle with isolation and loneliness.

“Many, many people across the nation are [leaning] into our shared humanity and working hard to be creative about how they remain connected,” says Lisa Marsh Ryerson, president of the AARP Foundation, the charitable arm of the AARP, which has nearly 40 million members. “As long as those circles of connection are inclusive of older adults, we’ll all benefit.”

Even before the pandemic, 1 in 4 older adults surveyed said they struggled with social isolation and 1 in 3 with loneliness, says Ms. Ryerson. Now that many seniors have become cut off from personal contact or lost work, isolation is a growing risk. It can bring on loneliness, and prolonged isolation has negative health effects – the equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day, according to research.

“Vulnerable older people tend to be invisible in communities, or can be. At a time of social distancing, we need to be very wary they don’t become more invisible.”

Morale booster

In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom, the first governor to direct people over 65 to stay home, is asking individuals to call or text five seniors or knock on a door – even while keeping a safe distance. He’s urging folks who want to help to call a hotline, 833-544-2374, to ask about ways to reach out to seniors. The state is also partnering with AARP and a nonprofit phone line that connects people with social services, including meals.

AARP recommends ways to boost your loved one’s morale, including letter writing and video calling, care packages with puzzles picturing the family, and virtual meals together. 

Roy Bateman, a retiree who lives alone in San Francisco, says he is not the type to ask for help. He was never very social before the virus, though he valued the couple of outings a week to meet friends for lunch or go to a Japanese conversation class. He used to walk a lot – up to 10 hours a week.

Now he’s mostly on his computer, watching news and short videos because he can’t concentrate, or writing emails, while doing a little remote volunteer work. The former federal grants administrator is anxious about infection, and ventures out only very late at night. He lets his newspaper sit for a day, and without punctuating events in the week, Mr. Bateman is losing track of time – loosely measuring it by how many cans of vegetables are left in his kitchen.

His last grocery shopping trip was to Costco on March 13 and he needs to go soon. But if some unknown good Samaritan called him – as the governor suggests – he probably would say he doesn’t need anything, because that's "pretty much the case." And he’d rather pick out his own food. “I’m not interested in getting homemade muffins,” he says. 

Still, he appreciates the weekly call he gets from Openhouse, which serves LGBTQ seniors. “It’s really nice.”

Prayer lines and funeral services 

Pastor D. Darrell Griffin, of Oakdale Covenant Church, an African American church on Chicago’s South Side, spends a lot of time calling seniors – phoning about 35 on a recent day. “They were just so elated to hear my voice, elated that the church was thinking of them,” he says.

The church also hosts a 6 a.m. telephone prayer line, which has been extended from five to six days a week because of the COVID-19 crisis. It’s designed to accommodate the lowest-tech parishioner. The connections are not good and the leader has to remind people to mute their phones. But it works, and more people are joining in.

Glenna Ousley is one of the regulars. She said the pandemic has made her feel cut off, but not isolated. The prayer line has helped. “It’s comforting,” she said. “It’s uplifting. It’s God affirming. It’s life affirming.” She adds: “We kind of feed off each other. We take comfort in knowing we’re not alone.”

At the Oakdale church, seniors help each other. Richard Dobbey is 71 and head of the ushers, most of them elderly. He’s also involved in the church’s men’s group, and they’re checking in on the older seniors.

He is starting to look beyond the present crisis. “Some of these things you’re doing now, these are things we should do all the time.”

Mr. Dobbey recently helped organize a funeral dinner for a family. Parishioners cooked or picked up spaghetti, potato salad, green beans, three kinds of chicken, and “four or five” cakes, he said. They couldn’t go to the funeral, so they dropped the food off at the family’s house.

The head usher says he isn’t in good health and doesn’t go out much. But a few days ago, when the weather in Chicago turned warm, he walked to his driveway, sat in his car and rolled down the windows.

“I just wanted some air. I did that, and listened to music. My wife said, ‘What are you doing?’ It was good for me. I’m doing something for myself,” he says.

Dancing and movie nights

Helping themselves, and helping each other – that’s true for many seniors during this isolation.

In Los Angeles, Hugo and Elba Corzo used to love going out to see dancers from their native Guatemala, and to dance themselves. Now the couple, in their 60s, dip and sway at their three-bedroom, two-bath home in the now trendy Highland Park neighborhood.

Francine Kiefer/The Christian Science Monitor
Handyman Hugo Corzo, who lives in Los Angeles, at the home of a client on April 4, 2020. While he is still able to work as a handyman, his wife, Elba, who cleans houses, is sheltering in place. The couple loves to dance, which they are now doing at home because they can't go out to dances.

While Mr. Corzo continues to work as a handyman – his car is loaded with hand sanitizer, masks, and wipes – his wife, who cleans houses, is at home, tidying and sorting drawers, video-calling with her extended family, cooking, and working out to Jane Fonda.

She’s scared and lonely, but not depressed. He’s fine, he says, in an interview in a client’s back yard. In the evenings, they watch movies together. “She wants to be with me,” he smiles.

Like the Corzos, Bob and Janet Pendoley watch movies after dinner. Retired and in their 70s, they live in San Rafael, just north of San Francisco in Marin County – among the first counties in the nation to get the “shelter in place” order, which took effect March 17.

“I’m very comfortable, but I definitely feel isolated,” says the former city planner.

Like many baby boomers, the Pendoleys have become “Baby Zoomers,” learning to use Zoom, the popular video-conference service. Their first virtual reunion with their two sons and their families was “humiliating,” recalls Bob, because he could not get it to work. “I kept hearing, ‘OK boomer!’” from the kids.

Now the Pendoleys are experienced Zoomers, holding a story hour with their granddaughter a couple times a week.

Yes, says Janet, it’s “aggravating” not to be able to go where you want, or to visit in person. But, she concludes, this is temporary. They do have connections with people. Even as a 10-year-old, she had to find things to do so as not to get bored.

“Bottom line, this makes me much more cognizant and appreciative of the things we do have.”

Staff writers Francine Kiefer and Sarah Matusek reported from Pasadena and New York. Correspondent Richard Mertens reported from Chicago. 

What a lockdown means when home is hundreds of miles away

Many of India’s informal workers have been thrown out of work, far from home, amid a coronavirus lockdown. This story puts a human face on the massive challenge the country faces in helping them.

Amelia

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Like much of the globe, 1.3 billion people in India are under orders to stay inside due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Here, as elsewhere, officials are wrestling with how to balance public health with the economy’s health, particularly for society’s most vulnerable. That question has especially high stakes in India, where some 80% to 90% of the workforce are informal workers, often left out of safety-net schemes. And the challenges perhaps have been most dire for 100 million internal migrant workers, many of whom attempted to walk hundreds of miles home after losing work, and often shelter, during the lockdown.

Officials have since set up assistance, such as soup kitchens, and forbidden migrants’ landlords from demanding rent for the month. But the crisis has shone a spotlight on existing inequalities and resulting challenges that could endure beyond the lockdown.

“There is no simple answer to this tragic dilemma between two humanitarian crises – the spread of the virus and the devastation caused by the lockdown – but some basic principles apply,” says Jean Drèze, an activist and visiting economics professor at the University of Ranchi. “One of them is that no one should be allowed to starve.”

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3. What a lockdown means when home is hundreds of miles away

Late last month, as India’s transport came to a halt and its residents prepared for lockdown, Prakash Meghwal began a long walk home. With roughly a dollar and a half in his pocket, and three other people for company, he traced his way through forested land, careful to avoid the main roads whenever possible. Small roadside shops provided them some food during the day and shelter outside their shuttered fronts at night. 

“We were scared,” Mr. Meghwal says. “‘What just happened?’ we wondered. We have never experienced anything like this before in our lifetime.” Six days later, having covered more than 90 miles on foot, he reached his village in Rajasthan state.

For over a decade, Mr. Meghwal worked as a waiter in the tourist hill town Mount Abu, and sent money to his family of six back home. But suddenly, with the new coronavirus shutting down business, there was no work or wages, and he was forced to return home. His household no longer has a source of income.

In the face of a pandemic, a third of the global population is under some form of lockdown, and countries are grappling with how to balance health and the economy – particularly for society’s most vulnerable. And on March 24, with only four hours’ notice, India began the world’s biggest test yet: Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered the entire country of 1.3 billion people to stay indoors for 21 days.

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

The announcement did not include any concrete transport, safety, or economic measures for India’s roughly 400 million informal workers, who are estimated to make up 80% to 90% of the total workforce and live without a safety net. With businesses and establishments shut down, they lost their daily wages; many of the country’s roughly 100 million migrant workers have also lost the roof over their head. Balancing either the belongings on their heads or young children on their shoulders, hundreds of thousands tried to walk back home. 

Many have faced hunger and police brutality. At least 22 migrants have died on the way.

Adnan Abidi/Reuters
Migrant workers and homeless people rest inside a sports complex turned into a shelter, during a 21-day nationwide lockdown to slow the spread of COVID-19, in New Delhi, India, April 4, 2020.

Some states organized buses to help the migrants, but bus stops quickly became overcrowded. A few days later, fearing a surge in coronavirus cases due to the movement of migrants, the central government ordered states to seal their borders. It announced food and cash assistance, forbade migrants’ landlords from demanding rent for a month, and ordered that businesses must pay wages for the duration of the lockdown. But the crisis has shone a spotlight on inequalities that predate COVID-19. Those disparities are likely to endure beyond this particular crisis.

“India’s economic growth model is based on the cheap labour of rural-to-urban migrants who often work for less than minimum wages in its high growth sectors. Yet they remain an unenumerated, unrecognized presence in cities,” excluded from many welfare programs, says Nivedita Jayaram of the nonprofit Aajeevika Bureau, which advocates for migrants and laborers. “There is an absolute gap ... the inability of the governments to be able to tell how many migrants are in a city, let alone reach them. The pandemic and lockdown has only exposed this fundamental flaw in India's policy design.”

Most migrants are not included in the Public Distribution System, which entitles poor families to subsidized grains. Owing to the long list of intermediaries involved in employing a migrant worker, the order to pay wages is difficult to enforce too. 

Some states have tried to boost migrants’ support: Kerala, for example, was one of the first states to enhance social security pensions and set up shelters, and New Delhi has opened more than 1,000 food centers. But more is needed, especially in smaller towns and far-flung areas “where hunger is more stark and fear is more prevalent,” says Suroor Mander, a lawyer and activist with the nonprofit Karwan-e Mohabbat.

“There is no simple answer to this tragic dilemma between two humanitarian crises – the spread of the virus and the devastation caused by the lockdown – but some basic principles apply,” says Jean Drèze, an activist and visiting economics professor at the University of Ranchi. “One of them is that no one should be allowed to starve.”

More than hunger

Living in overcrowded homes or shelters, India’s workers have been left more vulnerable to the pandemic. But with such a large population already struggling with hunger, additional measures to address their health and safety have been pushed to the brink. In one state, returning migrants were asked to squat on the road, and sprayed with a bleaching agent. 

According to Manisha Dutta, a public health professional in Udaipur, there continues to be inconsistent, inadequate information about the pandemic, which has led to confusion and fear among migrant workers. Returning migrants are reportedly being screened for the coronavirus in a number of states, but she is worried it isn’t rigorous enough.

Teachers and health workers have hurriedly been asked to step in and screen returnees. Most of them are at the front lines without safety gear and have not received proper training, Ms. Dutta says. In addition, “there are also a number of horrible rumors doing the rounds, some that refer to migrants being disease carriers and taken away by the police. ... So this has all been really intimidating for them.” 

At the best of times, accessing health care is challenging for many migrants. Among Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development members and partners, India has the fewest number of hospital beds per 1,000 people. Mr. Meghwal said his young children are frequently ill, but he is no longer able to take them to the nearest health center, about 15 miles away, because of the lockdown. 

Health experts are especially concerned about tuberculosis among migrant workers, particularly at a time when many will be malnourished. India has the highest TB burden in the world, according to the World Health Organization, and the disease disproportionately affects poor and marginalized people.

Preparing for the long haul 

Once India has provided adequate rations and cash distributions, experts warn, it needs to confront long-term challenges, including job creation. 

“The migration system is broken now and this means there will be a shortage of labour in many sectors,” says Dipa Sinha, professor of economics at Delhi’s Ambedkar University. “For instance, this is harvest season in northern India, which relies on migrant farm labourers from states like Bihar. The crops can’t be allowed to simply go to waste.” 

The Mahatma Gandhi National Employment Rural Guarantee Act, which provides at least 100 days of paid employment per year to unskilled laborers, has come to a halt under the lockdown. In the longer run, however, workers’ advocates view it as a crucial system to provide income to migrant workers who’ve returned to their villages, and officials are asking for the strengthening of the act. 

An ambitious One Nation One Ration Card scheme, which aims to make subsidized food available to workers who are currently left out, is scheduled to be operational in June. On-the-ground implementation remains a challenge, however.

The lockdown is scheduled to end Tuesday, but is likely to be extended. As the number of cases rises, many are calling for continued, but more humane, social distancing measures. But for now, many migrant workers’ main concern is their livelihood. With many rural areas’ economies focused on agriculture, returned workers face few job prospects.

“The plan is to go back as soon as I can. What other option is there?” Mr. Meghwal says. “I have to work and feed my family after all.” 

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

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World music: From a Queens apartment to your ears

The free-spirited music label in this next story is worth knowing about. Equally captivating is its founder, who shares what drives MoonJune Records: his “optimistic [outlook on] life – to know the world, to conquer the world, to know things, to find them.”

Amelia

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Three decades ago, Leonardo Pavkovic arrived in New York City with $500 in his pocket, drawn to the city’s influence on the music world. 

Today, he runs MoonJune Records out of the apartment in Queens he shares with his wife. The label’s business model is as unorthodox as its global roster of experimental rock and jazz. In February, it passed the milestone of releasing its 100th album. But fewer than a dozen of them have turned a profit. Mr. Pavkovic is OK with that. He believes the music enriches those who get to hear it. The impresario embodies the spirit of globalization by finding niche musical acts and pollinating their music across the world. 

“Music is important as the intellectual and spiritual and artistic expression of humankind,” says Mr. Pavkovic, who speaks five languages, has traveled to 75 countries, and is fond of using the adjective “cosmopolitan.” “I’m promoting my friends from distant territories, because I think they deserve to be heard. Everybody knows about Western artists, but who knows about Indonesian artists or Brazilian artists or people from India or Spain or Serbia or Macedonia?” 

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4. World music: From a Queens apartment to your ears

Long before Leonardo Pavkovic founded a one-man record label, he dreamed of freedom. As a child, he gazed at the hills behind his remote village in Yugoslavia and asked his grandpa, “What is on the other side of the mountain?”

His grandfather’s answer was simple: “The world.”

Talking from his home office in New York City more than 50 years later, Mr. Pavkovic recalls an epiphanic moment. “I said to myself, ‘I need to see that world.’”

That wanderlust is at the heart of MoonJune Records, which Mr. Pavkovic established in 2001. Its business model is as unorthodox as its global roster of experimental rock and jazz. In February, the label passed the milestone of releasing its 100th album. But fewer than a dozen of them have turned a profit. Mr. Pavkovic is OK with that. He believes the music enriches those who get to hear it. The impresario embodies the spirit of globalization by finding niche musical acts – to cite one example, the Serbian jazz fusion pianist Vasil Hadžimanov – and pollinating their music across the world. 

“Music is important as the intellectual and spiritual and artistic expression of humankind,” says Mr. Pavkovic, who speaks five languages, has traveled to 75 countries, and is fond of using the adjective “cosmopolitan.” “I’m promoting my friends from distant territories, because I think they deserve to be heard. Everybody knows about Western artists, but who knows about Indonesian artists or Brazilian artists or people from India or Spain or Serbia or Macedonia?”

“There is always a solution”

Mr. Pavkovic subsidizes MoonJune’s losses with money he makes as a tour promoter for his acts. Since the spread of COVID-19, he has been making phone calls across the globe to cancel and reschedule show dates, hotel bookings, and airline flights. The shutdown derailed a tour by Stick Men, a trio whose music centers around an obscure 8- to 12-stringed musical instrument called the Chapman Stick. It’s a blow, given that Stick Men is one of the acts that helps float all the rest. 

“I figured out in my life that there is always a solution,” says the irrepressibly upbeat Mr. Pavkovic. It’s a quality that’s helped him deal with many mercurial musicians. 

Mr. Pavkovic’s musical imagination took flight when he attended college in Belgrade, Serbia. An older friend introduced him to artists such as Magma, Frank Zappa, Keith Jarrett, King Crimson, and Van der Graaf Generator who blurred the boundaries between jazz, rock, classical, and folk. Their intrepid exploration resonated with him.

“Somehow my positive, optimistic [outlook on] life – to know the world, to conquer the world, to know things, to find them – inspired me,” he says. 

A knack for improvising

Mr. Pavkovic’s attraction to the center of the music world and his ability to improvise under less than ideal circumstances led him to New York City. He arrived with $500 in his pocket. Three decades later, he runs MoonJune out of the apartment in Queens he shares with his wife. 

The label emanates “a sense of exploration and joyous adventure,” says Prog magazine music journalist Sid Smith. “[Its] records possess energy and focus, a quality that’s present in what appears to be quite diverse and different releases but which gives them all a kind of continuity. ”

Mr. Pavkovic has grown MoonJune’s mailing list to 22,000 people and handles everything from marketing to designing artwork. He relishes introducing his small but fervently devoted audience to new sounds. The label includes seven artists from Indonesia, for example. 

For MoonJune, success is measured by a matter of degrees. Mr. Pavkovic is delighted if he can boost an act’s sales from 200 to 400 albums. More importantly, MoonJune’s marketing efforts include mailing as many as 400 promos to media outlets worldwide. It generates invaluable exposure. For example, Seattle-based guitarist Dennis Rea – the sort of musician who relishes collaborating with a Tuvan throat singer – has been invited to play festivals in Mexico and Russia as a result of Mr. Pavkovic’s promotion. 

“Albums of minor artists can even generate 70 to 80 or even more reviews all around the world – online and in the printed press – and a lot of college and online airplay on various radio stations,” says Mr. Pavkovic. “If not for me, probably no one would ever know about them outside of their circles in their countries or even in their cities.”

The label owner also takes time to correspond with individual fans. He enthusiastically explains how a British expatriate in Vietnam discovered MoonJune by purchasing an archival reissue by British psychedelic jazz-rock group Soft Machine. The listener became so enamored with the label’s sensibility that he’s since bought every single MoonJune release. For the label owner, that offers more satisfaction than turning a profit. His joy lies in discovering more of the world and its beauty.

“I’m always looking for something,” reflects Mr. Pavkovic, who sometimes convenes musicians on his label to record in a mansion named La Casa Murada in Catalonia, Spain, so that they can improvise and stretch musical boundaries. “We don’t care about if this music will sell. We want to be free. Because that’s the point of the art.”

Nature is a balm. Even when you can’t leave home.

What is it that makes nature a refuge for mental poise? “Nature is our ally. We’re part of it,” one scientist explains. “There’s something of real value to just slowing down ... and experiencing that joy of the bigger world.”

Amelia
Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff/File
Orange leaves grace the fall trees by Topaz Lake in Topaz, California.

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As the coronavirus emergency disrupts usual routines and connections, nature may be an important balm. At root, nature is a reminder that the world is greater than us and our stress.

Even amid stay-at-home orders, less-immersive experiences like hearing a bird or tending houseplants have value, says Patricia Hasbach, who co-directs the ecopsychology program at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon. Watching a video panning over sprawling mountains or listening to recorded sounds of waves crashing on the beach has been found to alleviate stress.

She and colleagues have tested this idea with one of the most nature-deprived groups of people: prison inmates in solitary confinement. Exposing inmates to nature videos during their one-hour recreation period yielded a 26% reduction of violent outbursts. Many inmates said recalling the nature videos helped them calm down when agitated.

“When people are exposed to nature, they tend to not only think more creatively and feel better,” says psychologist Lisa Nisbet at Trent University in Ontario. They also “tend to be kinder and more generous with other people.”

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5. Nature is a balm. Even when you can’t leave home.

Some people look for laughter in times of stress. Others seek distraction. But in this time of self-isolation, many are finding respite in nature.

Beyond the promise of fresh air and a change of scenery, spending time with nature invites a sense of calm. The rhythms of the natural world serve as reminders that life goes on, even as we humans are consumed by uncertainty, says Patricia Hasbach, a clinical psychotherapist. It is a reminder that the world is greater than us and our stress.

“Nature is our ally. We’re part of it,” says Dr. Hasbach, who co-directs the ecopsychology program at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon. “There’s something of real value to just slowing down, allowing ourselves to be part of nature, and experiencing that joy of the bigger world.”

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

Even as government officials have enacted stay-at-home orders, they’ve largely left room for walks and outdoor exercise. And folks have taken advantage of that option. However, in some cases, so many people have been flocking to parks, beaches, and hiking trails that governments have had to close public outdoor spaces because they were getting overrun. 

Fortunately you don’t have to climb a mountain or swim in the ocean to reap the calming benefits of nature, researchers say. There are possibilities closer to – or even at – home.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff/File
Impala graze in a herd in the bush at Sabi Sand Game Reserve in South Africa.

Immersing oneself in a natural landscape yields the most restorative effects, says Dr. Hasbach, but there are several ways to connect to nature and all can be beneficial.

Less direct experiences, like looking out the window at a squirrel in a tree or tending houseplants, may not be as immersive as going for a walk in the woods, but researchers have found these activities can still offer benefits. Even vicarious experiences, such as watching a video panning over sprawling mountains or plains, or listening to recorded sounds of waves crashing on the beach, have been found to alleviate stress.

Dr. Hasbach and colleagues tested out this idea on one of the most nature-deprived groups of people: prison inmates in solitary confinement.

In a yearlong study, the researchers found that exposing inmates to nature videos during their one-hour recreation period yielded a 26% reduction of violent outbursts. When surveyed, many of the inmates reported that recalling the nature videos helped them to calm down when they grew agitated, Dr. Hasbach says. What’s more, the inmates reported feeling calmer for several hours after watching the videos, even after returning to their cells. 

One inmate said of the videos, “I get more relaxed. I get away from here,” Dr. Hasbach says. Another reported, “It calms me down, quiets my mind.”

Those of us who are currently self-confining to our homes might be able to tap into those same benefits, Dr. Hasbach says. She suggests seeking out images or footage with wide-open spaces, no humans or built environments visible, and slower scenes with minimal animal conflict or drama – all characteristics of the nature videos most often requested by the inmates. 

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Unusual rock formations known as hoodoos are seen at sunrise from the Navajo Loop trail in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah. Bryce is one of Utah's "Mighty Five," the five national parks in the southern part of the state.

However, most people practicing social distancing are not actually in solitary confinement and have the freedom to look out a window or door, or even open it to get some fresh air and listen to birdsong or the wind in nearby trees. Or maybe they have a backyard, or at least a stoop to sit on. Researchers agree that there is no replacement for experiencing the natural world more directly. 

Even quick trips outside can bring wide-ranging benefits, says Lisa Nisbet, assistant professor of psychology at Trent University in Ontario. In fact, she says, a few brief moments in nature can help restore focus and concentration. So for folks working from home, a quick walk around the block at lunchtime might make for a more productive afternoon. 

”When people are exposed to nature, they tend to not only think more creatively and feel better,” says Dr. Nisbet, “but tend to be kinder and more generous with other people.”

In that vein, Dr. Nisbet also suggests citizen science projects can be a way to both experience nature and contribute to a greater good. There are many projects online that involve watching critter cams and logging what you see, or keeping a tally of the birds you see out your window. 

The positive effects of nature aren’t just limited to pleasant sunny days, Dr. Nisbet adds. “It’s easy to say, I don’t feel like going for a walk or it’s a little bit rainy out there or it’s cold,” she says. “It’s always better than I expect. I never regret getting outdoors in nature. And that’s any kind of nature.”

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

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A burst of creativity to best a virus

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In just a few short weeks, millions of people in home isolation have mastered video conferencing. Out of curiosity, many have found innovative ways to bake or to learn a language.

With similar speed, Ford Motor Co. has learned how to make face shields for health workers. COVID-19 may be a disrupter of lives and traditions but, as in many crises, it is forcing people to be open to inspiration and to locate the source of creativity.

In its global scope, the burst of improvisation could be historic. It will not only help people through the crisis, the fresh discoveries and the sudden embrace of imagination should spur an economic rebound, perhaps even more than government subsidies.

The greatest victory over the virus may be a steep learning curve among billions of people on the origin of inspiration.

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A burst of creativity to best a virus

In just a few short weeks, millions of people in home isolation have mastered video conferencing. Out of curiosity, many have found innovative ways to bake or to learn a language. Out of necessity, parents are discovering how to home-school. Out of ingenuity, the religious faithful are creating new ways to worship.

With similar speed, Ford Motor Co. has learned how to make face shields for health workers. More doctors are doing medicine by phone. Dozens of companies are racing to invent new ways to develop a vaccine for COVID-19. And in California, a charitable foundation has sponsored a global contest among 6,000 “tech minds” to innovate open-source solutions to the coronavirus crisis.

COVID-19 may be a disrupter of lives and traditions but, as in many crises, it is forcing people to be open to inspiration and to locate the source of creativity. In its global scope, the burst of improvisation could be historic. It will not only help people through the crisis, the fresh discoveries and the sudden embrace of imagination should spur an economic rebound, perhaps even more than government subsidies.

“With imagination, we can do better than merely adapting to a new environment – we can thrive by shaping it,” states an article in the latest Harvard Business Review. The authors, Martin Reeves and Jack Fuller, suggest people carve out time for reflection and search for needs in society that remain unmet. “We need to open up rather than constrict the funnel for new ideas,” they write.

Many people may simply desire a return to normalcy. Yet with so many problems exposed by this crisis, the search for solutions has taken on a purpose described well by Shakespeare: “Sweet are the uses of adversity.”

“Amid all the confusion and the fear,” states a commentary from the think tank Rand, “the power of individuals, organizations, and communities to think differently and to innovate shows what can be achieved when people are united by common, clear priorities and necessity.”

The old ways found wanting are giving way to the new. The greatest victory over the virus may be a steep learning curve among billions of people on the origin of inspiration.

A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

Bringing light to a world of pandemic fears

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If it seems we’re being overcome by the world and its problems, it’s worth considering Christ Jesus’ words, “I have overcome the world,” and what they mean for us.

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1. Bringing light to a world of pandemic fears

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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Is it realistic to think that something Jesus said about 2,000 years ago could play a role in how a world pandemic can be confronted today? He declared, “I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

I’ve been praying about these five words to see how they could have meaning to a world tormented by fear. Christ Jesus spoke with an amazing authority. As this Easter season commemorates, he was so filled with the light of spiritual understanding, he even overcame the darkness that the world fears most – death itself.

The Bible does provide some further insight into this question of overcoming the world. Here’s a point that certainly has given me pause: “Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world” (I John 5:4). Overcoming the world could be taken to mean overcoming darkened states of thought. Like fear.

There’s something profound about the recognition that we come from God. There’s such a firm conviction in the world that everyone comes from biology, from matter instead of Spirit with all its light. But I’ve found that this humble admission of coming from God gives strength to my prayer. This is especially true as I’ve remembered that Jesus called for rebirth (see John 3:1-7). In one sense I’ve felt he was saying to me, “Start fresh, spiritually fresh!”

A rebirth is less a question of time and more a question of renewed thought. Thought can change today. Everyone has a right to undergo a rebirth – being born of God.

Mary Baker Eddy’s book “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” echoes the Bible in helping understand the nature of God. “‘God is Love.’ More than this we cannot ask, higher we cannot look, farther we cannot go” (p. 6). God’s child is a child of this ultimate light, divine Love. Prayer can be an affirmation that God’s children are an expression of Deity’s being, the manifestation of Love. And the Bible insists, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear” (I John 4:18, New King James Version).

A heart that is earnestly seeking to be reborn, to represent the light of divine Love, can make a difference in this world, and that rebirth can begin now. So here’s the reasoning or prayer I’ve come up with. Jesus said he overcame the world. He called on us to follow his example. The Bible says that if we understand that we actually come from God, then we can overcome the world. Jesus helped us see that through a transforming of our lives to express God’s love as he did, we are undergoing a rebirth, being born of God, divine Love. This means that a light is beginning to shine in us in a way that overcomes those darkened states of thought.

Truly we originate in the consciousness of Spirit, divine light. As God’s idea or child, we reflect divine light. A developing recognition of this truth and the living of it enable us to bring the light of Love to a world of fear, of darkness. Every one of us can contribute light that confronts a world of pandemic fears with the power to overcome them.

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The welcoming committee

Caitlin Ochs/Reuters
Felix and his mother, Naomi Hassebroek, look at her sister's newborn baby through a glass door while dropping off a bag of supplies for Easter Sunday during the coronavirus outbreak in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, April 11, 2020.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris and Jacob Turcotte. )

A look ahead

Thank you for starting your week with us. Come back tomorrow for our next “Precedented” video. In this episode, we take a lively, historical look at the long-standing debate over universal health care in the United States. 

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