Coronavirus Outbreak Reveals Philly at Its Absolute Best — and Utter Worst

Scenes from the intersection of "Brotherly and Sisterly Love" and "No One Likes Us, We Don't Care."

Photo courtesy of chilladelphia

A week ago, I was able to buy toilet paper and bleach in abundance at my nearby CVS. I did this while planning a dinner date with my fiancé for Friday.

Today, I’m confined to my house, finishing my seventh Netflix documentary between writing and checking on family and friends. The stores are mostly out of cleaning supplies, as some people are hoarding and losing their minds on cue. My reservation for the hard-to-get-into Hiroki was canceled, and my life as a serial networker has been halted indefinitely.

Welcome to Quarantine Philadelphia.

The coronavirus has pulled the ultimate 180 on the world, creating new normals practically overnight. Retail stores, restaurants, bars, theaters and more are shutting down to slow the spread of this deadly virus. Weddings, birthday parties, concerts and parades have been met with the same one word: canceled. Companies and individuals are making the wise decision to self-quarantine and asking their staffs to be safe. (Philly Mag made the the smart choice to ask all staff to work from home last week.)


As I write this, I’ve just received word that a fellow attendee at a conference I went to in New York City more than a week ago tested positive for COVID-19, and even though I haven’t had any symptoms, my plan to socially isolate since then couldn’t have been more timely. But as I continue to keep my hands clean and my butt out of public places, I’ve been able to observe the refreshingly good and inexcusably bad of Philly right now as we tackle this global pandemic head-on.

One positive that’s come from this experience is seeing how compassionate Philadelphians can be to the less-fortunate around them. Whether City Council and our State Representatives are jumping into action to stop utilities from shutting down or coming up with policy to protect people from eviction, it’s been great to see such a rapid response from this sector of the government.

In my apartment building, neighbors have been extra-cautious and courteous. We’re spraying down the elevators and doorknobs for one another. Some are leaving wet wipes at the front door and spare food for those in need. In various social media groups, there have been calls for people to buy gift cards from restaurants to keep struggling small businesses and their workers afloat. Some people are even calling on folks to buy tickets to plays, concerts and exhibits that have been canceled (or to donate the price of a ticket) as a way to help those performers survive.

It’s been inspiring to see the City of Brotherly and Sisterly Love reminding people to wash their hands in the most Philly way possible.

Even more inspiring are the countless churches, nonprofits and community groups that have stepped up to provide food and supplies for needy families. The charitable giving bank held by hometown hero Anton Moore, founder of Unity in the Community, in Point Breeze this past weekend was a reminder that not everyone is a hoarding capitalist.

But as the good vibes rolled in, so did the disappointing ones.

Food and supplies donated to families in need in South Philly. Photo credit: Anton Moore.

While many of us were telling each other to socially isolate so as to not become potential vectors who could carry the virus and thus imperil senior citizens and those with compromised immune systems, the “No one likes us, we don’t care” side of our community came out.

This weekend, while many of my neighbors were staying indoors, Mayor Kenney was foolishly encouraging Philadelphians to continue frequenting our restaurants, even as other nearby cities were acting more responsibly. Though the St. Paddy’s Day parade was canceled, participants still packed big bars downtown and were in close contact — which should have been all the more reason for the Mayor to just shut those bars down.

And finally, after Governor Wolf called on non-essential businesses in our area to do so, places like the King of Prussia mall — which had been in the news for defiantly not closing — ceased operations. The fact that we had to basically be told by the state to be decent humans and not spread a deadly virus is embarrassing.

On Monday, after trying to keep businesses open for as long as he could, Kenney had to succumb to reason and join the statewide call to place the city on temporary lockdown. As of right now, restaurants and bars can only do takeout and delivery, and other non-essential businesses won’t be permitted to open until at least March 27th.

As the city begins to fully adapt to its new normal, I can only hope that the instances of goodwill and charity that have made this underdog town one of the scrappiest in the country win out.

We got this, Philly. Let’s prove the doubters wrong once again.