Beyond memes of hoarded toilet paper, social media feeds are filling up with another kind of coronavirus-driven trend: “quarantine shaming.”
It’s not only the spring breakers partying on Florida beaches or elevator sneezers catching shade online—people doing mundane things in Long Beach, from getting coffee to picking up beach trash, even while practicing social distancing, are among those being vilified.
At Belmont Shore’s popular Polly’s Gourmet Coffee, which remains open for to-go orders only (in compliance with health and safety guidelines), business is slowing down in part because owner Mike Sheldrake said customers are becoming less sure if it’s socially acceptable to go out for a cup of coffee.
Still, there are some die-hard regulars who won’t give up their coffee routine, choosing to bring lawn chairs and sit in the parking lot each morning now that the patio is closed.
“They realize they cannot be inside endangering other people, so they are meeting outside and supporting each other,” Sheldrake said about the parking lot gatherers.
Yet those parking lot coffee drinkers do get a few glares thrown at them from passersby — experts say there’s a growing divide between those who are self-isolating and those who are trying for a semblance of a normal life in what’s an unprecedented and rapidly changing effort to contain the virus.
Long Beach residents are asking themselves if it’s OK to let their children play on playgrounds or take their dogs to the beach. What was socially acceptable yesterday might be different today in this rapidly changing environment, especially as the social gap widens between those who are deemed essential workers and those who stay at home.
“It’s all changing so quickly,” Sheldrake said. “I’m just amazed at the amount of people who have come in to stock up on coffee and support us, and now that they’re loaded up with coffee, I think it’s going to be a long time before we see them again.”
In Bixby Knolls, an effort to show support for a local ice cream parlor also was met with mixed reaction. A couple of profane messages via social media and emails were directed toward the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association, which organized the “flash” event, offering free scoops for participants.
“This is a business retention program. We were giving away ice cream over a five-hour span of time, and it was not a party. It was take-out. You walked in, you left, and no one got within six feet of another person,” BKBIA Executive Director Blair Cohn said, noting that the turnout was good, with about 40 free scoops given.
Disappointed by the negativity expressed online, Cohn emphasized that safety is always the priority as the BKBIA tries to find innovative ways to keep the community engaged and keep business owners’ hopes alive.
“We’ve thought this through,” Cohn said. “Safety is always front of mind.”
Mindfully designed to be socially-distanced, to-go order flash giveaways are something Cohn said he wants to do more of to support local businesses at a time when people may be looking for safe ways to support independent shops, get outside and be a part of the community.
Some of the business district’s regular events, such as crowd-gathering First Fridays, have been canceled to prevent the spread of the virus. The BKBIA is continuing its Strollers program, which is in its 12th year, with a walk planned this Saturday that will encourage participants to spread out and do their steps together, yet apart.
Another person who’s trying to find safe ways to keep people connected while they’re physically apart is community advocate Justin Rudd, who founded the nonprofit Community Action Team. But Rudd said it’s been difficult to find solutions, and some people online haven’t been encouraging.
A city mandate forced Rudd to call off the next two monthly 30-Minute Beach Cleanups, which have been happening for 249 consecutive months, even though Rudd had planned to encourage volunteers to keep their distance from one another while they picked up garbage with gloved hands.
Something as simple as exercising outdoors, Rudd said, faces potentially harsh judgment online.
“I’ve been working out outside and running stairs every day with a friend, and we are being smart about it, but some people think you should just stay at home,” he said. “My friend didn’t want me to post a photo of us (on social media) because he didn’t want to get shamed.”
Community Action Team, which canceled several of its larger events — including building Easter baskets for kids — has instead donated $36,000 in hygiene items, school supplies and books to several different agencies in town this month. Rudd also is using his “Long Beach, Calif.” Facebook page to connect isolated people in need to volunteers who can help.
“We really need to stay positive and stay connected, even in these dark times — there’s light,” Rudd said. “We still have each other, even though we might not be shaking hands.”