By Jackson Sharman
With a mask over her mouth and gloves on her hands, Pearl Wapner stood in the Kroger in Lexington, Va., trying to decide which bread to get.
That was on March 24, the same day Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s executive order the closing all nonessential businesses in the state went into effect. Virginia is one of many states taking such measures to limit social interaction and slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Wapner said she had recently been in contact with someone in Colorado who had been near someone else who had the novel coronavirus.
She is young and unsure about whether she is carrying the virus. But she said she was wearing the mask and gloves to lower the chance she spreads it to someone in Lexington who may be more vulnerable.
According to the Center for Disease Control, people 65 and older are at greater risk from the coronavirus. By the beginning of April, more than 185,000 people had contracted the virus, and nearly 4,000 had died. Health officials warn that up to 240,000 people could die, even with strict social distancing and other measures in place.
Life in Lexington has changed dramatically, as it has nearly everywhere else in the country.
On March 13, Washington and Lee University President Will Dudley announced that the school was shutting down and classes would move online. The next day, Provost Marc Conner sent an email confirming that students would also take their spring term classes online.
Virginia Military Institute moved to online classes on March 25.
W&L sophomore Rett Daugbjerg said he was not surprised, but he is disappointed. After receiving the news, he said he wanted to enjoy what time he and his friends in Lexington before going home.
“I’m pretty bummed. It’s the end of the year, for all intents and purposes,” he said later that night during dinner at the Chi Psi Lodge. “So, I think everybody is appreciating everybody’s presence.”
The university told students they had until Wednesday, March 18, to leave campus. Many parents of first-year students arrived in Lexington to help move their children out of dorms.
At night, the scene resembled the evenings of Orientation Week at the beginning of the academic year when large numbers of students go out to parties at the Pole houses and Windfall Hill, located off Route 11 just outside the city limits.
Some students decided to stay in Lexington rather than go home. Many of them said they believed it would be safer than going back to their homes in cities where there are many confirmed cases of the virus.
Others, like Ellie Ankeny, a W&L senior who lives in a suburb outside Minneapolis, didn’t want their time in college to end yet.
“As a senior, I wanted to stay and complete my senior year in Lexington,” she said. “I also felt it would be safer to stay where I am rather than bringing new germs that I may have come in contact with to my family, particularly my parents.”
On Monday, March 30, Northam issued a stay-at-home order mandating that people only leave their homes to get food and essential supplies.
Even before then, restaurants had either closed or offered delivery or pick-up services. Many people who live in Lexington and Rockbridge County had only left their homes to stock up on essential supplies like toilet paper and frozen food.
Jesse Bartlett, who works at Cattleman’s Market, said people have been flooding in to buy food. “It’s like Christmas around here,” she said.
Kroger, one of the area’s main grocery stories, is feeling the effects. Gretchen Curlis, a cashier at Kroger, said there have been shortages of many products.
“We were out of potatoes, out of bags of sugar, out of flour, out of oils,” she said, “we were out of ketchup, which I thought was really weird.”