*Note: A slightly edited version of this essay was published in the Pikes Peak Bulletin print edition on March 19, 2020. It can also be found online here, an image of the column is included below.

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Six weeks ago, the Manni Awards at City Hall were packed with people. Describing the celebration, Shanti Toll told the attendees, “This is the day we are aware of ourselves as a community. This is special because…being aware and participating for the common good is the essence of all communities.”

We may need that community now more than ever.

Mr. Toll’s introduction from that night still rings in my ears. It rings even louder because the novel coronavirus (known as “COVID-19”) cases approached 10,000, with 200 deaths, and had spread into 20 countries by that day. In just the six weeks since, the virus has sickened 200,000, killed 8,000, and reached at least 143 countries. COVID-19—which infects others much more readily than the flu, yet kills at a much higher rate—has grown exponentially, cratered financial markets, and ground-down life as we knew it to a full-stop.

And now it’s here. There are over 200 presumptive positive tests in the state. COVID-19 has caused two deaths in Colorado, and the infection is present in the Pikes Peak region.

It’s bad. Really bad. With justified cause and very good reason, society’s been closed. Schools are closed. Museums are closed. Restaurants are closed. Gyms are closed. If the Manni Awards were to be held next week, it would be shut down too, because large gatherings are closed.

What’s worse, so many in Manitou are threatened directly by the virus. Some physically, and some economically.

While for some it’s not much solace, it is important to take heart in knowing that Manitou’s seen some very hard times. World War I and the Great Influenza. The Great Depression and the Second World War. Floods and fires. Manitou Springs still stands.

And so are the people that love this little city beside the peak. We may be isolated but we’re never alone. We may be quarantined but we have our neighbors. We may be frightened but we can help each other.

What we need now is a contagion of another kind. A contagion of our own. A positive contagion to outlast a negative one. A contagion of Manitou’s own making that fights back against sickness and dread.

Yes, we’re limited, isolated, and resource constrained—but that’s just the start of every great comeback story, isn’t it? What we do have is more than enough—a community of creatives, committed to Manitou and everyone in it.

What must be done? First, organize. Find a safe, socially-distant way to collaborate to help those in greatest need: the aged, the disadvantaged, our businesses, and lastly, our neighbors when hit and harmed.

It’s not hard to imagine elderly that will need checking in on in some way. Particularly if family members that normally check in on them fall ill and fear spread, the community may need to fill that vacuum. Even if it’s by phone or from a front-door-safe-distance. Now is the time to ask those normally-awkward questions, ahead of the gathering storm.

Assuming the disruption to work and paychecks, the community pantry at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church (every Wednesday at 808 Manitou Ave.) will likely need more donations than before, for longer than ever. (For information, contact Joe at Jkirkendall@newlifechurch.org.)

We should be concerned about our businesses. As Eric Klinenberg, sociology professor at New York University recently pointed out, “We all need to be worried about the corner diner and the new coffee shop and the bodega and the small nonprofit organizations,” because they contribute so much to the composition of the community.

Our business, many of which are run and owned and staffed by our neighbors, need help. Beyond just re-negotiating payments, or local grants, we in the community can contribute too. Perhaps now’s the time for individual businesses or the Chamber of Commerce to organize a program of ‘Manitou Made’ pre-pay gift cards—pay now, eat or shop later—to inject cash into a business to help them through a really tough time. It’s the same principle as a war bond, an investment in the community that very well may make a difference in uncertain moments.

Lastly, the individual. Just as when it rains we get wet, it’s nearly a mathematical certainty that someone (maybe many) will be touched by COVID-19. Worse than the illness itself, when infected, people in isolation tend to feel alone. It’s natural but harmful.

This forces a question: What will we do? When one of our neighbors or fellow city-dwellers falls ill, which is almost guaranteed at this point: What will we do? Will we hunker down and say ‘better them than me’? Or will we carefully organize to shop for the sick, get groceries to those in need, send well-wishes even if through a window, and make cards (something I’d imagine our grade-schoolers would excel at, and may bring a smile to the face of even our sickest citizen).

What a difference six weeks can mean. Then, I thought Mr. Toll’s words were simply uplifting. Now, I think they’re necessary. Only a community can fight a contagion. I’m so glad we’ve got one in Manitou.


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