After a week holed up in their Oakland apartment, working from home and obeying orders not to leave unless absolutely necessary, Carmen Lugo and Sharon Blower finally got to see friends in person Saturday.
But there could be no hugs hello when Lugo and Blower saw their friends Phillip Huante and Edgar Lara — air-hugs would have to suffice for now. And as they sat down to chat in a sunny spot by Lake Merritt, the couples made sure their blankets were at least six feet apart.
“We’ve got to be responsible about it,” Lugo said.
Around the Bay Area on Saturday, residents and businesses that have spent the past week adjusting to sweeping orders aimed at curbing the spread of the deadly coronavirus were again faced with the challenge of finding ways to connect with one another while staying far apart enough to avoid potential exposure.
Although some people appeared to be disregarding the orders — and the sheer number of people trying to enjoy time outside made following the rules a challenge in some popular spaces — others like Lugo, Blower and their friends, are quickly adapting to social life to the age of social distancing.
They held “Zoom parties” with friends around the Bay Area and across the country this week — a raucous costumed get-together, a video double-date with another couple, and virtual counseling sessions for friends who lost their jobs.
“We’re seeing (friends) more than I’ve seen them in the last couple of months because we’re doing it virtually,” Lugo said. “It’s a weird way to bring people together.”
In San Jose, just a handful of people walked dogs and pushed strollers past shuttered luxury shops on Santana Row, a shopping center that would typically be bustling on a sunny Saturday.
Still, a few businesses remained open in the city’s downtown, highlighting the monumental challenge of forcing virtually every shop and business in America’s tenth-largest city — including mom-and-pop stores with few employees — to shutter their doors for three weeks, if not longer.
Among the holdouts was Frank Annino, 87, who has been operating The Spartan Barber Shop near the San Jose State campus since he left the army in 1957. Barber shops are supposed to be closed under both state and county order, and Gov. Gavin Newsom has told anyone over 65 that they should stay home.
“I figure, I’ll go ahead and work until they tell me to close,” Annino said, talking over the sound of 1940s country music.
But business wasn’t exactly booming. The last time it was this slow, Annino said, was when The Beatles got everyone to grow their hair out long in the 1960s.
Still, Annino said he’s confident we’ll get through the coronavirus pandemic — and when we do, people will still need haircuts. In the meantime, he’s washing his hands regularly and hoping for the best.
“I’ve been through quite a bit in my life and if it happens, I figure I’ve lived long enough already,” he said. “Why sweat it?”
Meanwhile, for businesses allowed to stay open, managing the outbreak means managing customers.
The phone lines were jammed at San Jose’s popular La Villa Deli with customers ordering pints of ravioli, fresh bread, salads, cheese and other Italian staples for takeout. Owner Patty Bertucelli oversaw the kitchen operation while gloved employees handed out orders from a booth set up in the parking lot.
“We’ve been so busy, almost like a normal Saturday,” she said. “It’s been awesome. I am so grateful to our loyal customers.”
At Bicycle Express in downtown San Jose, a sign in front limited customers to two at a time. Bike shops are one of the few businesses considered essential and allowed to stay operating under the Bay Area’s “stay at home” order, since many of their customers work for companies like DoorDash and Grubhub, delivering food by bicycle.
Other businesses are still trying find work-arounds to the constraints the virus has forced on daily life.
Back in Oakland, business as usual was out of the question for the Ethiopian coffee and tea stand Oak-Dar, where shoppers at the Grand Lake Farmers Market would normally talk and linger over beverages. Instead, the stand was selling bags of coffee beans and to-go bottles of tea to customers trying to avoid each other.
“We’re adapting,” said Getu Yilma, part of the team that runs the stand, though he added that business has been drying up as markets close and people stay home. “You just want to keep your distance.”
But while the usual crowds that descend on the market had diminished, and many vendors hadn’t shown up at all, it was busy enough to make social distancing difficult — there just wasn’t enough space in the aisles between stands for people to stay six feet apart. In a region that has rapidly embraced agoraphobia, it was an almost disconcerting sight.
“I’m not super comfortable with it,” said Mads Lynnerup, a teacher from Oakland, as he stood with his produce haul a few steps from the market. Then again, Lynnerup said, it did seem like people running the market stands were doing their best to keep shopping hygienic.
The past week has meant lots of time inside and some difficult compromises for Lynnerup and his two daughters, Pepper and Albi. They were about to send invitations for Albi’s fourth birthday party when restrictions on gatherings began tightening; instead, they had a pizza party and an early Easter egg hunt at home to celebrate her birthday Wednesday.
“The hardest part is cutting away social interactions,” Lynnerup said. Even as someone who doesn’t consider himself very extroverted, he said, “You realize something is missing.”