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Distancing Diaries: Residents Of Neodesha, Kansas, Miss Gathering On Main Street

Bill Goodwin teaches high school English in Neodesha, Kansas.
Courtesy of Bill Goodwin
Bill Goodwin teaches high school English in Neodesha, Kansas.

The small town has zero COVID-19 cases but is under the same stay-at-home orders as everywhere else.

Bill Goodwin teaches high school English in Neodesha, Kansas. Population: 2,300.

As of Tuesday, there was only one COVID-19 case in all of Wilson County, where Neodesha is located in the southeast part of the state.

When Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly shut down all the schools on March 17, Goodwin’s students began taking his classes online from home.

Just like communities across the globe, Neodesha's residents are grieving the loss of their ability to gather.

“For Neodesha, that didn’t happen when the colleges and sports teams cancelled their professional seasons,” Goodwin says. “It didn’t happen when the movie theaters or bars and restaurants closed.”

Neodesha doesn’t have either a bar or a movie theater. It has a handful of fast-food places: a Subway, Sonic and Pizza Hut.

The few restaurants in Neodesha, Kansas, have started curbside service.
Courtesy of Bill Goodwin
The few restaurants in Neodesha, Kansas, have started curbside service.

The sense of isolation set in when all the school activities got canceled.

“Gone then were the high school baseball and softball games, the track meets,” Goodwin says. “Gone were the middle and high school vocal and band concerts. Gone was high school graduation.”

While the density of city life creates exponentially higher infection rates, it also can ease the burden of social distancing. In a small town like Neodesha, young and old alike see one another at these school activities, sometimes more than once on the same day.

Not long after the Governor’s stay-at-home order went into effect, some residents did what they thought was a logical thing to bring people together.

They organized a cruise down Main Street.

Hundreds came out in their cars, grinning and honking, rolling down their windows to shout greetings to each other. Goodwin says people were giddy to be gathering again.

“Some people just couldn’t resist the opportunity to socialize and they got out of their vehicles and gathered with others to do the same."

The city has prohibited any more such events.

Goodwin says like everywhere, you’ve got your defiant residents who don’t follow the rules, and no one knows if they’ll ruin it for others by either getting infected or infecting others.

But he says there have been other natural and man-made disasters that required people to sacrifice and come together, and they did.

“And the town became stronger than before.”

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