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Strolling through the virus crisis

A walker maintains more than enough social distancing while walking on the Rail Trail near Santa Fe High. (Mark Oswald/For Journal North)

One positive thing the coronavirus pandemic seems to be doing is driving people outdoors.

Just look around. With entertainment, dining and shopping options minimized, more Santa Feans are finding enjoyment in walking (with and without dogs) and bicycling on city trails and in open spaces. Or maybe walkers and bikers are getting out more often now as a cure for cabin fever. On your favorite urban trail or walkable arroyo, maintaining appropriate social distancing requires a bit more effort these days than it used to.

A word of caution here: As reported in a column from High Country News republished in this issue of the Journal North, the urge to take in the air can get out of hand. So many people swarmed Moab, Utah – gateway to the spectacular Arches National Park – on a key spring break week earlier this month that authorities shut down tourist facilities, including public campgrounds, to clear out the crowds as a precaution against the coronavirus spreading.

Until the virus threat has been eliminated, the best advice is to recreate outdoors in your region – for us, northern New Mexico – instead of traveling afar to major outdoor sites like national parks. That can overburden and overcrowd the small towns that typically border the big parks.

Another good thing these days is the prevailing attitude. While there are videos and reports of fights over toilet paper in supermarket aisles around the world, Santa Feans seem to be, despite everything, cheerier than usual.

On the trails and in the grocery stores, people have been almost invariably polite, and more prone to smile and say hi to strangers, despite obvious concerns about the virus (like moving away from fellow humans almost reflexively now). It’s like Christmas cheer without all the shopping and commercialism, a reflection of the we’re-all-in-this-together spirit that our best elected officials are trying to foster.

(It should be noted here that many of us who haven’t made a special effort to time our grocery store trips to purported toilet paper delivery times have not seen toilet paper for sale for weeks. So nothing in this editorial should be taken as definitive confirmation of exactly what happens when there is toilet paper on the shelves.)

There is in fact a group out there that’s angry to the point of litigation about all the restrictions and closings, and maintains that governors such as New Mexico’s Michelle Lujan Grisham are violating the Constitution by ordering people to shut down businesses and not congregate, even in small groups. As long as these people stay six feet away from everybody, no harm done.

The local community’s goodwill has found an official expression in the $500,000 fund the City Council and mayor have created to help people affected by the coronavirus crisis with food, transportation, child care and other services. City government is not on the front lines when it comes to health care or employment assistance, but the new appropriation, likely headed to nonprofit service organizations, should help fill gaps in emergency assistance.

The only quibble on this development is that it remains amazing how city government can dig up sizeable sums for special projects when it wants to. This $500,000 comes from something called the Railyard Fund, which apparently can be used for any purpose under the sun despite its name. When former mayor Javier Gonzales wanted money for his Verde Fund to fight poverty and climate change, the source was “unbudgeted excess land use permit fees.”

The impact of the pandemic and the restrictions on businesses and travel continue to spread. In today’s paper, the Journal North’s Kyle Land reports that the short-term rental market has crashed, in Santa Fe and elsewhere. Internet searches for such terms as “places to stay in Santa Fe” have fallen by 97%, according to one industry tracker.

That’s bad for locals who have invested in or benefited from Airbnbs. But there could be a silver lining in this development if many of the short-term rentals are converted to long-term rentals. That would mean less money for the rental unit owners, but help with Santa Fe’s intense rental housing shortage.

Let’s all try to continue to be friendly, supportive and charitable, as well as careful, as the virus situation almost certainly will get worse before it gets better.

When you encounter strangers in diverse Santa Fe during these difficult times, you might say to them, or at least be guided by, the phrase that Texas singer/songwriter, politician and provocateur Kinky Friedman has emblazoned on the back of his guitar: “May the god of your choice bless you.”