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The week that the coronavirus changed everything

In a few short days, the pandemic has altered nearly every aspect of our lives

Many of our schoolyards are barren, including at the Eliot School in Boston.
Many of our schoolyards are barren, including at the Eliot School in Boston.Stan Grossfeld/ Globe Staff

This is that moment, the one we will look back on, when everything changed.

One after another, the touchpoints of our lives have been falling away. The subtractions came slowly at first: flights from a handful of countries, conventions, political rallies, Little League tryouts. They’ve picked up speed as the week — has it really been only a week? — wore on. We are a danger to each other, our public spaces suddenly menacing.

Who are we without all of the things that bring us together?

We’re about to find out, as the coronavirus pandemic separates us, leaving us alone with our trepidation and, if we’re lucky, our loved ones.

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It will be weeks, and possibly months, before the full dimensions of this outbreak come clear. This country has been dangerously, irresponsibly slow to put in place the testing and interventions that could have helped us better contain Covid-19 and reduce its deadly toll. Some of us are still in potentially fatal denial. And we are woefully unprepared for the pandemic’s consequences, economic and otherwise.

But we have finally lurched into action, and now the erasures are piling up, an accelerating blur of postponements and cancellations, each of them as necessary as it is disconcerting.

On Monday, Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz made light of the outbreak, touching every microphone and audio recorder as he left a press conference, as a joke. By Wednesday night, nobody was laughing: Gobert had tested positive, and fans were sent home from the arena before his team took the court against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“I hope my story serves as a warning,” an embarrassed and apologetic Gobert wrote. It sure did. Basketball was suspended.

So was everything else. Teams first announced they’d play without crowds, then that they wouldn’t play at all. No hockey, no soccer, no baseball — or not yet. No college sports, including basketball and its hallowed March Madness. No high school sports, either. The St. Patrick’s Day parade was canceled, and the Marathon postponed, both losses cutting especially close to Boston’s bone.

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Theaters and museums and concert venues shut it all down. Federal courts postponed trials. The cardinal has ordered that holy water be drained from fonts, and excused Catholics from their Sunday obligations. Encore Boston, that monument to blind optimism, shut down the buffet and is taking customers’ temperatures (though, as of this writing, the casino continues to bet that humanity’s dream of beating the odds is stronger than its survival instinct, and will remain open).

Offices have been emptying. Colleges are sending home students — including those who have little waiting for them there or can ill afford the journey.

In the absence of any statewide guidance, some school districts have closed, while others remain open as officials grapple with gut-wrenching choices, between the imperative to slow the spread of the virus and the very real survival needs of students and families who rely on schools for care and meals. But soon they, too, will have to close their doors.

In a few short days, the virus has changed everything, including the one aspect of our lives that seemed utterly immutable: Traffic. Suddenly, commuters can actually get places.

The most fortunate among us — those with jobs we can do remotely, or for which we get paid when we can’t do them at all — will be spending a lot more time with our kids now, whether we like it or not. We’ll be working our way through the supplies we swept from supermarket shelves in this week’s panic. It will be lovely. It will be maddening.

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And it will be troubling. The news, to which many of us will be glued, is likely to be very bad. Even the rosiest predictions anticipate that, at its peak, several million Americans will contract Covid-19 and that many thousands will succumb to the virus. We will try to console anxious children, who now confront an existential threat even more immediate than climate change. And to ignore the collapse of the stock market. We will try to conceal our worry about the dire economic consequences of this pandemic — consequences that have already begun unfolding around us.

Some of us won’t have these luxuries, though. Those who lack sick pay and other benefits will have no choice but to ride the T to their low-wage jobs each day, no matter how they feel, or how their kids are cared for. Those who have unstable housing, or none at all, won’t be able to separate themselves from others. Those whose work puts them on the front lines of this outbreak will place themselves in harm’s way day after day and hope for the best, for all our sakes.

When it’s over, doors will open again. Restaurants will buzz to life. Kids will whine on Monday mornings once more. Familiar roars will rise at the Garden and on Boylston Street.

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For certain, we’ll be changed by our losses. Perhaps we’ll be more grateful for all we took for granted.

Anyway, it will be lovely to see each other again.


Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham can be reached at yvonne.abraham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeAbraham.