It’s ‘People, People, People’ as Desperate Americans Wait in Long Lines for Basic Needs

© William Luther/The San Antonio Express-News, via Associated Press People lined up in their cars at a food distribution site in San Antonio, Tex., on Thursday.

Standing in line used to be an American pastime, whether it was lining up for Broadway shows, camping outside movie theaters before a Star Wars premiere or shivering outside big-box stores to be the first inside on Black Friday.

The coronavirus has changed all that. Now, millions of people across the country are risking their health to wait in tense, sometimes desperate, new lines for basic needs as the economic toll of the virus grips the country.

In cars and on foot, they are snapping on masks and waiting for hours to stock up on groceries, file for unemployment assistance, cast their ballots and pick up boxes of donated food. The lines stretch around blocks and clog two-lane highways.

In western Pennsylvania, cars stacked up for miles on Monday as hundreds of people waited to collect a week’s worth of groceries from the Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.

Outside Miami, some of the 16 million Americans who have lost their jobs over the past few weeks snaked around a library on Tuesday, waiting to pick up a paper application for unemployment benefits.

And in Milwaukee, Catherine Graham, who has a bad heart and asthma, slapped on a homemade face mask and left her apartment on Tuesday for the first time since early March to spend two hours waiting in line to vote at one of the five polling locations in the city that remained open for the Wisconsin primary election.

“It was people, people, people,” Ms. Graham, 78, said. “I was afraid.

One resident of Ms. Graham’s senior-apartment complex has already died of the coronavirus, and Ms. Graham said she nearly turned back when she saw the line. But, determined to vote, she perched on her walker as the line inched ahead and prayed with her daughter, asking God to keep them safe. Every day since, she has been scrutinizing her blood pressure, oxygen levels and other vital signs on a home machine.

The scenes are especially jarring at a moment when freeways are empty and city centers are deserted, and public-health experts are urging people to slow the transmission of the coronavirus by avoiding each other.

“It’s worrisome,” said Carl Bergstrom, a biologist at the University of Washington who studies pandemics. “It’s setting up unnecessary opportunities for transmission.”

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SOURCE: The New York Times, Jack Healy

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