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A Better Kind of Community Spread

— March 23, 2020

During these uncertain times, COVID-19 – and our humanity – are showing signs of community spread.

COVID-19 has gone, dare I say, viral. Every day brings a new normal. It seems unreal that just a month ago, we could have a night out at a restaurant or sit shoulder-to-shoulder with complete strangers at a ball game without wondering if it might make us deathly ill. Even as tragic news rolls in from around the world, though, something else is springing to life. It’s community spread: the virus, yes, but also the better angels of our nature. For even in the midst of a pandemic that is costing us lives and livelihoods, people are finding ways to reach out and make the best of these strange new times.

You may have heard the stories of quarantined Italians singing from their balconies, a community spread of music and song to connect with each other in solidarity. Not all of these videos are real; Italian neighborhoods were not alive with the sound of “Bitch Better Have My Money,” as one internet fake would have us believe. Still, renditions of the Italian national anthem and the folk song Volare, a performance of Nessun Dorma by quarantined tenor Maurizio Marchini in Florence, and even amateur DJ sets have lightened hearts and brought people together as the virus takes so many of them away.

Isolated in Australia with her husband Tom Hanks after becoming infected on a movie set, Rita Wilson reached out to her fans for song recommendations to add to a Spotify playlist. The Twitter community spread her request far and wide, resulting in the “Quarantunes” playlist. Check it out if you’re quarantined, bored, and don’t have a balcony to sing from.

In Oneida, Wisconsin, humor helps make the new normal more bearable. Mersedes Funmaker, an artist with Oneida and Ho-Chunk affiliations, spent a couple hours beading the front of a medical mask. The altered mask certainly isn’t CDC approved, but the Native community spread her photo as a meme online. You can see it, along with other creative coronavirus “regalia,” over at Indian Country Today.

Others are pulling together to help people get their physical needs met safely.

Food producers near Staunton, Virginia, have teamed up to offer a real community spread for hungry people. Together, they set up a “local food drive-through.” Customers place their orders online and then pull up to a designated pick-up point where gloved helpers load up their vehicles. It’s a win-win for everyone, as people get healthy, nutrient-dense food to enjoy, local food producers stay in business, and the community shores up its economy and resilience during hard times.

A hospital in Italy was in desperate need of a particular valve used in breathing equipment to help treat severely ill COVID-19 patients. The manufacturer was unable to supply the part in a timely manner, but an Italian startup with a 3D printer offered to reverse-engineer the design and make workable copies for about a dollar apiece to cover materials. The idea (and the valves) worked! Although the valves are patented and the copies are technically infringements, there doesn’t seem to be any pending legal action over this one-off violation to fill a dire need.

Ventilators are in short supply, and without them, doctors treating COVID-19 patients have to make hard choices about who lives and who dies. Makers and hackers are coming together to see if they can quickly devise an open source ventilator design. If you think you can help their community spread the word (or have some ideas yourself), the conversation is going on over here.

Black and white image of a man reading a newspaper.
The world is changing. Photo by Geralt, courtesy of

These times we’re living through are not unprecedented, though they are a massive shock to a globalized system and people living on the edge. But that doesn’t mean we’re helpless, we just have to find a role to play. We can be the young person helping an elder neighbor shop for groceries, the guy handing out rolls of toilet paper on the street, or the landlord putting off renovations to skip collecting rent this month. We can come together (from a safe distance!) for mutual aid, build lasting connections, and help our new community spread around the world.

The old “normal” is how we got here. Let’s build a better future for all of us.

Related: Prepping for a Coronavirus Outbreak


Balcony singing in solidarity spreads across Italy during lockdown
The Videos of Quarantined Italians Singing Your Favorite Pop Songs Are Fake
See Rita Wilson’s coronavirus-inspired playlist while she’s quarantined with Tom Hanks
Quarantunes Playlist
Humor, sage and extra protection
Newtown Collective
Volunteers produce 3D-printed valves for life-saving coronavirus treatments
Ultimate Medical Hackathon: How Fast Can We Design and Deploy an Open Source Ventilator?
U.S. Hospitals Prepare Guidelines For Who Gets Care Amid Coronavirus Surge
Meet the Woman Doing Grocery Runs for Elderly Neighbors to Help Reduce Their Coronavirus Risk
The Peripatetic Preacher and the Gift of Toilet Paper
South Portland landlord challenges other landlords to offer financial relief due to coronavirus concerns
Autonomous Groups Are Mobilizing Mutual Aid Initiatives To Combat The Coronavirus
Radical solidarity through Covid-19
Coronavirus Will Change the World Permanently. Here’s How.
Haunting video shows Italian army trucks transporting coffins from town rocked by coronavirus
Community Spread? Social Distancing? Defining Infectious Disease Terms

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