Two years ago, I moved into an apartment in Crown Heights that had bed bugs. An exterminator sprayed the apartment again and again, until I gave up and moved out. My dad borrowed a van and drove to Brooklyn to help me. We soaked rags with insecticide and packed them into plastic tubs with my books and shoes. We moved cautiously. Even though we couldn’t see the bugs—they’re small; they’re champions at hiding—we knew that they were there.

When I moved into my new place, I was convinced that I had missed something, that I hadn’t been careful enough, and that the bugs had followed me. What if a pregnant bug had sheltered itself in a blanket that, in the dryer, had failed to reach the appropriately lethal hundred and twenty degrees? What if two Adam and Eve bugs had nested inside my laptop? I texted my dad about the possibilities for months. He replied that the bugs were not there.

How could he know that? He couldn’t. But he saw no reason to worry until he was proved wrong. (Also, he was right.)

Recently, my dad has been forced to apply these methods on a larger scale. He’s the supervisor of the town of Guilderland—in New York State, cities have mayors, and towns have “supervisors”—and he has spent the past month mitigating the anxieties of thirty-six thousand people. He began sending out daily e-mail updates to residents on March 10th, back when there were a hundred and seventy-three COVID-19 cases in the state, but none yet in Albany County, where Guilderland is situated. “We are proactively acting to ensure a safe environment for residents,” my dad wrote. (The bugs were not there.) He added that the town would put out hand-sanitizer bottles in public places. “Please remember to ‘keep the calm,’ ” he concluded. That same day, he texted me, “The Town’s Medical Director is sure that it’s already here.”

Two days later, my dad sent an e-mail explaining that Guilderland had one confirmed case of the virus. “Please rest assured that the Town is fully equipped and trained to respond to COVID-19,” he wrote. “Thank you and please stay calm.” Then two more residents tested positive, and schools closed. “Thank you and continue to stay calm,” he wrote. One of the cases was a middle-school student, and families with plausible contact were self-quarantining. “Thank you again for staying calm.” Town Hall closed (although my dad was still putting on a suit and going in every day). “Thank you again for staying calm, and for your kind words of support for Town employees.” Fifty-two county residents had contracted the virus. He declared a state of emergency for the town. “Thank you again for staying calm.”

I returned to my home town on the tenth day of my dad’s e-mails. I was having trouble “staying calm” alone in Queens, and I headed to Guilderland after I was sure—or as sure as one can ever be—that I did not have the virus myself. (Of course, I still worry that I could be a vector and get my parents sick; I worry about everything.) More than half of Guilderland is farmland, and a third of it is suburbs. The residents have plenty of space from each other’s germs. Still, the town had experienced the first outbreak in Albany County, and the virus was spreading quickly. My dad was concerned that residents, marooned from each other by lawns, fences, and apple trees—their own organic quarantine—might be feeling isolated and panicked. So, when the number of COVID-19 cases in the county reached fifty-two, he suggested that residents in need of a diversion try the New York Power Authority’s nine-hundred-and-eighty-seven-page report on municipal lighting systems. (“Don’t worry,” he wrote. “No comprehension test is required under current conditions.”)

That evening, I sat with him in the living room as he waited to get a dial-in for Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 7 P.M. conference call with all the state’s mayors and supervisors. Cuomo’s office does these from time to time, and my dad was pretty sure that the governor’s office muted most of the people on the line, except for the mayors in places like New York City and Buffalo. Sometimes he’d try to say something, and it didn’t seem like anybody was listening.

He checked his e-mail. The call was postponed so that Cuomo could do a press event. My dad turned on the news to see if he could find him. “He does this all the time,” my dad said. “He goes on TV, and he keeps people waiting.” He’d been hoping to ask the governor whether the prohibition on nonessential gatherings applied to local-government board meetings, which need to happen—with public comment—to review new development. The town’s economy was on his mind. Guilderland gets twelve million dollars in sales tax, which is more than half of its budget. In April, when Guilderland gets its quarterly sales-tax revenue, the damage won’t be too bad, but by June it will be falling short by hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars. The town’s mall, Crossgates, where I used to fight with my mom at Hollister about the value of a dollar, is closed, except for Best Buy, which performs an essential service (“technology support”). People are buying lots of food—the Hannaford supermarket is sold out of popcorn, flour, and frozen vegetables—but there’s no sales tax on food. Guilderland gets decent revenue from taxes on mortgages. But it seems unlikely that people would be interested, at this particular moment, in buying homes.

My dad says that he has plans. He has ideas about where to find dollars; and, in the meantime, he won’t spend any money unless he absolutely has to. Except, earlier that day, someone at the mall had contacted the town and said that Crossgates couldn’t reimburse the town for the salaries of the two police officers it had recently hired to patrol it. My dad said, O.K., this was bad news, but he understood, and the town would keep paying the officers. It wasn’t like he was going to fire them.

He checked his e-mail again. The governor’s conference call had been cancelled.

The next morning, my dad wanted to drive around and visit town employees on the job. A morale thing. So I asked if I could come and we drove to the police station. There were two officers there, and my dad stood six feet from them and they positioned themselves six feet from each other. Things were fairly normal, the police said. Except last night someone leaving a quarantined house had driven into a tree, and all the E.M.T.s called to the scene had to put on hazmat suits and all the officers had worn respirators. “No one wants to stop cars right now,” one of them said. “You never know who’s going to be in that car, but now . . . ”

When we got back to my dad’s plug-in electric Subaru, the governor’s daily 11 A.M. press conference was on the radio. My dad turned it up when Cuomo said that he was going to address economic fallout. “Some people are saying, ‘Why can’t we dump Biden and go with Cuomo?,’ ” my dad said. He’d started sending his e-mails because he liked watching Cuomo’s press conferences; he found them candid and informative, and my dad reasoned that, if the White House wasn’t giving out facts, it was important that local leaders do so. But, as much as he likes Cuomo, my dad is also used to fixing things himself, and this time Guilderland’s issues required substantial help from above. The town, which has hundreds of employees to pay, was going to need state assistance. But the conversations about how many dollars, and when, were happening at the state and county level, and all my dad could do was wait.

We went to the transfer station, where people drop off their trash and recycling (Guilderland doesn’t have a landfill), and my dad got out and glumly noted the grammar on a sign announcing that the town had ceased charging “town residence” for the service. The staff there looked busy, so we got back in the car and went to the ambulance station, to say hello to the paramedics and E.M.T.s. There were two guys in the break room, and things were pretty normal, except everyone wondered if soon they might not be. My dad said that the town was trying to figure out how to transport patients to local urgent-care facilities, rather than to the hospitals in Albany, which would both free up hospital beds and cut ambulance commute times. Everyone agreed that this was a good idea.



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