Here in the plague, we are living a story that is global and yet intensely local. While all of us get reams of reporting about national and international COVID-19 trends, most of us get little or no reporting about what’s happening in the communities where we actually live.
Local news has largely disappeared—the phenomenon of news deserts is by now well known. And yet never has the need for local information been greater. The big news can be completely at odds with the small news—and for individuals, it’s the small news that matters most. The crucial virus data is hyper-local. In my neighborhood, hidden within a larger geographic picture whose trends give cause for hope, the disease is spiking dramatically, even scarily. And almost nobody knows.
I live in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, a borough of about 6,000 souls southwest of Philadelphia. It is part of Chester County, an outer-ring suburb. With a few exceptions, the county is characterized by rolling green hills, pastures, and farms—mostly horse farms. The county was made famous by the paintings of Andrew Wyeth. It is mostly white and relatively affluent.
Kennett Square Borough is anomalous. It encompasses a densely populated area of just over one square mile. About half its residents are Latino, many of them families who immigrated here from Mexico and Guatemala to work in the county’s thriving mushroom industry, which produces about half the mushrooms consumed in the United States. Each fall we celebrate with a weekend Mushroom Festival, where hundreds of thousands of people jam State Street, the borough’s main thoroughfare. Kennett Square has also become a vibrant center for craft beer, fine restaurants, and live music, which has made the community a draw for the well-heeled—young and old—looking for a walkable, fun, and affordable place to live. All of these attractions have, of course, gone dark.