Internet Upgrade Occurs Just as COVID-19 Fears of Contact with Others and Staying at Home Heightens

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Internet Upgrade Occurs Just as COVID-19 Fears of Contact with Others and Staying at Home Heightens

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The sign depicts advertising to encourage people to sign up for Pioneer Telephone's Fiber Internet in Blanchard, Oklahoma. As a rural community, we had been waiting for fiber access for quite awhile. We are close enough to the Oklahoma City area to see the capability grow, but were too far away to benefit until recently. The local company Pioneer promoted the coming of the internet upgrade for the past year. I had already signed a contract to receive this upgrade in October of 2019, but by chance my neighborhood's service was ready until March 2nd just as COVID-19 concerns were starting to become more widespread. On March 25th state-wide restrictions put in place by Governor Stitt's executive order closed non-essential businesses, limited public gatherings to no more than 10 people, and enacted the "safer at home" protocol for those over 65 or with underlying medical conditions. During this time period I had restricted my exposure to just a few of my closest family in order to protect the older members.

Pioneer called the last week of March to set a date, just as the biggest restrictions were occurring. I decided to move forward not realizing how the idea of a person entering my house would change my thoughts just a week later. The utility companies often send people to do work orders, which had never bothered me in the past. When Pioneer arrived on April 3rd to install the upgrade, I began to realize that this would feel very different. For the past month, we had postponed family nights, group dinners, and outings. During that time, we wouldn't dare answer the door for a sales person or go to grocery stores without a mask. The entire month was mostly just Kelly and I in my home with few outs beyond my work or my grandmother's house. The process was somewhat stressful because of how much the COVID-19 situation had changed since signing up for the service.

When the man arrived, I noticed he was cautious about how he entered and the social distancing he kept from us. He did much of the organizing of his equipment in my driveway from his pickup. He was a contract worker for Pioneer and his helper was a young man of about eighteen. The two came inside, with the young man doing most of his work from my attic. This was the first time someone other than a few close family members had entered my house since the executive order. His distancing and professionalism helped alleviate many of the concerns. Once he left we used sanitizer wipes to clean door handles, just to be safe.

The time he was in my house was cordial and friendly, but it was far from the normal way rural people would act in circumstances like this in the past. There were no handshakes which would've been a standard practice for many people in these encounters. This situation depicts the feelings of uncertainty and the changing of routine habits that occurred during COVID-19. Many of these changes were gradual, subconscious and only visible once we reflected upon them. Personal story submitted for the #ruralvoices collection. Contributed by Clinton P. Roberts, curatorial intern for Arizona State University, HST 580. #HST580 #ASU

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This item was submitted on May 31, 2020 by Clinton P. Roberts using the form “Share Your Story” on the site “A Journal of the Plague Year”:

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