The COVID-19 pandemic has inspired a frustrated St. John’s hotel owner to launch his own physical distancing awareness campaign.
“Six feet apart or six feet under. Your choice!” say the block-lettered signs that Marcel Etheridge, owner of the Captain’s Quarters hotel, had his staff put up around the city.
The Captain’s Quarters is a small hotel in downtown St. John’s. Etheridge said the signs are his way of helping his community respond to the COVID-19 crisis.
“I follow the news very carefully, I’m doing a lot of research on the virus. I’m a man who likes to know what’s going on and I figured that would be a good idea,” he said. “The faster we get people to stay inside, the quicker we’ll get back to our jobs and our life.”
He ordered 500 signs on Friday afternoon and by Saturday morning, his crew were hammering them into trees, taping them to fences and stapling them to poles.
On Monday afternoon he ordered 500 more.
Etheridge said he’s even sent his staff members to large grocery stores with the signs, in case store managers want to put them up, too. He’s hoping to blanket the city with them, “out in the subdivisions, everywhere,” he said. And he’s happy to cover the costs.
“First of all, I’m in a position to do so. Second of all, like everybody, I’m concerned that people aren’t playing by the rules,” he said.
Etheridge said he’s got his staff on the job because he’s self isolating after a vacation in the Dominican Republic.
Once he’s out of isolation, he’ll be out in his truck hanging up the signs too, he said.
Etheridge arrived back in St. John’s on March 27. He said he was watching the COVID-19 crisis unfold back in Newfoundland from his apartment in Puerto Plata and considered staying there until it blew over.
But the pandemic hit the Dominican Republic, too—President Danilo Medina declared a national state of emergency on March 19—and he started making plans to come home.
It was on the plane when he first got worried that some folks aren’t taking the health warnings seriously. “When I got on the flight, I saw terrible things, people moving from their seats, nobody with masks … the pilot was talking to the stewardess about one foot apart. I was absolutely mind-boggled,” Etheridge said, adding that people seemed far too close to one another at the baggage claim, too.
“People are not taking this seriously, there are lives involved. Why would you want to hurt somebody?”
Etheridge said he’ll order and put up as many signs as it takes to convince people to stay home.
“Another 500 goes? I’ll do it again. If another 500 goes, I’ll do it again,” he said. “I think we have to get everybody in the neighbourhood staying in the house, get the kids in the house, stop going around the streets. It’s just terrible that people aren’t taking this seriously.”