Meredith Rizzo

As Americans shift their lives indoors and away from large public gatherings, people across the U.S. are grappling with basic questions about life, work and social distancing in the age of COVID-19.

Schools have shut down or pivoted to online learning, restaurants have halted dine-in services, and businesses across the nation have altered their work hours or shuttered completely. NPR checked in this week, with residents of three U.S. cities that have been among the first to face high numbers of cases and restrictions related to the outbreak.

Everyone who lived through Black Saturday remembers the heat and the wind that day in February 2009. The temperature soared to 115 degrees Fahrenheit — so hot it sucked the breath out of you, made your vision swim and your fingers swell. The wind blew in from the northwest, from the vast, arid Australian interior. Flags flew stiff. Fire danger was extreme.

Updated Feb. 21, 11:56 a.m. ET

Coming off a shift at Tuen Mun Hospital in Hong Kong on Wednesday night, cardiologist Alfred Wong was getting ready to go to dinner with his wife. The last time they ate together, she brought the meal to the courtyard below their apartment, placed it on a bench, then sat down at least 10 feet away.

From across the patio, they ate. On separate benches. Looking at each other.

First came the fires, denuding millions of acres of forest in eastern Australia. Now comes the rain, more than 12 inches in just 48 hours over this past weekend in some areas of New South Wales.

That sequence, severe bushfires followed by torrential rain, is bringing a third cataclysm — landslides and large-scale erosion.

When Linda and Bob Oslin lost their home last year to California's most destructive wildfire, they began searching their burned property expecting to salvage at least some sentimental items.

But, she says, "everything was gone." Or so she thought.

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