Practicing social distancing for photographers who always try to get close to their subjects.

Every week, we present a gallery of recent pictures taken by our staff photojournalists and tell the story behind one of them. This week, Inquirer staff photographer Heather Khalifa talks about making adjustments after the coronavirus pandemic reached Philadelphia.

Jake Shea, 21, a student at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, tapes Clorox around him at the Field House bar in Center City on Saturday. People were celebrating in honor of St. Patrick's Day at the bar, despite social distancing recommendations due to the rapid spread of the coronavirus.
HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
Jake Shea, 21, a student at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, tapes Clorox around him at the Field House bar in Center City on Saturday. People were celebrating in honor of St. Patrick's Day at the bar, despite social distancing recommendations due to the rapid spread of the coronavirus.

When the coronavirus pandemic reached Philadelphia last week, Inquirer staff photographer Heather Khalifa wasn’t surprised. She knew it was only a matter of time.

“It’s just inevitable that there’s going to be adjustments in how we live our lives,” she said.

One of those adjustments — the cancellation of nearly all sports across the country — led her to the Field House bar in Center City, where she was curious what patrons were watching on a day without any games on TV.

No one seemed to miss the lack of sports. The bar was full of St. Patrick’s Day revelers. One of them, University of the Sciences student Jake Shea, caught her eye because he had taped a canister of disinfecting wipes to his waist. It was an unexpected example of how the coronavirus outbreak is beginning to intersect with Philadelphians’ daily lives.

“It’s recommended that we be social distancing, but obviously inside the bar it’s a different scene,” Khalifa said.

Visitors peek inside a closed Philadelphia Museum of Art on Saturday. All museums on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway said on Friday that they are working together and would all close for at least two weeks to help stem the spread of the coronavirus.
HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
Visitors peek inside a closed Philadelphia Museum of Art on Saturday. All museums on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway said on Friday that they are working together and would all close for at least two weeks to help stem the spread of the coronavirus.

Inquirer Director of Video and Photography Danese Kenon looks for pictures like Khalifa’s to capture the different ways that the pandemic is changing the region.

“Even though you’re in the middle of this crisis, you still need photos that are relevant and also lighten the mood, and also that people can relate to,” Kenon said. “This is hard, this is really really hard, and sometimes you need something that will make you smile now and again.”

As the coronavirus began spreading around the world, Kenon wanted the newspaper to avoid publishing pictures that would perpetuate stereotypes, such as out-of-context images of Asian people wearing face masks. Instead, Inquirer photographers have documented the fallout from institutional closures as well as how families are stocking up on supplies in anticipation of business closures.

But at the top of Kenon’s mind was the safety of her staff.

“We’re going to be out and around people because we can't work from home,” Khalifa said.

Kenon consulted with editors at other newspapers covering the coronavirus, and also told her staff that they could opt out of covering assignments that they felt uncomfortable with. Photographers were also instructed to avoid contact with sick individuals, to not enter rooms inhabited by infected individuals, and to stay home if they were feeling unwell.

“I have never seen anything like this, where literally the world comes to a stop,” she said.

Khalifa expects the coronavirus to continue spreading in the region for a while, so she’s taking precautions.

After she left the bar, she paused at a nearby bench. She opened her camera bag, took out a small bottle of Purell, and disinfected her hands — just in case.

Tim Tai, staff photographer

» SEE MORE: Last week’s staff photo gallery and the staff photography page

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