Day 1. Wednesday, March 11, 2020. Lisbon, Portugal. WHO announces that the coronavirus outbreak is officially a pandemic. Trump announces travel restrictions from Europe effective Friday midnight. In Lisbon the news reached us around 2:00 AM when my phone lit up with texts from family and friends worried that we wouldn’t be able to come home from Europe. A little later, the announcement was clarified to state that U.S. citizens would be able to come home even after Friday, but all arrivals would be “tested”.
Day 2. Thursday, March 12, 2020. All of us (my son, two grandchildren, and I) had a peaceful lunch in an outdoor cafe near the Tagus River on our last day in Lisbon. The headlines back home seemed surreal as we ordered dessert and idly speculated that this was not only the end of our trip but the end of an era.
Day 3. Friday, March 13, 2020. Up at 4 AM. Our first flight was Lisbon to London Heathrow. Heathrow was full of frantic people trying to get home and we had to take a shuttle to a different terminal for our flight. It was on the shuttle that I began to feel we had lost control, because the shuttle was packed full of people from everywhere, standing up and jammed together. We were directed into lines for passport control and security checks (no testing of any kind though) and I realized that even if Portugal seemed “safe” we were now at risk of being exposed to this extremely contagious virus.
On our way home, my son John found out he has to telecommute for the time being. Lucky break for me, because I won’t be alone.
Day 6. Monday, March 16, 2020. Rancho Santa Margarita, California. 6:51 AM. The sun is just beginning to rise. I’m trying to grasp the reality of my situation. The governor has asked people over 65 to self-quarantine. What does that mean, I wonder. Avoid crowds, of course. That means no church, no Festival Singers, no Book Club, no concerts, no travel. But group activities have all been cancelled anyway. Can I still get my hair done, have a pedicure, mail a letter, buy a birthday card, shop for groceries? Thank goodness I took care of medical maintenance early in the year: dentist, mammogram, bone density scan, physical checkup, even had my hearing checked.
Of course, I do things at home as well. I tend my garden, write a blog, communicate by text, email, and telephone with friends and relatives. I plan to work on my memoir. I prepare meals, walk my dog, and watch television. Pretty much a portrait of a “senior citizen’s” day. We listened to the press conference from the White House. Everyone is being asked to self-quarantine and practice social distancing.
WSJ: “Dow Plummets Nearly 3,000 Points”
“How are virus lockdowns being enforced?” BBC
“India shuts down Taj Mahal amid coronavirus fears,” BBC
“Trump says coronavirus crisis may last all summer.” BBC
Day 7. Tuesday, March 17, 2020.
Up at 5:00 AM. Thinking of several people I haven’t contacted. Pictures I haven’t sorted. Things I would like to get at the grocery store today. Checks to mail. Can’t sleep anyway, so I might as well get up and check the CNN headlines:
“African Countries Shut Doors Against Europe,”
“White House proposes giving Americans Checks to Curb Coronavirus’ Economic Impact,”
“US Cities shutting down as coronavirus cases surpass 5,000 nationwide.”
A neighbor emails me that there were at least 200 people at 8:00 AM morning mass today. It was announced that all weekday and weekend masses would cease until further notice. How ironic that the very things that give people hope and comfort have to be taken away. We will find new ways to care for each other and new ways to pray.
Day 8. Wednesday, March 18, 2020
A chilly gray morning. I took Ozzie for a walk before breakfast and encountered a neighbor on a similar chore. We carefully stayed 6 feet apart, and she took another step back after I told her I had just returned from Europe on Friday. She’s going to check out Target, which just started a policy of saving Wednesday from 8 to 9 AM just for seniors and people with medical conditions. I’m not going this time, because I want to have breakfast with John and I have a phone appointment at 9:30 AM to discuss refinancing my mortgage.
My friends in retirement communities are very much on my mind right now. One in a senior single-family housing community up north tells me the activities centers and restaurants are closed and their usual gatherings for pot-luck dinners or choral singing are all banned. Another friend in a CCRC (Continuing Care Retirement Community) which is comprised of individual apartments in a large building told me they can’t eat in the dining room any more. Their meals are delivered to their apartments, group activities are cancelled, visitors and entertainment from the outside are banned. People in skilled nursing can’t have visitors.
But I have had residents tell me they feel safe and understand the necessity of these measures. I understand too that the only way to slow the spread of this very contagious virus is to isolate its hosts, i.e. us. Pray for our friends in community living environments and give them a phone call or send them a card when you can.
Day 9. Thursday, March 19, 2020
When the novelty (if there was any) begins to wear off, a good routine helps a lot. You’ve seen the prison movies. Now hash marks on the wall might not make you feel better, but having a template to your day just might help. Our routine followed naturally from the Saturdays we’ve spent together when John would drive here from Los Angeles for the weekend. Except now, we tend to get right into our blogs first thing. Then we do the morning things and, dressed for the day, sit at the breakfast table over eggs and toast (or a variant thereof). Other basic components to our day include walking Ozzie, writing, communicating with family and friends by phone, mail, or text, lunch, nap (for me), a good dinner (I like to cook), the news (PBS), Star Trek: Discovery (currently), a movie perhaps an old favorite while doing a puzzle.
The key components seem to be communication, exercise, food, and entertainment. To paraphrase an old commercial, What’s in your routine?
“Netflix urged to slow down streaming to stop the internet from breaking,” CNN Business
“Coronavirus is Spreading at Religious Gatherings, Ricocheting Across Nations,” WSJ
“Wild Rush for Cash Rattles Markets,” WSJ
Day 10. Friday, March 20, 2020
“After confusion, Orange County officials clarify coronavirus order discouraging gatherings, say county ‘is not shut down for business,” Orange County Register, March 19, 2020.
California governor issues statewide stay-at-home order; Confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. doubled in two days,” Washington Post, March 19, 2020.
“Global Coronavirus deaths pass 10,000,” BBC News.
One of John’s friends told us that he went to Starbuck’s in Aliso Viejo and all the chairs were stacked to one side. You could walk in and get coffee, but you had to leave immediately.
Yesterday California Governor Newsome announced a shutdown for the entire state. All nonessential businesses have to close. People should stay home except for essential activities–getting groceries or medicines, for example. No visits, no travel, no going to work. There are 40 million Californians. They think half the people in the state will get the virus.
The rules have changed daily. Earlier yesterday Orange County officials tried to clarify their statement of the day before, stating that our county is not in a shutdown mode like some other counties in the states. A few hours later we were all under the same guidelines.
Freedom Village is allowing no visitors and residents have to have meals in their apartment. A friend of mine in England cannot visit her husband who is in a nursing home. She was going every day. Now she calls him twice a day.
The telephone is our lifeline too. We tend to write in the morning and check in with friends and family in the afternoon. I jot down the names on my calendar to help me keep track.
Of course, John and I were living by the new guidelines ever since we got back from Lisbon. He’s going to go to the grocery store this morning while I fix breakfast.
Day 11. Saturday, March 21, 2020.
When John went to get groceries yesterday at about 8 AM, they were already handing out the last package of toilet paper He was able to pick up a few items such as orange juice and whole-grain bread, but many shelves were bare.
During our phone calls I found out that my daughter and daughter-in-law have stocked their shelves at home, so I decided maybe I should do it too. I made a list on Whole Foods at Amazon, but when I tried to buy it there were no delivery dates available. Then I tried a list for InstaCart to pick up at Ralph’s. Almost all the items I wanted were out of stock. But it was late in the day, so I tried again at 6 this morning. I’ve been told stores restock at night, so I thought at least Ralph’s would have more items available for InstaCart to pick up. No luck. The good news is that I was able to order toilet paper from a third-party vendor on Amazon last night. It was the only brand that did not say “out of stock,” so I ordered it immediately. I’m not out yet, but it bothers me that I haven’t seen any toilet paper I could buy since I got back from Portugal a week ago.
John says there is no real shortage. The same thing happened in Italy and after a couple of weeks stores were stocked more consistently. I think he’s right, but just out of curiosity I looked at emergency food supplies on Amazon. The 30-day food supply that comes in a big bucket was out of stock. I didn’t bother checking anything else.
On the bright side, BBC has escapist movie recommendations to distract and relax us. They include rom-coms like “Pillow Talk” or “When Harry Met Sally,” heroes saving the world like James Bond and Indiana Jones, and comedies that just make you laugh like “Be Kind, Rewind” (Jack Black) or “The Jerk” (Steve Martin). I wrote down some titles because we watch a movie every night. Last night we watched “It Started in Naples” (Clark Gable, Sophia Loren), always a favorite of mine.
I think they should have included fantasies like “Lord of the Rings.”
“Coronavirus; Social distancing enforced globally,” BBC
“Downturn Could Cost the U.S. 5 Million Jobs,” WSJ
“L.A. County gives up on containing COVID-19, tells doctors to skip testing of some patients,” KTLA 5.
Day 12. Sunday, March 22, 2020.
Sunshine for a change! And very welcome it is too, inviting us to step outside and enjoy a glimpse of spring before another cold storm rolls in. We stayed up later last night, ending the evening with a couple of episodes of Seinfeld. Like Norman Cousins, who watched all the funny movies he could find to successfully fight a terminal illness, we can use laughter to stay healthy. With all the on line streaming services today this is easy to do. It definitely helps me sleep at night.
Another therapy we can all use is communication. Yes, we are isolated, and as social beings, that is hard to take. Use the means at hand–telephone, texting, emails, Instagram, Facetime, Facebook. Wave to your neighbor. Play on line games with a friend. This is not a time to complain about digital screens and social media. It’s a time to connect, communicate, and comfort.
Did you know you can order postage stamps and stationary on line? I ordered those beautiful new train stamps and I’m going to write some letters today. Think about people in senior residences that can’t have visitors. Think about people living alone or trying to entertain their children. Did you ever read The Postman by David Brin? (The book is way better than the movie.) Remember how excited people were to get a letter in that post-apocalyptic world? Mail meant a return to stability, normality, and connection. Spread that sunshine around.
Day 13. Monday, March 23, 2020
Early-morning achievement: I signed into my Ralph’s Instacart account around 7 AM and entered my grocery list and they will deliver it, but the earliest delivery window is Saturday between 6-8 PM. All my previous attempts had no delivery window available at all, so I was happy to take this one. I can’t find toilet paper on line anywhere, so one of us will have to go out and stand in line at 6:30 AM one day this week. Yes, John can go, but anything that exposes him exposes me. This at a time when we are supposed to stay home.
John has functional connectivity this morning, so he is now at work–on the dining room table. He’s here and he’s working. This is good news for both of us.
Over the weekend both television and radio news described crowds of college students celebrating spring break in Florida while bemoaning the indifference of the “Millennials” to the current crisis. I have two objections to this coverage: definition and generalization. Millennials are the first generation to come of age in the new millennium. Born 1981-1996, the oldest are 39 and they are now working, raising children, and paying rent or mortgages. They are your nurses, teachers, and firefighters, not college kids.
The current college-age cohort are Generation Z, born between 1997 and 2012, but not all of them are in college. Of the college students, not all are on the beach in Florida. Whether in school or out, many are trying to get started in life and make ends meet in a world far different from the one I lived in at that age.
The point is: (1) not all young people are Millennials (and not all old people are Boomers) and (2) trying to broadly characterize any generation should be done based on studies and not on “old” versus “young” prejudicial stereotypes.
One website that defines generational terms is https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/01/17/where-millennials-end-and-generation-z-begins/
The definitions can vary somewhat depending on your purpose. Here’s a book I liked: Generations: The History of America’s Future 1584-2069 by Neil Howe and William Strauss. They show how benchmark events such as the Depression, the Blitz, or 9/11 affects each generational cohort differently. Whether you are in your teens or in your forties makes a difference in your perception of the same crisis. Think about it.
Welcome to History’s Edge.
Day 14: Tuesday, March 24, 2020
I’ve picked up a few tips on at-home survival today:
- If you order groceries on Instacart and schedule a pickup several days in advance you can add and remove items up to the delivery date. At first I was disappointed that the first available delivery date was next Saturday from 6-8 PM, but I filled my cart and booked it and now, as we get low on something or John picks up a few things as he did early this morning, I just edit the list. Saturday we’ll get just what we need. I’m not stocking up at all, just trying to keep a steady inventory for a week at a time.
- I can still walk my dog with my neighbor each afternoon, as long as we keep 6 feet apart.
- Zoom: I’ve never heard of it until this week, but I’m going to install it today. Let’s get creative about social contact. I miss my Bible study group on Wednesday mornings, which provides a supportive community for the women of my church. Tomorrow they’re going to use Zoom. Can’t wait to see how it works!
- Loss support: I’ve joined Christina Rasmussen’s https://christinarasmussen.com/ Facebook support group Life Reentry during Covid-19 and I’m finding it very helpful. She is also about to deploy Zoom as a way for us to communicate.
- Bottom line: I have to get Zoom.
Socialization boosts the immune system and is vital to our mental health. Ironically this pandemic may enable some of us to grow comfortable with cocooning. I know that’s a risk for me. All the more reason to step out of my comfort zone now and then, even if I don’t feel like it.
It’s been two weeks since the World Health Organization declared a pandemic. Reach out. We can do this.