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Day 15: Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Two weeks ago when WHO declared the spread of coronavirus a “pandemic” and Trump announced a ban on travel from Europe, I was in Portugal, visiting the medieval town of Evora, with my son John and two grandchildren, both nurses. Because of the time difference, frantic text messages from home kept me up half the night until I ascertained that the ban did not affect us, texted back the good news, and silenced the cell phone.

As an historian, I view this pandemic as the kind of historical crisis that scars a generation, on the scale of the Great Depression or the Battle of Britain. Each cohort– Silent, Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, Gen Z–will remember it in their own way, their lives and their sense of security forever shaken.

When we left for Portugal, the epicenter of the pandemic was in China, but there was an increasing number of cases in Italy. Now the Italian health system is overwhelmed and no government is indifferent. India is on lockdown. Travel bans are everywhere.

My son John is telecommuting from my house instead of going to work in Los Angeles. My grandchildren whose hospitals told them to self-quarantine for two weeks after our return are now due to go back to work in a couple of days. They will be on the front lines and they will be needed, but I am concerned for their safety.

Home life has settled into a new routine. John goes to the store when necessary and works at his laptop at the dining room table. I cook, write, and walk my dog every day. We share meals, call family and friends, watch the news on PBS, work on puzzles, and end the day with a movie, usually from the 1930s, 40s or 50s, when script writing took precedence over chase scenes.

We hear that the next 6 – 12 days will show whether California’s health system is overwhelmed like Italy’s and (increasingly) like New York’s. The shortage of supplies–protective masks, ventilators, hospital beds–is critical. For now those of us at home lay low, watch, and wait.

“Global cases surpass 435,000; Spain overtakes China in deaths; Prince Charles tests positive,” Wall Street Journal newsfeed.

“Quarter of world’s population under lockdown,” BBC

“‘The peak will be bad’: Garcetti warns L.A. coronavirus crisis will get worse.” Los Angeles Times.

DAY 16: Thursday, March 26, 2020

No playing in the playground

When we took our afternoon walk yesterday, my neighbor and I noticed that the playground in the park was cordoned off with yellow caution tape. Sad sign that even the children are on lockdown.

I hope that they are able to use Facetime or texting or games or short videos to connect with their friends. These digital connections which we often deplore become a social lifeline to the isolated.Think of Dave’s parents singing “Happy Birthday” in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) or, better yet, the feeling of relief when Watney succeeds in communicating with NASA in The Martian (2015).

Yesterday morning I took part in a meeting of my Bible study group. Ten women’s faces showed up on Zoom. We struggled a little to make sure everyone was connected, we laughed to see a dog walk in or hear a phone ring, we shared grocery shopping tips, and discussed Psalm 91 and what it means to us right now.

You will not fear the terror of night,
    nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
    nor the plague that destroys at midday.

Later when I talked to my daughter she told me she will be using Zoom next week when she begins teaching on line. This sparked the idea of using it for a family get-together sometime soon, now that two of us are learning how to use it.

In the meantime, I’ve seen some reporters broadcasting the news from their homes. Last night I saw a reporter in his living room interview a medical expert in his living room. They looked so ordinary and real in their own homes instead of all coiffed and made-up in the studio. I like it.

“Unemployment claims smash record; US Deaths top 1,000; $2 trillion stimulus near,” USA Today

“State is preparing for surge of cases: Confirmed infections in California are doubling every three to four days, worrying local health officials,” Los Angeles Times.

“Tips for Becoming the Best Video Version of Yourself,” Wall Street Journal

Day 17: Friday, March 27, 2020

Did you watch a few pandemic movies when the lockdown started? We watched two–Contagion (Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne, Jennifer Ehle, 2011)and Outbreak (Dustin Hoffman, Morgan Freeman, 1995). Then we switched to older more distracting movies: musicals, comedies, film noir.

The pandemic movies followed a pattern: the disease was always fatal and the cure was discovered by a wayward hero who refuses to follow orders because he just knows he’s right. Come to think of it, World War Z (Brad Pitt, 2013), did the same thing. It’s been a few years since I saw that one.

Now the Contagion medical consultant W. Ian Lipkin has announced that he has COVID. https://news.yahoo.com/head-medical-consultant-movie-contagion-190225882.html Dr. Lipkin urges us not to rush out of isolation anytime soon. The stars of the movie, noting the upswing in its popularity, have made cautionary videos addressing the current crisis: https://thehill.com/blogs/in-the-know/in-the-know/489854-contagion-stars-including-kate-winslet-matt-damon-film

The internet is full of advice right now, some of it confusing, contradictory, or out of date. Since the virus is new to us, even the experts are still learning. To keep updated, I like to refer to the medical big three: The National Institutes of Health https://www.nih.gov/health-information/coronavirus, The Centers for Disease Control https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html , and for a world view, the World Health Organization https://www.who.int/

I suspect we all have our personal preferences for staying safe. I prefer not to go out at all. I am 74 with no underlying conditions, but I don’t feel safe going to the store during the “elderly only hours.” How can you avoid being less than 6 feet away from people in a grocery store while waiting in line, scanning the shelves, paying at the checkout counter? Still I would go if I have to. Right now, John goes occasionally and I order on line.

I have to confess, though, that I never liked shopping and I’m quite happy staying home and writing.

John and Ozzie at work

It’s Friday and John is at work in the dining room while I write in my office/bedroom. For now this is the new normal. The sun is shining and I’m looking forward to doing some patio gardening tomorrow. I wonder if I can get some potting soil and herbs –maybe at a store with pick-up somewhere?

“House Passes $2 Trillion Coronavirus Stimulus Package,” WSJ

“Hospital ship Mercy, with 1,000 beds, arrives in L.A. to ease healthcare strain,” L.A. Times

“How safe is takeaway food and grocery shopping,” BBC News

Day 18: Saturday, March 28, 2020

Good news today. Abbott Labs has obtained emergency-use FDA authorization for its point-of-care coronavirus test https://abbott.mediaroom.com/2020-03-27-Abbott-Launches-Molecular-Point-of-Care-Test-to-Detect-Novel-Coronavirus-in-as-Little-as-Five-Minutes . According to the press release, this test uses an existing portable test device so it can be used wherever it’s needed. The tests will be available this week and they expect to produce up to 50,000 tests a day.

As a medical technologist I can appreciate what a game-changer this is, both for individuals who to this point have waited for over a week to find out whether they are positive or not, for hospitals to identify and quarantine positive patients, and for epidemiologists to identify “hot spots” and trace the spread of infection. The implications for wider public policy, once we have actual data to base it on, are huge and it’s premature to speculate here, but I will be watching the developments next week with great interest.

Articles based on this press release can be found on multiple sites, such as https://www.businessinsider.com/?hprecirc-bullet and USA Today https://news.yahoo.com/game-changer-fda-authorizes-abbott-153627918.html .

Here at home, it’s a sunny Saturday so John is out running and I plan to do some gardening. I hope to pick up potting soil and maybe some plants at Lowe’s using store pick-up.

Some of the groceries are running low, but I have high hopes for my Instacart Ralph’s delivery this evening. I put an order in 5 days ago, took the first delivery window I could get, and added to the list during the week. But it is a weekend and the shelves may be empty by 6 PM. We’ll see if my attempt to avoid physically going to the store will be successful.

“Abbott launches molecular point-of-care test to detect Novel Coronavirus in as little as five minutes,” Abbott press release, March 27, 2020.

“India defiant as millions struggle under lockdown,” BBC News

“U.S. hot spots grow as coronavirus infections top 600,000 globally,” KTLA5

Day 19: Sunday, March 29, 2020

Encouraging articles in the news this morning:

  • Bloom Energy, a fuel cell generator company in the Silicon Valley, is repairing 170 broken ventilators this morning. The ventilators, which Los Angeles received from the federal government, were driven up to Sunnyvale this morning. L.A. Times, 8:48 AM, March 29, 2020. I heard on KNX radio that the folks at Bloom are not ventilator experts, but learned how they worked and figured out what they had to do to fix them.
  • Volunteers for The Shower of Hope are continuing to bring mobile trailers with showers and washing stations to the homeless in Los Angeles County in spite of the risks to their own health. L.A. Times, 5:00 AM, March 29, 2020. See their Facebook page and web site http://theshowerofhope.org/
  • “A happy little miracle in dark times: The plant nursery business is booming.” L.A. Times, 6:30 AM, March 21, 2020

Okay, I had to go back a little to find that one, but I like it. I also saw a report yesterday that air pollution has decreased worldwide, which sounds like a good thing.

And White Mountain Puzzles just emailed me that, while their shipping dates are 2 weeks out right now, they are gearing up and will accept new orders soon! https://www.whitemountainpuzzles.com/

Just try getting one on Amazon!

“Coronavirus Means Everyone Wants Jigsaw Puzzles. Good Luck Buying One,” Wall Street Journal, March 29, 2020.

You are on History’s Edge. Bye for now!

Day 20: Monday, March 30, 2020

Woke up to a lovely sunny day this morning and spotted two very handsome quail breakfasting on ground seed under my bird feeder. John had to drive into Los Angeles this morning to help with a shipment, so I’ll be interested to hear his report when he gets back.

Two news stories caught my eye this morning. The first, “Choir Practice Turns Fatal https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2020-03-29/coronavirus-choir-outbreak, because I too am a member of a choral group and I remember how difficult it was for our group to make the decision not to practice together during the coronavirus outbreak. The group in the article met on Tuesday, March 10, the day before WHO declared a pandemic and Trump announced travel restrictions from Europe. “It seemed like a normal rehearsal, except that choirs are huggy places,” the choir director said. “We were making music and trying to keep a certain distance between each other.” How could they have known? The result was tragic. There were 60 singers and 3 weeks later 45 have been diagnosed with COVID-19, three have been hospitalized, and two are dead.

We were in Portugal that week and as I watched the headlines it began to dawn on me that I would have to take some things off my calendar when I got home, but what–traveling, family visits, choir rehearsals, Bible study, book club? I still thought the decision was up to me. I had no idea that in less than a week everything would be cancelled anyway. Giving up singing was the hardest thing of all.

When we arrived in Portugal on March 5 they had about 10 known cases of coronavirus. Now there are 5,170 according to this article from Reuters: “Coronavirus: Portugal to treat migrants as residents during pandemic.” https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus-portugal-treat-migrants-residents-163758389.html . Migrants and asylum seekers now in Portugal will have access to health and welfare services to help keep everyone safe. It makes sense.

Our chorus members are practicing at home individually, using computer files to guide us in learning our parts, hoping that we can sing at our next concert in June. My book club is meeting on Zoom this evening. I’m starting another on-line grocery list. Another week of social distancing begins. I miss the hugs.

“Tokyo Olympics to Start in July 2021,” BBC News.

“Trump extends US virus guidelines to end of April,” BBC News.

“The Road Back to Normal: More, Better Testing,” WSJ.

Day 21: Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Surreal seems to be the word of the day. Like a Dali painting where familiar objects take impossible shapes or a Kafka novel where an ordinary day takes unexplained turns or Alice falling down the rabbit hole, we find ourselves in a place whose normal appearance belies the fact that the rules have changed.

At home things are pretty much the same. But outside there are the silent schoolyards, the deserted freeways, the empty store shelves. We back away from neighbors even as we wave them a greeting.

It’s unnerving. We want to take control, to hold on to something. But life is a moving target right now. One of my son’s clients just asked for a list of how each vendor’s supplies and lead times will be affected by the coronavirus situation. Great question, thank you. At the bottom of the rabbit hole Alice finds herself in a totally new world and what does she do? She just keeps on chasing that rabbit.

And maybe that’s all we can do right now. The things we were doing before, as much as possible. Most of all, reach out. Wave to that neighbor, remember a birthday, make that phone call, send a card. text a friend and ask “How are you doing today?” We need to know some things don’t change.

“Why Life During a Pandemic Feels So Surreal,” Wired News, 7 hours ago. https://www.wired.com/story/why-life-during-a-pandemic-feels-so-surreal/

” ‘It’s Surreal,’ nurse practitioner says of field hospital set up in Central Park amid coronavirus pandemic,” NBC News, 19 hours ago.

“Angry Customers and Empty Shelves, My Life at Kroger During Coronavirus . . . To put it lightly, the last few weeks of work have been surreal and exhausting.” Chris Swain, Vice, March 30, 2020.

“A Photographer’s Surreal Flight Home During the Covid-19 Pandemic,” Washington Post, March 25, 2020.

2 thoughts on “Pandemic Journal: Week 3

  1. In Hawaii the governor issued a stay at home order starting at midnight last night. It seemed like everybody was out and about trying to enjoy the last few hours of “freedom”. I wonder what the cost of those final forays will end up being…

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