Like everyone else I am having trouble thinking about anything other than the coronavirus pandemic and the shockwaves it has sent, and will continue to send, through the system. As it began to unfold I found myself thinking, talking, and posting about it fairly constantly. In an effort to try to keep it confined to a given time and place, both physically and psychologically, I am keeping a diary of it all.
April 5: Today the Washington Post ran a meticulously detailed account of all the ways the United States failed to prepare for and fend-off the pandemic. The upshot: the Trump Administration had (a) notice of its impending arrival; (b) notice of its potential severity; (c) the time to act; and (d) the necessary resources to act but wasted 70 days before truly taking the matter seriously. As a result, “the United States will likely go down as the country that was supposedly best prepared to fight a pandemic but ended up catastrophically overmatched by the novel coronavirus, sustaining heavier casualties than any other nation.”
Trump continues to lie about what’s going on, continues to deflect and project blame, and is intent on disproportionately sharing aid and resources with states and regions containing his political supporters as opposed to places with the greatest need. But even if he had been aces since the first day he publicly acknowledged the seriousness of the pandemic, his incompetence and, in some cases, malevolence, would have already led to the preventable deaths of thousands upon thousands of people. That horrific cake has already been baked.
In a just world Trump would be found guilty of criminal negligence and thrown in a jail cell for the rest of his days. In this world he’ll stand for what will be, somehow, against all sense and reason, a close reelection fight.
I have a friend on Facebook who is an amateur genealogist and historian. He notes that while he has seen people talking about official statistics and sharing photos of the food they’re making and the TV shows they’re watching, there are fewer of the sort of day-to-day, slice-of-life personal accounts that people, decades from now, will want to sift through in order to do good social history.
To that end he came up with a series of questions for his friends that gets at all of that. I’ve talked a lot about this sort of thing in the Diary already, but I figured I’d take his questions as he put them. So:
When was the last day you went in to work?
November 27, 2009.
OK, maybe his questions about work don’t really apply to someone who has been working at home for over ten years. He also asked about furloughs and layoffs, and thankfully that has not happened to me.
When did your state or city order everyone to stay at home?
They strongly recommended it way earlier — and earlier than a lot of states — but the official stay-at-home order went into effect on March 23. As of now it’s in place until May 1, though I suspect that’ll change.
Has there been a particular change to your lifestyle that has been difficult to make or accept?
The kids being out of school has been hard to get my head around. Adjusting to my wife working from home has gone about as smoothly as one could hope, but it’s still an adjustment. We had cut back a good deal on restaurants and things so that, while also a change, hasn’t been as bad for us as it has been for some people. Maybe the biggest adjustment has been shopping. Because I already worked at home and have great control over my schedule, for years I have done my shopping in small trips, several times a week, often not even planning meals until that morning, with a trip to the store before lunch. It beat the crowds and allowed for a lot of flexibility. The need to cut back on how often one is in public has made us plan in advance more and do fewer, larger trips to the store. I don’t like stocking up like that. It’s been hard to get used to. And that’s before you get into the notion that simply being in stores feels kind of scary these days.
What do you miss the most?
Even if we had cut back on restaurants, those occasional, impulsive, neither-of-us-feels-like-cooking “wanna just go out?” evenings are always nice. I had also recently joined a bowling league that I was enjoying a great deal and, though it had only been six or seven weeks, I was sad when it ended.
What is the most unusual thing you have noticed since this crisis began?
The run on toilet paper and certain household products has perplexed me. I understand disinfecting products like bleach cleaner and wipes and things being gone as there is, obviously, a greater attention being paid toward disinfecting. But I don’t understand toilet paper. Or toilet cleaner. Or dish soap. Were all y’all not wiping your asses and cleaning your toilets, and washing your dishes before all of this? I’ve also been amused by the run on rice and dry beans. I’m assuming that’s born of panic in some ways and that’s not amusing, but I also feel like everyone who bought non-instant rice and dry beans who wasn’t already cooking non-instant rice and dry beans is going to stop pretty soon once they realize it takes a bit of effort and know-how to make non-instant rice and dry beans without messing them up.
Do you know anyone who has COVID-19?
Yes. I won’t say who in the interests of medical privacy. I will say, though, that the person I know is younger than I am and, as far as I know, has no underlying medical issues that would increase their risk factors as we currently understand them. They seem to be recovering now.
Do you know anyone who had died from complications related to COVID-19?
How long do you think it will be before the stay-at-home order is lifted in your community?
As I said, it’s currently set to expire on May 1. I predict it lasts until Memorial Day, but the only bit of certainty in all of this is that a date announced for a given event will not hold.
Will you immediately return to your normal routine after the stay-at-home order is lifted? Or will you wait before returning to normal? If you’ll wait, how much longer will you do so?
The first thing that’ll likely go back to normal will by my wife going back to her office to work. I suppose that will be the test case. If we feel comfortable I suppose we’ll branch out, bit-by-bit.
What’s the first thing you want to do when the stay-at-home order is lifted?
I’m eager to actually see my parents — the most interaction we’ve had is through a glass door when I drop off supplies for them — but I don’t know if, given their age and medical condition, that the lifting of the stay-at-home order will be the trigger for that. We may want to be more cautious. Going to one of the bars or restaurants I’m worried about closing as a result of all of this is likely to happen first.
Have you been ordering food out from local restaurants (carry-out or delivery)?
Yes. My son works at a pizza place and has continued working, so he brings home food sometimes. We’ve gotten non-pizza carryout twice since this began. I’ve felt OK with it. I talked to the manager of my son’s store and felt comfortable with the precautions they’re taking. The other places seem to, likewise, be taking this seriously. It’s good for all of us to, once in a while, have a little fun, even if it’s just some takeout barbecue. I also really worry about independently-owned places closing and what do to what I can to keep them open.
How often have you been going to the grocery store?
Around once a week. Which, as noted above, is kind of extreme for me.
Will you wear a mask when you go out?
I haven’t yet, but I think I will the next time I go. Seems to be the advice now.
Do you think other people have been taking this crisis seriously?
Yes and no. For the most part I think people consider it a serious matter and have, in the most important ways, altered their behavior. I think true scofflaws and doubters are extreme cases and that they get more coverage in the media and on social media than their actual numbers likely warrant. I understand how the media works and I’m not surprised about that.
I do think, though, that a great many people, while taking it seriously on an intellectual level, are not practicing the safest of habits. I’ve seen people who are not family — neighbors, it would appear — walking together on sidewalks and walking trails. People are not great about keeping their distance in stores. I think there’s always a disconnect between what people say they do and what they actually do — people underplay their vices and overplay their virtues — and there’s an element of that going on with this. There are also likely a good number of people, such as those people walking with their neighbors, who simply feel like they won’t get sick. There are a lot of people where I live, I suspect, who think that bad things can’t happen to them.
Do you think people have been over-reacting to this situation?
No. I do not think that’s been a problem at all. Notwithstanding what I said in the previous answer, I think people should be taking it even more seriously than they are. It’s the safe side on which to err. The claim that anyone is overreacting seems to be a political position assumed by some who have a vested interest in portraying things as normal and under control, not anything born out by facts.
How many people do you think will eventually die from COVID-19?
Six figures. I would not be shocked if 200,000 people die in this country. Per the article linked above, I think we’ve ensured that. I suspect, however, that actual deaths attributable to COVID-19 will be much greater than whatever official numbers are reported. We’re simply not testing anywhere near enough people. There are incentives in place for a great many actors and institutions to downplay the COVID-19 death toll. There will be a massive number of news stories about how so-and-so very clearly died a COVID-19-related death, but lawyers, an insurance company, an aid administrator, or a government official insists, for financial or political purposes, that, no, they did not.
One of the first casualties of this pandemic was any semblance of trust I have in our government to properly and truthfully address its gravity.
Do you think schools will re-open yet this year?
I do not think so, no. At least where we live. School is scheduled to end the day after Memorial Day. I think that some time in April they will simply announce that schools will not re-open and that the remote learning efforts they have made — which have been pretty solid here compared to a lot of places — will be deemed to constitute the requisite instruction days under state law to call it an official school year.
Do you think that summer sports like baseball will occur?
I think baseball will take place simply because there is too much money to be lost if they don’t and Major League Baseball cares about little else but money. Best practices would probably mean cancelling the entire season. My guess is that they’re up and running some sort of schedule by mid-late July. I think they’ll regret doing that but that’s what I think they’ll do.
What is one thing you have done since this crisis started that you don’t usually do?
Think about my mortality.
Is there anything that has changed in your life since this crisis began that you hope to keep after the crisis ends?
First: I have started roasting a chicken every Sunday and making chicken stock and soup every Monday. It’s a pretty basic thing but it’s also a pretty sensible, frugal, efficient and old school thing. I’ve gotten very good at roasting a tasty chicken, the soup is 100x better than anything you can make in a non-from-scratch manner, and I get a lot of satisfaction out of it. Tonight’s chicken was great and the think I’m looking forward to the most for tomorrow is making my soup.
Second: While I write a lot already, my personal (non-job, on this website) writing has always been a bit erratic. I’ll write a lot one day — many thousands of words even — and then go a week or two before writing more. Since this began I have been consistently writing between 1,000 and 1,500 words a day as a matter of habit (today’s is 2,300, but I blame the questionnaire). Granted, that’s because I’ve been keeping this diary and I won’t always be doing that, but I’d like to write less in volume but more regularly in frequency going forward. It’s just a better habit. If I want to write a book, for example, that kind of controlled, disciplined approach will serve me better than waiting until I am overflowing with inspiration, spewing out 4,000 words, and then going dry for a couple of weeks.
Netflix sees me:
Allison has probably watched “Mad Men” all the way through four or five times. I’ve done it at least three times. We just started it again. We didn’t really talk about why. She just suggested it and I said “yeah, sounds good.” I’m not exactly sure why it’s made me feel better to watch it again, but part of it is probably tied up in the notion of the characters all dealing with problems and social dynamics that we, from the present, know are eminently solvable, even if most of the characters don’t solve them. There’s something empowering about seeing and knowing the big picture when our own big picture is so uncertain, and period fiction is good for that.
Then again, maybe it’s because Allison and I used to watch it together, remotely, when we were falling in love and dating long distance and it just reminds me of a happy time. I’m not sure.