Corona-rama Diaries: Week 1

Friday, March 13: Putting it all together before it all falls apart…

Toilet paper aisle at Vons, prelude to a coronavirus kiss…

Friday the 13th, a contrary start to this new chapter in my work and social life. Due to the COVID-19 virus (aka “foreign virus” per our germophobic xenophobic fat orange president, as if disease has a passport), all workers at my company are to work from home for the next six weeks. As I end the day, the current global tally stands at 145,267 confirmed cases with, sadly, 5413 deaths (over half in China). The US currently stands at 2084 infected and 47 deaths. Curiously, the site reports 696 cases in the region of “Cruise Ship” which holds an impressive 16th place among most infected countries.

Paul and I did our stockpile shopping at local supermarkets, it was super busy. Checkout lines down the aisles. Most of the expected items sold out (pasta, toilet paper, frozen vegetables). Even Sprouts was completely out of bulk goods (beans, rice). But we managed to get most of what we think we need to survive 3 weeks.

We’re expecting an eventual lockdown: no leaving the house except for medical or food purposes (provided there are provisions in the markets). It’s already happening in Europe. We have a friend in Madrid; he reports you can’t go out except for food and there’s none in the stores anyway, and if you do the fine is €600,000. It’s a bit crazy. I’ve never experienced anything like this in my lifetime. Not sure what to expect here. San Diego has 8 cases – all confirmed today. But they’ve only tested 145 people so far. I fear it’s going to get far worse…

It’s not the virus so much I fear – most healthy people experience mild to moderate flu-like symptoms and most casualties are the elderly and those with underlying conditions. There’s still a lot to learn about this virus, it’s clearly highly contagious and can live in the air for several minutes and on surfaces for three days. It’s not yet known if it fares worse in warmer climates (spring is fast approaching in the northern hemisphere) – but reports from Singapore and Australia are not encouraging. There is also some question whether it can reinfect, apparently some recovered patients in China have fallen ill again. All this will be known in time, of course.

But the social upheaval is enormous: stock market down 28% and yesterday the DJIA fell 2,352 points (nearly 10%) , the biggest one-day drop since Black Monday in 1987. All major events are cancelled (the NBA, Coachella, SXSW, Broadway…). Flights to/from Europe are stopped, cruise lines are cancelled for 60 days, mainline airline carriers in the USA are reducing domestic capacity by 40% – almost half! Yet Trump blames Obama for some vague “rule change” which his own administration and Republican congressional leaders can’t clarify – while his own administration eliminated the Pandemic Response Team charged with dealing with such a crisis that we now face. Today the pandemic was declared a national emergency. Yet Melania tweets the unveiling of the White House tennis pavilion. Nero fiddles while Rome burns.

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!

So last night in the rain (another oddity: southern California is in the middle of a 10-day rainy period – yes, 10 DAYS), I schlepped my two laptop monitors and docking station from the car to my apartment. Paul was still sleeping at 8:30 AM, which I think we need to address since my work day starts at 8:00 AM and I work from the bedroom (not many choices in a 749 ft2, 2-room apartment). But Paul eventually awoke, I brought him his tea, and promptly I set up work station. Our small desk doesn’t fit the larger monitor well and I spent the day trying to adjust the closeness. It’s not quite working out as comfortably as I expected.

I did yoga on YouTube as the sun set, it was hard since I’m still learning and adapting my body to the movements and positions. But it felt great, especially with the 10-minute meditation afterwards.

I’ve finished my Stone Brewery Delicious American IPA, I’m feeling relaxed and complacent. Paul is on the couch across from me, we’re listening to Martin Denny tunes on Pandora. We have food in the kitchen, music in the air, and each other. Despite the uncertainty swirling around I feel an anchor within.

Der Tod or not Der Tod in Pazifikstrand: Olive the sunsets here!

Saturday, March 14: Normalcy?

Today started like any other weekend: morning jazz, soy latte, news. No real difference other than a paper taped to the apartment door from the building management, encouraging us to wash hands, etc. They want us to notify them if we test positive for COVID-19 with the disclaimer “we are not medical professionals”. Hmm…

I went to Sprouts early-ish this morning and fortunately they restocked the bulk foods section so I filled up on dried back beans, pinto, garbanzo and brown rice. Most of the vegetables were sold out, but I snagged the last two organic red onion & butternut squash. There were some sundry veg such as leeks and red chard so I grabbed those too. A good final haul – Paul and I estimate we have fit food for at least three weeks.

Spud sparsity at Sprouts

I don’t think we’re overreacting. We’re not panicking; we’re just being prudent and planning accordingly. We’ve purchased nothing we wouldn’t normally eat so even if this blows over quickly we’ve just concentrated our normal shopping and will have some free time in coming weeks to watch the sunset rather than shop.

But news from Europe continues to be dire. The US will halt all UK/Ireland flights as of Monday. Spain and France instituted national lockdowns – no leaving your home except for work, medical intent or food. All restaurants/bars are closed, so are cinemas and non-essential work.

Yet the Europeans are coping. I started the day with a smile watching Italians singing from balconies and banging pots & pans to the national anthem.

I plan to do the same, should it come to mandated home stay. I have a ukulele, a Yamaha keyboard, lots of pot lids and lots and lots of musical material.

Erik continues to weigh on me, but he made it to an AA meeting this evening and even spoke one sentence. A great leap forward.

Paul and I went for a nice spin along the Mission Bay boardwalk, not nearly as busy as usual for a weekend but it’s also pretty crappy weather. But some people were carrying on as usual – nice to see or perhaps just obliviousness. I split off and mounted Soledad and onto UCSD to the glider port hoping Tina was working but alas she was off today. It felt wonderful to cycle, fill my lungs with spring air, sweat uphill.

Torrey Pines Glider Port

Southern California is green after all the rain. The ice plants, the sea lavender, goldeneye, the poppies – splashy and superabundant. I even had a dream last night I was a youngster riding in a station wagon with the back door open past voluptuous white flowers, the sunshine warming my skin, the childhood comfort of being carried and cared for.

California Sea Lavender

Paul made a delicious veggie chile with enough for probably 8 more servings – we just need to find room in the freezer for this gem! Old-fashioned cocktails and season three of The Crown. The routine life in Pacific Beach continues…

Cocktail hour in Baja La Jolla

US confirmed cases of coronavirus stands at 2051, a 42% increase from just yesterday. What’s happening in China and Europe will be the new normal here, I fear.

Oh, Trump tested negative after palling around with the infected Bolsonaro Brazilians last week at the Mar-a-Lago Club. Darn.

Sunday, March 15: Upturn

I awoke to a friend’s “fake news” comedic post on our Whatsapp group: “Chuck Norris has been exposed to COVID-19… the virus is now in quarantine for 14 days”.

Joking aside, the heat has turned up exponentially today.

Italy reported 400 new deaths, a 25% increase in fatalities in a single day. Germany is closing its border to other EU countries. The UK is reporting food shortages at stores and even conflict in metropolitan areas as people flock to amass goods.

Closer to home, NYC will close schools for 8 weeks, city restaurants and bars are limited to take out and delivery only. The Fed cut rates to zero in a move to shore up the economy; Dow futures are down 5%.

I needed air and took to my bicycle, starting to wonder how long I’ll actually have the freedom to roam at will. It was a beautiful day with sunshine and an abundance of green hills and a profusion of color along the roadsides.

Yet a thunder of fighter jets overhead. One after the other, a long line of at least a dozen. Roaring out to sea – irregular and rattling in more ways than one. Working close to Miramar Marine Air Base (of Top Gun fame) I’m used to military aircraft exercises in groups of two or three planes. But today was different – so many, so loud, and so far out to sea. Perhaps it’s the national state of emergency the president declared on Friday. It’s apropos of the nerves we’re all feeling now.

As showers blew past from the sea, Paul and I spent a couple hours this morning cleaning the apartment. It feels good to have a well-stocked kitchen (actually, it’s stuffed to the gills) with healthy meals aplenty for at least 3 weeks, probably a month. Carpets vacuumed, floors mopped, bathroom scrubbed. Paul even make homemade (and relatively healthy) oatmeal raisin cookies!

We’ve worked hard the past few days carefully planning and considering our basic needs, down to sponges, toothpaste, vitamins, even quarters for the laundry. The things we can control are under control, and our home feels in order. This will be our universe for weeks, if not months to come.

This afternoon, for the moment, my lungs and legs and eyes and nose and ears lapped up forty miles of Pacific coastline spring. Climbing, coasting, rolling and rotating – pelicans overhead, waves crashing, fragrant bloom, a spirited southerly headwind, and the fleeting freedom of this moment.

It’s a whirlwind world right now, I’m not sure what to make of it and uncertain of what it will bring.

Monday, March 16: Mondazed and confused…

Paul went early to Trader Joe’s to get a few more things and was relieved to see they were limiting entry so customers (and employees) and practice social distancing in the aisles. Unfortunately there was little to be had although he did get some of what he wanted.

Social media-ing while social distancing — all for naught at the local Trader Joe’s

I went for a run during lunch hour, still lots of people on the boardwalk and beach. It’s so hard to feel the pandemic with palm trees, ocean views and endless summer. A plus to be in Southern California during this time since everyone is just so darn nice. I hear stories of people elsewhere in the country fighting over frozen pizza and toilet paper, but not here — I’ve so witnessed only courtesy and chill attitudes.

There was a mass shooting today in Missouri. Five people dead including a police officer. Hardly broke through all the coronavirus headlines.

What did get lots of coverage was the Dow Jones’ 2,997 point drop (-12.9%), the largest one-day decline ever. And that was just after Friday’s loss of 2,353 points (-10%). The economic turmoil is just astonishing. And soon to follow will be massive job losses, recession, and financial pain for a countless many.

I spent some time trying to see if my mom has enough medicine to last at least a few weeks, if not 60-90 days. She’s a year into treatment for stage four breast cancer and her medicine is all she has to help slow the progression. Lately she’s had regular pain, fatigue and increased memory loss and she’s unable to comprehend the turmoil this virus has wreaked on our daily lives. I’m concerned for her health with a compromised immune system, and for Ray who is healthy but at 84 is in an at-risk demographic too. They’ve been slow to stock up on food and supplies and now the stores are struggling to keep the shelves filled. I’ve offered to help but they say they are on top of things, but with each passing day it becomes logistically harder and frankly riskier since the virus is spreading.

Today most counties in the Bay Area issued a “shelter in place” order for its nearly 7 million residents and closed all non-essential businesses. New York City is on alert for similar measures. I expect this to likely come to San Diego too. Look what’s happening in Europe: entire countries (and borders) and now sealed with residents confined to residences.

It’s extremely unsettling to me. Paul and I are maintaining a healthy lifestyle: home cooking, daily exercise and good laughs. But I’m worried about Mom and Ray, Erik (I sent him a $200 food loan), Kelly and others. I want to help more, do more, control more. But I can only do so much. It’s all so worrisome and the world feels wrong.

Tuesday, March 17: Pinocchio President

My mobile phone alerted me at 8:05 AM this morning that my Delta flight from San Diego to Las Vegas arrived 15 minutes early. That was the plan anyway, until a couple of weeks ago. I was to attend a business conference today, stay at the Bellagio and probably take in a Cirque du Soleil show. It won’t just be me and a few techie nerds absent this week — all the casinos in Las Vegas are closed, probably a Sin City first.

My how the world has changed in a short couple of weeks. Today the news is just as bad as the day before but somehow it shocks less. I’m probably just getting callous to all the astounding changes.

The United States exceeded 100 deaths due to the coronavirus today. Jobs are being shed quickly with all restaurants, coffee shops, bars, gyms, house cleaners, salons, dog walkers, so many small businesses are getting hit hard. And big ones too: Boeing is seeking $65 billion in government aid (although their 737 MAX design flaws — and coverups — are largely to blame). Paul overheard three millennial guys in Pacific Beach looking for work saying there are no jobs to be had. I heard a distressed neighbor in the hallway on her mobile phone that she only has one month’s rent and she doesn’t know what to do. It’s really bad, many are (and will) losing their jobs. I’m incredibly lucky to be able to work remotely. For the moment, at least.

Labor analysts are predicting a loss of 1 million US jobs in April alone. The treasury secretary says an unemployment rate of 20% is possible. Recession leads the economic news headlines. Standard and Poor’s estimates GDP growth down 6% in the second quarter (and 1% in the first quarter). So yes, technically a recession with two consecutive quarters of contraction.

Trump is seeking an immediate $850 billion economic aid package; I’m sure it’ll pass congress quickly. He also now says “I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.” I’m sure his supporters believe him. I have no idea why people pay attention after so many lies.

All this weight of the outside left me testy for much of the day. I’ll need to figure out how to balance the cocoon of this cozy apartment and the whirlwind of doom and gloom on the outside. It’s going to take a long time. I’m really trying to develop an effective daily routine that balances work, food, exercise and living in such close quarters with Paul. Health is a key ingredient, so I’m trying hard to exercise daily.

So today it was a bicycle ride. Rinsed by morning rain and glowing under abundant afternoon sunshine, Southern California simply sparkled. Up Mount Soledad I pedaled only to find the monument at the top closed to the public (presumably to enforce social distancing). No matter, after a couple of climbs the fresh air cleansed my lungs and cleared my mind.

Windansea Beach, La Jolla

Wednesday, March 18: Isolation and Insulation

Today I felt the most purposeful the moment I woke up. At 6:30 AM I started cooking some Cuban black beans. And yet to shed our pre-coronavirus extravagances, for brekkies we served up a steaming dark roast pour over coffee and avocado toast (“farm to table” with the basil and rosemary from the balcony herb garden). With rain forecast for most of the day, I hunkered down in my home office and was busy by 8 AM.

It’s not so bad working from home for an extended period, at least for now. In the past I’ve done this fairly regularly for 1-2 days at a time, but this will be a very different animal and I’m sure to encounter cycles of adjustment. Over the long haul I do expect to feel the social isolation more. But so far I have been fairly busy texting family and friends, and of course it helps greatly to have Paul around.

My home office companions: three bicycles and a boyfriend

I’ve been less focused on news, probably because I’m reaching a saturation point. It continues to be rapidly changing with enormous uncertainty. The stock market took another big hit today, wiping away most of the sugar-infused Trump rally — which in my opinion is just the $1.5 trillion tax cut for corporations and the rich, who have just put the extra money in equities (not wages and capital investment), and the federal deficit has soared as a consequence, making it even harder for the government to respond with stimulus during this crisis.

The Dow Jones closed below 20,000 today, nearly 10,000 off its all-time high from just a month ago. Astounding investor panic and a severe blow to the economy is starting to show.

Yet leading the news headlines is Trump’s defense of using the racist term “Chinese virus” in tweets. I can’t believe he’s wasting important time and energy on such bullshit and not communicating facts nor coordinating crisis strategy nationwide. He is a waste of a President and the deaths of a great number of Americans will be the result of his inaction.

On a positive note, China reported the first day of no new local infections, the first time for this country since the crisis started. A turning point? Maybe for China but Italy had a record 475 deaths today and the entire country has been on lockdown for two weeks.

Those tragic figures will soon be reported closer to home. San Diego cases spiked yesterday to 80 — yet widespread testing is only just starting to ramp up in the county.

Also concerning is new report from the C.D.C. shows that nearly 40% of hospitalized COVID-19 patients are aged 20-54, indicating that this could be far more devastating for younger demographics. The uncertainties and unknowns make this crisis so unsettling.

Our neighborhood Trader Joe’s is limiting both number of customers in the store and items to be purchased… sound yet Soviet?

Mom sounded very tired today. She was to have a colonoscopy today but she wasn’t feeling well, which was somewhat a relief since it wasn’t critical to her cancer and I am concerned about her exposure to the virus as health facilities. I want to to visit her, but I don’t want to introduce any microbes either. The advice out there is to not visit unless urgent or medically necessary. It’s very hard but at least I call every day. I want to try video chat with her, maybe tomorrow.

I’m concerned for Erik, both economically and medically. There are no jobs, his support community is shutting down, he’s on waiting lists for treatment due to closures. It’s a really scary time, I’m trying to support him as a brother as best I can but he’s so far away.

Other miscellany: Coronation Street, the long-running British soap opera, has banned kissing scenes. R.E.M.’s 1987 hit single It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine) is surging in popularity on music streaming sites.

Healthy, home-cooked moros y cristianos with quinoa and Swiss chard

Thursday, March 19: COVID-19 Corporate Tax Cuts

Tonight California governor Gavin Newsom issues state-wide “stay at home” order. Paul and I, along with 40 million other Californians, are now confined to their homes except for food shopping, seek medical assistance, or to travel to/from work for essential businesses. We’re free to go outside for walks and exercise but should always practice safe social distancing (i.e. stay six feet apart).

Many non-essential businesses must close; only those to remain open are pharmacies, food (markets and restaurants for take-out/delivery only), banks, gas stations and critical government services (i.e. police, fire). My company is not shuttered and our Vice President of Manufacturing and Operations emailed those who must be onsite: “if you are stopped by the authorities due to Stay at Home guidelines in California, you can let the officer/s know that you work for a biotech company called Illumina that is designated critical infrastructure as a healthcare provider”. The rest us continue to work remotely.

It’s a smart, if sweeping, policy and comes with significant changes for many but with the sole objective of stopping the spread of the virus, which should be the #1 focus now. The Governor’s office projects that 56% of Californians will be infected in the next two months. The Los Angeles mayor said it perfectly: “Tonight our responsibility is to save as many lives… This is an act of love.”

The COVID-19 quarantine: A walled life

Coronavirus cases nationwide hit 10,000 today, while deaths in Italy surpassed those in China.

Senate Republicans propose huge economic bailout plan with massive tax cuts for corporations and $1,200 checks for those who earn less than $99K. Meanwhile hospital are in desperate need of critical supplies like masks, surgical gloves and ventilators. What’s missing is leadership in Washington for a serious national containment strategy.

Trump says a decades-old malaria drug (chloroquine) will effectively treat the coronavirus, which the medical establishment considers an unproven claim and based on anecdotal evidence. Our President is nuts. And he still uses the term “Chinese virus” pandering shamelessly to his xenophobic base of deplorables.

Sharpie Pen President busily editing away…

We have a small “GIS Running Club” at work that runs during lunch every Thursday. So today we had a “remote” run to help maintain social cohesiveness despite the quarantine. Nice in spirit but definitely not the same as running together.

The end of a topsy-turvy week one. And it will only get worse…

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