Corona-rama Diaries: Week 4

Friday, April 3

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a loss of 701,000 jobs in March, the first monthly decline since 2010. Unemployment rose from 3.5% in February to 4.4%, although this is certainly far below reality due to lagging government reporting methodology. The New York Times reports today that the unemployment rate is likely near 13%, the highest since the Great Depression.

I fear this is just a prelude to far worse economic devastation in coming months. With the abrupt shuttering of most of our service economy, fundamental industries are in shock: restaurants, entertainment, hotels, airlines, retail, energy. Pretty much any business that interacts directly with humans.

In March, retail stores and restaurants took a huge hit, more than twice the Great Recession and four time the Dot Com Bomb. We simply haven’t seen anything like this in many generations.

Of course, some industries will benefit from the pandemic, at least in the short term. The New York Times presents an interesting analysis of how the spending habits of Americans have changed in the past month.

Not surprisingly, supermarkets and food delivery have replaced dining out. And has replaced retail shopping. Netflix has replaced movie theatres. Home repairs have replaced weekend getaways. And people are drinking more alcohol.

Despite all the social disruption and economic pain, there are some silver linings. There will be lower carbon emissions, thus decelerate global warning. Material consumption will ebb. Parents will spend more time with their children. Crime is also down: the media report a 21% drop in the UK and 84% in Peru. Drug arrests in Chicago are down 42%. In March, killings in El Salvador have fallen astoundingly to only two per day — down from a daily peak of 600. Reported rapes in South Africa have declined 86%.

This is certainly welcome news. So there is an upside to everyone staying home. But some fear the rise in domestic violence and the consequences of prolonged confinement — and when restrictions are lifted in a world scarred by severe economic decline. Time will tell.

To close out the work week, I scheduled a happy hour with my team. It’s important to maintain as much social contact as possible during these weeks (and possibly months) of adjustment. In our wider team meeting earlier this week with my boss, we all gave our best guesses for “return to office” pool. The earliest was June 1 and the latest after Labor Day in September (my guess is July 13). We’re all very hopeful for a “V-shaped” recovery… we’ll see!

During our virtual happy hour, we all shared photos of us with long hair, all from our younger days. Rakesh sported a Fabio-esque mane from university, Krishna a teenage pompadour doo, Paul H sent a photo of him in drag! Mine was the year I let it grow, wow was that unmanageable in the final months!

Uncut 2011: My unshorn year
Continue reading “Corona-rama Diaries: Week 4”

Corona-rama Diaries: Week 3

Friday, March 27

I “returned” to work today after three days of bereavement leave. It was a relief to have a new focus, since I felt so crappy yesterday and nothing grabbed my attention. My colleagues were so sweet with their condolences, and even created an internet card with dozens of personal notes all created virtually since everyone’s working from home. Illumina is a special place and I consider many of my co-workers as friends. So it was good to get back to this sort-of family and get my mind off my sadness.

Team meetings… through the looking glass.

The apartment confinement is starting to get to me. I have a whole list of “things to do” in my free time (read more! practice my ukulele! solve the Rubiks’ Cube! meditate! play board games! skateboard!) but I don’t seem to have the time or motivation to methodically tackle any of those.

The truth is I still work during the week at that takes pretty much most of my day, there’s no getting around that. I just thought I’d have more free time without the commute. But there’s more cooking and cleaning and sleeping (yes, we all are doing more of that).

Yet we have abundant food and I’m still getting out for daily fresh air and exercise. Paul made a delicious vegetarian Shepard’s pie with the last of the fresh produce. We’re doing surprisingly well with still a jam-packed freezer. We haven’t been to the market in nearly two weeks.

To cheer me up yesterday, Paul made this third batch of Corona Coping Cookies which I must admit are healthy and delicious.

Paul’s Corona-Coping Cookies: wholesome goodness to help battle any contagion! Full recipe here

For my daily exercise I did my “Gira de Soledad” loop which takes me on part of my commute to work up the Rose Canyon Bike Trail (along the I-5), through the University Town Center neighborhood, into the deserted UC San Diego campus, and back home along coastal La Jolla. It’s a really good workout ride of about 18 miles and takes about an hour, with some gradual climbing (just under 900 feet).

The closed-up campus of UC San Diego
The closed-up campus of UC San Diego

I stopped to quickly visit Krishna since my route went right past his house. It was good to see him in person (but at a safe distance since I had been in a hospital emergency room earlier in the week). His wife Sandhya is a postdoc fellow at the Scripps Research Institute specializing in viral immunology and specifically the coronaviruses. So very timely for her area of study, most of her lab does HIV research which is not deemed essential right now so she’s the only employee who must work from the office (she reports it’s fairly lonely there). Krishna says she works 12-hour days and because her work is so critical, they are doing all they can to keep from getting the virus so she can remain focused on her research.

A remote work break with Krishna

Today Congress passed the $2 trillion economic stimulus bill, the largest emergency aid package in US history. It had strong support from both parties after Democrats insisted on more oversight measures to prevent the funds to corporations from going to stock buyback and executive compensation, as well as stronger unemployment measures for those directly impacted with job loss. And the $1200 checks sent directly to most Americans are grabbing the most headlines obviously since 60% of Americans cannot cover a $1000 emergency with savings.

There was even a loud kerfuffle over a lone Republican who insisted on a roll call vote (rather than a voice vote) which would require all House members to be present in Washington  the largest emergency aid package in US history — which had West Coasters tweeting angrily as they hopped on red-eye flights last night. But the drama was soon over as Trump signed the bill late Friday and now everyone just wants their checks.

Continue reading “Corona-rama Diaries: Week 3”