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.

Saturday, March 28

I’ve been calling Ray daily to check in and he seems to coping as well as can be. He had lots of calls and a few visits this week from friends in the retirement community where he lives and from the Unitarian Universalist church where he is an active member. It heartens me to know that he has local support, but I know the “stay at home” orders will greatly the number of in-person visits and home-cooked meals delivered.

This social isolation can’t come at a worse time for Ray since he normally has a robust routine (for an 84-year-old): morning tai chi, some sort of midday group gathering, exercise in the afternoon, church preparation (he regularly assists with the Sunday service), shopping and errands. His day is always pretty full, and as primary care-giver to my mom this consumed an increasing amount of time and energy. The suddenness of my mom being gone has hit him, he mentions how empty the house now feels. It will of course be an adjustment only hindered by the restrictions imposed on our lives right now.

On a lighter note, our next door neighbors Elaine and Art left us an au courant gift this morning:

And Kelly sent some chocolates from Madison, WI with the most unusual flavors… cayenne pepper, truffle, coffee. And all so beautifully crafted, it almost seems a shame to eat them… but of course that is not stopping us!!!

Hand-crafted chocolates: effective chasers to our shots of Clorox that our fake prezident has directed us to inject!!!

Sunday, March 29

What a difference a day makes! I slept really well for nearly 9 hours and as soon as I was out of bed I was cooking a hearty soup, using up the last of the perishables that were starting to look a little sad: carrots, ginger, garlic, sweet potato, onion and jalapeño pepper.

I went for a run this afternoon through the back streets of Bird Rock. The weather was perfect and the sunlight energizing so I managed to complete 10k in under 54 minutes. I stopped only once to peruse the book selection in one of the many free lending library boxes scattered throughout the neighborhood. Not surprisingly there were some good choices in this upscale hood.

Bitty barrio bibliotheca in Bird Rock

Despite all the layoffs and economic uncertainty, Erik is getting window washing work. He posted a Craigslist ad with “COVID-19 Free!” and “outside only” and has a trickle of small jobs. I’m hoping this helps him get through this ugliness.

It’s always nice to talk to Erik, he makes me laugh and he has such vivid memories, especially of our childhood years. It’s a special gift of his, I wish I were better at remembering the small details that matter most. He’s sad about Mom, of course, but is coping well all things considered. We only have each other since both our parents are gone. Erik said we’re now orphans, which made me laugh.

He also remembered that Carol Burnett was in that Annie movie in the early 1980’s, another example of his amazing memory prowess. Mom admired Carol Burnett’s enormous talent and one of my earliest recollections is watching that groundbreaking show with her on Saturday nights. The slapstick appealed to me, and the impromptu theatrics, Carol’s extreme versatility and even’s the show’s veiled feminism appealed to Mom. Just recently I started watching old sketches on YouTube and they really are tops. And I intended to share some of those links for Mom to enjoy on her new Chromebook computer during the quarantine. But alas, another activity left unfinished.

Monday, March 30

Another day, blurring into all the others. Paul and I did Facetime with Mark and Amy, it felt really good to see them albeit through a screen. We shared some laughs, talked about my Mom and some of their memories, and how they are coping with the lockdown (fine, as of now!).

I just heard the sad news from Ray that his older sister Helen passed away on Cape Cod in hospice with family. Just a week after Mom. And in January, Ray lost his older sister Eileen. And last autumn, he lost his older brother George. They all lived long lives, all 90+ years. But it’s a lot of loss in a short period of time. My heart pains for Ray who is so physically alone during these troublesome days.

Tuesday, March 31

I’m growing weary of my Portuguese language classes via Zoom. I absolutely love the professor Solimar from Curitiba, Brazil, whose ebullient spirit and pure heart has cultivated a devoted following of eager students. This is my fifth or sixth continuing education class at UC San Diego with her, and I frankly love the classes and I learn a ton.

But with virtual classes replacing in-person learning, the sparkle just isn’t there anymore. Now the 2.5-hour virtual class is tacked on to the end of a 9-hour workday makes for one exceptionally long day sitting in my home office. Lately I feel like I’m living in a spaceship with so many screens to the outside world.

We were planning to camp this weekend at Anza-Borrego. It’s a huge state park (larger than the state of Rhode Island!) with a policy of free backcountry camping anywhere. Only a couple of hours away, I figured it would be great to escape the claustrophobic apartment and enjoy some isolation in nature and peak desert bloom.

But alas on Sunday the California Department of Parks and Recreation closed all 280 state parks due to the coronavirus outbreak, especially since many parks recently experienced surges of restless people going stir crazy in their homes.

So rather than tell of a new adventure in nature, I share the following video I made with Paul’s drone footage during a visit to the park a couple of years ago.

First footage of Paul’s drone near Font’s Point in Anza-Borrego State Park.

No heartening news lately. COVID cases in the United States are nearing 150,000 with over 2,400 deaths. A top infectious disease scientist says that casualties in the country may reach 200,000. The press is starting to publish photographs of body bags of COVID victims. The deadly impact of the virus is now starting to become more visible.

COVID victims in New York City, unfortunate home of more than 1/3 of all pandemic fatalities.

Wednesday, April 1

Happy April Fool’s Day 2020!

Paul’s leave of absence from work was approved after some back-and-forth due to an administrative glitch. He’s very happy — rather than retiring in May as planned, he now has the option to receive partial pay with full benefits for six months until October. Since he can’t travel anyway due to the restrictions, he might as well wait out the pandemic with partial pay with no real work obligations or risk of flying with the virus raging. A cramped airplane with recycled air is one of the last places I’d want to be right now.

The world continues to march towards lockdown. Everyone is urged to stay home if they can. Social distancing and mask wearing are the two best things we can do right now to flatten the curve.

Healthcare workers are among the most vulnerable — yet fighting on the front lines to save others.

Thursday, April 2

World COVID cases have now surpassed 1 million. The virus has spread to all corners of the earth, making this a true global pandemic.

Our monthly Illumina company meetings have now moved to biweekly since there is so much COVID-19 coverage. They are really vital now that there is so much uncertainty and that 75% of global employees work remotely.

I’m proud to work for a company that is at the forefront of coronavirus research, providing genetic sequencing tools and expertise to scientists and medical workers around the globe. We had a team on the ground in China in December 2019 specifically for coronavirus, and our products are enabling infectious disease experts study and track the virus as well as help in the development of medicine for treatment and prevention.

Company meetings now focus on the pandemic

Shortly after I started working at Illumina in 2014, our products were key in containing the Ebola virus in West Africa — I fully expect we will be similarly instrumental in helping resolve the COVID-19 pandemic.

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