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

Saturday, April 4

The word quarantine originates from the Venetian practice to isolate newly arrived ships for 40 days (quaranta in Italian) to minimize the spread of the bubonic plague. The ancient Greeks and Romans originated the concept of “critical days” of separation to prevent the spread of disease, but for them was a shorter period (3-4 weeks).

With the rise of Christianity, this extension was likely influenced by Biblical phenomena: the 40 days of rain that flooded the earth in the times of Noah, the 40 days (and nights) that Jesus faced temptation in the desert. Prior to the plagues, Christian doctors advised mothers to rest for 40 days after childbirth as a form of purification. Thankfully, today’s quarantine is a more merciful 14 days.

The great outdoors has provided abundant lockdown relief for me in past weeks. Despite San Diego’s sunny reputation, Mother Nature is not always cooperative. Two major storms are destined to hit the West Coast this week: Sunday through Thursday will be rainy and cold — a rarity for summery San Diego.

Today I cycled three ascents of Mount Soledad, it was satisfying to stretch my legs and lungs. The air feels like England: overcast, blowy, with the smoky scents of wood fireplaces in the air.

Spring skies from Mount Soledad in unstable San Diego

Yet outdoor exercise is not without risk. Coronavirus transmission can be airborne, which contributes to its serious contagiousness. Tiny droplets carrying the virus can remain suspended in the air, so medical scientists recommend keeping a 15 feet distance from others when walking, 33 feet when running, and 65 feet when cycling.

So when I’m outdoors, I try not to run directly behind another person and pass giving wide berth. When walking or running I always wear a bandana, but I just can’t do this while cycling and fortunately I rarely find myself in close quarters with other riders. These days I exercise as a lone soldier on the pandemic front.

What’s disconcerting — and unusual — about COVID is that many people may be infected but will never know it. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimates that 25% of people infected with coronavirus are asymptomatic. It’s hard to stop what isn’t seen. So masks and social distancing are paramount in beating this.

Testing too. That’s the one true way of determining COVID status. But sadly in the U.S. we lack the infrastructure (and reliable test kits) to do this at the needed scale, so we are effectively blind. Iceland is probably the best “testing laboratory” at the moment since they are currently testing 10% of the population.

Scientists estimate that the U.S. should be targeting 2.3 million tests per day to effectively manage the pandemic (which amounts to 20% of the population monthly). Yet the U.S. is tracking far below our peers:

We’re nowhere near that in the “Greatest Country on Earth”, despite what our fake-news tweating sham of a president says.

We have it totally under control.

Trump, January 22

It’s going to disappear. One day — it’s like a miracle — it will disappear.

Trump, February 27

Anybody that needs a test, gets a test. They’re there. They have the tests. And the tests are beautiful.

Trump, March 6

With incompetence stemming from the very top, we are woefully unprepared to quickly get this under control.

Sunday, April 5

Chores this morning: five loads of laundry! A 7 AM trip to the grocery store to replenish our perishables after three weeks of no shopping. We’re doing just fine food-wise, but always good to have some fresh greens.

Not much to report today. Just nice to take a break from staring at the home office computer screen with some outside exercise, beers on the balcony and homemade pizza for dinner…

Awaiting the rains… sunset IPA’s on our Pacific Beach balcony

…and pandemic films! Upon recommendation from Paul and Tina, this week we watched Outbreak and Contagion, with the former being more entertaining but the latter being more realistic (at least based on what we’re now going through). I’m sure there will be many more coronavirus-inspired films in coming years (can’t wait 😷👎 haha!)

Recently I’ve noticed quite a few comical COVID memes circulating these days. Apparently people have a lot of time on their hands to think of these things!

Monday, April 6

I listened to an absorbing podcast on WNYC’s Radiolab about Ignaz Semmelweis, a 19th-century physician and scientist who discovered that post-pregnancy infections could be drastically reduced by simply washing hands (disinfection was not a common practice among obstetricians). Unfortunately his findings were widely mocked by the medical community and he died in disrepute and mentally broken in an asylum. Only years many later were his contributions recognized when Luis Pasteur proved that germs existed.

Now with a couple of months of pandemic under our belts, there’s an emerging class of people who have recovered. Some studies show that, at least initially, these “lucky ones” are immune from reinfection and can work, travel and shop without risk

With continued interest, I listened to another engrossing WNYC’s Radiolab podcast on convalescent plasma therapy — an age-old treatment that uses the blood from recovered patients to treat those who are critically ill or to boost immunity for those at high risk of contracting disease. Basically the idea is shared immunity through the combining blood to transfer antibodies from one person to another. And without a vaccine (which may be years in the future), last week Johns Hopkins received FDA emergency approval to test this method on coronavirus patients.

The increasing numbers of the recovered can help care for those still at risk, such as shopping for a older parent with asthma or take on extra shifts at hospitals, as many recovered medical workers are doing. So everything we can do as a community in the absence of herd immunity will only help flatten the curve.

It’s an interesting dynamic that’s emerging with the immune and the vulnerable. This harkens back to the days of HIV/AIDS in the 1980’s, with the so-called Survivor Guilt trauma and grief of remaining alive after so many friends and loved ones died in this pandemic. In the age of coronavirus, possibly new segregation or discrimination could result from COVID status. Italy is considering “immunity certificates” which may entitle a subset of society to special rights and privileges — a controversial development.

Meanwhile, in my little world of north Pacific Beach, today I managed a brisk walk to enjoy the fresh air, spring colors and a momentarily dry sky.

Tuesday, April 7

I awoke to heavy rain this morning. Rain, please wash away this coronavirus. At least cleanse the thick pollen from our cars!

Rain-soaked screens obscuring the lovely ocean views

Paul talked for the first time about American Airlines no longer existing. Over the weekend he and his brother talked about the airline shrinking by 50%. The government so far has promised to buoy the airline industry with financial assistance. Yet everything remains so uncertain with no light at the end of the tunnel.

Flyboy Paul contemplating ground-based transportation for the time being.

Wednesday, April 8

Bernie Sanders dropped out of the US presidential race. When I read the headline, I thought “oh, that.” I’ve not been following the presidential race lately since there’s really not much going on. No one is actively campaigning (since this obviously involves crowds). Like everything else, politics remains mostly at a standstill…

Wisconsin held its primary yesterday and the results won’t be released for a week. I guess we’re all just waiting to see how Trump helps the country out of this crisis (or not). So far he hasn’t seen much political bounce. When it comes to his “leadership” the country is still largely divided along strict party lines.

On a lighter note, I read on some click-bait headline about new slang Millennials have coined since the epidemic, some of my favorites:

  • the rona or Miss Rona (the virus)
  • coronacation (virus-compelled staycations due to cancelled classes, shifts, etc)
  • coronapocalypse or coronageddon (seemingly the end of the world as we know it because everyone is infected with coronavirus in the lungs causing closed parks, empty freeways and slow internet)
  • doom scrolling (constantly refreshing social media for the latest news about the pandemic)
  • covidiot or moronavirus (insult for someone who disregards healthy and safety guidelines)
  • quarantini (home cocktail imbibed during — and because of — the coronavirus)
  • COVID-15 (the weight gain of staying at home eating high-carb foods with low/no exercise)
  • Boomer remover (cause of Baby Boomer generation’s demise)

Paul made another batch of healthy treats, his signature Almond Butter Nutters! Yet one more coronavirus-coping healthy snack to fill my lockdown belly. Truly delicious and packed with wholesome goodness to help battle any contagion.

Paul’s amazing Almond Butter Nutters… a sweet antidote to the pandemic blues!

The weather improved from this morning. I spent a quiet cocktail hour on the balcony with a dry rosé and Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. The nonsequitous dialogue seems perfectly fitting for these unhinged times…

Thursday, April 9

In news today, the New York Times reports how rich countries push developing nations aside in the scramble for coronavirus supplies. Latin America and Africa cannot find enough materials and equipment to test for coronavirus, partly because the United States and Europe are outspending them.

It’s disappointing, this “modern piracy” in an unbalanced world between rich and poor. There’s little international coordination, Trump trashes the World Health Organization publicly, everyone is out for themselves. Those with the deepest pockets usually jump the line. Unfortunately this virus doesn’t respect borders. It’s a truly global crisis and won’t be solved until we treat it as such.

A shocking 6.6 million new unemployment claims in the U.S. were announced today. In just three weeks the economy has shed more than 16 million jobs — more losses than the recent Great Recession produced in two years.

Saudi Arabia and Yemen, at war for over five years, have announced a ceasefire due to the pandemic. This seems ironic since the whole point of war is to kill people, which is what coronavirus seems to do quite well. Of course I’m all for peace so this is welcome news.

With the sun shining this afternoon, I bicycled past my company building and visited Rakesh and Ankita, who live nearby. They have two delightful pugs (Coco and Snooby) who always manage to entertain me. It’s always a joy to see friends in person, even if it’s from safe distance. It definitely beats a computer screen.

It’s been a month of lockdown. Another work week is almost over, the sky is blue and spring has sprung in San Diego. Cycling along the refreshing ocean air, I encountered a stunning bank of blooming ice plants on the cliffs in Bird Rock. And at home, I watched the hummingbirds feasting heartily at the feeder — it’s nesting season so a new cycle of life is about to begin. Thankfully, the natural world has yet to succumb to the coronavirus.

I have no idea when we’ll see the other side of this pandemic. Despite the topsy turvy times, I’m grateful for all that I do have: a job, my health, a comfortable home in Southern California’s endless summer, and of course Paul to always make me smile.

Boogie away those COVID blues, Paul!

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