Pandemic Diary: March 25,2020

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Friends, there is despair. There is grief. I am trying so hard to find the joy, to find the silver linings, to put myself into a place of acceptance but it is so, so hard right now. I know I am not alone but the feelings of isolation, separation, and loneliness are real for so many of us as we try to find new ways to connect with each other while physically distant.

On Monday, March 23, distance learning began in our district. It’s been an interesting two days as the kids get used to this new way of doing school. I again have to express gratitude that they are teenagers and, with minimal assistance from me (mostly for getting set up with tech, etc.), they have been able to self-direct. I know for parents of younger kids, this is not the case and they have to be much more hands-on with their children’s learning. My heart goes out to them.

The teachers are amazing. I give them so much credit for what they have done over the last week and a half to pull this all together, even as they face a new and unfamiliar way of doing their job. Most of them are helping provide our kids with a sense of calmness, kindness, and understanding for the tremendous upheaval they are dealing with. Emails and messages on their class pages express how much they miss their students, and good wishes for the health and well-being for the kids and their families.

My daughter’s Algebra teacher hosted the first video call my daughter has participated in, and she left that call with a sense of relief and renewed spirit having connected with her teacher and classmates. Her teacher didn’t do any Algebra teaching, but allowed the kids to talk and share their experiences, good and bad, during quarantine. It was a real gift to her students, a welcome break from working in isolation.

Even though I typically work from home and am used to Zoom calls, things feel different. I am happier to see my colleagues’ faces on video, and of course every meeting begins with talk of how we are all doing.

However, in general, I find myself having difficulty focusing on my work. I seem to be productive in the mornings, distracted from mid to early afternoon, and then powering through daily tasks I am behind on from the late afternoon into the evening, and end up working beyond my usual hours. Dinner tends to start later and then suddenly it’s after 8pm. The days are weird. What day is it again?

In the midst of all these personal difficulties I know many others are struggling with, Trump has begun saying that we should get back to business as usual by Easter on April 12 to save our economy. It was even suggested by Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick that grandparents are willing and/or should be willing to sacrifice themselves to save the economy. I don’t even know what to say to this.

All of this is scary because doctors, scientists, public health and infectious disease experts are issuing dire warnings that if we come out of this physical distancing, the spread will be so much worse. Our economy can’t recover if so many people are sick.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, an immunologist and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, has been correcting Trump when he makes false or misleading comments during his daily press conferences. However, many folks are believing Trump’s claims over the factual corrections made by Dr. Fauci. I fear that, like so many others in Trump’s administration, Dr. Fauci will soon be “fired” for contradicting Trump. We need his voice of reason and his expertise right now.

So, as we continue in these uncertain times, I’ll go on trying to be hopeful. I’ll keep looking for ways to create happy moments for myself and my family. It’s the best any of us can do right now.

Stay safe, stay healthy, stay inside.

Pandemic Diary: March 22, 2020

Two Weeks/A Lifetime

As we all scramble to try and embrace this ever-changing existence during a pandemic, it occurs to me that this time in the world will surely have a chapter in the history books someday. In light of that, I thought I’d start to document my experiences as a way to 1) process all that my family, my state, my nation, and the world are going through, and 2) share my own perspective on how we are experiencing life in the current crisis.

So here I start my own attempt to do just that, beginning with a recap of the last couple of weeks. This is long, and if you don’t want to read it all, I highly encourage you to scroll down and at least see the memes.

I promise future updates won’t be so long as I won’t have two weeks of catching up to do…and I suspect life will settle into a rhythm–a strange new rhythm, to be sure, but a rhythm nonetheless. Here goes:

Weekend of February 29-March 1

  • Weird stuff is going on with this coronavirus. It was out in China, and now it looks like its spreading into Europe, and there seems to be an outbreak cropping up in the Pacific Northwest.
  • I have kind of an odd feeling about this. I’m probably overreacting, but as I’m at Target to pick up a few things, I grab some hand sanitizer (already in low supply–but even though I can’t find a large bottle, I’m able to grab 4 travel sized bottles), a multi-pack of Clorox wipes, two containers of hand soap refills, and one large pack of toilet paper (Just ONE, people. Don’t come at me!)
  • Along with one of my friends from church, I prepared bread and juice for our monthly communion. OF COURSE we always wash our hands when we are cutting up and distributing the bread and pouring the juice into tiny cups, but this month, we wash a little longer and a little more frequently than usual just to be safe.

Week of March 2-6

  • Life goes on. Work, play rehearsals, doctor and orthodontist appointments, Super Tuesday for the democratic primaries. I’ve been focused on the political news, watching the debates and trying to decide which candidate I think is the best one to win against Trump in the presidential election.
  • Coverage of the coronavirus is picking up. It’s becoming real here in the U.S., and I am a bit worried right now. It seems to be starting to spread.

Friday, March 6

  • I’m supposed to fly to Chicago for work on Monday the 9th for a sales team meeting. Lots of us are chatting throughout the workday, wondering if it will be called off. The Pacific Northwest outbreak seems scary, and there are cases in California, but Chicago doesn’t seem to be a hotspot…still, many of us are a little nervous about the general idea of air travel.
  • So. Much. Talk. About. Handwashing. (My hands are getting raw, people! Better stock up on hand lotion, too.)
  • My boss lets us know the trip is on, but that if we don’t feel comfortable traveling, he is 100% ok with us cancelling and joining the meetings remotely.
  • My co-worker, coming in from California, and I decide we’ll go. But I’m anxious about it.

Weekend of March 7-8

  • Still pretty much business as usual, although the news of coronavirus is certainly ramping up. Things in Italy are starting to look scary.
  • On Saturday, my husband and I go to the gym. My son goes to his volunteer training at the Beardsley Zoo.
  • As I’m packing for my trip, I take about 12 Clorox wipes and fold them into a Ziploc bag. I also make sure that my travel size hand sanitizer fits into my liquids bag.
  • On Sunday morning, I go to the gym, knowing that I won’t be able to get back until Thursday. My plane gets in too late Tuesday night for me to attend my regular early morning workout on Wednesday morning.

Monday, March 9

  • I get up at 4am to get dressed and head to the Westchester airport for my 7:10am flight. The small airport is pretty full. As I wait for my flight, I eat a bagel with cream cheese. I don’t touch the armrests on the seat I’ve chosen in the waiting area. I wash my hands in the ladies’ room twice, and I use the hand sanitizer mounted on the wall in the waiting area three times. This whole thing feels really weird.
  • I board the plane and pull out my trusty bag of Clorox wipes. I wipe down my seat, my seat belt, the tray table, the armrest, and the entire back of the seat in front of me. For good measure, I wipe down the seat next to me, too. I’ve never done this before, and I feel a little silly doing it, but as I look up I see I’m not the only one. Thankfully, there is no one sitting next to me in the two-seated row I’m in.
  • I’ve planned to meet up with several of my co-workers at O’Hare so we can share a cab to the hotel instead of riding into the city on the train. We arrive at the hotel, check in, leave our suitcases with bell services, and head over to the office.
  • At this point, I’m opening all doors with my elbow, or, if I have to pull a handle or turn a knob, I’m covering my hand with my sleeve.
  • As I sit down at the large table in our meeting room, I wipe down my chair and the area in front of me with a Clorox wipe, just in case.
  • Of course the coronavirus is a huge topic of discussion during meeting breaks. Italy has gone on complete lockdown, and many of us express increasing concern, while others seem unfazed. My day is interspersed with hand sanitizer applications and hand-washing (at least 20 seconds!) I’ve developed a routine: hand washing or sanitizing, followed by lotion as my hands continue to get more red and raw.
  • After the day’s meetings, we head back to the hotel. As I arrive in the room, my first order of business is to pull another wipe out and attack the entire room with it–bathroom, nightstands, TV stand, desk, pretty much every surface in the room that I’ll be touching.
  • I call to check in with my family. My daughter is at tech rehearsal for her play, which runs on Friday and Saturday night. As I leave the room to go downstairs and meet my co-workers in the lobby to go out to dinner, I realize I’ve forgotten to wipe down the doorknob of my room. Out comes the hand sanitizer.
  • After dinner, I climb into my hotel bed, worried about germs on the pillow and sheets, but there’s nothing I can do about it. I continue to wonder, as I have been all day, if I’m overreacting. My sleep is restless that night.

Tuesday, March 10

  • The day goes on pretty much like Monday did with meetings and office wipe-downs. I make sure I have at least 2-3 Clorox wipes left for my plane ride home tonight.
  • A group of us take a Lyft to the airport together. We have time to sit down and grab something to eat before our flights. My co-worker wipes down the table and menus. We are all checking our airline apps repeatedly, switching our seats around to try and get into an empty row, which I manage to do.
  • On the plane, I go through my wipe-down routine again, and see what seems like even more people on my flight doing the same.
  • I’m so relieved to arrive at the airport, get into my own “safe” car, and drive home.

Wednesday, March 11

  • It’s my 46th birthday! My family makes me the traditional birthday breakfast: cinnamon rolls and bacon. I get sweet and thoughtful gifts–a spa gift certificate and a special scrapbook my daughter made for me. My husband and I work from home, as we usually do on Wednesdays, and I send the kids off to school with hand sanitizer bottles clipped to their backpacks.
  • My husband goes out to get me a delicious lunch from Five Guys (yes, burgers and fries!) and I spend a lot of the day texting back and forth with friends about the rapid escalation of the virus. I talk to my cousin and his wife, who live in Jersey where he is an ER doctor, and we are assessing our options for our upcoming April vacations–them to Disney World and us heading out on a Disney cruise. We agree that we likely won’t go, or travel will be restricted by then…but the plummeting flight prices are tempting, almost making it worthwhile to take the cancellation fees for our current flights and rebook at the ridiculously low prices available now.
  • Just hours later, the WHO declares the coronavirus a pandemic–happy birthday to me! New Rochelle, New York seems to be an epicenter for the outbreak and it’s just over the border from Connecticut and Jersey. Schools in Fairfield County, which is the county in CT closest to New York, start to shut down one after the other. My cousins have let me know that they’ve had 11 positive tests in their county, including one death of a man who’d recently been in New Rochelle. We agree that the outlook for our April vacations is not great.
  • I get an email announcing that tech rehearsal for my daughter has been cancelled tonight, and the play is postponed “indefinitely.” The kids come home from school, telling us that they’ve taken surveys about whether or not they have Internet service and available computers at home. Sounds like preparation for online learning. I suspect that they’ll finish out the week and then our district will close down.
  • With rehearsal cancelled, we are able to go out to dinner for my birthday. I choose our local diner, where of course I give the booths, table, and menus a wipe-down before we sit. I still feel a little self-conscious about doing this.
  • After dinner, we attend a church board meeting, where my husband has brought a surprise cake for me. It’s nice to have the lovely people from my church community join in to celebrate my birthday, but no one is hugging hello or goodbye like we usually do. In addition to the business of the meeting, there is much talk of the virus. In her report, our pastor tells us that they have been in discussions with a member of our congregation who is a doctor, and that, with his recommendations, precautions have been put in place for worship on Sunday. There will be hand sanitizers at both entrances, there will be no collection plate passed around; instead people can put their money or envelopes in baskets as they come in, and the Trustees who handle the money at the end of the worship will wear gloves as they do so. We will not use hymnals, and all hymns will be printed in the Order of Worship. Congregants will be asked to space themselves out in the pews. As our meeting concludes and we do our closing prayer, we don’t hold hands as we usually do.
  • I’m supposed to go to the early morning class at the gym tomorrow, but I’m not comfortable joining in a large group training at this point, so I cancel out of my class. Drew does the same for his Thursday evening class.

Thursday, March 12

  • I am nervous sending the kids off to school and seeing Drew leave for his office. My company has let us know that our offices continue to be open, but employees are welcome to work remotely at their discretion if they are able to. Those going into the office are urged to bring all their equipment home every night to be prepared if the situation requires us all to be at home.
  • After everyone leaves for school/work, I feel an urgent need to “stock us up.” I head to Target, ShopRite, and Big Y to get all we might need if we have to stay home for a couple of weeks, including filling prescriptions. Clorox wipes and sanitizer are completely gone from the shelves, as are most anti-bacterial/germ killing cleaners. I manage to find one bottle of a spray cleaner that “kills 99.9% of germs and bacteria” and throw it in my cart. It is literally the last cleaner of this kind on the shelf. The natural/organic cleaners are all that’s left at all three stores.
  • Things are getting weird on social media. My feed is filled with coronavirus articles being shared, posts urging people to start practicing “social distancing,” and an equal amount of posts saying people are “panicking” and “overreacting,” that this is no big deal because it’s pretty much the same as the flu. There is a contentious feel to all of it.
  • Connecticut schools are closing left and right. The kids come home and my son tells me two kids were sent home today to be tested. Apparently there is to be an urgent meeting of the school board and district/school leaders tonight. I wonder if I should just decide on my own to keep them home tomorrow.
  • Disney announces that Disney Land and Disney World parks will close until the end of the month.
  • Around 8pm, we get a notice that our school district is “closed indefinitely.” Two hours later, we get an email from our church saying that all gatherings in the church building that require us to come together in groups, including Sunday worship, are cancelled. They’ll be looking into recording a YouTube video of worship for Sunday, as well as other ways for us to stay connected as a community of faith.
  • As I head to bed, I am amazed (and not in a good way) at how rapidly things have changed in just 24 hours. I can’t believe I was on a plane just two days ago.

Friday, March 13

  • First thing in the morning, I head back out to the stores with a feeling that’s it’s my last chance to make sure we have what we need before the shit hits the fan.
  • We don’t drink our well water because it’s tested very high in iron, so I’m focused on making sure we have enough gallon jugs for drinking water for the four of us over the next few weeks. I know that ShopRite has already started limiting water purchases to 4, so I go to Big Y and I buy 12 more gallons…and some other stuff that we probably don’t need (read: junk food).
  • Drew has gone to the office today, which I’m not loving. His boss let them know yesterday that they are still expected to be in the office until told otherwise, except for the one work from home day they are typically allowed.
  • Trump has declared a national emergency. Connecticut’s governor, Ned Lamont, has declared all Connecticut schools should close after March 16th til at least March 31st. Most colleges and universities have sent students home to complete the semester via online learning. Connecticut K-12 schools seem to be preparing for a distance learning situation as well.
  • Our gym announces some smart new guidelines, including cutting the size limit of classes in half, modified workouts that don’t require shared equipment with equipment disinfection between classes, and distribution of individual chalk bags instead of a community chalk bucket. Still, my husband and I are not comfortable gathering in groups, so we decide to continue to stay away.

Weekend of March 14-15

  • We stay home all weekend, kind of milling about aimlessly with no Saturday morning workouts or errands to run. The kids spend hours staring at screens and playing video games. My son’s second zoo training, of course, has been cancelled.
  • The arguments on social media rage on, with the terms “social distancing” and “flatten the curve” cropping up in every other post I see, and everyone is going on about the toilet paper shortage. I try to distance myself from it, but I can’t seem to look away. I myself am starting to feel angry at the posts I see with people going about their lives in “business as usual” mode–going to movies, crowded restaurants, the mall, etc.
  • The news out of Italy is grim as hospitals and healthcare providers are overwhelmed without enough equipment or space to care for the volume of patients. Doctors move into triage mode, in many cases having to decide who lives and who dies. Most news outlets say the U.S. is about 9-11 days behind Italy’s timeline.
  • On Sunday we watch the worship service on YouTube. It’s our pastor, our Faith Formation Director, our Music Director, and four members of our choir–all sitting in the choir pews spaced out from each other. It provides some comfort to us.
  • We get an email from Disney Cruise Line announcing that they have cancelled all cruise departures through April 12, and they are offering either full refunds, or vouchers for a future cruise at 125% of the value that guests paid for their cancelled cruise. Our cruise is set to depart on April 13, so technically it is still on. We know we’ll have to cancel it, but if we cancel it before Disney does, we’ll only get a voucher for the amount we paid for our cruise, so we’ll wait. They’ve already announced that we can cancel without penalty up until 24 hours before the cruise sets sail, but we’re hoping they’ll cancel first so we can get the better voucher. (Yep, we’re shamelessly gaming the system.)
  • Disney also announced today that, following the closure of the theme parks, all hotels will close as well.
  • Sunday night brings an email from our gym announcing its closure. We are excited to learn that they are setting up to do virtual classes. All members are invited to come down to the gym on Monday at scheduled intervals to pick up one kettlebell or dumbbell, and one resistance band per member.
  • The kids need some structure, but I don’t want to overwhelm them. I know the teachers are scrambling to figure out how to bring their curriculum online somehow. In the meantime, though, I don’t want them to spend their days like zombies in front of video game screens and YouTube and TikTok videos. They’re teens, so they should be able to time manage themselves. I create some “guidelines” for them, including time outside, some daily chores, and some small projects for them to complete over the next couple of days on a schedule of their choosing. Although it isn’t a full-on mutiny, my guidelines are met with groans and some mild bitching.

Monday, March 16

  • Drew works from home, and will do so indefinitely. I am relieved. We are all together in the house doing our social distancing. I suspect it’s going to be awhile.
  • In the morning, Governor Lamont, in cooperation with the governors of New York and New Jersey, directs that all restaurants, movie theaters, gyms, and bars will be closed as of 8pm tonight. Restaurants may continue take out and delivery service.
  • The kids (begrudgingly) follow their “guidelines,” and Drew goes out to the gym to pick up the equipment we’re going to borrow.
  • Counties in the Bay Area of California officially enact a “shelter in place” for all residents.

Tuesday, March 17

  • The tenor of social media posts has started to change. There are still differing points of view, but the tide seems to be shifting to one of acceptance of the current situation, as well as a call to support one another and our communities. Many parents of high school seniors, like me, have started to talk about the milestones our kids may be missing, and how we can help them with their disappointment and loss.
  • My son has shared some of his feelings as a member of the Class of 2020, including sadness about his upcoming 18th birthday, which he will not be able to share with his friends. He tells me his birthday “won’t even matter this year.” I start to think of ways I can still make it special for him.
  • I have an important medical treatment on Thursday, and while I’m a little bit worried about going, I know I need the treatment. I call them to see what protocols they’ve put in place, and this helps me feel a little better about it.
  • Trump announces that his administration is “asking everyone to work at home, if possible, postpone unnecessary travel, and limit social gatherings to no more than 10 people.”
  • We celebrate St. Patrick’s Day by having tacos for dinner. All bars in Ireland have been closed for the last 36 hours.

Wednesday, March 18

  • I participate in the first of my gym’s virtual classes at 6am. It is a lot of fun and a huge mood boost for me, and helps me focus more as I work throughout the day.

Thursday, March 19

  • My medical treatment is a weird experience. I have to wait in the lobby for a nurse to come up and ask me some health screening questions and take my temperature before I can go into the treatment room. Typically, there are 6 patients per treatment interval (usually about two and a half hours), but they have cut down to 4 patients to keep appropriate distancing. This means they have to do three rounds of treatments daily instead of two to accommodate all the patients that need to come in, which means a much longer day for the staff. I notice that the doctors, usually dressed in business attire, are all wearing scrubs. My nurse tells me that they are all leaving their scrubs in their cars, or bringing them into their houses and immediately into the laundry. When my doctor comes to talk to me, he keeps an appropriate distance standing at the end of my bed instead of at my bedside as he usually does. I only make physical contact with my nurse as she does my IV and otherwise gets me set up for treatment.
  • Governor Lamont closes down the courts, as well as barber shops, beauty salons, and related businesses. He is also advising all Connecticut residents to “Stay Safe, Stay Home.” Every day the situation appears more dire.
  • We’ve started getting notifications from the district. The teachers are busy preparing distance learning lessons, and “online school” will officially commence on Monday the 23rd.

Friday, March 20

  • I get to do another online training at 9am–a kettlebell class, my favorite.
  • Work is strange. The company has asked all employees to work remotely, so many of my co-workers who typically work in the office are adjusting to this. Pretty much every email I send and receive ends with “Stay safe” or “Stay healthy.” It’s become almost like a superstition.
  • The social media vibe has changed to mostly one of, “We’re all in this together,” “Be kind,” and “Support our essential workers: health care professionals and others on the front line–grocery store workers, first responders, custodians/janitors, law enforcement, delivery personnel…”
  • Despite the seriousness of the situation, the coronavirus memes are GOLD. So even though this post is super long already, I have to share a few of my favorites (the one with Maury misspelled “quarantine,” but I can forgive them because the meme cracked me up):
  • Drew goes to the grocery store. I’m worried about the water; we’re going through it faster than I accounted for with all four of us at home, all the time. We make a list, and he comes home with tales of strange interactions with fellow shoppers, like trying to figure out how to navigate passing someone else in the aisle while keeping 6 feet of distance. He described a mix of suspicion and awkward smiles. Some shoppers wore gloves, and some, like I ordered Drew to do, carried disinfectant wipes and used them as they took their items off the shelves. Some seemed to take no precautions at all. Many shelves were empty and he couldn’t get some of our listed items despite going to three stores. He was able to get 6 gallons of water (2 from Big Y, now limiting water purchases, and 4 from CVS). We wipe down everything with Clorox wipes before putting it all away.
  • Although we typically order pizza on Friday nights, I’m wary of takeout and delivery so we make Naan pizzas at home instead and watch our family TV shows together.

Saturday, March 21

  • Drew and I worked out together at the 9am virtual class. We are getting the hang of this thing.
  • I spend three hours setting up a Zoom account for our church so we can start having online board and leadership meetings. I write up detailed tutorials to help members of our congregation with varying levels of tech knowledge use the platform.
  • One of the four of us has our first family isolation-related meltdown (enough said). It was the first, but I’m pretty sure it won’t be the last.
  • Drew goes out again. He needs a battery for the tractor, and picks up some new cables for the router that he hopes will keep our Internet service more consistent–with four of us here online most of the time, we’ve had some blinks. Stores are mobbed, but mostly people are keeping their distance. To my great dismay, though, he also reports seeing people walking the track at our community center in groups, as well as kids playing basketball and on the playground. WTF, people?
  • Governor Lamont announces that as of 8pm on Monday, there will be a statewide closure of all non-essential, in-person businesses. Restaurants can still offer delivery and takeout, and other essential businesses including grocery stores, gas stations, and liquor stores will continue to be open.
  • I get a work email announcing officially that offices in Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey (where home office is) are closed.

Sunday, March 22

  • This brings us to today (finally! I know it’s been a long journey. If you’ve made it this far, thanks for sticking with me). It’s about 11:45am and we’re getting ready to watch the video version of our Sunday worship, and my son is either a) still asleep or b) still in bed scrolling on his phone. My daughter is inexplicably wearing shorts, and watching YouTube videos and TikToks on her phone.
  • I’ve planned my virtual workout schedule for the week, and am ready for tomorrow, when I’ll have to help the kids get set up for their online learning. Since they’re teens, they can mostly be self-directed, and I feel for parents of younger kids who will have to be more hands-on as they try to work at the same time.
  • As of today, all of California is under a “shelter-in-place” order, as well as certain counties in Georgia, Colorado, and Idaho. New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Illinois, and Oregon have enacted some kind of “stay at home” order–more of a strong recommendation than the shelter-in-place, which makes it mandatory to stay in your home except for essential trips to the grocery store, pharmacy, etc. I’m expecting a shelter-in-place order is coming to Connecticut soon.

And so here we are, our “new normal” changing on an almost daily basis. As I write this, I am finding it crazy that I’m writing about something like a trip to the store as if it’s a major outing. Because right now, it is. Strange times, indeed.

I’ll continue this diary in a couple of days, but until then (because I’m a little superstitious) stay safe, and stay healthy, friends!