Day 21. It’s hard to believe that eight weeks ago we were all worried about the Australian wild fires, the impeachment of President Trump, and earthquakes in Puerto Rico. Primary elections were in the horizon and the Democratic party had 20+ candidates to choose from. In between debates, fears of the world ending, the routine of adulting triumphs and tribulations had shifted into a panicked state. If things kept going the way they were we’d be all extinct by Christmas.
Little did we know the month of March was concocting a life shifting paradigm challenge for everyone stuck on planet Earth.
My sister and I had just returned from a quick trip back home to close out mom’s accounts and estate matters when we were told that the Wuhan virus, aka COVID-19, had reached the USA’s west coast. A few days later the states were under quarantine rules, asking employers to allow working from home and/or create plans to avoid contagion. Amazon, Microsoft and other tech giants reported cases in their workforce and shut down buildings until further notice. Panic spread. Fast. Stores couldn’t keep hand sanitizers and disinfectant wipes on shelves. Schools in Washington and California were closed for the year. Parents scrambled to create a learning routine and environment for their kids, who didn’t understand the reason for extreme vigilance and 20 second hand washing songs.
To my chagrin, I got flu like symptoms, conjunctivitis and an ear infection right after arriving in Seattle. Posting about my bad luck would seem petty and tone deaf when the virus was claiming lives and depleting resources. These ailments kept me isolated, away from the keyboard for at least 10 days, and diametrically opposed to my husband’s sleeping and working quarters. The Google Home Mini in the guest room was my only companion and source of news. When I was medically cleared, I recorded visits to the supermarkets, hoping family and friends in other states were moved to action. Most were, but the response wasn’t enough to quell the surge of cases. I kept posting to show the supply chain was strong and wouldn’t fail us. To shop wisely, share and stay home.
The efforts to educate the masses became exponentially exhausting as friends and family all over the globe started losing their minds, and their jobs to the economic downturn and forced non-essential business closures. No one understood the virus, the spread mechanisms and the reasons that determined who would recuperate and who would perish. Details of the horrifying ways people contracting the virus convalesced, and of the devastation the first responders saw in the early days shocked many into compliance. No one wanted to die, and the mortality rate proved most of us would be fine. It was that 3% that didn’t make it that frightened people. The curve needed to be flattened but efforts to curb public movements were futile.
Eventually, Fortune 500 companies reported deaths and shut down buildings and assembly lines across the country to protect employees and safe face. Congress couldn’t pass bail out and stimulus packages fast enough to save the stock market from losing all the gains acquired during the last five years. Officially, a new recession was brewing at breakneck speed and no one could stop it. Like dominoes, Germany, Spain and Italy closed their borders to tend to the infected. Travel plans were cancelled unless deemed essential and every ex-pat was recalled. Study abroad programs were cancelled. Families were separated by ICU protocols and isolation orders. The elderly became the population with the highest death rate. Utilitarianism started to reign supreme.
State side, citizens flocked to unemployment offices, testing centers and supermarkets. Toilet paper became scarce, and so did common sense. Poignantly, I insisted on sharing my knowledge with those spreading misconceptions to curb some of the unwarranted enthusiasm. Eventually, the memes were the best tools to make others shut up and listen.
Social physical distancing rules became the norm. Check out lines were marked at six foot intervals by tape or stickers, to ensure compliance. Restaurants in non-quarantine areas became places of imminent infection. To-Go, delivery and curbside pick up for everything became the norm, marijuana included, to help businesses that sold essential items stay afloat and keep Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials and Gen Zs sane. Crucible Brewing’s curbside delivery made up for some of their lost revenue but it wasn’t enough. Out local pub and favorite small business were suffering. An overwhelming sense of loss and grief enveloped the community. I still wasn’t moved to write. I was one of the few clacking away at the computer, earning a salary and maintaining my health and benefits package.
Teleconferences across the world were hijacked by rejoiced doggos whose masters and families stayed home 24/7 under the new curfew or shelter in place rules. Cats didn’t like the idea as much but they made it work too. Skype, Zoom, Teams and other video conferencing software use skyrocketed. The only way to be close to others was to communicate virtually and through audio as intimacy transformed to include technology, adjusting to available bandwidth. Creative protective equipment made news. The streets became empty except for the animals reclaiming their natural habitats from the missing predators.
Police patrols enforced new laws and regulations fining those who roamed the street in T-Rex costumes without authorization. A classic literary dystopian present and future developed in front of our eyes through the abject use humor and memes. We became recluses, hermits, vacationers to Puerto Backyarda and Los Living Rooms. Wine and beer tours of the household became the norm. First responders and medical personnel ran out of PPE and ventilators thanks to those who didn’t abide and flooded beaches and parks during Spring Break. Grandmas and grandpas were told to sacrifice their lives to save the economy. It wasn’t fun to watch my plans for my birthday go down in flames.
Even after holding for an hour with Delta to cancel our trip to Munich, writing about my reality felt wrong because, as an introverted half of a DINK marriage, my new normal was not only comforting but a welcomed respite from routine. I’d worked hard to upgrade Château Enginerd with everything we’d ever need to live well and in a versatile environment. The investment was paying off! We were safe, comfortable and well prepared for this eventuality. I hadn’t been this happy in a long time. I was free of worry – my family is scientifically inclined and therefore aware of how to take care of themselves, plus my mom and grandma aren’t among the living. Having to convince stubborn 60+ year olds to stay safe, at home, away from the public wasn’t necessary nor was caring for 70+ peeps that couldn’t go to the market or fend for themselves.
For all I knew we’d all survive, and if not, big life insurance pay outs would take care of those left behind. Mentally, this was better than a hurricane shelter in place since we had electricity, the internet and potable water to keep us calm and entertained. The stories and death toll of Hurricane María and my personal memories of Georges and Hugo, when I still lived in Puerto Rico, were 10x worse than this current reality.
As of March 26 (2020), the United States surpassed China in number of reported infections. Italy is still number one in deaths, worldwide, and New York is using refrigerated containers to house the deceased. GM is being tasked with creating a manufacturing line for ventilators and many small companies started producing N95 masks. Overnight, 3D printed valves for respirators became a thing. The populace mobilized to help in any way they could, sewing reusable masks for those who needed a quick fix in the interim. The National Guard has been deployed to protect and deliver safety gear to hospitals and clinics. Not seeing reanimated bodies has been the only saving grace during this crisis. We don’t know when it will end or how but we have hope the worst will soon be behind us. Nothing else will suffice. Life as we know it will be changed forever.
Interested in knowing more about flattening the curve? Check out the link below for mathematical models and simulations for the USA, and the dashboard for real time numbers.