PNW Coronavirus Chronicle #2: Hey, look! I have a can of clam chowder!

It’s pantry rummaging time. Not because I’m low on food and too scared to go out in public. I’m rummaging around my pantry because there is something that happens when an over anxious person is stricken with the onset of cabin fever. I don’t know why, but at lunch yesterday, the hunting and foraging instinct kicked in. I have a profound urge to nest within the safe confines of my home.

A moment of curious calm

Later, as I stood staring out a window, chatting with my manager on the phone as we tried to map out how this, however temporary, new normal will have to work, I saw two small birds in a tree, unperturbed, seemingly staring off into the same distance. They were every bit the picture of a comfortable couple gazing at the view from their back deck. All that was missing were a couple of tiny Adirondacks and itty-bitty glasses of wine.

I found the sight of those two birds very calming in the midst of all the hysteria. Small birds are always flitting about; easily startled, but these two sat on that branch staring off into the distance for almost 10 minutes. It was stormy, so the branches were pitching and swaying, but that didn’t bother either of them. Not a single flutter. It is a scene I think I will remember the rest of my life.


The clam chowder was fine, but truthfully, I needed more provisions, so I ventured out for groceries. I’ve been out and about every day this week, but only for short trips that did not involve being in the proximity of more than a couple of people at a time. A trip to the grocery seemed daunting.

Five o’clock is not the time to go to the grocery store on any day, but I knew that before I headed out, so, given the panic, I packed up a full ration of patience (along with homemade hand sanitizer and latex gloves). Not surprisingly, I had to circle the parking lot several times before landing a spot. The cluster-f**k that ensued when 5 cars vied for 2 spots opening up would usually result in a lot of parking-lot road rage. Not so today. As a community, we are well aware we are in crisis-mode. Every driver assessed their part in the do-si-do and maneuvered accordingly and expediently. It was the most neighborly thing I have ever witnessed.

The store was busy, but “normal” busy. The only difference were the empty shelves. It’s funny what people think is necessary to hord: Flour, eggs, butter, but not so much baking soda, yeast or salt. Frozen meals, of course, but only certain frozen meals. There’d been a run on plastic food storage bags, which seemed odd, and sale items, which seemed logical. And, I just have to say, all that broccoli is going to go bad in just a few days, so folks better eat up.

But Collard Greens? Holy crap! I had my pick! Mushrooms, too. Asparagus. Artichoke. Lettuce. Carrots. Radish. All that was left of the white onions were a few paper skins, but yellow, red onion and shallot were plenty to be had. Berries were picked over, but plenty of apples and oranges. Fish, meat, nuts, tomatoes, juice, cheese, baked desserts…you had your pick. What fascinated me was coffee. There was a lot of coffee.

As I considered buying the 1/2 turkey breast from the rotisserie service (as all the chicken was sold, like, all the chicken. They were completely out of fresh chicken to roast more), I heard a shopper curse under his breath that the salami slices were sold out. The neighborly demonstration in the parking lot inspired me to pay it forward. I suggested he get a 1/4 lb. at the deli counter. Poor guy had to take a moment to process. He’d never considered the deli counter before. He smiled and thanked me. As I moved along to the check out, I heard him ask, “How much is a pound?” A pound?! Wow.

PNW Coronavirus Chronicle #1: Letters from a shut-in

Yesterday at noon, the WA State Governor announced that all groups over 250 in our tri-county area are forbidden from gathering. He then hinted that schools will soon been closed (they did today, in the same tri-county area). A later email from a local school district further hinted an inevitable closure won’t be for weeks, but may be for months. Then, the cherry on top, our President blamed Europe.

For me, it all started last Friday, when the mayor of the small town where I work announced that several city-owned buildings would close. As our office is in one of those buildings (and we are a city agency), we received a subsequent notice to work from home, “as much as possible,” but it was not required. As much as everyone wanted to cry, “hell, yes!”, we abstained. When things get serious, it seems untoward to feel like you are taking advantage. So, most of us showed up the next day. Then we were sent home in the middle of that next day with the admonishment to only come into work if absolutely necessary. Before leaving the office, we were also given an agreement to sign. Basically, a scouts’ honor to work all 8 hours a day and always be available during working hours for phone calls, emails and the like, along with a reminder that city business is city business and no one else’s.

The “work from home” edict is one thing, but an example of how urgent folks are getting about the recommendations to curtail spread of this virus is this: I was talking to one of my co-workers when we were interrupted by a senior manager to be conscious of the fact that we were standing “way” too close. We looked at each other and then assessed our distance. Probably 4 feet. Another co-worker brought out a measuring tape, sort of as a joke, and measured the distance. It was five feet 1 inch. Turns out, “social distance” is six feet apart. Six feet is a really weird distance to have to stand when one is having a comfortable conversation with another. I’m telling ya. Just try it.

The one thing I’ve learned about working from home thus far is this: There is a lot that is accomplished in the consortium of co-workers that cannot possibly be accomplished when everyone is sent to sit in their respective corners with their backs to the room (so to speak). And then there is the weirdness of working from home. Home is where I hang out. Where I kick back. It is where—except for paying bills and all the other homeowner headaches—I only do the things I enjoy doing. There’s no flopping on the couch for an hour’s nap after lunch, just because I can; as I do on weekends. Were my cat still around, I’d being having a heck of a time keeping her off the desk, or circling me, constantly meowing. And, I’ve discovered to my great frustration, my home desk and office chair are not designed for a full day’s toil at the laptop. OUCH! My back!!

I’ve also learned my neighbor above me has a treadmill. I know she works from home on a regular basis, but all this time we’ve been neighbors, I never knew she had a treadmill. On her breaks during the work week, she jumps on that thing. And, that damn thing is loud! It’s like living under an earthquake. Funny, the things you learn when your circumstances change. I called her to ask about the treadmill, and she was surprised I was home. Turns out she always knows when I’m home sick because she hears my TV, or hears me cough. I’m home working, so, no TV, and I’m not sick, so no coughing. I told her to go on with her treadmill. It’ll give me an excuse to go out on a walk to escape the noise!

Which brings me to this: Walking around your neighborhood is the healthiest/safest thing you can do ’round these parts these days. You don’t encounter a single nasty germ-infested surface; the world around you (unless it’s raining) is lovely; and it is more than A-OK to keep a 6-foot-distance from others you pass by. However, it makes meeting the ebullient puppy-dog very awkward. I mean, leave it to the one canine in Hong Kong that (reputedly) contracted COVID19 to ruin such a sublime and neighborly encounter.

Because losing my mind with cabin fever (nevermind viral fever) is something I cannot abide, I will post Letters From a Coronavirus Shut-in regularly. Writing is my salvation as well as my sanity touchstone.


Op-Ed:
Yes, COVID19 is proclaimed a pandemic, and W.H.O. has not minced words in condemning governments for their slow and largely ineffective initial response. And historians will pontificate for decades to come whether this presidential electoral cycle had anything, or everything, to do with why elected officials, from park district commissioners all the way up to POTUS, were quick to make broad, sweeping directives…that is, once it became generally accepted that we had a dire situation at hand. Whatever. I’m left to wonder where the definition of “proportional response” lies in this case?

One one hand, there’s a virus for which there is no remedy, or immunity, that is fatal to the medically vulnerable. On the other hand, within a matter of just one week, businesses, like restaurants, are announcing permanent closure due to a massive drop in revenue. A friend of mine was laid off a gift store clerk job yesterday for lack of revenue from just one week of sales and forecast the many weeks to come of the same. The markets are crashing and it seems another recession is pretty much a given. Recessions have not ever been kind to me and my employment status, so, yeah. I’m worried. I could die (because I’m close enough to the stated ‘vulnerable’ age) or I could be unemployed. Again. Real and exceptionally daunting prospects against a very thin margin for hope against all hope.

So, I ask once more, where does the proportional, or appropriate response lie? W.H.O. and C.D.C. cite China, Singapore and Hong Kong’s response as they only way to manage this particular outbreak. Italy, too, I suppose, but the pundits say it was not enough and way too late in the game. We’re hearing the same criticism of US response. Too little, too late.

Holy crap. Really?