April 6, 2020

Schools in Washington State are closed through the remainder of this academic year–so my oldest won’t return to Kindergarten.

Summer meetings are starting be cancelled.

It’s… interesting? how the hive mind coalesces around certain goods (flour, seeds, baby chicks) and how rapidly they are all sold out and back-ordered.  If you think of something you might want or need before everybody else does, you might still be able get it.  If you read about it online you are too late.

There is no plan for how we get out of this.  Currently, because of (successful! necessary!) curve-flattening, only about 3% of the population has been infected–which means that as soon as containment is released the virus will spring right back up.  (We clearly seem to be incapable of test-and-trace at any scale.)  We need to get to >70% of the population immune, either by everyone having had the disease (terrifying, lots of people die) or a vaccine (a long way off, and how much do Americans like vaccines again?).  Even if the basic facts of the modeling were clear (what is R0? is it seasonal? how many asymptomatic carriers? how long are people infectious?) this is not an environment where people just accept expert consensus.  It’s deeply depressing how quickly hydroxychloroquine has become subsumed in partisan epistemology. PPE definitely helps, why don’t these folks get excited by that?

A powerful metaphor for the experience.

April 5, 2020

For lots of complicated reasons today I masked up and went to the grocery store to do our own shopping–the first time in a month.  I got there right at opening (assuming restocking was most likely to be completed then and the crowds the smallest).  There were purchase limitations on some items and no stock of others (tough luck on adult Tylenol), but I snagged most of what I was looking for, most importantly a bag of flour.  Despite the new CDC guidance only about a third of shoppers were wearing masks, and even fewer workers.

We’re finally getting some warmer weather, so later in the day the oldest and I went for a bike ride around Magneson Park.  Presumably to minimize the number of people in the park, most of the large parking lots were barricaded.  There were still plenty of people, though, and my son only intermittently remembers that he’s supposed to keep distant from others.  So it ended up being somewhat stressful, and I wondered if it was a reckless move: after a month of zero contact with anyone but immediate family, today we encountered tens of people (albeit briefly, in passing, outside)…  It’s hard to judge risk.  So far I have managed to keep a lid on latent tendencies towards mild OCD (I’m not scrubbing grocery boxes yet), but reading about what’s happening in the hospitals makes me start to feel a little twitchy.

Pro cyclists did a virtual Tour of Flanders.

Well, this seems to complete the story about what’s happening to the federal stockpiles of PPE (purchased by the taxpayer): they are being given (?) to private middleman distributors and sold to the highest bidders!


April 3, 2020

I’ve been working at home for a month.  There’s at minimum another month ahead, and likely more…

The Army set up a field hospital in Seattle?  It is currently empty (as is the medical ship in New York, the latter due to bureaucracy rather than lack of need).

In what seemed to me a surprisingly quick change, the CDC now advises #Masks4All.  The commander-in-chief “doesn’t think he’s gonna be doing it.”

I’m trying to keep this focused on the personal rather than the political, but the WH provisioning of PPE, ventilators, tests, etc. has been–almost malicious?  Pres. tells states to “try to get things yourself,” only in the last few days invokes the Defense Production Act to expedite large-scale production, and says “New York should have had more ventilators.”  Then we learn the feds are confiscating goods that states have managed to secure.  Where are they going?  Who knows, both Trump and Kusher says they’re “ours” and edit websites accordingly.  Meanwhile the governor of MA got so frustrated with mask orders getting intercepted that he arranged a secret order and sent the NE Patriots plane to pick them up…  Illinois is handing off multi-million dollar checks in parking lots to get PPE.

April 2, 2020

Working all day at my makeshift standing desk gave me so much shoulder pain I had trouble sleeping last night :-/

Virtual Zoom backgrounds do make meetings nicer!

We ordered hair clippers…  sadly missed the rush and the best choices are already sold out.

Washington’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy order has been extended now to May 4.

10 million Americans have filed for unemployment in the last two weeks.

1 in 5 hospitalized in New York City are under 44.

New York City EMS is no longer taking heart attack patients to emergency rooms if they cannot be revived at the scene.

April 1, 2020

Well, this has been the first April Fool’s Day in years without a cavalcade of annoyances.

I’m finally updating my laptop’s OS so I can belatedly get on the Zoom background train—if only to spare my coworkers constant views of our basement.

California schools won’t be opening again this school year.

Photographs from inside a Brooklyn hospital.

It’s depressing watching revisionist narratives being tested and perfected in the political world.  I had thought that crushing reality of a preventable pandemic would be immune to spin–naive of me, once again.  Especially when well-intentioned advertising policies determine whose messages can go out at all.

A great article capturing how different this experience is for those with kids and those without:

I feel alienated from my friends without kids in a way that I really never have,” Kelsey, who’s from Texas, told me. “They’re all talking about how to deal with boredom and anxiety, and I’m rearranging my life to work 15-hour days so I can split childcare shifts with my husband. They’re sad about not going to the gym, and I’m trying to cram on child development so my kid doesn’t fall behind. The level of disruption just feels so different.

The article adds texture to a feeling I’ve been trying to come to terms with: I feel like we are only barely coping–but I know there are others who are facing incomparably greater challenges: job losses, special needs kids, domestic violence, COVID-19 itself…  It feels easiest to hunker down in survival mode and avoid thinking too much about the yawning problems all around—but might that be counter-productive, in addition to selfish?

This is a terrible time for everyone. The only way to get through it, though, is to try not to think of it as a competition of who has it worse and try to think of how you, as an individual, can help those who are struggling — with or without kids, with or without jobs, with or without safety nets. And then, after you do what you can as an individual, you can start thinking about how much less stress there might be and how much more prepared we might be to weather a similar crisis in the future if we have systems in place that don’t force each of us to figure out solutions on our own. And then, when this is over — we can act, and vote, accordingly.

March 31, 2020

The children were like wild animals today–happy, cheerful animals, but animals nonetheless.

Hospitals are firing doctors for speaking out on lack of PPE.

Trolls are disrupting online classes, thesis defenses, and more by “Zoom bombing” them with obscene imagery and chats.

Scientists are discussing how to relax the lockdowns without leading to a second wave of infection.

An epidemiologist’s blistering critique of the NYT’s White House coverage during the crisis.

The stories from New York are heartbreaking and terrifying: constant sirens, 911 triaging patients on the phone as too ill to care for, vast swathes of first responders fallen ill, hundreds of sick patients dying isolated from loved ones…  It is the future we feared was coming to Seattle.  So far there is reason to hope it will not be so bad here.  But there is some survivors’ guilt, nevertheless, and fear for the rest of the country as the graphs tick ever-upward.

Sometimes at midnight, in the great silence of the sleep-bound town, the doctor turned on his radio before going to bed for the few hours’ sleep he allowed himself. And from the ends of the earth, across the thousands of miles of land and sea, kindly, well-meaning speakers tried to voice their fellow-feeling, and indeed did so, but at the same time proved the utter incapacity of every man truly to share in suffering that he cannot see.  –Albert Camus, The Plague

March 30, 2020

We went for a walk, and saw that a small little boutique near our house had gone out of business.  The space was already emptied, stripped bare as if it had never existed.

Wifi speed is suffering some and hindering video calls.

Not everyone believes in the threat.

March 29, 2020

We went on a longer walk today, up to the “schoolyard playground” near our house where we’ve whiled away countless hours.  We knew it would be closed, but seeing the play structure wrapped up in caution tape and the gate locked really brought the change home.

On the way home we did the social distancing dance on the sidewalks with others out on walks.

New York City is dealing with more 911 calls than during 9/11.  People are fleeing to remote areas and encountering resistance from the people who live there due to the obvious risk of accelerating the spread.  And while I get that it’s scary to hear about the state of the hospitals in NYC right now, do people think their prospects would really be better if they find themselves with bilateral pneumonia in some small rural hospital?  (and out of network, natch)

Continued positive news on the caseload in Washington State (although there are already internet idiots claiming this means the threat was overblown and the reaction too severe).  I do wonder if we’re due for a small surge: while there were moderate distancing steps taken here early, things were only shut down completely very recently, and there were certainly large groups of people congregating at parks and having parties just a couple weeks ago–those cases would just start appearing now.

Hopefully soon serological tests will allow us to determine everyone who has been infected, and finally nail down some of the transmission numbers.  In the meantime amateurs continue to fill the void and influence federal policy.

I realized we hadn’t started our car in three weeks, so I took it for a short drive this evening to get the fluids moving.  U-Village was as empty as if it were Christmas morning.

March 28, 2020

I heard a couple sirens today–it felt unusual, though perhaps I am just over-sensitized.  It brought to mind one of my favorite pieces of writing, John Donne’s famous Meditation XVII:

Perchance, he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill, as that he knows not it tolls for him… As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come, so this bell calls us all; but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness.

It seemed especially apt in that so much of the current crisis is about the need for empathy: to see ourselves in the place of another, to see how our actions affect others, and—even harder!—to be willing to make substantial sacrifices and never to know how or for whom they made a difference.

Sadly this is very countercultural these days in America.  The last weeks have shown that it’s hard even recognizing that what’s happening elsewhere is relevant to us.

Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.  –Douglas Adams

It’s becoming clearer that there may be stages of lockdown and release while we wait for a vaccine.  Twitter consensus is moving towards the need for widespread mask wearing to help blunt asymptomatic transmission (#masks4all).

It’s challenging to get flour.  I’m getting out of shape from not getting any real exercise for a month.

March 27, 2020

Our youngest started fussing off and on at 5 am, so I was falling over tired all day.  Even in these unusual times, normal things keep happening.

Not that it slowed the youngest down any!  His latest game is taking flying leaps off of the couch.  Nerve-jangling!  And a good way to get hurt.  Heaven knows we don’t want to go to the E.R. for some prosaic injury right now…

I gave a remote conference talk while the kids caused general ruckus and mayhem upstairs.

VC-funded startups are showing signs of stress.

Some cautious optimism about the slower rate of case growth in Washington State.  While we’re a long way from out of the woods, it feels… a little hopeful?  I expect complaints that this has all been overblown any moment now.

Still, it’s a strange juxtaposition as the news from the rest of the country starts to turn so much worse.

But some positive news that much faster tests may be on the way.

Seattle Public Schools is going to start “supporting continuous learning” next week.  I don’t envy anyone trying to make consequential decisions or long-term plans right now.