When The Pandemic Comes
March 21, 2020
Confined to our apartment, we have to make do with the artifacts of nature. While our friends who left the city before the quarantine send us live videos of themselves enjoying the outdoors, Adriana and I have candles that have been molded into the shape of pine cones as we burn a stick of Palo Santo to evoke the scent of a fireplace in the countryside. They tell us about trips to the lake and the mountains, showing us tree types they’re identifying for their child — the conifers, hemlocks and birch trees — while we tell them about tending to our house plants and orchids and the budding herb garden I’ve started in the kitchen window.
When I look into the rear courtyard these days, with its view of other brownstone buildings, and then take a moment to listen to the wind, it’s not unlike the sparseness of the desert. A discarded cellophane bag stuck in a tree summons a memory of parched bougainvillea leaves that have fallen from the branch to then become entwined in a twirling duet across a patio floor, such as what I saw at a house we once rented in the Sonora.
The sound of chafing paper is far better than ambulance sirens, helicopters, drones and loudspeakers from police squad cars, which had been the new norm up until a few days ago. Now it’s just quiet.
Though I know the numbers are really not that high, it feels like half of our neighborhood is gone. Maybe ten percent got out in time — those with weekend houses and money to burn on basement bunkers and safe rooms. Fewer than that proportion are in hospitals. It’s hard to know how many are actually sick. As the tally of the infected increases, measured by the number of neighborhoods directly exposed to the outbreak, which block by block has metastasized to include ours, all of this has started to feel both very near yet also very abstract somehow.
Like the silence, it’s real but so far removed from what we normally associate with city living that it feels vaguely like a simulation, like we’re stuck inside a snow globe. The empty street outside looks more like a glossy photographic print one would see in an art gallery than the reality of our day to day but here we are. A month ago, none of us thought we’d be here.
It’s strange, both of us working from home now but nice that we’re together. The last time the city shut down in any way comparable to this was during Hurricane Sandy. In the thirty-six hours leading up to the hurricane, Adriana was stuck in Miami while on a business trip. For three days, she couldn’t get home. Having her here now while the city is again locked down, at least it is better to be two.
March 20, 2020
Nobody sees neighborhood kids anymore. They’re all inside. The library is closed, so are the schools. There are no city services. No mail to be delivered and no sanitation workers to collect the garbage. Bags of it sit on the sidewalk in mountainous heaps.
Anyone who is not infected is allowed outside for an hour a day as long as you first stop by the precinct for a thermal scan that checks for fever or you visit one of the authorized fever screening stations™. If your test is clean, then a worker in full-body protective gear issues you a day pass, which you’re instructed to wear like an armband.
I’ve done it once so far — got the pass. I went out for errands but first ran down to the waterfront for a view of lower Manhattan. None of the ferries are running on the East River. Just a few police boats, and drones everywhere.
Whenever you’re outside, it’s difficult to discern who is healthy and who isn’t. A fever is not a catchall indicator, they keep telling us, so you just don’t know. Getting a proper test is difficult and with ongoing reports of the CDC under-representing the daily numbers of positive COVID-19 diagnoses, while also refusing to disclose geographical data of where outbreaks occur, the term zombie has taken on new significance. We all look the same and so we’re all zombies. Condemned.
If there are suspicions of someone who might be carrying the virus but hasn’t been isolated, then people are encouraged to report it. Apps like Citizen have been re-tooled for just this purpose. I won’t use it. At least, not yet.
From afar, both of our parents worry and feel helpless. We worry about them. They’re the ones who are vulnerable. My mother is in southern Norway and is not allowed to leave her house, her health compromised as it is. She receives daily visits from healthcare workers in face masks and gloves, who bring her provisions that the local municipality supplies but she misses her daily promenades by the lake, which she always takes with her best friend. On FaceTime, we talk about planning for her 80th birthday party to take her mind off of things.
Adriana’s parents are in East Los Angeles. Even before the pandemic, their world was already confined so other than not being able to visit the panaderia every day, little has changed for them. They just worry. They call frequently and since they’re two of them, it takes up that much more of Adriana’s time.
Time is something we have a lot of right now.
• health check at 7:30 PM — the same ever so slight feeling of being discombobulated. glands in the neck are still slightly swollen as well as tenderness in the back of the throat. it’s very, very minor.
March 19, 2020
In today’s news, we hear that there are now over 3,000 people in New York City alone who have COVID-19. The numbers are startling and go up every day.
Friends from Europe urge us to take this very seriously so we’re staying inside today. There’s an overwhelming impulse to hunker down. We have plenty of food and supplies. We’re maybe a little bit short on some medication — I wish we had more paracetamol — and now that our neighborhood is not allowed to receive postal deliveries or shipped packages, we won’t be able to get some for a while.
In any event, neither of us are ill.
We both spend our day focused on work, trying to stay busy while avoiding opportunities to get overwhelmed by the news — and if we are going to consult the media, then we look to credible sources and therefore limit any time on Twitter. There’s spring cleaning to be done, much of it’s very mundane but today, mundane is good.
We make the “virtual” rounds of checking in on friends, part of a daily roll call that functions as welfare checks. It’s important that no one feels overlooked as I wouldn’t want to assume that everyone has family to check in on them. It is very rare, for that matter, that I hear from anyone in my own family.
. . . . . . . .
Nobody talks about how long the quarantine may last.
We hear from friends in Milan who are directly impacted by the virus and who have then been both hospitalized and subsequently isolated. Now that they’re recovering, they send us updates, mostly on their health and what they’re eating. I’m in touch with friends in Denmark and family in Norway. All of us are going through the same thing right now, confined to staying inside, but we’re at different points along the pandemic’s broader timeline. Everywhere it’s tense.
In Germany, they’re well into a 14-day “Corona Holiday.” This is the same in Denmark, where the borders are also closed. France and Spain have each just started a 15-day nationwide lockdown. Just like Italy before them, these governments have all ordered shut-downs of their entire country in order to break the momentum of how the virus is spreading.
Everything is closed: all places that are “non-essential” to public life including restaurants, cafes and cinemas, but also schools, public transport, roads, stores, all government agencies except for law enforcement, the military and health care.
And, compared to Italy, the situation in these countries does not seem as bad.
But here? It’s too soon to say if it’s truly dire but not only is the reach of the contagion more widespread than in Germany or Denmark but who over here has the authority to shut the whole thing down? Yes, there is the Stafford Act — I’m not sure if it actually applies in the same way — and given the current occupant of the Oval Office, poorly-informed and ill-prepared as he is, would anyone even want such authority exercised?
. . . . . . . . . . . .
I’ve been keeping a journal of daily health “check-ins.” Today’s notation:
• health check at 4 PM — sometimes I feel the glands in my throat are swollen, at the back of the jaw. the glands in my armpits are also a bit swollen but there’s no fever and no cough and my energy levels are OK. drinking lots of water.
What I Read:
“Post the 2008 crash, there’s not much central banks can do to limit the impact of coronavirus” — https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/mar/02/post-crash-central-banks-limit-impact-coronavirus-banks
March 18, 2020
The Governor of the State of New York is taking new actions to mitigate the spread of coronavirus in our communities.
Starting Thursday, March 19, 2020 at 12:01 AM, state public health authorities will establish a three-mile containment area from the epicenter of the March 15 outbreak in Kings County (Brooklyn) within which all residents are directed to remain indoors… All non-essential business will be directed to close. The National Guard will be assisting with logistical and operational challenges in our community… These rules go into effect tonight at 12:01 AM.
. . . . . . . .
The Brooklyn quarantine was issued with little advance notice and mandates a containment zone that extends beyond forty square blocks — with check-points to be promptly established at every possible path of entry and egress. We’re six streets over from the wrong side of the border — so we’re in the zone.
Being New York, however, there are work-arounds, such as when and how the quarantine will actually go into force. This presented a gap of fifteen hours between its announcement and its enforcement.
Friends therefore used the final evening of free movement to host a “Last Night On Earth” party.
The invite was sent out by text and stated “Bring your own mask and if you are coughing or have a fever, please stay home and call the doctor.”
The hosts brought out their karaoke machine and placed mini-bars throughout their living room and kitchen, fashioned from sets of personal-sized bottles of disinfectant and travel-sized mini bottles of Scotch, tequila and gin. They threw open the french doors to the garden to keep the interior spaces ventilated, so we stood outside for much of the night, in our spring coats, scarves and face masks while chatting and drinking.
The evening was warm, punctuated by bad cover songs coming from inside and conversations about bailouts for industries that are worst hit. All of us being together, it somehow felt full of promise.
There was a couple who just returned from Hong Kong, arriving with bottles of Cava and first-hand accounts of the pandemic and quarantine over there. They told everyone to dig in for an extended period.
One guest brought a red face mask with the Supreme logo emblazoned on it. Others drew smiles on their disposable surgical masks then turned them over to make frowns. A few guests had N95s, the military grade respirators that many people have been hoarding, which therefore invited extra attention, as well as scrutiny, from others.
The hosts gave a mid-evening speech, where after the welcome, they reminded everyone that “most masks won’t make a lick of difference.” They raised their glasses and shouted “Cheers! Kampai!”
“Do you know the origin of the word ‘quarantine’?” my friend Farrah asked. “It was during a time of the plague in Venice. The Black Death.”
She went on to say, “The government imposed a rule where ships had to remain anchored outside the port for forty days before any crew or passengers could come ashore. So the waiting period was named ‘quarantena’ in the Venetian dialect, for forty, and then eventually ‘quarantina’ from the Italian. Quaranta giorni.”
“But why forty days?” I asked.
“Fuck if I know,” she said.
. . . . . . . .
“What’s your building’s policy on visitors during the quarantine?” Adriana asked a friend.
“Visitors? There are no visitors!”
“Yeah but do you think people will fall in line?”
“Let me put it this way: as of tomorrow, I’ll be promoting the “I’m Staying Home” hashtag. That’s how it’s going down in Italy. People are actually staying home.”
They then talk about the balcony concerts and solo voice performances that have become a feature of the Italian experience with the corona outbreak, how some balcony performers are singing Italy’s entry to this year’s Eurovision song contest.
At 11:59, the volume of the music was lowered, followed by a solemn countdown to the midnight hour as we rang in the first official day of quarantine enforcement.
Technically, everyone should have left by then. It was 2 AM when several of us hurried home like teenagers sneaking in after curfew. In the distance, sirens could be heard.
Notes: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says police have a right to enforce isolation or quarantine and that “in most states, breaking a quarantine order is a criminal misdemeanor.” In the United States, Customs and Border Protection as well as the U.S. Coast Guard have the right to enforce federally-mandated quarantines.
March 17, 2020
Adriana is now working from home. As Google owns the building, which also houses the agency she works for, they decided to shut down the entire building last Friday afternoon so now we’re both here at the apartment. She’s set up shop in the dining room. I’m in the back.
She leaves FaceTime on all day with colleagues from her team so they can be in close ambient proximity to each other.
“Wash your hands,” they frequently say to each other.
I imagine so many people working remotely will change how all of us work, how teams work. I don’t yet know how but for one, because group chats on video require focus and concentration, I’ve noticed there’s less small talk. It makes meetings more disciplined and more productive. But the physical effort puts a greater strain on the attention span.
We don’t hit the stores as much anymore because most of them are empty of goods. Now we order most things online.
. . . . . . . . . . . .
This is the week where we will start to see real evidence of the consequences of overreaction and underreaction among the population. As the coronavirus pandemic begins in earnest to run its course here in New York, we will also see what happens as a result of delayed reaction.
What I Read:
Stories of boredom, resilience, disquiet, creativity, loneliness and all of the instant noodles (and the re-birth of quarantine cooking): https://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/quarantine-cooking-finding-relief-from-coronavirus-anxiety-in-the-kitchen
March 16, 2020
There are two hospitals, which serve our zip code. By the frequency of sirens, they are busy these days. That said, if I get sick and need treatment, I want to make sure I get into Manhattan. No one I know trusts Brooklyn hospitals.
Getting tested is difficult. This is what we hear all the time. People who have symptoms have not been able to get tests and at the same time, people who are symptom-free insist on being tested.
On the local high street, some shops are open but there seems to be little rhyme or reason as to which ones. The delicatessen which stocks French cheese, baked goods, and hard to find mustards has been open every day and even seems to have customers. The all-day diner, on the other hand, which caters to a younger set has been closed since Friday. The Alsatian restaurant and the Mexican bistro are also closed as is the old fashioned ice cream parlor on the corner — but there’s a sign-up sheet on their door with many names on it as they organize volunteers for grocery shopping for the elderly and immune-compromised in the neighborhood. The cinemas have also been shut down. Only one of the two area chain pharmacies is open for business but the local walk-in medical clinics have lines out the door.
As for work, friends in tech companies face the same capriciousness in circumstances. At one agency, employees are told that they are required to come in every day though no one is allowed to sit next to each other and the office has done away with open floor seating.
But most of us have been asked to work remotely or at home. It’s nothing new to me but it’s unusual for my wife and I to share our home office.
I heard from a friend at an animation studio that one reason why his company has kept employees coming in every day is because they haven’t yet negotiated the necessary software licensing agreements from third party vendors that would therefore make it possible for them to install more copies of the software on machines outside of their office, which are now needed to access the work. To avoid disruptions to clients, they need to keep people in the office. Perhaps this is a common problem.
. . . . . . . . . . . .
I’ve started a health journal, with entries for five check-ins a day.
• health check at 10 AM — feel a little bit out of my head — a bit dizzy and nauseous and hints of a cold sweat. granted, i have consumed a fair amount of coffee without drinking water. drank two liters of water since. thoroughly washed hands with disinfecting wipes after checking the mailbox downstairs.
• health check at noon — i still feel slightly out of my head — back of the neck tension and mild pressure around the temples. no fever. no cold sweat but just feel slightly off — a bit of numbness in the back of the throat. stiffness in the joints and overall, very slightly discombobulated — like i’m not entirely in my own body. numbness and tension is the most accurate way i can describe the combination. have consumed more water. a shot of wheatgrass. a shot of ginger and lemon.
• health check at 1:30 PM — a little stiffness in the neck but overall, not as discombobulated as before. not really sure what it was. still not 100%.
• health check at 3 PM — i feel better. it might just be that i’m over caffeinated. slightly swollen glands in the throat but no cold sweat nor any other indications that i might be coming down with something.
• health check at 10 PM — i feel fine. lymph nodes in my armpits are slightly swollen, with skin that is sensitive to the touch. don’t know if that means anything.
What I Read:
“The problem here is contagion, and the exponential curve of transmission. So from a public safety perspective, you need to take fairly dramatic steps *early* to slow that curve and reduce the scope of the problem later.”
“A high systemic risk means your local hospital is clogged with coronavirus infections (sick and old) on the day you need to go there for an emergency appendectomy. Secondary deaths result from overwhelmed health system. Next, people avoid doctors entirely.”
• “CDC’s Worst-Case Coronavirus Model: 214 Million Infected, 1.7 Million Dead” — https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/03/cdcs-worst-case-coronavirus-model-210m-infected-1-7m-dead.html
March 15, 2020
The local hardware supply has a long line of customers that snakes around the corner onto 4th Place.
Earlier in the week, I would have said that only the occasional person on the street wears a face mask but today, in my most unscientific survey, it feels like one in five. A lot of facemasks. Don’t people realize that they don’t really help? It must be psychosomatic.
I text a friend to meet for coffee. When we arrive at our local spot, we’re told that while we can order drinks, we can’t stay. They’re no longer allowed to offer customer seating. The barista explains this from behind a face mask. We sit in a small park nearby.
“If this is here for a while,” my friend asks, “What do you think will happen to live events that no one is allowed to attend, like concerts, rallies and the Presidential debates?”
“Like ‘virtual town halls’?” I ask.
After a while, I say, “I doubt canned audience responses will cut it so I’m sure that as we speak, someone is working on an interactive feature that allows all of us to applaud remotely, individually, by tapping a button on our phone and we’ll be able to hear that as a collective sound, the applause and reactions from all the other people watching… and that will add up to something.”
“Kind of like what Eurovision is now combined with Twitter.”
“Or Black Mirror. A super basic social media. Look at vTaiwan — the virtual government project. They’re doing really interesting work that is way more advanced than what I just proposed. They’ve created working prototypes for participatory democracies in the digital space, which their own government is now using. User experience-wise, some of the elements could be similar.”
. . . . . . . . . . . .
At home, we’re slowly but surely transforming our apartment into an isolation unit, should that become necessary. A ritual of airing out the apartment, making sure we have enough clean linens and towels, wiping down surfaces with disinfectant, and preparing foods that are easy to reheat.
What I Read:
“We’re a bit shocked — life under lockdown” — https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/10/were-a-bit-shocked-italians-on-life-under-coronavirus-lockdown
“A warning from the future” — https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2020/03/italy-coronavirus-covid19-west-europe-future/607660/
March 14, 2020
The national emergency has now gone into effect. Hard to say what this means in real terms.
I get up early to go for a run. There are very few people out on the streets. I hit the subway station — it too is empty.
I ride to Chinatown to play in a soccer scrimmage with friends in a caged-in pitch that overlooks Grand Street, a thoroughfare which is normally crowded with pedestrians and delivery trucks at this time of day but now it’s quiet.
Teammates agree that during play, there will be no unnecessary physical contact, no high-fives, no shouting, and certainly no spitting and coughing on each other. That said, less than one-third of the club is present on what would otherwise be a busy session. The mood is subdued. The exertion did not provide its usual release. On the contrary, it felt unsatisfying and disconnected, like every player is only there for themselves.
I stop by a local market. Most of the cupboards and shelves are empty. I pick up some eggs and get back on the subway, itself carrying only a handful of passengers.
When Adriana comes back from surfing out at Rockaway, she goes to the Fairway Market in Red Hook and reports entire aisles that are empty. “The bulk food items are all gone. No canned goods either.”
. . . . . . . . . . . .
A number of friends are leaving town today. Some are going north, others are heading east, and a few are even going back home — many to California. My native Denmark has told its citizens who are abroad to come home. Any Danish national who does not have permanent residence outside of Denmark is legally compelled to return within a week. I’ve never heard of such a thing.
As far as I know, it doesn’t apply to me, but I find it nonetheless unnerving to read accounts of Danes, wherever they are across the globe, having to pack up their belongings in a matter of days, giving up apartments, jobs or study, while scrambling to find airfare back to Copenhagen, on flights that are increasingly scarce with prices that are stratospheric. I make a note to check-in with friends from Denmark here in North America.
At home, I decide to brine lemons and prepare a gravlax. I’ve already revived a sourdough starter. Perhaps later in the week, I’ll start a batch of kimchi.
Here’s a recipe for the lemons — will post the gravlax later.
What I Read:
“On a Saturday Night in Florida, a Presidential Party Became a Coronavirus Hot Zone” https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/14/us/politics/trump-coronavirus-mar-a-lago.html
March 13, 2020
We wake up in the early morning hours to the scent of rain through the open window. It’s 5 AM and birds have just started to sing. For Adriana and I, this is our favourite time of day. Sometimes one of us will get out of bed early to sit in the living room to listen to the world outside.
And despite today’s rain, the birds still sing. It is springtime, the first cherry blossoms are in bloom and the earth has not stopped turning.
Umbrellas out, parents are still taking their kids to school on this a Friday morning, holding their hands as they cross the street. Keisha the crossing guard is still at her post. People are still out going for exercise, tourists are still standing on street corners, hoping their phones will tell them where they are.
Court Street Grocers is still serving their delicious egg sandwiches and while the Ukrainian baristas at the coffee shop owned by Transylvanians both wear facemasks, one can still get an excellent triple-shot cappuccino to go, even if it isn’t in your own personal cup.
. . . . . . . . . . . .
“Wash your hands,” has become the new parting phrase of choice between Adriana and I. Sometimes, it’s accompanied by “Good luck out there.” This is how we said our good-byes this morning at the subway station.
It’s Friday the 13th. Looking around the subway car, I see more people reading the bible than I ever have before. It’s all out in the open, reading their analog books of biblical verse. Nearby, a man dressed entirely in black takes up the entire doorway. Attached to his belt buckle is a Captain America branded clip-on bottle of hand sanitizer.
A sense of “endgame” is upon us. Another day in an “Unprepared America.”
News changes so quickly. Every fifteen to twenty minutes, there’s a new important announcement broadcast across the channels. There are also email alerts from every newsletter I’ve ever subscribed to, from every business I’ve ever dealt with, each with their own ‘important update’ on COVID-19. I appreciate the gesture but who has time to read these?
The president declares a national emergency.
“National Emergency: two very big words,” he said to start off his statement. We’re living in a tragic comedy fueled by this man’s mind-boggling incompetence.
I don’t know what any of this will mean for states like New York and California, when the current regime has so far not been inclined to help with financial and logistical support. I’m skeptical.
What I Read:
Coronavirus: Social Distancing — Is it risky to go to the pub or gym?
America’s shamefully slow coronavirus testing threatens all of us: https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2020/3/12/21175034/coronavirus-covid-19-testing-usa
Donald Trump’s handling of the Coronavirus Crisis — https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/12/donald-trump-coronavirus-crisis
March 12, 2020
My phone lights up with a message from a friend in Milan:
Christian dear, unfortunately Maddy tested positive to Corona Virus. It’s been three crazy weeks. She just got home yesterday after a week of isolation at the hospital. 😢
We are in the thick of it unfortunately. People do not understand still how serious it is. Now, we are facing 15 days of isolation at home.
She goes on to explain how they’re coping. “Love In A Time of Corona,” as she describes it. She documents their daily routines, their health, what they eat, the number of days left until they are virus-free: March 27th.
Take it seriously, she repeats.
A friend who is a firefighter with the New York City Fire Department tells me that city agencies are not sufficiently prepared for the pandemic. He says he expressed his concerns to his department chief and tells me that once an individual firehouse is hit with its first positive diagnosis, they’ll shut the entire unit down. And this will reoccur unit by unit.
“How are emergency services and first responders going to be able to work?”
“That’s what I’m asking.”
Friends who are doctors who work in Brooklyn hospitals are already worried and stressed. They don’t have enough supplies on hand and are jerry-rigging together double-masks with tape to make up for shortages. Some hospitals are also short-staffed, they say.
On top of this, the US government has just announced a travel-ban from 26 countries in Europe, which will directly impact how I get back to Norway and Denmark to see my family. Of course, the federal government is very vague about how the travel ban will be implemented and who specifically it covers. I suspect we will know more within a few days.
I also suspect that this has as much to do with punishing the EU as it has to do with any kind of public health policy — if the current regime in Washington even has a policy — that this is more likely an expression of the US president’s personal animus towards the EU.
On the radio, I hear that New York State has just banned large gatherings of five-hundred attendees or more, effective 5 PM today.
Rumours circulate. On the subway back from Manhattan this evening, I receive a text message from a friend who forwards a chain-message he got from a “friend of a friend,” who allegedly works for the NYPD:
“The New York Police Department’s Emergency Management Team plans to put containment actions in place already this weekend, with subway service shutdowns and roads closed to all vehicles except emergency vehicles. The recommendation is to stock up on food and water and cash, because grocers and ATM machines will have limited ability to be refilled. An announcement is likely going to come today or tomorrow.”
None of this turns out to be true. The hysteria is real.
Adriana and I both hit the stores on the way home. We also agree to a new rule, “whenever one of us is out, don’t come home empty-handed.”
March 11, 2020
As news filters out that the corona virus had been present in Northern Italy for far longer than initially suspected, several of our friends who were in Milan back in early February are nervous. I too was supposed to be there, to attend the same conference, but, of course, that’s not relevant anymore. It’s natural to speculate and to that end, one wonders how long the virus has actually been around on these shores.
It’s also upsetting to hear that the US president’s national security team continues to classify updates which the CDC provides. The public is kept in the dark, which seems ill-considered. Who are they trying to help and whose side are they on?
I’ve heard nothing so far that anyone who was in Milan back then has since received a positive test for the virus. Maybe the danger has passed?
What I Read:
Coronavirus: Reason to Be Reassured https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/07/coronavirus-reasons-to-be-reassured
Coronavirus: A Disease That Thrives On Human Error https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/07/coronavirus-a-disease-that-thrives-on-human-error
Unpopular Thoughts On Corona Virus: https://twitter.com/CraigMurrayOrg/status/1236250837409726466
March 10, 2020
A Tuesday night in South Brooklyn and of the four markets within walking distance of our rented brownstone apartment, most of their shelves are barren, emptied not for the first time of dry goods, canned products, bottled water, and household cleaners. There’s not much left in the fruit and vegetable bins either.
I overhear talk of Trader Joe’s having to close early so that put me on a path to Whole Foods, where employees are having difficulty finding things to do. There has been a run on toilet paper and with most of the inventory gone, the store clerks stand around in small clusters, speaking quietly amongst themselves as Madi Diaz’s “Taste Of Rain” plays at muzak-volume on the store’s PA.
“I’m not gonna help you,” sings the voice from the sound system. “Heaven’s gotta help me first.”
It’s adults only here at Whole Foods. There are no children to be seen. Shoppers in face masks pick through the scant remains of the store stock.
The personal care and wellness section seem unaffected by the panic surge. The artisanal cheese stand looks fairly robust but it’s not drawing in the crowds, unlike the gourmet snack aisle, which has been thoroughly plundered.
We’re good to go for survival food at home — so I’m just here for the cheese and spectacle. There’s nothing like a zesty P’tit Basque to go with an approaching pandemic and I text Adriana that it ought to pair nicely with a Primitivo.
In a few days, after the first school closings, there’s likely to be talk of exclusion zones here in the city proper, and temporary shutdowns of delivery and postal service so who knows if we’ll even be able to buy cheese at that time, and will it even matter?
Most of us have seen episodes of ransacked supermarkets like this before — we are well-versed in the genre of dirty dystopias and zombie apocalypse fiction — so we know what this should look like. But reality feels different. It’s an annoying inconvenience so far, where the danger is still invisible and therefore barely registers. There’s a feeling of purposelessness and emptiness, like the barren shelves in the stores. Now what do we do?
Where’s the National Guard to hand out rations of hand sanitizer and lollipops? I feel petty.
. . . . . . . . . . . .
When I get home, Adriana is on the couch, working on sketches for anti-surveillance facewear. “Software,” she says with a smile. It’s a design she mapped out from reading about counter-measures to facial recognition technology now being used in some places to keep the infected off the streets. It looks like a pair of patches that apply to the cheekbones, with patterns to reproduce digital noise — an analog signal jammer.
“I want to disconnect in style,” she says.
March 8, 2020
Coronavirus: it’s where xenophobes, germaphobes, science deniers and spambots converge.
The news today feels unreliable and scattershot. American media coverage of the virus is very different than their European counterparts, even those which cover the U.S. I don’t watch Fox News but I’ve read in the Guardian that they’re fully invested in debunking the dangers of a pandemic.
It gives me reason to wonder. Will consumers look more critically at news sources whose only objective is to create tension and uncertainty? When the first Fox News commentator contracts the virus, will the station change its tune or will they still blame Obama? Across the spectrum, how will this outbreak affect news channels and their pursuit of ratings as well as the way public service messages compete with disinformation? Who will be the ultimate authority?
What visible role will the social media giants play in this pandemic? Will Twitter and Facebook step in to combat disinformation campaigns?
I really abhor the chaos and vitriol that’s commonly found online, which often go hand in hand with political agendas. While many of them seem to be coming from the extreme right, there’s certainly evidence that some of the more strident voices come from a small-minded falange of Sanders supporters as well as bots assigned to agitate around Sanders messaging. Whether AI-driven attacks or human-powered, these are the digital voices of anti-vaxxer doomsday preppers and anti-compromising lone wolves who coalesce around their rage over a loss of entitlement as well as their suspicion of the elite and any form of sanctioned expertise. I think they’re all doing real harm to the general population.
Will companies who already heavily data-harvest their customers, like Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Apple, be willing to share their insights for the greater public good or will all of their information stay locked on the inside? They know so much more than we know. What demands may governments make in the public interest? Would the Chinese government allow TikTok to share its data?
If only there was a Hippocratic oath for the tech world.
To that end, I think about other possible course corrections years overdue, which because of coronavirus may now see the light of day.
How will the impact on airline carriers and the entire travel industry change the long-term habits of travelers, especially when demands to rethink consumer behavior due to climate change are already in the air? Will this accelerate these changes? How many carriers will go under? What about Boeing? Would this be a good time to buy airfare to Europe for a summer holiday?
What I Read:
The Technologist’s Hippocratic Oath — https://builttoadapt.io/technologists-hippocratic-oath-94b88d3fe480
Surveillance and facial recognition, robots, drones and AIs: https://www.vox.com/recode/2020/2/27/21156358/surveillance-tech-coronavirus-china-facial-recognition
Anti-surveillance make-up — https://www.documentjournal.com/2020/01/anti-surveillance-makeup-could-be-the-future-of-beauty/
March 5, 2020
There is ample room in the subway car this evening, unusual for a Thursday. So much room. It feels like a holiday weekend when half the city heads to the beach.
We’ve just come from MoMA. You’d never know Art Week is here, the Armory Art Show, the fairs and markets. Nowhere are there lines to get in. Nothing is sold out.
We also had dinner at Wonjo in K-town. Didn’t have to wait for a table.
As the train moves south, I think about the anxiety and dread, which accompanies the impending arrival of this pandemic and all of the uncertainty it brings but there is also an opportunity to take stock, quite literally. Needs can be reassessed, to define what’s actually useful in a time like this, the products and services, the objects we keep, the priorities we make.
Such a reevaluation may contribute to long-term changes in behavior, which in turn, may impact us years after this particular pandemic is over.
For example, what will happen to public transportation? Once the population works out that on-demand car service and taxis are not the best solutions for safely getting to and from work and when enough drivers stay home for fear of the risk of exposing themselves to infected passengers, will city governments decide to make public transportation free?
What about public-private transportation initiatives such as Citibike? How will bike-sharing programs position themselves as part of a solution and are they ready for a new flock of users?
What about those drivers who can’t afford to stay home? And what will any of this mean for people who have to get themselves to the hospitals?
What about the uninsured? With so many U.S. residents without health insurance, what kind of outsized impact will a coronavirus pandemic have on lower income citizens, not to mention the massive homeless populations in this country? Could this be the catalyst for change that finally ushers in universal healthcare?
Last but not least, what role will museums and libraries play when their buildings may soon be closed to the public? What will they do to engage their audiences? Will it be through informative conversations hosted online or will they focus more on diversions and entertainment?
The subway pulls up to our station. Less than a dozen of us step out. There’s none of the usual bottleneck up the steps to the street. We have freedom to roam but I wonder how sound the air is for us to breathe.
What I Read:
“An American man whose father-in-law died of coronavirus in Wuhan was evacuated from China with his daughter and placed in quarantine at a US Marine base in California. He writes on GoFundMe the US government billed him $2,200 for the flight and now asks him to pay for quarantine” — https://twitter.com/RobertMackey/status/1233459999852171265
“The Black Swan event analysts chatter about is not the virus (it was foreseeable) but the fact it might usher in universal healthcare. I imagine thousands of patients refusing or unable to pay hospital bills -> bailout -> universal healthcare. The birth of the NHS = good analogy.” https://twitter.com/BishopBlougram/status/1233461813016133632
March 3, 2020
As I walk over to the coffee shop, I think about how something as commonplace as face-to-face transactions are bound to undergo transformations in the near future. Will they be avoided at cafés and coffee shops as everything is pushed towards app-based purchases to minimize direct human to human contact? We will likely have to forego any personalized hand-offs.
If this becomes the standard, then Starbucks is well-positioned to deal with this. I wonder how quickly independently-owned coffee shops will push for this kind of service and if this is what customers and employees really want? Will we still be able to bring our own reusable cups to the café or will the environment be sacrificed for the safety of paper cups?
I guess food delivery services and the like will do just fine — marijuana delivery services as well — but it doesn’t guarantee that any packaging will be free of fomites. We still don’t know exactly how the virus is transmitted and how long its pathogens remain viable on materials like paper, porcelain, glass and metal.
How will farmers markets respond, especially as we go into the spring season where many of these green markets, having survived winter, are primed for customers who may not show up in the numbers they need.
When schools close down, what will happen to organized sports, at a school level but also for adults? Will sports leagues cancel their spring schedules? What will happen to yoga studios and fitness centers? What are people going to do for fitness?
How will retail businesses adjust? What kind of businesses will be strengthened by self-quarantining and what kinds of innovations will emerge? How will all of this change our economy?
I would imagine that tech services, which enable remote participation in group activities will see an increase in demand. This would be Peloton for fitness and companies like Slack and Zoom for work and productivity, which will be used more often than they already are. Are they ready? Will yoga studies try the same approach?
Pharmaceuticals will profit, of course. I wonder what our collective tolerance will be for price gougers and what will happen to those services who offer wellness products that really don’t help.
Beware immune boosting products, I remind myself, because these are incomplete solutions at best and more likely dubious. Resist the pressure to buy respirators and face masks.
I bet turmeric sales have gone up. And kimchi sales and sauerkraut.
While scientists and specialists across the globe work on developing a vaccine, here in the US, the federal government floats ideas of what such a vaccine might cost to its citizens, assuring citizens that it would be “affordable.” How might this affect outcomes and the ongoing spread of the virus?
What will “affordable” look like for us? Other countries have already said that they’ll make any vaccines free as well as testing.
I arrive at the coffee shop and greet the Romanian owners. They’re Transylvanians, actually. From Cluj. They know their coffee. No changes in service today.
What I Read:
• How will New York City Respond To The Coronavirus — https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/03/how-would-new-york-city-respond-to-the-coronavirus.html
• How the zombie represents America’s deepest fears: A sociopolitical history of zombies, from Haiti to The Walking Dead — https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2016/10/31/13440402/zombie-political-history
March 2, 2020
Novel Coronavirus is here. In New York City. We knew this day would come. It had been foretold.
Adriana and I each received the news as notifications on our phones, much like we’ve received city-wide issued storm warnings in the past.
“Well, there you go,” I said to her.
We ordered dinner online, had it delivered to our home via a driver on an electric bike and as we eat it, we watch an episode of The Morning Show on Apple+ and never address the subject matter again that evening.
Lying in bed that night, I start to imagine the future. A mundane future of choices we get to make and the choices others make for us.
I wondered if this is going to be a real threat to our health or is it only a threat to our freedom to live a carefree life*. Will we remember this as a hassle that disrupts the hustle or will it be far more turbulent? How well-positioned are we to manage this? How healthy are we in our bodies to take this on?
I make a note that we need to update our go-bag.
As anxiety around the virus increases across the city, it will be interesting to see how it impacts our daily routines. How will city dwellers here in New York respond? What about elsewhere?
* as carefree as one can in the grime and hustle of New York.
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I’m reading first-hand accounts from China. Here’s a glimpse of the future, which awaits us that I copy+pasted into my phone:
“Ardit Ajeti, 24, from south-west London, lives and works as a teacher in Guangzhou when the virus outbreak resulted in the entire city being placed on lockdown. Videos posted by Ajeti’s show him exploring an empty city.
He says “all the facilities are closed, I’ve not been able to go to the gym because they want everyone to avoid having close contact, so I’ve just been working out at home… At first, I was a bit worried; however, I think now I am getting used to it and it seems quite normal…”
He goes on to say, “Some schools are saying they will now not open until May, and universities have transitioned to teaching online… it’s hard to be social, as all the bars and restaurants are closed.”
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With the US-based CDC so badly stripped of its funding and subject to censorship from the Oval Office, I spent some time looking at pages from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. Their information is more comprehensive and less hyperbolic, with an overview here and a FAQ is here.
Notes: Coronavirus, or Covid-19, is a respiratory illness with symptoms similar to flu and is thought to spread mainly via respiratory droplets among “close contacts” — such as coming directly into contact with the droplets or certain other bodily fluids.
The virus can also be spread from being within about 6ft of a patient for a prolonged period, according to the CDC.
END OF PART ONE
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