Sunday, March 29, 2020

The View from the Hermitage, Day 14

I left the Hermitage today. Older son, the husband, and I took the family dog on a car-car ride. "Car-car" is the magic word that sends her into ecstatic dog noises. If only she or any other dog could tell me why riding in a car, even with the windows closed, is so special.

We went to the nearest park which, fortunately, is a county park. The city government has closed the parking lots of all the city parks and warned that if the parks themselves get too crowded, they will close them as well. The county has taped off shelters and playgrounds and locked all the restrooms but the parking lots are still open. There are reminders of social distancing posted on various fence posts. The dog park is limited to 10 humans, who are, of course, asked to distance themselves appropriately.

As we walked, I consciously avoided touching anything until the morning's coffee needed an outlet, and I had to use the post-a-potty. I pulled my hand up my sleeve and touched nothing with bare skin. When I got home, the sweatshirt went into the laundry, and I went into the shower. It felt odd to be almost paranoid about touching anything. Here in the Hermitage, I touch whatever I want. I still wash my hands though not as often as I would, what to call it, out in the open? The outland? The real world?

Perhaps because I read too many post-apocalyptic novels as a teenager, I find myself imagining what life might be like if social distancing and self-isolating continued, if the "new normal" became "the normal." Would all children be schooled at home even if they weren't home-schooled? What would become "hello" if not a handshake? A bow? What would be a "so good to see you" if not a hug? Waving just doesn't seem appropriate.

A local resident tweeted that he drove around town, not getting out of his car, for an hour, and was surprised at the number of people who evidently think everything is just fine. Older son says the people across the street have nightly cookouts in the front yard whenever the evening temperature permits. Does this mean that those of us who are trying to be vigilant about the advice from the scientists and doctors have to remain vigilant even longer?

How many of us know someone who has been diagnosed with covid-19? Thinking of the six degrees of Kevin Bacon, I am two degrees apart from someone so diagnosed, the cousin of one of my quilting friends. Would knowing someone who has covid-19 put the fear of God into the people who for now seem clueless? Much as I'd hate to wish affliction on someone, if that is what it takes for some people to be careful, it might actually be worth it.

From this morning's Washington Post:  "It took about a month from the first confirmed death on Feb. 29 for the United States to record its first 1,000 coronavirus-related fatalities. The number of confirmed deaths has since doubled in two days." It may not take long for the number of degrees of separation to drop dangerously low.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

The View from the Hermitage, Day 13

The pandemic is messing with my perceptions of time. How many days have we been hermitting? How many days would be enough? If someone were to be exposed today, when might they become symptomatic? When will the cases or deaths in insert city, state, or country here peak? Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York, says the peak there will be in 21 days. When will the curves everyone is talking about flatten? 

I have a hard time remembering what day of the week it is. It's not quite the "every day is Saturday" feeling retired friends say they have, but it's similar. It's Saturday now, but it could be any day. Older son came early, bringing the groceries I'd told him we needed. We did an in-the-dark walk with the dog. We got back, older son went back out for a run, and I attacked the newspapers. I often go use the decades old NordicTrack ski machine or do some leg or ab exercises. I decided I needed a rest today; walking would be good enough. When older son came back from his run, he, the husband, and I took the dog for a second, longer walk. That sounds like any day this week.

The time during the day gets fuzzy as well. I have been spending mornings writing or doing small tasks in the kitchen or living areas. Afternoons I try to be at my sewing machine. Coming upstairs to start making dinner means turning on CNN for "The Situation Room." When that morphs into the daily report from the coronavirus task force, I change the station, especially if the husband has descended from his office. He cannot stand even hearing the president's voice let alone seeing him. I don't want to run back downstairs after dinner, so I read or work on something while the husband does crossword puzzles. Right now, I'm making needle-felted ornaments to sell at the Fall Fiber Festival, assuming it is still held. 

While the time periods mentioned have been on a more immediate level, the effects of the pandemic extend to periods measured in years as well. Affecting me more than the postponement of the Olympics or any other event, the husband's retirement will evidently be postponed. With the various nuclear physics labs at which he conducts his research going offline for so long, the experiments he had planned to run at various points in time have moved further into the future. Needless to say, understanding the reason behind it does not necessarily lessen my dislike of this news.

From hours to years, out in the world or closer to home, time is relative. Albert Einstein proposed that a century ago, around the time of an earlier pandemic.

Friday, March 27, 2020

The View from the Hermitage, Day 12

Today marks a dozen days of social distancing a.k.a. playing hermit. It's clear that today's dozen will become tomorrow's baker's dozen. It's not at all clear, though, how long it might last. A dozen dozen days? Gross! (groan) If the coronavirus behaves in other cities as it has behaved in New York City, we could be in for a very long haul. Will New York City be even more apocalyptic in two weeks? Two weeks after that? Will New Orleans be the next New York City? Will Florida be the next Washington (state)?

A friend's daughter and grandchildren are staying with her here, out in the relative country. The husband/father works in public health in an urban area and didn't want his family there while the coronavirus raged. Better to have his children able to run outside in a yard without the worry of people passing by than to have them locked inside to go crazy. How many other such cases are there around the country? It reminds me of the children's being sent out of London during the Blitz.

 I try not to feel pangs of guilt at being able, thanks to older son and the family finances, to effectively shut off the world. I know people who are not so lucky, some by choice and others not. An emergency room nurse who can't just stay home. The nail technician who works in a shop that has been closed. One risks life if not limb while the other loses her livelihood. What am I risking in these trying times? Not a damned thing!

Thursday, March 26, 2020

The View from the Hermitage, Day 11

The "Local Living" section of today's Washington Post has several columns or questions about helping kids cope with anxiety over the way things are right now. I'm not sure how the sons would have reacted had we gone through something like this when they were little. I know we would have explained it to them as truthfully as possible. We would have let them watch the news with us. We would not have censored the information.

I was something of a pariah among preschool parents in 1990 when Operation Desert Storm began. As noted above, the sons watched the nightly news with us, and we answered their questions factually. Older son took the information he had learned and was explaining troop movements to his preschool classmates, none of whom had any idea there was a mini-war going on. Some became quite anxious according to their parents, and it was my fault for letting my son know what was going on.

Children not old enough to understand the details about something mirror their parents' attitudes toward that something. They learn by doing or feeling what they see the adults they know best doing or feeling. Older son was not anxious about Operation Desert Storm because the husband and I were not anxious. We did not hide our concern from him, but it was certainly not the end of the world. I am not sure that would be the case with the current pandemic. I do know that I would have been less nervous about things then than I am now, almost 30 years later. My asthma would still have put me in a higher risk group, but I would have had a much younger age to put in the plus column. And I am less anxious now than I might otherwise be because I am following the guidance about social distance and contact. What anxiety I do feel these days is helping me take the precautions I can after which there's not much else to worry about.

Today's parents may also be handling having their kids home from school for an extended period of time, in a couple of cases for the rest of the academic year. At-home enrichment and reading may be enough for the young ones, but the teenagers in subject-matter classes are a totally different matter. Teenage me would probably be fine with learning online. My first experience with online instruction was when I was in a sixth grade math class, way back in the late 1960s. In many ways student me enjoyed online, independent learning, but I have been told that I am not normal. I hope that today's students in sequential classes are able to grasp the material that would have been taught in a classroom March through May.

The students in social studies classes such as civics, government, or history are watching a future textbook being written before their eyes. I just hope their possibly pariah parents are letting them watch or read the news.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The View from the Hermitage, Day 10

The Editorial Board of The New York Times last night, in a rather lengthy op-ed piece, reported "Coronavirus is Advancing. All Americans Need to Shelter in Place." If that wasn't enough, there was this subtitle: "The worst of the pandemic is yet to come. Listen to the medical experts. It's time for a national lockdown." The Board conceded that the President may not have the authority to order a national lockdown, but noted that he can "use the bully pulpit" to pressure 50 governors into declaring 50 state-wide lockdowns. This sounds good to me, though for this to work, I would think that the states that have already locked down would likely need to stay locked down so that the country as a whole can emerge after two weeks.

There is news this morning that the first-in-line heir to the British throne, Charles, has tested positive for covid-19. He had not been with the queen in two weeks, so she may be safe. She has been self-isolating anyway since her age, 93, puts her in one of the highest risk categories. Charles, after all, is 71. I noted to older son that there were likely Brits secretly hoping that Charles would pass so that William would become heir to the throne. I wonder what he feels like right now. Does he feel ready to be the heir were his father to die? Would he be ready to be king? Those are not questions I would want to be asking myself. Older son wondered if Harry might want to return to the royal fold were his father to die. My vote was that he would not. I do hope, though, that he would return to England for the funeral.

Older son and I also discussed the value of royalty in times such as we live in today. The Royals have no real legal authority, but are the absolute champions when it comes to saying "keep strong and carry on." They can lead by example as well such as when the king did not evacuate London during the Blitz. The queen may be isolating herself and not making public appearances, but that may make it easier for some Brits to isolate themselves or just maintain social distances. If the queen can do it, so can they.

The husband and I have, though not during the pandemic, discussed the value of a nation's having a figurehead such as a queen or king. Criticize the president as the elected head of state all you want, but the ranking royal represents the heart of the country and is sacrosanct. In the deep past, husband and I discussed whether Ronald and Nancy Reagan might be good American royalty. In their days, they may very well have been the best example. Today? I have no idea whatsoever. And given the divisions that have arisen here in the last five years, no one does.

Here in the Hermitage, we would have no problem with a nationwide lockdown. At least, I would have no problem with one. The husband often surprises me on the opinion front. We've essentially locked ourselves down. If we gave older son a grocery list, we could have the provisions needed to be totally on our own for two weeks. Son could do his own grocery shopping and then isolate himself.  Much as the President who shall remain nameless wants to see the country "opened up and raring to go," that ain't gonna happen. And if it did, the months ahead would be worse than the month in which we now live.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

The View from the Hermitage, Day 9

Coming in from walking the family dog this morning, I had the sense of coming back into a balloon in which I lived. There was a real sense of warmth, as if I had wrapped a warm blanket around myself. I felt more comfortable in here than I did out there even if there were no people out there with whom I needed to avoid contact. 

Virginia yesterday became the second state in which schools are closed for the remainder of the academic year. Kansas was the other one, though there may be more by now. Entertainment and recreational establishments were ordered closed, and strict limits were put on the number of shoppers allowed in some retail establishments at the same time. We are not - yet - expected to stay indoors and shelter in place, something one in three Americans is now doing, but our turn could come.

We probably all have friends or acquaintances who cannot lock their doors and shelter in place. The work they do is seen as essential to taking care of the rest of us. An emergency room nurse on the front lines of the pandemic. A truck driver who hauls things that absolutely must get from Point A to Point B within a certain time. A delivery person or one who hands me my food at the drive-through window. These people may have their own bubble to which they return when they can, but they have to leave it again on a regular basis.

We probably all have friends or acquaintances who wish they could leave their bubble because food on the table comes only from their work outside that bubble. The week before my stay in the Hermitage began, I tipped two regular service providers more than I usually would, knowing that if their job did not disappear, the people who came for the service provided might. I hope that both are still there when we no longer need to live in bubbles.

I try not to feel guilty about the fact that I can afford to stay in my bubble and do not have to leave it, really, for anything foreseeable. Thanks to cancellations of all kinds, the next out-of-bubble event on my calendar is a haircut in late May. I would hope that life would have at least neared normality by then, but what if this really is the new normal? I am really not sure I want to live out my days in a bubble, comfortable though it may be. For now, I will think of this time not as a new normal but as an abnormal. I hope I'm correct in that thinking.

Monday, March 23, 2020

The View from the Hermitage, Day 8

Here in Virginia, the governor will announce today what is going to happen with public K-12 education. Right now, schools must be closed for the rest of this week. After that has been up to each school division. The county schools here, for example, say they will be closed through April 10. Their spring break is April 6 through 10, and they likely think that sending kids back for one week sandwiched between weeks off is not a good idea. Older son thinks the governor will close public schools for the rest of the academic year. Much as I hate to say it, I agree.

I commented to older son that the county superintendent has noted that they will not be holding students back despite their having missed most of the second semester. Older son countered by asking how many students were held back in a normal year. Yeah, not many. Leaving AP or IB classes out of the equation, the real problem area is math. A student with close to only two-thirds of a year of Algebra I will not transition well to Algebra II, especially in a system that places Geometry between the two years of algebra. Foreign languages also depend on the foundation laid in a previous year, but only in that the starting point of the next year's subject matter shifts back to where instruction ended the previous year.And let's not forget to ask what the summer slump will be like after six months of "summer vacation" rather than two or three. It sets some kids up to playing catch-up for the rest of their K-12 career.

The New York Times has a fascinating article today, "The Virus Can Be Stopped but Only With Harsh Steps, Experts Say." I read the online version, but can't imagine it is not also in the print edition. The thesis was that the measures China, South Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan have used to rein in the coronavirus would be anathema to Americans. An example would be to use the GPS capability of cell phones to tell when someone has gone outside their isolation or quarantine quarters. In South Korea, they use a GPS app and violators pay an $8,000 fine. Such apps along with credit card and bank records can help in tracing contacts by enabling officials to see where someone was while they were contagious but before becoming symptomatic. Doing this well is vital to stopping the virus from infecting others. Can you imagine the furor that would result were those measures even suggested here?

Given the education theme I unintentionally started above, is the decision of if and when to close schools. According to the Times's article, this is not uniformly considered to be a good idea. Right now, schools are closed in 45 of the 50 states. That children can be carriers of the coronavirus has not been established, though since they are basically asymptomatic, they could channel Typhoid Mary. Some experts argue that closing schools puts children at home meaning some essential personnel may not be able to go to work. At the same time, closing schools helps maintain social distance between the adults who must work at those schools. We are apparently damned if we do and damned if we don't. I am glad I am not the one who has to make the decision.