Here’s how it started, at least the official story, from a site called CIDRAP (Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy) that I just happened upon today on the web:
“As suspected, a novel coronavirus has been identified in some patients who are part of a cluster of unexplained pneumonia cases in Wuhan, China, according to unnamed sources familiar with the investigation who are cited in a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) story today.
As scientists and health officials wait for official statements and more confirmation details, some virologists say they’re not surprised to see another human emergence of coronavirus, a species that is becoming a bigger player on the world stage. The new discovery comes in the wake of the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak in 2003 and the first human detection of MERS-CoV (Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus) in 2012.”
That was from January 8, 2020. It seems surreal now, like reading the opening chapter of And the Band Played On, a great classic of my youth that charted the course of the AIDS epidemic.
So, somehow we’re in the middle of a global pandemic.
I’m having a lot of thoughts about it, now that we in the Bay Area have all been ordered to shelter in place for two weeks (perhaps more). I’ll try to put some of them down in a linear fashion.
Nature Is Healing: I sat out in the sun in the little back yard today. If I closed my eyes and listened, I could hear the hum of the bees, because our little yard is covered with fruit trees growing wildly. The white blossoms will be gone soon, but the birds and bees love them. I looked out the kitchen window and into the eyes of a sparrow this morning. The biggest tree is at window-height and seems to always want to come in at our window every spring. Usually it makes things difficult because of allergies, but the tree is so obviously a sustainer and we are dealing with worse things than allergies.
How Bad Is This? Nobody knows. It’s probable that many of us are carriers—have already had a mild version of the virus. There should be no stigma about this, because we haven’t been allowed to get tested due to the incompetence of the administration. I may have had a mild case of the virus recently. I count myself very lucky, because I got through it with a mild sore throat, a spiky little fever, not even a cough, but a huge drop in energy. And some fear. My body certainly felt like it was battling something new, and I rushed around the house wanting to disinfect things. But we only have a tiny bit of rubbing alcohol left, thanks to shortages and hoarding. It was a horrible feeling at the time, but in retrospect, if I had it, I’m fortunate, and I want to try to get one of the retroactive tests for antibodies that they tell us are out there in the pipeline…
In Times of Trouble: CNN is a lifeline. I recommend watching the Global Coronavirus Town Halls if you can. There’s one tonight. Anderson Cooper, my favorite anchor on there, said gravely a few days ago, after a hectic show that mixed election news and virus news, “We are on the cusp of great change.” Isn’t that the truth?
Watching Numbers: As of today, we have over 10,000 infections in the U.S., 237,000 worldwide. A site that brings me comfort is this one, started by a high schooler in Washington State, Avi Schiffman: https://ncov2019.live/data. I hope this guy goes on to great things.
I can only hope this will bring us together. I fear the economic devastation that must come. I can deal with the stress in my own life because I’ve been living with financial uncertainty for a long time. But what I think most of us find hard to envisage and bear is to see so many of the things we have loved wiped out: favorite businesses closing, the streets emptied, our loved ones dying far from us. I don’t feel like I am in a good situation to cope with any of this. But then, who is? And sometimes I feel fine; things seem almost normal. Other times, I shake free from my denial. But I fear, looking ahead and going by other countries’ experience, that the next six weeks will be the worst.
I don’t go through this completely alone. I live with my ex, Laura, in a small house in San Francisco that her mother bought long ago and rented out to strangers for many years, and at our best we’re able to support each other through bad times. (In fact, I feel terrible for the elderly folks I know who live alone.) And I am an introvert, so this “social distancing” is something that I practice even at normal times, I’m afraid… But the forced aloneness, the rules, are quite a new thing. The fear, the uncertainty. The sadness and rage that we have an incompetent narcissistic bumbler at the helm during a time of crisis. When we could have had a competent and caring woman.
And people will die in large numbers, unpredictably. I’m not one to see that and be unaffected by it.
I’m grateful for: Gavin Newsom, our governor. The press, asking challenging questions of Trump at his inane briefings, the women reporters especially, their bravery in the face of his evasive bluster. A friend who lost her elderly mother recently and yet thought about me enough to send me an unexpected gift of money. Women’s strength and compassion, even though we are hampered by so many things. Men’s more impersonal protectiveness and innate decency, even though we have no social safety net in this society. Joe Biden, for sounding presidential and giving me hope that someone is out there making plans for the next administration. An old friend in Spain for comparing notes with me via little audio files even as she goes into lockdown. Another friend in Portland whom I talk to every week for an hour, an hour that flies by because our experiences and lives are so similar. To me this is a quiet testament that love endures and transforms, since both of them have known me for decades, though there have been long spaces of lack of contact, too.
Finally, I hope this epidemic can be a trigger for societal change. For too long I’ve watched as the rich got richer and everything crumbled. Everything that I came to this country for. We’ve had unbridled capitalism, and it is killing us. I hope the alienation that so many of us have felt from each other for so long (which is partially societally encouraged, let’s face it) can be wiped away, though this may only be temporary. Yes, people are selfish and short-sighted, and the people who care about others tend to suffer a lot. I watch other people suffering, though, and I think, hmm, well, I understand. It’s the people who don’t appear to suffer or look out for others that I really wonder about.
Thanks for reading these jottings, and feel free to leave a comment on how you’re doing! I’m interested in everyone’s experiences.
Update: The entire population of the State of California (barring essential service workers) is now ordered to shelter in place! That’s 40 million of us.