COVID-19 Open Thread: Speak, Readers. How Are You Responding?

by James A. Bacon

On Friday I met a friend for what will likely be my last restaurant meal for a long time. We spent most of the time talking about the COVID-19 virus: its origins, the government’s response, and the response of individual citizens. We chatted with our waiter, who was cheerful and surprisingly upbeat. He assured us that the restaurant had taken unprecedented sanitary precautions. But business was slow, he admitted. Thinking that the young man might not have a job a week from now, I left double the normal tip.

Saturday night, my wife and I dined with four friends, and Sunday night with my sister’s family. On both occasions, we spent most of the time talking about the coronavirus. COVID-19 has become a national obsession without par since 9/11. While the terror attack engendered fear and briefly shut down airline traffic, COVID-19 is more intrusive in our daily lives. After the catastrophe, President Bush urged the country to return to normal — go shopping! Under siege by a virus, public health authorities are telling that life is anything but normal. Do not go shopping! Stay indoors and hunker down.

I meet once a month at a restaurant with a group of men to talk politics and philosophy. Although we convene in a private room, two of my compadres felt discretion was the better part of valor. We canceled the event. Ironically, we had planned to talk about the COVID-19 epidemic. One of our group suggested that we convene remotely using Zoom, sipping wine as we stare at our laptops and PCs. We’ll see how that works out.

Note to Readers:

Tell us your thoughts, your fears, your stories. Click on the “Leave a comment” link below!

My wife and I participate in a book club. Our event next weekend has been canceled. The hostess suggested that we might… sip wine as we convened by Zoom. (Does anyone see a trend here?) The book, portentously enough, is “Who Says You’re Dead? Medical and Ethical Dilemmas for the Curious and Concerned.” Somehow, I’m guessing that we’ll end up discussing COVID-19 and the ethical imperative of social distancing.

My wife says life seems surreal. I agree. In the face of an invisible threat, our daily routines are changing in ways we’ve never experienced before. At this point in time, all is calm, but there is a feeling of ominousness in the air, of dread at what is soon to come but not quite here. We both have elderly mothers who live alone. We worry about them. Well, we always worry about them, but now we fret more than ever. We worry about a niece who is an emergency room doctor. We worry about a friend who may have to cancel her daughter’s wedding plans. We have stopped worrying about the French river cruise we had scheduled for this summer — we know we won’t go.

And, of course, we worry about toilet paper.

(By the way: Best line of the day from Kerry Dougherty’s column: “It’s not dysentery, folks. It’s a flu-like virus. Gastrointestinal problems are rarely even associated with COVID-19. So why the run on toilet paper?”)

Americans are resilient, and we are adaptable. My sister and brother-in-law are active in St. Stephens Episcopal Church here in Richmond. They told me how the church canceled its normal Sunday services, but thanks to the marvels of live-streaming, beamed sermons, choir singing, and Old and New Testament readings to parishioners. Things will get crazy. Politicians may pander, and bureaucrats may bungle, but we’ll get through this thing.

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30 responses to “COVID-19 Open Thread: Speak, Readers. How Are You Responding?”

  1. sbostian Avatar

    Other than all of my teaching at VCU on a forced march to online classes, not much has changed. My social life is somewhat limited due to my wife’s Huntington’s Disease. Shopping is a little bit more challenging, although I think that will improve. I too have a twice a month gathering of male friends (about 10) for breakfast on Saturday mornings. There is no agenda other than being able to speak without self-censorship which is hard in many of our workplaces. This Saturday, only four of the core 8 were able to attend: one because of back pain, one because of late work on Friday night, one because of a brother home on leave from the US Navy and one with a business conflict.

  2. regarding the use of ZOOM….. remember this — starting 23 March the entire US college arena [and possibly high school] will be using on-line tech for real time on-line classes…… ZOOM being a major platform….. we’ll see how the ZOOM infrastructure handles his massive onslaught of users

  3. On Sat, instead of going to a small theater performance, we went to friends’ dock and sat by fire pit. They had closed the sale of their medical practice the day before, so we took them 3 gift bags: one bottle of champagne for celebration of sale, one bottle of spiced wine to sip, heated, by the fire, and one bag to show how dear their friendship is to us: roll of toilet paper.

  4. Got all the food and the like we needed thru a major slew of people and several places. Been working from home (mandated) and we’ll see how it goes. I work in IT, different for us. I’m just doing things around the house.

  5. Writing plays.
    Shakespeare wrote many of his best works in quarantine, they now say.

    Actually, in my case “writing plays” is doing taxes etc. long list of action items. We normally have a quite role to play with our grandchildren in town. Now we are being protected from contact. Also the high pressure things I had to do, heading up a community Band, are on hold. In other words, retirement finally for at least for a few months.

    It is so nice that the whole world is going to such extremes to protect us old folks. In the work place they could not get rid of us fast enough, despite the fact we were the only ones who knew the answers, now this. Heart warming.

    But I am a bit scared. My body does not handle colds very well, I feel.

  6. djrippert Avatar

    No bars or restaurants. No dinners with friends. No sports on TV. Ugh!

    I’ve had to drop my daily trips to the gym where I almost exclusively lift weights. I’m keeping up the tennis, golf and running. I now wear my golf rain gloves when playing tennis or golf. Unlike regular golf gloves rain gloves go on both hands. So I’m somewhat protected when I touch a tennis ball or flagstick.

    My youngest son is home from middle school and looks to be getting bored. I’m going to teach him to play chess.

    My part time consulting business is quite busy – all via video-conference call (mostly Zoom). The big question from all clients is how much to cut 2020 revenue and margin projections based on the economic fallout from Coronavirus. The answers are not pretty.

  7. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    For 0ne thing the guys I play tennis with Sunday mornings no longer do group hug.

    Been shopping but I find it strange that the things most scarce are chicken, potatoas and toilet paper. What does that say about Chesterfield County?

    1. My Wednesday tennis group is contemplating. Easy to skip high fives and hand shakes, but what if we do a group hand sanitization before we touch tennis balls, and repeat at set break? Rarely are we closer than 6′ and not for 15 minutes. Thinking this could be my last refuge of activity.

  8. djrippert Avatar

    Larry Hogan already closed racetracks, casinos and off-track betting locations. Just a few minutes ago he closed bars, restaurants and movie theaters across the state (effective at 5pm today).

    DC now has 18 cases of Coronavirus in a city with a population of about 650,000. On a per capita basis that would equate to 235 cases in Virginia. DC may be on its way to a hotspot.

  9. Upsides of COVID-19
    -Commute time cut in half
    -Bar still crowded but Millenials hiding in their bunkers makes it quieter
    -Cheap airfares
    -Due to Fed Closures, charging surcharge for workaround with Fed agencies
    -Kids home from college, dogs bother them and not me
    -Fewer stupid questions from stupid clients sharing bunker with Millenials

    Downside of COVID-19
    -Sports options reduced to WWE Smackdown Live
    -Kids home from college, food bill up 250%
    -Kids home from college, no “alone time” with wife
    -State threatening to close ABC stores, I only have 4 week supply of bourbon
    -More AOC soundbytes resulting in urge to plant icepick in eyes
    -Don’t dare look at retirement portfolio

  10. Lawrence Hincker Avatar
    Lawrence Hincker

    Nice piece, Jim. I can’t help but wonder about America’s risk tolerance. I’m an older Boomer, and most people my age or younger have been shielded from human life’s more devastating ravages. Our parents or grandparent’s generations suffered through massive influenza outbreaks, the fear of polio, and until the mid-20th century, more common diseases such as measles, mumps, or even cholera.

    Such outbreaks routinely killed millions.Yet somehow, they soldiered on. Yes, local health officials took actions, well locally. They didn’t unilaterally stop schools, public transport, or work from home across the nation (excepting 1918-20). Yes, Covid 19 is new and unknown. And yes, massive interventions may be the only way to stop the spread. I understand the fear – there is no way to treat the disease. For now, I’m totally comfortable with actions taken by government officials to effectuate “social distancing.”

    But yet, we got to wonder how society endured during other outbreaks over the centuries. Risk tolerance and understanding risk itself are not naturally inate to our species. Why else would we blithely drive our roads knowing that 35-40,000 people die each year in accidents. Worldwide, auto deaths top 1.2 million! But if two airplanes drop from the sky, we’re fearful of this extraordinarily safe mode of transport.

    So for now, it’s okay to accept about 500,000 deaths from flu each year (maybe 50-60,000 in the U.S.), but we literally shut down the country from fear, albeit not well-know, of the new coronavirus. It’s just awfully hard to get one’s head wrapped around the inconsistencies.

    1. Despite the fact that I’ve been flogging coronavirus coverage on this blog, I do sometimes have misgivings along the lines you describe. Are we over-reacting? Are we inflicting needless damage on the economy — and the millions of Americans whose businesses and jobs are at risk?

      You are right to say that we have become an extremely risk-averse society. Once upon a time, Americans had a fatalistic attitude that bad stuff happens — periodic misfortune is the nature of existence. Today, while relegating automobile accidents to background noise, we freak out over something new like COVID-19. I attribute that to the fear of the unknown.

      1. djrippert Avatar

        We’ll know fairly soon if we overreacted. How? By watching Mexico. That country is taking almost no action to address Coronavirus, no steps to implement social distancing or isolation. It’s business as usual south of the border. Large crowds at soccer games and concerts.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          Population control? 😉 Mexico is not the only one.

          Most 3rd world countries have little or no capacity or agencies like CDC.

          Here’s Mexico’s data for H1N1:

          Mexico (total) cases 50,234 deaths 398

          59 million Americans contracted the H1N1 virus, 265,000 were hospitalized and 12,000 died (0.02%)


          1. djrippert Avatar

            In 2009 Mexico virtually shutdown over H1N1. So far, they have not implemented any containment measures over Coronavirus. Maybe they’re right, maybe they’re wrong.

      2. Yes, Mexico is behind us but will be a warning, as will Italy which is 2 weeks ahead of us. The thing about that “delay the peak” graph (LG reprints it below) is that, if you ignore the huge initial spike and loss of life, it shows that any region that foregoes social distancing will in fact get over the pandemic sooner — the population will become heavily saturated with the disease and then herd-immunity takes over and the disease falters. I suppose if a region’s medical system is already overwhelmed under normal circumstances, delaying the peak impact doesn’t accomplish anything but extend the period of general misery and prevent even palliative treatment of “normal” illnesses.

    2. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      Excellent comment by Lawrence Hincker.

      By historical standards this virus would have hardly be a bump in the road. Until recently in America, few women lived beyond 30, and few men beyond say 45, and those considered themselves lucky.

      The idea back then that we would shut down our livelihood to save a relatively few folks from dying after age 70 would have been deemed absurd in extreme. At some point soon we likely are going to have to rethink this thing ourselves, whether we like it or not.

      Hopefully, however, what we do now will prevent our vast arrays of collateral problems reaching acute stage before its too far beyond point of practical return.

      1. Haha! Just a few years ago, weren’t we discussing the prospect of death panels to weed out the unhealthiest of the old geezers?

      2. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
        Reed Fawell 3rd

        Correct. In war, or unadulterated nature, all things are possible, even necessary. Ask any war vet of close combat with random death all around.

  11. johnrandolphofroanoke Avatar

    Making some white bean soup with ham hocks in the old iron kettle. Cooking over charcoal in the back yard. Working on the cornbread next. I am honing my 2nd Great Depression survival skills. Beans and cornbread still go hand in hand.

    1. I still have the Firefox Series Vols 1, 2 and 3 — how to make your own soap, etc.

  12. LarrytheG Avatar

    Well, so much for the idea that “density” is a more functional settlement pattern, eh?

    People’s emotions are running the gamut ranging from amazement to doubt to a little fear.

    It’s one thing to see people go nuts over a weekend snow event but quite another to see them do that in anticipation of weeks or months of life as most have never known it.

    Gonna be a lot of long walks and doing things we had put off for months or longer.. that “feeling good” feeling about the 401(K) has gone away and then some.

    We’re gonna end up with two groups – those who MUST work and those that will have a lot less diversions in their spare time.

    They say change brings opportunity to those who are so attuned.

    And we’re all going to be looking at a graph like a histogram wondering where we are on it!

  13. djrippert Avatar

    Six new cases (presumptive positive) in Virginia announced this afternoon:

    Two in James City County
    One in Arlington County
    One in Chesterfield County
    One in York County
    One in Stafford County

  14. vaconsumeradvocate Avatar

    Working in my office at VT since my home internet is not robust enough and I can’t afford the extra GB’s to put my classes online. Feels very strange with few people around. I brought my dog in so she makes me get up from the computer periodically. As we walked at lunchtime, saw some folks taking things from dorms, so more vehicles moving around and parents waiting in cars.
    Struggling with how to convert my classes suddenly to all online. There are some things you can do in person that you can’t do with technology and vice versa. People learn differently and have different interests in online only – and we’ll face that among students, too.
    Expect to be busy enough to not really notice strangeness this week. I’ve done the grocery shopping so that with our freezer and canned produce and meat collection, we’ll be fine for several weeks. Since we normally do a lot of cooking at home, this won’t be a big change.
    The poor internet at home is my biggest frustration. Have to be careful what I do and careful to turn off all cloud features when trying to work at home. It’s too easy to forget something and drain the limited G’s we get each month and then sink into extra costs. Have run over every month since December but buying as much as allowed for my fixed home internet service which is the only real option we have. Satellite is similar but even slower.
    I expect us to make it through this fine but believe we’ve got to work through it and use distancing to allow our medical infrastructure to handle those sick and give the virus time to work its way. Having had a 5 week long cold followed shortly with the flu since Christmas, I’m aware of the limitations of my body but not frightened.
    I hope everyone is smart about this and takes the right steps for ourselves and others.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      this is interesting. If the govt is telling schools, K-12 and higher-ed to go to “distance learning” and the internet infrastructure does not support it for all students and educators – how does that work?

      You’d think at the least, the govt would have some responsibility to help provide that infrastructure if their recommendation is to use it.

  15. djrippert Avatar

    SanFrancisco (and surrounding counties) – shelter in place order.

    “Six Bay Area counties are expected to announce a “shelter in place” order for all residents on Monday, directing everyone to stay inside their homes and away from others as much as possible for the next three weeks as public health officials desperately try to curb the rapid spread of coronavirus across the region.”

    The order calls for the sheriff or chief of police to “ensure compliance.”

    People who are homeless are exempt from the order but encouraged to find shelter.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      I predict a boon in some kind of special ID and rear-view-mirror hanging placards – to allow those who have a valid reason to be out and about.

      Not only doctors and nurses and public safety folks but grub-hub drivers, grocery and prescription drug delivery and more!

      Makes me also wonder what will happen to the bad guys who normally roam about… doing their thing……..

  16. djrippert Avatar

    A word that may soon be in wide circulation – Chloroquine

    1. A malaria drug — why now?

  17. LarrytheG Avatar

    ” Since the 1990s, U.S. companies have increasingly imported pharmaceutical products from India and China, where ingredients are cheaper and manufacturing is subject to fewer regulations. As a result, the United States now relies heavily on China and India for its drug supply.

    China is the second-largest exporter [PDF] of drugs and biologics, or drugs from natural sources, to the United States and the largest for medical devices, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It is believed that about 80 percent of the basic components used in U.S. drugs, known as active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs), come from China and India, though the exact dependence remains unknown since no reliable API registry exists.

    The United States also relies on these two countries for its supply of generic drugs, which account for 90 percent [PDF] of the medicines that Americans take. India supplies 40 percent of over-the-counter and generic prescription drugs used in the United States.”

    so if this is true – how come drugs cost so much in this country and we are told it is because the Drug companies do R&D for the world? ”

    Sounds like all this talk about “unfair” trade practices with China might turn out even worse!

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