Saturday March 14, 2020
‘Should We Be Doing This?’ A Coronavirus Update from the U.S. Epicenter
Two weeks ago today.
I‘ve always been a germaphobe—I had a sickly childhood, etc.—but I always feel guilty about it. Some part of me thinks I’m just being too paranoid about germs and sickness and disease. I should be braver. I should be a better person.
So throughout the novel coronavirus/COVID-19 situation, I‘ve been two minds about things.
A week ago Tuesday, we were hosting a farewell dinner for one of our friends, who was heading back to Australia to look after her mother after the death of her father last summer, and some part of me wondered, “Should we still be doing this? Is this responsible?” More cases and more deaths were being reported in Seattle and King County, where I live. A death in February at a hospital three blocks from where I live was reported two weeks after the fact. The thing seemed to be getting bigger and closer. It was supposedly deadlier than the flu and much more contagious. Or was it the same? I assumed the former because responsible people said so while Fox News said no. That’s the giveaway. That's the tell. I wondered “Should we be doing this?” but I didn't see a way out. What was the alternative? Not going anywhere for anything? Holing up for weeks at a time? Or longer? That would never happen. The economy would stagnate. The stock market would crash. Businesses wouldn't allow it. Plus the world wasn't as germaphobic as me, so this thing would continue to spread while we were holed up.
Anyway, we had the dinner, and the next night I went to a work event where people were still inclined to shake hands. I always offered a fist, which led to laughter and a move to touch elbows, and people joking, as you do in a crisis, with gallows humor. All last week, too, the first week in March, we had workers at our place. They were painting our bathroom, the final stages of a remodel that began last June. (Yes, last June. Don't ask.) And while some part of my brain was thinking, “Is this smart? Is this responsible?,” another part wondered, “If not now, when?” So we did it. I still don't know if it was smart, but it's partly why I wasn't as worried as I might ordinarily be. The world was coming in and we were going out and that's the way it had to be.
But changes kept happening. The thing kept lapping up on us. A dinner got canceled last Saturday so we went to the movies, “Emma.,” at SIFF Egyptian. There was a good crowd there but the people behind the concession counter were now wearing gloves and there was hand sanitizer next to the napkins. Thursday, two days ago, we went to the movies again, “The Traitor,” at SIFF Uptown. Yes to gloves, yes to hand sanitizer, but now there was only one other couple in the theater. Then yesterday SIFF announced it was temporarily shuttering its doors.
SIFF was actually late to the party. Cancelations have been happening for a while. Initially it was annual events like the Emerald City Comicon, which was scheduled for this weekend but was postponed until the summer. That made sense. But what about non-annual events? What about the baseball season? Broadway? We were going to New York for a week in April, and we had tickets to “West Side Story,” and I was hoping for a Yankees or Mets game. Initially the prices seemed exorbitant. Then I began to wonder if they might go down becaues of COVID-19? Then I began to wonder if they might happen at all? And yes, they‘re not happening at all. And yes, we’re not going to New York.
The NBA canceling the rest of its season seemed the big one. That's when I went “Wow.” I'm trying to remember the timeline, the cancelations came so fast and furious. I kept relaying them to my wife. A section of Italy. No wait, all of Italy. Gov. Inslee warned against gatherings of more than 250 people; then it shrunk to ... 50? Then all bets were off. We were also trying to be brave and not panic and carry on. People reported that Seattle was a ghost town and I responded that it was less ghost town and more like a 2014 Seattle Seahawks game. Ha ha. Then it became more like a 2014 Seahawks playoff game. Then it was the Super Bowl. Today, this morning, I opened my second-floor window and leaned out for fresh air; and I was just hanging there, watching the world go by, when I realized the world wasn't going by. No one was out. It was Saturday morning, 8:30, and my office overlooks Boren Avenue, which always has traffic on it, car and foot, and I usually see people walking along Cherry Avenue, too. But it was maybe 15-20 seconds before I saw my first person—a jogger down on Terry. Then I saw a woman walking on the other side of Boren. And eventually a few cars. But just a few.
More people have been getting in touch lately. Familly and friends, texts and phone calls and email messages. “You guys OK?” It was my sister last weekend, and I told her it's a little odd seeing the world becoming more me than me. I think I was kind of proud of that; now not. Now I feel I should‘ve been more me than me.
I finally ran the numbers last week—Wednesday or Thursday. Very contagious, no vaccine, 1% mortality rate (conservative estimate). If everyone gets it, that means 78 million people die. Conservatively.
It was just two months ago, Jan. 8, that The New York Times first reported China had identified a pneumonialike illness with this subhed: “The new coronavirus doesn’t appear to be readily spread by humans, but researchers caution that more study is needed.” It was just two weeks ago, Feb. 27, that Trump accused Democrats and the news media of exaggerating the coronavirus threat. He said it was like the flu, which has a .1% mortality rate and a vaccine. His then-chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, told conservative activists that journalists were hyping the coronavirus because “they think this will bring down the president; that's what this is all about.” Their current line is that everyone should look forward; they‘re saying that no one should politicize this. But they already did. Which is why they don’t want us to look back at it. They are horrible people. Fuck them. But never forget.
I'm not of two minds about it anymore. And I‘ll be fine with the social isolation. I’m a writer and a reader and a movie watcher. I'm a walker and a biker and a jogger. There's tons of Cagney films to watch. There's tons to stream. So I‘ll be fine as long as I’m fine. I hope I'm fine. I hope you're fine.