The Quarantine Diaries, Chapter 10 — Resurgence and Remembrance

The statistics are in:  4.2M COVID cases in USA, that’s more than 1 in 100.

And, with 145K deaths so far, that’s a 3.5% death rate, a pretty sobering figure, and 4 to 7 times higher than the naysayers would have you believe.  The rate has been dropping daily, as so many more cases are added each day that the deaths haven’t caught up yet, a result of opening the country too soon and people not complying with social distancing and protective guidelings.  And, probably the last accurate statistics we will have, since the administration has decreed that all reports must pass through what I characterize as the “Ministry of Disinformation” instead of the CDC, Centers for Disease Control  and Prevention, as they have been for the 74 years of its existence.  Science has become secondary to propaganda, something more dangerous than the pandemic itself.  But, I digress…

What does this statistic from late July 2020 mean for us, the proletariat?

If you go to a gathering with 50 people, odds are 50/50 that someone in that crowd has a known infection.  Because testing is so spotty, we don’t know how many unknown, asymptomatic infections are out there, we we have to assume that the number of infected is double the confirmed cases, so that there will most certainly be one person in the room with the virus. It is well known that the virus is highly infectious in closed spaces with no masks, and we assume that in a gathering of that size, there will be a lot of eating and drinking and face-to-face conversations, with mingling, sans face covering.

Assume everyone gets exposed.  With the above numbers, about one in 25, or two of you, will die, probably within a month.  During the next two weeks, before symptoms become apparent, the more social of the group will go to other gatherings, infecting those as well.  More deaths.  The open, no mask gatherings we saw on July 4, Independence Day, are starting to bear the fruits of exponential expansion, with temporary morgues–refrigerator trucks full of bodies–filling up hospital visitor parking lots, and ICU units overflowing with COVID-19 patients  in the states that declared victory over the virus and relaxed caution.

Are we starting to get the picture?  Are you willing to draw the short straw and be one of the casualties?  Or, are you willing to accept the burden of killing one of your friends?  Which one of 25 of your acquaintances will you not miss, given a choice, which you won’t be.  It could be your bestie.  It could be you.

And, among the survivors, frightening statistics are beginning to emerge: this virus, like the viruses that cause herpies and AIDs, as well as like bacterial infections like syphilis and borreliosis (Lyme disease), and eukaryotic parasites like Entamoeba histolytica and Endolimax nana, that cause amoebic dysentery, and Giardia lamblia,cause of giardia, has associated long-lasting, if not life-long disabilities, neurological and physical.

Stay home, Skype or Zoom, and wear a mask when you go out.  Sorry, not sorry, it’s the new normal.  Your ancestors, 2, 3, or 4 generations removed, put up with this 100 years ago, for two or three years, 1918-1921, with masks and social isolation. Still, a lot of them died, but fewer and fewer in areas that “got it” early and stayed the course.  It was a hard life for the survivors: orphans, widows, and widowers, with displacements from lost homes and lost jobs, that affected them the rest of their lives, passing on fears, frugality, and lack of financial opportunity to successive generations.  My own family is a case in point:


My grandfather was one of those who didn’t make it in 1918.  He was 31, an active and social guy, who loved to hunt with his buddies, a successful farmer, in line to inherit his widowed mother’s farm.  He left behind a widow and three children, who survived, but who were left to their own devices.  [Edit: I had assumed that the farm passed to another relative, but the disposition of the farm is not known for sure.  None of the other brothers appear to have acquired interest in the family property.  Records have come to light that are inconclusive, only mentioning sale of livestock from the family estate in the early 1940s.]  But, the family was forced to move hundreds of miles to a hard-scrabble existence.  One of those children was my mother, who grew up poor.  Although she did have a stepfather, he was  physically abusive to her older brothers, and, he, too, died young, leaving her mother and now five children to face the Depression alone. With such an early life, she and my father, who also grew up in a one-parent household, were frugal and cautious in financial matters, a trait passed on to my generation.

Orville, Hilda, and Floyd, who lost their father in the 1918 pandemic, when Hilda was 1 year old and her brothers were 3 and 5.

For my family, the 1918 pandemic and its aftermath created hardship that lasted for nearly 45 years, and the rest of my grandmother’s life,  before we could call ourselves middle class, but just barely, and which created a family tradition of living on the edge.


In this pandemic, the most vulnerable are the elderly, but it spreads most easily among the young, where the death rates may be less, but the side-effects of this ravaging disease, which is not related to the 1918 influenza virus, are debilitating and life-long.  And, the Depression is not 10 years away, as it was then, it is here now, caused by the pandemic itself and the inadequate disaster response.  Recovery needs strong hands and clear minds, and a population willing to pick up the pieces and move forward, together.

So, we’re hunkered down, even more than we were in the early days, when the streets looked like Post-Rapture in a religious community: we were among the few wandering down the middle of once-busy streets.  Now, we’re almost afraid to drive anywhere for the suddenly frantic, dense traffic.

The Re-Open America movement seems to have been interpreted by a large segment of the public as the end of the ‘Rona, ignorant of or openly defying the mandatory masking-while-shopping order.  Wearing a mask in public seems to us as distinctive a mark in Trump’s America as an armband with a six-pointed star was in Hitler’s Germany, marking the wearer for bullying and intimidation.  The non-mask-wearing public also tends to not observe social distancing, and some–according to a recent, disturbing news item–assert their right of non-compliance by wearing and even brandishing firearms.

It is a fact that masks are most effective if everyone wears one.  But, the land of the Free [from, rather than to], where a large percentage of the population interprets that as “You can’t tell me what to do,” and the Home of the Brave, where Bravery comes down to “Hold My Beer and Watch This” foolhardiness, rather than actual acts of bravery–putting others’ safety before your own–it is no wonder that the United States has the highest number of infections of any country, no matter the technological and economic sophistication.

As the pandemic continues unabated, it is no longer possible to remain in isolation: machines break, medical exigencies happen.  We have to replace or repair appliances and transportation, and seek medical attention when necessary, all of which means venturing out to shops and clinics, with the possibility of exposure.

As we broaden our contacts, we face the realization that our social interactions, face to face, no longer have the advantage of reading facial expressions or even holding an image of the persons with whom you come in contact, especially those you haven’t met before the Troubles.  Summer makes it worse, since we wear sunglasses or photochromic eyeglasses,so even our eyes are hidden.  We decided we needed to compensate for that in a small way, by making 2“ button pins with our full-face photos on them.  That was relatively easy: we bought a bag of a dozen clear plastic buttons, photoshopped1 selfies to remove the background, sized, printed, and cut to fit.

We also rummaged through our fabric stash, left over from Judy’s quilting business of the ‘00s, to find fabrics that reflect our interests and activities, as a further means of showing our uniqueness as persons.  In fact, mask-wearing has launched a whole new category of logo-wear as businesses and startups begin to adapt to the new reality of the new decade.  Today, we saw the first example of custom T-shirts with the wearer’s “true face” printed on them.

No, the old economy isn’t coming back: we are evolving into a new economy, with custom manufacture of personalized protective wear and fashion accessories, increased demand for package and food delivery persons and warehouse workers to package orders, and bistro-style restaurants, with limited seating and intimate settings for private dining.  Small local stores stocking high-demand items will compete with big-box stores by offering delivery in minutes or hours instead of days or weeks from on-line megastores and off-shore internet presences, and no lines for in-store shopping.

I remember grocery stores, before supermarkets, before Amazon and the Internet, where you stepped up to a counter and gave the clerk a hand-written list, from which the store staff would fill your order, knowing which of the narrow aisles and tall racks behind the counter held the items.  Sometimes, the order would include a live chicken in a returnable cage, which would be taken home, dispatched in the back yard, plucked, and dumped in the pot still warm, when the somewhat unreliable refrigeration consisted of an icebox, that was kept cold with an actual block of ice, cut from the frozen river in winter by hand and kept insulated in sawdust and hay bales through the summer at the ice house down the street from the grocery.  Electricity for the town came from a small hydropower facility on the river, augmented by diesel, and then natural gas, and then larger regional coal-fired  power plants as electric appliances became more available and affordable.

This was a modern marvel, having previously lived in a farm house with no access to ice and no electricity.  The skies were clearer then, and winters colder. But, children got polio, and whooping cough, and scarlet fever, all of which could cripple or kill.  Eventually, those became distant memories,  through science. but we did everything possible to avoid them while it mattered.  But, science and big business also brought us pollution and global warming from fossil fuel consumption, as people forgot how to live simply and consume less.  We may get back to that life style  in the coming years, but the live animal markets aren’t coming back, considered the source of the pandemic outbreak.

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The very nature of work is changing, with more opportunity for at-home work, which isn’t necessarily 9-5 office hours.  Over the last two decades, many businesses that deal in individual productivity have experimented with flexible work hours and “core time” mid-day when face-to-face meetings are held.  That concept becomes extended with the idea that the work day may be broken up into short high-productivity segments with gaps, making hourly accounting as a measure of value a difficult, if not irrelevant metric for compensation.

Case Study:  Between 2010 and 2014, I operated an at-home business, on an on-demand work schedule, with tenth-hour billing, breaking up my “work day” into segments ranging from a five-minute phone call or email response to an hour or two of intense concentration on a problem solution or coding session, interspersed with running errands, cooking, cleaning, going for a bike ride, or traveling the country, working evenings and early mornings from a motel room, campground, coffee shop, or public library, anywhere with a reliable Internet connection.  At home, the “work day” might range in drips and spurts between 5:00 am and 9:00 pm, rather than sitting in a cubicle from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm with a similar “busy time,” and yield only one or two actual billable hours.  In-person, face-to-face interaction with colleagues and clients might be a few days every two or three months, with a whirlwind intense schedule of back-to-back meetings, one-on-one and in groups, and working lunches to maximize on-site time to justify two days of travel to a “workplace” 1000 km from home.

The compensation model was based on billable hours, but at a rate that reflected results obtained rather than time spent “in the building,” and the fact that the job didn’t occupy expensive square footage, furnishings, and equipment in the employer/customer facility.  Rather than working 40 hours a week, my billable time ranged from 2 to 10 hours a week, with annual revenue reduced to one-third to one-half of full-time work, but also reduced overhead for transportation, meals, and wardrobe, and offered a much richer home and family life.  Plus, I had income from other sources, choosing a semi-retirement status.   I was free to work on other revenue-producing projects that reflected my professional interests rather than the interests of a single employer, another incentive to bill on fractional hours.  I could work on one client project and switch accounts to take phone calls or work on an exigent problem for another during a single work session and bill fairly.  I established that pattern while working customer support for a software company back in the early 1990s, a practice that made more work for the company accountant/timekeeper, when the tracking was just to justify fixed-price support contracts, rather than actual time and materials billing.  But, in retrospect, I worked too cheaply during my consulting period, as rates for government contracts were based on the cost of full-time on-site contract fees and didn’t reflect the value of on-call services. Also, I should have used at least a quarter-hour minimum to cover reporting and prep time, rather than actual contact time for those $5 one-liner code fixes, of which there were many.  Calls may have occurred anytime during the day or night, and required some off-line follow-up, especially if they interrupted other billable work.

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Thus endeth the lesson for the day:  things will be hard, in the coming months and years, and things will be different.  Some of us have paved the way, and adapted already.  But, looking back through history, things have been worse, and will likely be again.  But, we, as a people, will survive and continue to grow and encounter and overcome other hardships.  Some of us, as individuals, will not, but the rest need to carry the torch forward.  Give new generations hope, don’t doom them to a cautious existence, or teach them to lament what might have been.  It is what it is.  Accept the challenge.  We in the older generation have gone from kerosene lamps, outhouses, spring houses and cisterns instead of refrigerators, party line phones and AM radio to television, computers, on-demand video, and jet travel in our lifetimes.  We’re living proof that you can be happy with a lot less, and realize that very little of “modern life” is actually necessary.   What is necessary is avoiding disease and injury.  Be safe, be well, keep busy.

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1 We don’t use the Adobe Photoshop product, but, like Kleenex, the most popular brand name that has become the common name for facial tissue, so has the brand name for image editing software: “GIMPed” just doesn’t sound as prestigious, and isn’t as recognizable.

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