What a difference a week makes in COVID-time

I’ll admit that like many people outside of China and the rest of Asia, when COVID-19 first popped up in the news, I didn’t give it much thought. After all, SARS, MERS, H1N1, zika…most of them had marginal impact on most of the US (at least that’s how I recall it) and none of them escalated anywhere close to COVID-19 levels.

So when COVID-19 showed up in Italy, I thought, hmm…that’s a concern. But still, I was calm and figured the world would get it under control before it wreaked havoc here. Then Italy started their quarantine and that gave me pause. It’s one thing when a country with a totalitarian government imposes a quarantine, but a western democracy shutting down a huge portion of their country? Unheard of in my lifetime. But still, I thought they perhaps had contained it.

When the quarantine was expanded in Italy and the news stories started to emerge of hospitals being overrun, that was my personal wake-up call. I started reading more information, absorbing scientific and medical info as well as mathematical and epidemiological modeling info. And that’s when I got scared. It was clear that Italy had trailed behind China by some weeks and the rest of Europe and then the US and other parts of the world were on track to follow the same path and trail behind Italy.

COVID-19 popped up with a vengeance in Washington state in February and at that time, I figured the containment game had already been lost for some time (indeed, testing showed it was circulating there since January). Our only other option was mitigation. Yet, despite some pretty compelling cautionary tales, most Americans – and our government – were ignoring it.

In the first week of March (which seems like a year ago now that we’re all operating on COVID-time where a day feels like a week and a week feels like a month), I found myself somewhat desperately trying to inform friends, family members, random folks on various internet forums who were still saying “it’s just the flu” with the facts. I felt very much like Chicken Little, like people maybe thought I was crazy or some doomsday-er or whatever. I contacted various members of the government, begging them to shut down large public events and venues.

I watched as our federal and state governments did nothing. In some cases, they did worse than nothing – they actively misinformed the public, downplayed the seriousness of this disease, gave people false reassurances that they were not at risk and that we had this contained or that it would magically go away on its own.

I watched as people gloated over their super-cheap cruise tickets as ships lured people with rock bottom prices despite there already being ships with outbreaks. I listened to people selfishly declare that they were young and healthy so they were going to travel, congregate, whatever because who cares if they transmit the disease to someone in a high risk group. I realized that our society apparently doesn’t value our seniors since so many people have been totally cavalier about passing COVID-19 to them. I wonder if these people would have acting differently if this disease posed a similar threat to young children. Somehow, I don’t think so.

The more people blew this off, the more anxious I was. I felt like since other people weren’t worried enough, I had to worry more and take extra precautions to compensate.

Now here we are, a little over a week later and my how the tables have turned.

People who were blasting out “it’s just the flu” memes and “the media is making a big deal out of nothing” claims and have mostly switched over to “social distancing – do your part” memes and sometimes they throw in a scared “WHY ISN’T SOMEONE DOING SOMETHING?” post. Oddly enough, this has taken my anxiety down quite a lot now that people, including our federal government, have finally woken up to reality.

I’m still scared though. Our medical personnel and hospitals aren’t prepared or equipped properly. We are so far behind on testing that we have no idea who has this or how many cases might really be out there. People are already getting laid off and we’re basically only ONE WEEK into things being shut down. A recession is looming that may make our last one look like no big deal. Federal, state, and municipal leaders appear to be flailing around, sometimes working against each other but mostly just not working in concert together. Spring Break is still in full swing in my state with beaches packed full of partiers. There is no plan, no clear direction.

I’m worried about what another week of COVID-time will bring. Life is changing, sometimes hour by hour, and it’s disorienting. I feel like I’m watching a documentary about an out of control pandemic, only it’s in real time.

I at least have the good fortune to work from home so that’s where I’m going to be for the foreseeable future.


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