525,600 Minutes

Today marks one year since the official start of the pandemic. People have different markers in their lives for what they consider the start of the pandemic most surrounding things like schools and workplaces closing. I do actually use March 11, which was the day that WHO officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic because it was the day I actually realized that things really were serious and life was going to change. At that point I didn’t quite realize how drastically, but up until that day it still felt like something that could be kept under control before it got out of hand worldwide like SARS and MERS.

On March 11, 2020 as my plane landed in Tampa, Florida, I turned my cell phone back on to all kinds of crazy news including that multiple students from the campus where I work had contracted COVID-19 over spring break and the university was making plans to shut down and send students home for a few weeks. So that day in my mind is the day the officially started. It was a less than relaxing vacation as such, but I’m also glad I got that last little bit of escapism before the world truly came crashing down. Now I’ve barely left my house other than to go for walks around my neighborhood in a year.

As we hit the one year point I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the horrors of the past year. In the United States we are now over 525,000 people dead of COVID-19. I hadn’t intended there to be any connection when I titled this post 525,600 minutes, but as I typed out the number of the dead it struck me that they almost match, which means one person has died of COVID-19 every minute in the past year. It’s astounding and sad and something that didn’t have to be this way.

When this all started I looked at how many people died in the United States during the flu pandemic of 1918 and thought well at least that many people won’t die this time. Our medicine is much improved and we have more information about how to handle this kind of thing. Turns out I was very, very wrong about that. There isn’t an official record of how many people died in the 1918 pandemic, but best estimates are around 675,000. We are probably going to hit that or at least come close to it. We should be ashamed of ourselves because many of these deaths could have been preventable. And

I’m not saying it would have been easy because it’s not. Very few countries have managed to get a very good handle on it, but they do show us that it was possible and other countries have shown that even if we had gone through surges there were ways to keep things more under control in between instead of letting them run hot all the time so that fewer people would have died. But instead of prioritizing people’s lives we’ve prioritized the economy and politics and just general selfishness. There’s a lot of blame to go around. Kai Rysdaal, host of the Marketplace and my favorite podcast, Make Me Smart, always says that capitalism doesn’t care if you live or die. That has never been more on display than in this pandemic in the United States. It makes me angry and sad that no one seems to care. Basically this pandemic has made me lose all faith in humanity.

As for me personally one year in, the last couple of months have been difficult and as we’ve been inching towards this milestone I’ve been trying to figure out why all of a sudden my mental state feels almost as bad as it did at the beginning of the pandemic. I’m super anxious again and it’s the rare day that I don’t cry many times seemingly out of nowhere. Basically my emotions are ready to boil over at any moment again.

Some of it just my normal issues with January and February in addition to some stressful work stuff and some stressful life stuff with the loss of my uncle. But as the weather gets warmer and the days get longer and other people are talking about how they feel more hopeful than ever before with vaccines rolling out, I am not feeling that hope.

I finally figured out it’s because things are changing and there are once again a lot of unknowns. There was a six month or so period where of course things were awful and I wanted life to go back to normal, but my emotions were calmed down. I was living my new normal for the foreseeable future and I knew what that was. I just stay at home, go on my walks, eat Thursday night take out, do Saturday night online game night, and that was that.

Now everything seems up in the air again. I have vaccine FOMO and want to know when I’m going to get a vaccine. I have a lot of friends who work in health care or education and family members who are old enough to get the vaccine so I’m constantly seeing people get vaccinated and I’m jealous. Technically because I work in higher education I qualify to get a vaccine right now, but I don’t feel right about getting one right now while they are still super scarce. I can continue living sealed off in my house and not interacting with people while a lot of other people don’t have that choice and need the vaccine more. I was outraged like many people when there was news of hospital administrators working from home getting shots before their frontline healthcare workers, and that would be me. They prioritized educators because of wanting to get them safely back into classrooms. While I work in education, that is not me. I’m working from home until who knows when and getting the vaccine is not going to change that. It is getting harder and harder to stick with my convictions on this so I think that’s adding an additional level of emotional stress. Once we get closer to the end of the people in Group 1, I will get one, but we’re not close to there yet.

Also, once I do get vaccinated there are still a lot of questions about what can be safely done until we reach herd immunity. I suspect there are a lot of large group things like concerts and stuff that are going to start to come back before the science says it’s a good idea. There’s going to have to start being a whole lot of decision making about what I do and do not feel comfortable doing, how risky it is vs. how much I really want to be able to do it. There’s not going to be a magic switch where one day COVID-19 is just gone and life can go back to normal and I’m already feeling anxiety about figuring out how to re-enter back into life piece by piece.

All in all though I have been very lucky throughout this pandemic one year in. I still have a job that I can work safely from home, I haven’t lost anyone to the pandemic, and not having kids I have been spared some of the very big stresses of having to work and parent and deal with kids who are in virtual school. My heart goes out to everyone who has struggled during this year much more than I have.

Update: I wrote most of this post over the past weekend, but since then our dumb governor has lifted all capacity restrictions against all the public health advise already castigating other states that had done it saying it’s like we’re spiking the ball on the 10 yard line. Yes we have vaccines and our case rate is falling, but it’s still as high as it was during our summer peak. He should have at least waited another month or so until they finished vaccinating people over 65. With only 10% of the population vaccinated this is beyond stupid. But we don’t actually care about other people in this country. I liked the Baltimore Sun article that said his aides refused to say who he consulted in his decision and I’m like yeah because you know who he consulted? His campaign manager for his Republican presidential run in 2024. He can’t be seen holding back when all the other possible Republican contenders are throwing open their doors. You know who he didn’t consult? At least the one of the doctors on his advisory team who said that the governor never talked to him about it. I will say at the beginning of the pandemic Hogan did a really good job and was listening to the science and laying out clear metrics, which he then proceeded to ignore down the line. You can literally mark in time the point at which his decisions stopped being science based and based on his presidential run.

It’s like we’re trying to kill as many people as possible in this country. I’m so mad! And now it’s making it even harder for me to wait to be vaccinated but also makes me feel like it’s even more important for those who are in more precarious situations to get vaccinated before me and it’s just all so stressful and too many people in charge have been doing their darn best to make it worse instead of better.

COVID-19 3 Months In

We’re now approximately 3 months into the global COVID-19 pandemic and it feels both like it’s been a million years and that no time has passed. In some respects I feel like things are better, but in a lot of ways they are worse. I at least no longer cry on a daily basis and my mood swings have leveled out to some degree. But as time moves on there are new stresses and new feelings.

A lot of people in the United States seem to have decided that because they are over the virus that it’s done. I do understand that we can’t keep the economy locked down forever, but the problem is that rather than following the guidelines that are going to make re-opening things safe people are just trying to go back to the lives they were living pre-pandemic. This is a particular concern to me because I am one of the people who is at high risk from this virus. I check several of the boxes for underlying conditions that make me at a high risk from severe complications or death. The newest report from the CDC released today analyzing the data puts it in even starker contrast. 45% of people with underlying conditions who contract COVID-19 wind up hospitalized and almost 20% of them die. Those are not good odds.

I’ve been super cautious about keeping myself quarantined. My husband does all the shopping. I basically only ever leave the house to take walks in which I very carefully avoid coming into contact with other people. That’s why it makes me really mad to see people who are just completely ignoring medical guidance and doing whatever they want. It makes it much more difficult for me to even make the slightest step back out into the world. My calculus is never going to be the calculus of the general public. I get it. It sucks. I can’t expect everyone to not start living their lives safely based on appropriate guidance just because I won’t be able to, but now I feel like I can’t even expand anything.

Thursday is my birthday. Up to this point I’ve been so cautious that I haven’t even gotten take out. Given current thought that it is highly unlikely that you would catch the virus that way as long as you carefully wash your hands after touching the containers, I’m finally planning on treating myself to take out. I was even thinking about inviting one couple to come over and sit outside and celebrate with me from well over 6 feet apart. But with everyone jumping back out into things that go far beyond my comfort level I don’t even feel like I can do that anymore because now those interactions for me become much more fraught. Maybe one day I’ll feel like I can at least do that, but I’m no longer there. At least social media is keeping me apprised of who is not social distancing or interacting with too many people extending the chain of transmission, so I know who maybe one day I’ll be able to interact with.

Mostly it’s starting to feel really lonely and depressing. I feel like everyone is moving on and I’m not going to get to. This is the piece that’s worse than it was at the beginning. At that point there was still this naive sense that by summer things would be good. We could even start doing things like having concerts. Now I sadly laugh at the concerts I had tickets to that were rescheduled from March and April to later in the summer. Now they’re obviously being rescheduled to 2021 or just outright cancelled. Now there’s just what seems like this long bleak future for me. I no longer have anything to look forward to. No concerts, no travel, no theatre, no hanging out with friends, feeling increasingly like it’s unlikely I’ll even feel safe spending holidays with family especially if kids are back in school. Even though it’s obviously better that I do care and am trying to protect myself, I almost wish that I was someone who could convince myself that it’s no big deal and at least go back to some standard of normalcy like people are starting to do. I feel like the more and more things open up the more I’ll be left behind. So many things have been happening online. While it’s not ideal at least it’s something. As people actually get to go back out into the world those things will go away. Some of them already are. And then what will be left for me? I know one day we’ll get past this, but right now it feels like I’m going to be stuck forever and it’s becoming increasingly harder to deal with when I’m jealous of everyone else’s ability to move more freely through the world.

Life in the Time of COVID-19

I started this blog site as a place to put thoughts about things I wanted to write about but did not fit in with the theme of my regular blog, which is things that are making me happy. I guess it’s a good thing that until this point I’ve only written one post here and that was way back in November of 2017, so it’s been awhile. But here we finally are again with something that is for sure not making me happy but that I have thoughts and feelings that I want write about.

I’ve been composing this post in my head in various ways for weeks, but I just haven’t had the mental energy to sit down and write it. The times when I really want to write it are when I’m feeling super down, but at those points I only have enough capacity to do what I have to and not add writing depressing blog posts on top of it. At times where I’m not feeling as beat down I don’t feel as compelled to write about how I’m feeling or to conjure up feelings I’ve momentarily escaped from. Happily after a couple of rough days I’m feeling not terrible so far today, though that can change on a dime, but I’m off work for Good Friday so I decided to finally go ahead and write something up about this. If nothing else I feel like I will appreciate having a record one day when this is all over.

I don’t think I have anything original to say about my experiences with COVID-19. I know everyone is experiencing the same or similar things to some degree and many people have it much worse than I do. I am mostly hugely privileged in this. I am able to work from home. I am not likely at least in the short term to lose my job, although we’ll see how things play out over the long term as this virus decimates higher education. I don’t have to deal with the struggles of being a parent right now. I am shut in with someone who I enjoy spending time with. To some degree I’m a home body anyway, so it doesn’t bother as much as all the extroverted people to be stuck at home all the time. I have shelter. I don’t have to go out and put myself in harm’s way nor am I living with anyone who is an essential employee. We are mostly able to hunker down and only go out for groceries once every two weeks. I do however have multiple underlying medical conditions that leave me immunocompromised and thus someone who is at high risk of complications or death from COVID-19.

To some degree on top of all my other feelings this all adds a sense of guilt. I feel incredibly lucky that although I am a high risk patient that I can mostly reduce the risk for myself. We are still doing our own grocery shopping, but I’ve ordered a ton of stuff online to avoid other stores or to supplement things that are still sold out at the grocery store. Then I feel guilty about asking other people to place themselves and by extension their families in harm’s way.

I feel bad that I don’t feel like I can do more to support people who this virus has already created huge challenges for. My neighborhood is mostly made up of small businesses and I’m afraid that by the time all this is over many of them will be gone. I am being very cautious so we don’t do any take out, so I can’t support restaurants that way. I’ve tried to buy gift cards to the places where I can do that online in hopes that they will be there for me to spend them when this over. I’ve donated back the ticket costs I’m being refunded to concert venues and theaters for all the concert and theater shows that have been canceled. I’ve tried to give to organizations that are supporting people through this. We’re still paying the woman who cleans our house despite disinviting her from actually cleaning for the foreseeable future. It still doesn’t seem like enough.

Mostly though like everyone else I feel like I’m having all of the emotions all of the time. The mood swings are crazy. One minute I can feel completely fine and the next I am a complete mess. I can guarantee that any story about people dying alone or loved ones not being able to be with their family in the hospital is going to make me sob. There was a story the other night on the news about a woman in a nursing home begging her Alexa for help because she was in such pain. I can’t even type that without bursting into tears. But other times it’s weird things that set me off for seemingly no reason. I have no idea why hearing the song “These Are Days” by the 10,000 Maniacs on the radio the other day made me start crying, but it did.

There is obviously also tons of anxiety and stress. I worry every time my husband has to go out into the world to go to the grocery store or fetch me a prescription. What used to be mundane chores have now become a harrowing, death defying experience that fills me with dread. And just when the 14 days is over and we know he didn’t get sick, he has to go out and do it all over again turning it into a never ending cycle of worry. Is he going to get sick? If he does, will I get sick? Will we be okay? Will one of us be hospitalized or even die? The thought of having to just drop him off or be dropped off at a hospital door with no guarantee we’ll ever see each other again terrifies me. Sleep is an elusive thing that comes with fitful stress dreams of being trapped in crowded spaces. Even going outside for a walk to try and not go completely crazy and to get some exercise is rarely the mental health boost that I’m hoping it will be because it winds up being a lot of stress about trying to avoid people with lots of street crossing and turning around to go different ways or just giving up all together because there are too many people out and about.

I am angry. I’m angry at the way the government is handling this crisis. I’m angry at states that aren’t taking this seriously and thus endangering the entire country as if this virus can’t cross imaginary borders. I’m mad at people everywhere who aren’t taking this seriously enough and still gathering in groups or socializing with people who are not part of their immediate households. I’m furious at the terrible excuses for human beings who are trying to profit off this by selling hoarded items or selling fake testing or whatever other garbage they’re doing to try and take advantage of people.

Mostly though there’s just an overwhelming sense of loss. The loss of just losing one’s normal life. The fact that almost every single thing we used to do is now gone to us from going places to gathering with people to just being able to touch someone. Watching TV and movies has become a surreal experience of wanting to shout at people to stop doing all the things that were all innocuous just a few short weeks ago. All the concerts and theater productions I was looking forward to that are now canceled. The vacations I was going to take that are also now canceled. The inability to see friends and family outside of a computer screen. The knowledge that it’s going to be a long time before life is going to have any semblance of normal and that even when the things I love start to come back I’m probably going to have to forego them for longer than that due to my compromised health status. It’s more than likely going to be another two years for me before I can start doing things with large crowds again because that’s when I expect there will realistically be a vaccine available. I weep for a world that will never be the same again. I have a hard time imagining what it’s going to look like when this is all over. What will be left? I know life will continue and we’ll begin living again in whatever world we’re left with, but there is no denying that we will all be living in grief for a very long time.

Elegy for Baltimore

This week as Baltimore passed 300 homicides for the year continuing on its track to end the year with an average of 1 homicide per day I feel compelled to write about this city that I love, that I hate, that my heart breaks for. In raw numbers Chicago has more homicides than Baltimore, but per capita Baltimore’s murder rate is higher making it by far the deadliest city in the country right now. And of course shootings are not the only violent crimes being committed in the city. I’m far more afraid of the roving packs of violent teenagers who seem hell bent on destruction and harm for no reason. It’s really hard to want to do anything in this city when you’re afraid that even in the areas generally considered the “safe” parts of the city you might might get severely beat up a group of teenagers seemingly for sport.

I just gave up one of my favorite walking routes because multiple people have been attacked by groups of teens trying to steal their bikes on it. I also decided against going to a concert at a downtown venue this week because I no longer feel safe walking even the short distance between the parking garage and the venue by myself.

There are a lot of really great things about Baltimore. It earns its nickname of Charm City just as much as it does Mobtown. Right now the bad seems to be outweighing the good though, and it’s taking a toll on me that is only magnified by all the terribleness going on in the rest the country and the world. I do question more and more why I stay there, but I also don’t know where I would go. I like my life here. I love my job. I have good friends. I like my neighborhood. I enjoy the cultural offerings available here as well as Baltimore’s proximity to larger cities like DC and New York that I have zero interest in living in but have many things I like to visit. Do I quit all that and move somewhere else? I don’t know where that would be.

I could stay in the Baltimore area and just move out the suburbs, but that seems dumb and doesn’t really solve anything. I’m a city girl. The suburbs aren’t my thing. Besides I’d still have to come into the city every weekday to go to work and unless I want to switch churches, which I don’t, on the weekends too. That’s not to mention that many of the things I like to do for entertainment are in the city. So I make my commute to everything better so I can sleep not in the city. I don’t think so.

And I also think about what it means to stay and fight for the city. Everyone who has the means to fleeing is only going to make it worse. But of course I can’t begrudge anyone who makes that decision either. As a neighborhood that has gentrified greatly over the last decade, I watch a lot of people move in before or shortly after they have kids only to leave as soon as those kids are school-aged. It’s hard to imagine how things can ever begin to turn around if everyone who has the social and monetary capital to change things leaves. But also I understand that if you have the choice why you wouldn’t want it to be your kids and your family trying to fight when you could go somewhere so much easier.

I don’t just want to cut and run, but I also have a hard time seeing a path forward. I get how the city got here. There are hundreds of years of history and injustice that have led to where we are today. Turning things around is not going to be an easy or quick process. It’s going to take generations and that’s if we devote every resource necessary, which isn’t going to happen. We can’t even really agree on what the cause of the problem is let alone solve it.

I’ve just finished listening to the three part series that was a collaboration between NPR and Education Week and aired as part of the Code Switch podcast on Ron Brown High School in Washington D.C. Although this particular story isn’t about Baltimore, pretty much all the struggles faced by the kids in this story are the same ones faced by those in Baltimore. This story is the perfect encapsulation of looking at how these kids have been failed, and even when we seemingly put all the resources we can towards them in some ways we still wind up failing them but can’t even agree on how. This school is putting in far more effort and resources to change the lives and futures of its kids than most kids get and they can barely move the needle. It’s not to say that the needle isn’t moving, but it’s going to be harder and take longer than anyone may have the stamina or resources for. And for all the kids who are raised in failing neighborhoods and failing schools where is there hope? Where is there path out?

I watch people on NextDoor yell at each other in demoralizing comment threads. Everyone is probably getting a little piece of it correct, but instead of doing anything about it we just argue with each other. Yeah, at some level it does come down to personal responsibility and making the wrong choices, but also when a kid has been given nothing and learned nothing else how unrealistic are we being to think they should be able to pull themselves out of their environment? I don’t know how you break the cycle. When I think about it, it seems like an impossible task. Halfway through writing this post I stopped and read this letter written to the Baltimore Sun, which almost perfectly gets at what I’ve been thinking about and am trying to get across here.

But I also don’t want to think that there is no hope. I keep hearing people say the long arc of history bends towards justice, but it sure as hell doesn’t feel like it in 2017.┬áThis city breaks my heart because I see the potential for so much greatness here, but I honestly don’t know how we get there. This city is literally bleeding out right now, and I hope that somehow we can manage to stanch the flow someway, somehow.