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A Journal of the Plague Year, Part Two - 04/19/2020

In 1722, English novelist Daniel Defoe ("Robinson Crusoe") published "A Journal of the Plague Year," an adaptation of his uncle's journals recounting the Bubonic Plague which had ravaged London 57 years earlier. This year, 2020, the world is experiencing a pandemic of unprecedented proportions as we live through the COVID-19 "plague." Although I have not been journaling from day one, I have given a lot of thought to the lessons of this plague and how it compares to others in the past. I guess now is as good a time as any to begin my own journal of the plague year.

First, a little background on COVID-19. The first reported case of the virus was in Wuhan, China, on December 1. It was believed to have originated in one of China's so-called "wet markets," which sells "exotic meats" such as cats, dogs, and bats for human consumption. COVID-19 was believed to have originated when a human consumed a bat which was infected with the virus. The name means COrona Virus Infectious Disease, 2019, for the year of origin. It is a type of SARS (Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome) virus, but unlike any ever seen before. As a novel virus, there was no treatment, and no cure.

The first fatality from COVID-19 outside of China occurred in the Philippines on February 2. The first case in the USA was reported in Chicago on January 30; the US did not experience it's first fatality until March 11. The disease was reported in the media, with some speculation about the possibility of a global pandemic, but it didn't began to seem real until the world learned that the entire country of Italy had been put on lockdown on March 9 due to the rapid escalation of cases in that country of 70 million people. Suddenly, the possibility of a pandemic did not seem so far-fetched.

I confess that I was initially unconcerned when I first started reading about the corona virus in January. It won't be a big deal here, I thought. We know how to deal with these things, just like we did with Ebola. I was certain that we would only experience a few cases and it would die down, just like with that disease. But I was very wrong. Since that first reported case in January in the US, the current numbers as of this date are staggering: 764,177 confirmed cases, 40,591 deaths, with 71,012 recovered. And those are just the cases we know about, as many people with symptoms are still not being tested. Although today New York City, the hardest-hit area in this country, reported that deaths have leveled off to a two-week low, there are other signs that the virus has not yet peaked.

But in early February, our Federal government was still telling us that we had nothing to worry about, and I made the mistake of believing them. So when I got a sore throat in early March, I didn't really get concerned until I had been running a fever and coughing painfully for nearly two weeks. When I finally called my doctor, they would only treat me over the phone, and would not recommend that I get tested for the virus, because, as the triage nurse said, "There's no treatment, there's no cure. If you get short of breath, just go to the ER. And in the meantime, just take Tylenol for your fever." I didn't get better until I finally took a "Z-Pack," as the anti-biotic Azithromycin is affectionately known. That seemed to do the trick, and I was better and back at work in five days. Unfortunately, though, I wasn't taking any precautions such as wearing gloves and a mask unless I was at work with one of my senior clients, and I ended up relapsing around the first week of April. This time, the doctor said she suspected I have the virus, and told me to stay at home for the next two weeks, and even then, only go out if I was asymptomatic for 72 hours. But she still refused to recommend a test, so as of today, I continue to run about two degrees of fever daily, suffer chills and sweats, ache all over, have a sore throat and a dry cough, and just generally feel horrible, but I don't know if I have COVID-19 or not. It is maddening.

Staying completely at home is almost impossible for me. I have my little pug, Clara, and since I live alone I have no one else to walk her. So I continue to take her out for short walks a few times a day, wearing a mask and gloves (me, not the dog). We drive to the dog park, but don't get near anyone else (it is mostly deserted, anyway, these days). I tried to order groceries this weekend, but I can't get them delivered from anywhere until next Wednesday, and even then they are out of stock of some of the most basic items. Essentials, you know, like butter, and Diet Coke. I ordered what I could, and will be picking up some items from my car tomorrow. I've gone on leave from my jobs, although as soon as I am better I'll be starting back on my job as a delivery driver for Door Dash. People are ordering restaurant delivery more than ever, and there are so few cars on the road these days that delivering is easy. But in the meantime I am sleeping 10 to 12 hours a day, taking a couple of hot baths daily, and swallowing a lot of Tylenol.

I'm also trying to fill the time, like most people in the world. Arizona closed it's schools the second week of March, so I lost my job as a substitute teacher. They are now closed until the end of the school year, so the earliest we will be going back is in August for the fall semester. On March 31, Arizona's Governor Doug Ducey announced a stay-at-home order for all non-essential workers (although the list of "essential" workers is certainly lenient). In effect, we were all ordered to stay at home unless we absolutely had to leave. Most stores closed, as well as all bars and restaurants, except for takeout and delivery. Most of the fast food chains remained open, but all began operating under reduced hours. Movies in theatres, plays, concerts, sporting events were all cancelled. In short, many of our usual diversions were no longer available to us. So we turned to reading, music, communicating via social media, and in huge numbers, streaming programs on TV.

I have a great streaming TV set-up. Via my Roku streaming device, I can download movies and programs from a huge number of channels, although I mainly just go through Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon. You can spend a lot of money every month if you are not careful in your channel selection! Fortunately, I get all of my favorites for about half of what I used to pay for cable TV every month. I've been catching up on old favorites, checking out new series, watching last year's Oscar nominees that I have missed, and enjoying the new live programming that many musicians have started making while they too are locked down in their homes.

The current situation is unlike anything most of us have ever experienced. The last pandemic of this scope was the Spanish Flu in 1918, which killed millions of people worldwide. Although it appears that the death toll will not be anything close to that, COVID-19 is still expected to impact the world at least until we have a vaccine, which could take a year or more. And the impact may outlast the pandemic as people sort out what is important to them in their daily lives while they are in quarantine. In effect, we have been given a great opportunity, a Great Reset. Forced to stay at home, work from home or find new work due to jobs lost as in my case, we have been given a chance to re-evaluate our lives, and maybe to make some lasting changes for the better. In my next post, I'll discuss this "Great Reset" and some of the lessons that I have personally learned in my time at home so far.

#COVID19 #Lockdown #Pandemic

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