July 31, 2020

The straight line winds are blowing, the rains are descending and I remain in the same quasi-torpor I’ve been in for the last few days. I’ve kept myself pretty much quarantined in the condo just in case I came into contact with the novel corona virus on the trip to Seattle and back. So far, so good. I feel fine other than a general sense of lassitude and need for daytime napping during my staycation week. I have accomplished a few constructive things. I sorted my whole CD collection and got it stowed, got the laundry done, and made some progress on some writing projects. It’s the little things…

We’re trending upwards by about 1,000 cases a day in the state and 150 cases a day in the county over the last week. We’re not Florida or Texas but we’re nowhere near as large or as populous and we don’t have the same urban density which is why I think we’re relatively protected around here but there’s no end in sight for the upward trends so back into the accidental plague diaries I go. I long to write about something else but until our society develops the political will to do what must be done to bring the pandemic under control, we’re going to be stuck in the current situation. I read somewhere that the US economy contracted by something over 30% last quarter. This compares to 6% with the recession of 2008 and 16% with the Great Depression. There’s a world of hurt still to come.

I was trying to decide what to write about today but everything that came to mind seemed to horribly depressing and I am trying to keep my own personal spirits up after a particularly downbeat couple of days, dominated by the death of two old friends (neither related to Covid-19) and a local scandal involving another old friend, also a geriatrician, who was arrested on salacious charges. This wouldn’t have been much of an issue but when you googled his name, my UAB promotional picture came up so people were sharing the story around social media with my picture attached which was not a particularly good feeling. I’ve pretty much been home so no one has been staring in the street and I have sicced the UAB IT department on the issue.

The big contretemps locally is over the issue of getting the kids back to school. There is a very vocal minority pushing for the schools to open normally in August with full in person instruction. There is a less vocal majority who are concerned about all of the issues that opening up will bring to the fore. Running the schools is not an easy business. There are federal, state, and local mandates regarding instruction and subjects and credit hours. There are negotiations with teachers and employees unions. There are the fixed costs of maintaining the physical plants. There are the special needs children and educational programs. There are the extracurricular activities such as sports and music and theater that are often the only way to maintain older children’s interest in education. I can’t even begin to imagine how you balance all of that in normal times without the stresses of a pandemic, especially in a state like ours which works on a starvation budget at best. One local school district sent out a memo noting that the budget allowed for only one bottle of hand sanitizer and one box of sanitary wipes per classroom to last the entire school year.

There are times when I wish my life had allowed for children of my own, but this is not one of them. I can’t imagine the kinds of decisions that parents and families who rely on public schools are trying to navigate at the moment. The lack of central leadership means that every school district is trying to work it all out for itself. I’m not particularly worried about the children of America. They appear to be resilient and relatively unaffected by Covid-19 but what happens when they start coming home to parents and grandparents and great grandparents? The at risk populations in this country are much more likely to live in multigenerational households, not isolated nuclear family units and I can see another surge in October and November as those people become exposed through school children and sicken. What are we planning to do if children end up orphaned? What happens if the teachers and their unions go on strike due to unsafe working conditions? Is the federal government going to send in their newly constituted riot police to force them into work at gunpoint? (I’m being ridiculous there, but a lot of what I would have considered ridiculous things a few years ago have come to pass recently.)

Vincent Price in the Masque of the Red Death

Large segments of our society still seem to be living in denial that Covid-19 is a serious problem. Yes, the percentage death rate is relatively low when compared to a viral illness like Ebola but it’s still a good deal higher than the flu. (We’re at about five times dead in six months what the flu kills annually). We still don’t know what the long term sequelae of those who recover from serious cases are likely to be. The numbers will keep going up until there is a coordinated federal response of some sort. And yet, the Senate appears incapable of acting due to partisan bickering on a federal level and the executive branch appears to be continuing to try and reenact Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death (without remembering how the story ends). I need to see if the Roger Corman/Vincent Price film adaptation is on one of the streaming services. It’s been years since I’ve seen it and it strikes me as being perhaps the best metaphor for our times.

I go back to work on Monday. I’m not looking forward to climbing back in to the pressure cooker, but needs must, especially with two mortgages to pay until someone buys my house. My fashion masks are all washed, I have plenty of hand sanitizer, and, if the rain stops, I’ll spend as much time as I can out of doors.

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