Life in the Time of Coronavirus

(Yes I took my title from Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “Love in the Time of Cholera.”)

I read somewhere that people were keeping a record of what’s happening to them and to society during the pandemic, so that they have something to look back on when this time is over and we go back to “normal” (if such a thing is even possible). I thought this was a great idea – everyday people, documenting their everyday lives under the threat of contagion from the COVID19 virus. Everyday people catching the virus, everyday people losing family members to the virus.

So I thought I’d write a little bit about what I’ve been thinking as this pandemic grows.

This past weekend we sewed a couple of masks using a free pattern online. It was a tricky job, especially making the ribbons you use to tie it on, but it gave us a sense of doing something useful, of creating something that we could use when we went out. Plus mine has dinosaur fabric on it which is kind of fun. We know that, since they’re cotton, they only block 60% of aerosols, but that’s better than 0%.

And we did go out, as we needed groceries. So we suited up in our masks (well, I wore my mask) and rubber gloves and went to the store. There were a couple of other people with masks and a few with gloves, but most people were wandering around as normal and not taking account of the social distancing rule (described here as making sure you have the space of two beavers between you and the other person lol).

It was eerie as half of the grocery shelves were still empty. Since the grocery store we went to is owned by an Ontario company, I assume their supply chain is too long to act quickly to deal with shortages on the shelves. Like last time I went, there were no frozen vegetables, and shelves of noodles and other items were completely empty. Luckily they still had a number of the other items we needed.

Once we left the store we took off our masks and gloves and washed our hands with soap and water, then headed home, unpacked the groceries, and washed our hands again. We are doing our best to stay healthy, as my husband has diabetes and we don’t want him to catch the virus.

We are used to working at home away from other people, so grocery shopping is our only real outing. Also, our neighbourhood is more car- than pedestrian-friendly so we can walk around without meeting people. These things make social distancing easier for us than for others. We also don’t have many local friends, but I’ve been in contact with my friends online, and am looking forward to a coffee time chat tomorrow with my writing buddy.

Just yesterday I was thinking that it would be a neat photojournalism project to take photos of public spaces that are now empty (in places where people are heeding the social distancing rules – I’ve seen photos from Vancouver where people are completely oblivious and are crowding beaches and the seawall). And lo and behold, someone did just that. These images are haunting, showing popular tourist destinations and small towns with just pigeons on the ground or one or two people walking around.

I’d also been wondering what was happening with people’s science experiments, particularly with lab animals that need to be cared for to survive, or lab cultures that need to be analyzed. Someone wrote about that for the NY Times as well. For example, some researchers have to throw out their fruit flies, but “[they won’t] have to start from scratch later; they are storing more flies in refrigerators, although someone will have to go into the laboratory every two weeks to check on them and feed them.”

They even talked to a Canadian researcher at Memorial University in Newfoundland, where “None of [our work] will involve [our usual] testing samples for microplastics. “We will miss deadlines,” Dr. Liboiron said. She predicts some projects will never be completed, because the money that was supposed to be used for them will instead have been used for wages.”

I’ve also been wondering why people aren’t heeding the warnings to social-distance, and I think part of that it is how social distancing is communicated to the public. There’s too much uncertainty, too much waffling – “well, you could do this or that but you probably shouldn’t do these other things.”

I’m a big fan of infographics like this one, which clearly state what you should and shouldn’t be doing (though it would be nice to have an explanation for the asterisk around “go for a walk or hike” – I imagine they mean “as long as you stay 2 metres away from anyone else”):

I also worry about what we should do if one of us gets sick. Do we self-isolate from each other to try and prevent the spread of the virus to the other person? Or is that a losing game when you live in the same house? If we do get sick, how do we know if the virus is bad enough to have to go to the hospital? Will it be obvious, or will we have to vacillate over whether the symptoms are bad enough to warrant a hospital visit?

These are the things I think about during these times. Sometimes I get panicky, other times I feel fine about it. Depends on my state of mind and the time of day. But I’m trying to stay relatively calm and hope for the best. That’s really all we can do.

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