Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Slow the Spread

On Saturday, March 28, there was a postcard in our mailbox: "Slow the Spread, President Trump's Coronavirus Guidelines for America." See above. I'm guessing that everyone in the country received this postcard.

I live in Vermont. This is Bernie Country, not Trump Country. Among my family and friends, the almost universal response to this postcard was to promptly send it to the recycling bin. But I'm a curious fellow, so I read it. My take? I thought it was well done.

I am now searching for new family and friends, but in the meantime let's take a closer look at the postcard. It was a joint effort of the White House and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). So far so good. Furthermore, there is a website that I didn't know about: coronavirus.gov. Take a look. It's a good resource. The website is well done, too.

If it were me, I would have put "Slow the Spread" in a larger font. That is the main message. My previous two blog posts support this message:
What jumps out on the front of the postcard is "President Trump's Coronavirus Guidelines for America." That is off-putting to the half of the country that does not support President Trump. But for the other half of the country, what better way to get their attention?

I don't recall ever receiving a postcard like this from any previous president. That in itself is noteworthy and drives home the point that these are not normal times. To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld (link), we go to war against the coronavirus with the president we have, not the president we might wish to have.

My main quibble with the postcard is about the date: March 16, 2020. That was a Monday, one business day after President Trump declared a national emergency on Friday the 13th. That was quick work, but the postcard did not arrive until March 28. What took so long?

Perhaps I am too critical. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont mailed similar guidelines to our house and they did not arrive until March 30.

Let's take a look at the back of the postcard (click on the image to enlarge):
There is a lot of good information here, presented clearly and succinctly. It is an appropriate amount of information for a postcard, and it hits the major points that people need to know to "Slow the Spread."

I especially like the first point:

Listen and follow the directions of your STATE AND LOCAL AUTHORITIES.

With tongue-in-cheek, I pointed out to my family at the dinner table that I was a local authority (elected selectboard member), and that they needed to listen to and follow my directions. They ignored me. They are busy searching for a new husband/father.

Joking aside, I am pleased with both the substance and the tone of the point about state and local authorities. I am also pleased that it is the first point on the back of the postcard. It shows that the federal government recognizes the importance of state and local governments. An excessively authoritarian president would not be making this point at all, let alone as his or her first point. Whatever his faults, and they are many, we need not fear that President Trump is a Hitler or a Stalin or a Mao.

The main burden of responding to the current pandemic lies with the governors, and there is a lot of good work being done across the country. Vermont Governor Phil Scott is widely praised for his actions (see his executive orders), as are the governors on either side of us – Governor Andrew Cuomo in New York and Governor Chris Sununu in New Hampshire.

We are all in this together. The virus knows no state boundaries or political parties.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Hunkering Down

"We are hunkering down."

That's how I ended my previous post: The Switchel Traveler: Not Traveling. What does that look like in our household?

First I should talk about what "we" means. Not even all our friends know that currently "we" means four people not two.

The Mrs. and I live in Vermont, in the only house we've ever owned, where we raised three children and sent them out into the world. We've been empty-nesters for years. But due to unexpected circumstances, two of our adult children are living with us at present.

One daughter has been living with us since early February. She transitioned from a job in Massachusetts to a job in Vermont, and she moved in with us while looking for a house to buy. She has a house under contract, with a closing scheduled for mid-April. Our other daughter transitioned from graduate school in Connecticut to a postdoc position at a university in Massachusetts. She started on March 16, but the university shut down on March 14. She reported to work on her first day remotely, from our house. Our son is a tech worker in Colorado, and he is doing OK working out of his apartment.

Our family is fortunate, and it is wonderful having our two daughters with us during this time. I should mention that our university daughter is a microbiologist. Everyone should have a microbiologist in the house during a pandemic! She helps us evaluate the news, and she helps us stay safe.

"Hunkering down" for us means staying at home, with frequent walks in our neighborhood. We seldom venture out in the car. Both daughters work for their respective employers, as best they can, over the internet from our house. It's not perfect, but we've been doing this for two weeks now, since before the governor's "Stay Home" executive order, and it's working OK.

The Mrs. and I are thankful to be retired. Our hearts go out to the people now doing the jobs that we used to do. They have many unprecedented challenges during this pandemic.

In retirement the Mrs. and I acquired new part-time jobs, and those jobs are not without their own trials. The Mrs. joined the board of directors at a local bank. While it is painful to watch the stress on customers, staff, and management, the positive attitudes and daily stories of individual commitment are heartwarming. My main goal in retirement was to blog more, but I also ran for and was elected to the selectboard in my town. That supposedly part-time position has been more demanding than I expected, especially now. We town officials are figuring out how to do our jobs using Zoom.

Yesterday the Mrs. and I made a rare trip in the car – to the grocery store. Some days ago we stopped making quick trips to the market for an item or two. Our last big grocery shopping trip was on March 18. Our daughters helped us plan grocery shopping to last for three weeks. The idea is to keep trips out of the house to a minimum, to zero for as long as possible.

Everyone needs to eat, but few of us have enough food in the house to last for more than a few days. How does one safely shop for groceries? This video is outstanding, and I recommend it to everyone. Our microbiologist daughter says the glitter analogy is an excellent way to think about the coronavirus. See the image above for some "glitter" and remember that soap dissolves this kind of "glitter." Wash your hands frequently, and keep your hands away from your face!

Are we overreacting? I don't think so. This pandemic is serious. In the last few days I have learned several things that hit close to home. The first death from COVID-19 in our town occurred this week. (I don't know the person, even though this is a small town.) A friend is sick from COVID-19 and is hospitalized and on a ventilator. Among our close group of friends, several have family members (in various states) who have either tested positive for COVID-19 or are showing symptoms and are self-isolating at home.

To sum up, we are hunkering down here and we are grateful for our fortunate circumstances. I have plenty of ingredients for making switchel! Including spirits to add as needed.

[The image above is from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Original image, uploaded on February 13, 2020. Description at the link: "This scanning electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2 (yellow)—also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus that causes COVID-19—isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells (blue/pink) cultured in the lab."]

Thursday, March 26, 2020

The Switchel Traveler: Not Traveling

The COVID-19 pandemic is turning our world upside down.

The theme of this blog is adventures in the physical world; basically it's a travel blog. We are not traveling now. On Tuesday, March 24, Vermont Governor Phil Scott issued a "Stay Home, Stay Safe" executive order, similar to many other states. Nothing like this pandemic has happened in our lifetimes. These are unprecedented times.

The source of this extraordinary situation is the SARS-CoV-2 virus which causes the COVID-19 disease. Like all viruses, SARS-CoV-2 is so small that it cannot be seen even with the most powerful optical microscopes. Yet this tiny virus is very much a part of our physical world.

The image above, showing the virus, is from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The director of the NIAID is Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is much in the news currently. Original image, uploaded on February 19, 2020. Description at the link: "This scanning electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2 (round gold objects) emerging from the surface of cells cultured in the lab. SARS-CoV-2, also known as 2019-nCoV, is the virus that causes COVID-19. The virus shown was isolated from a patient in the U.S."

The World Health Organization (WHO) characterized COVID-19 as a pandemic on Wednesday, March 11, 2020. (link) That evening President Trump banned most travelers from Europe. On Friday, March 13, President Trump declared a national emergency.

Earlier in the year President Trump had banned most travelers from China, where the virus was first reported in late 2019. That announcement was made on January 31, effective February 2. (link) Also on January 31, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a mandatory quarantine order for Americans returning from Wuhan, China – the first such quarantine in more than 50 years. (link) At the time, no deaths from COVID-19 had been reported outside China.

COVID-19 deaths in Europe have now surpassed deaths in China. As I write this, there have been more than 22,000 deaths worldwide, a third in Italy alone (source); 994 deaths in the U.S. (source); and 9 deaths in Vermont (source).

There is no cure for COVID-19 (although most people recover, albeit sometimes with organ damage). There is no vaccine for COVID-19. The most important action to take is to limit contact between people in order to slow the spread of the disease. Hence the travel bans and the "Stay Home" executive order.

We are hunkering down.