Coronavirus Check In

This is a weird time. Coronavirus has spread across the world and infections are exploding in the U.S., prompting changes in day-to-day life like I’ve never seen before. I wanted to document a bit of what this is like mid-stream.

Which means it’s probably a little pessimistic. I’m an idealist by nature, but this whole thing has me feeling kind of bleak. Darkness aside, seems important to document the moment, so here goes.

Milestones

  • Today the Dow had the second worst percentage drop in U.S. history, worse than the one that sparked the Great Depression. Second only to 1987. We lived through 1987, so it can’t be that bad, right? I have no idea. I’m scared to look at my mutual fund and retirement accounts.
  • Yesterday Governor Tim Walz of Minnesota announced that all public schools will close through March 27 so teachers can adapt for distance learning. After March 27 it’s likely schools will remain closed but online learning will start.
  • On Friday the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) recommended canceling any gathering of 250 people or more. On Sunday the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommended no more than 50 people. Today I heard President Donald Trump suggest no more than 10 people.
  • Church was cancelled on Sunday, and will be for a few weeks.
  • Businesses are telling people to work at home, stores are closing or changing hours, libraries are closing—and often this information changes daily or even hourly. I’m keeping a running list of closings or cancellations in my town, and I’m updating it every few hours.
  • Toilet paper is perhaps the most hoarded item. Many stores are completely out. I don’t know the current status because we buy a massive Costco package and still have an unopened one. But when I went to Costco on Friday they were out of all paper products and I couldn’t find any pasta.
  • Places like New York are shutting down bars and restaurants. People in San Francisco have been told to shelter in place. Governor Walz is doing a press conference in half an hour, and I expect similar widespread closings here.

The Mood

On one hand, all of this is good (except for the hoarding, that’s dumb). We’re taking necessary precautions to slow the spread of a deadly infectious disease.

Now it’s not any of the post-apocalyptic books I read and love, where some killer disease wipes out 99% of humanity (wait, I love those books? What is wrong with me?). The worst death rate I’ve heard is 3.5% (who knows if that’s accurate), so we’re not looking at the apocalypse. But that’s still a ton of people.

This is also a ton of societal change at once. Let me explain how it’s impacting my family:

  • As a self-employed freelancer, I’m worried about my clients maintaining contracts or the chance of anything new coming in. I’ve probably been under-employed the last few months anyway, but this makes things especially worrisome. We’ve had some big bills come in the last few months (kid’s medically necessary braces, home repair projects, vet bills) and were planning to rely on savings to cover them. Now I wonder if that was foolish.
  • On Wednesday night my daughter received news that she’s been invited to play in an honors orchestra performance in London this summer. It’s exciting news. But it’s also expensive. And entirely up in the air with coronavirus shutdowns. It’s not until late July, but who knows where things will be at then.
  • With spring break and school off for teachers preparing for online learning, my kids are looking at three solid weeks with no school. They’re somewhat excited about this. I’m horrified at the idea of three weeks of unproductive, lazy summer. I usually enjoy working at home, but when everybody comes home with me, there are way too many distractions and stresses. It’s hard to get work done.
  • Normally I’d think, everybody has to stay home and bunker down, what’s the problem? You make cookies and watch TV—must be rough. But my personality has a hard time with that. I want to get work done. I want to provide for my family. I want to know we have the money and the means to take care of ourselves. But even if I don’t have a project to work on, it feels like I need to be doing something. I can’t just kick back and watch TV. I think part of this is tied to my need for purpose, and I’m trying to feed that need by doing things of purpose. But I also might need to find a way to let go and watch TV (or whatever blow of activity it is). Being productive around the house can often be helpful, and I do some of that (laundry, cooking, cleaning, repairs, etc.), but sometimes it causes other issues (“why am I doing all the work?!”). In short, it’s weird.
  • On Sunday I called my grandma. That’s not really remarkable, though I rarely call my grandparents (it’s probably a generational, don’t-like-calling-people thing, not any issue with my grandparents). But that’s the kind of checking in I felt compelled to do.
  • I also find myself stress scrolling (a term I first heard from Karina Voggel) through social media all the time. I do this a lot anyway, and it doesn’t help that my project to highlight local closures requires some social scrolling. But it turns into this manic thing where I have to know the latest news and I just keep scrolling, as my stress levels and anxiety skyrocket. When it gets bad I’ve been forcing myself to close the browser tabs with social media sites or just go outside and go for a walk.
  • I have a creative project I’ve been mulling for the past month or two, and I’m getting to the point where I want to launch it. But this kind of societal turmoil makes everything questionable. Is it stupid to launch something now? Or do it now because it’s only going to get worse? I don’t know what to do, so I do nothing.
  • A new restaurant opened around the corner from my house just last week. Last night Abby and I went, mostly out of a fear that restaurants may soon be closed and this could be our last chance for a while. We’re balancing the danger of being near people (should we have stayed home? maybe) and spending money (can we afford to eat out) with the desire to support local businesses/workers and the need to get out of the house.

So I think there’s a lot of worry, stress, and anxiety—more so than real danger. The threat of coronavirus is certainly real, and I think we’re taking that seriously. But the bigger concern is all the changes and economic anxiety. Are we going to be able to pay the bills in a few months? If there is any help for laid off workers, will that include a freelancer like me?

What Now?

That all sounds awfully dire. And I suppose it is. That’s kind of where we are right now.

I’m certainly trying to find hope. I spent most of today writing a guide to local nature trails for West St. Paul Reader (when I wasn’t updating my list of local closings). I’ve wanted to do it for a while, but I think in the coming weeks people are going to be spending a lot of time at home on screens, and they need every reason to get outside (we’re not quarantined yet; you can maintain social distancing on a nature trail).

I’d like to spend time on the creative project I want to launch. It’s a pretty hopeful endeavor, and could prove helpful whenever I decide it’s time to launch it.

The challenge is neither of those things put money directly in my pocket (the trail thing might, I get some patron support for the Reader, so it’s sort of connected—but it’s definitely not at my hourly rate). So while it feels good to do them, there’s that nagging dread that I’m not providing for my family.

And of course I try to follow the Mister Rogers advice of looking for the helpers. It’s just hard.

I keep thinking of the societal impacts. What kind of projects or efforts will be most helpful right now? A lot of creatives are doing webinars and interesting online projects like that to combat the loss of tours or other income. A part of me, selfishly, wonders what kind of project I can do like that to ease my economic concern.

So you can see, even as I write this, I keep bouncing back and forth between trying to be hopeful and economic anxiety. I think that’s where we are in a nutshell.

The Essentials

Last Friday when I went to Costco, my wife was concerned about how much food we had in the house.

“Don’t freak out,” I texted back. “I’ll stockpile some chocolate.”

“I love you,” came the return text.

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