100 weeks of pandemic

We’re approaching 100 weeks of pandemic life in the US and most of the rest of the world.

I’m counting from the week of March 16, 2020, which is when we started to get lockdowns, school closures, mandatory remote work, and such. For the few weeks before that, it had been an alarming new respiratory disease spreading in China and Italy, with a few outbreaks popping up in other places.

At the time, people were saying that we’d be locked down for a few weeks, and then back to normal. They were wrong.

I was thinking it would be about 100 weeks of pandemic living. I was wrong, too.

We’ve come a long way towards getting past the pandemic since the spring of 2020, but we still have a long way to go.

Worldwide there are thousands of death per day from COVID-19, and far more people who will suffer long term health and economic consequences of being infected. There are also trillions upon trillions of viral replication events, any one of which could result in the next variant to blow past existing immunity.

Where will we be in another 100 weeks (January, 2024)? Will things be back to normal (defined however you want)?

Maybe a pan-coronavirus vaccine will create a post-pandemic world for those willing to take it.

Maybe a new variant will spread like omicron, but kill like MERS.

Friday March 13th I sent an email to our entire department that TPTB need to come up with a plan to allow people to work from home. I was chastised by my boss and grand boss for that email.

At the time I was concerned about COVID, but really, the main drive was that some folks sort of worked from home and others where not allowed. For ‘reasons’. I’m one of the folks that can absolutely work remotely. I’m a programmer that does not need physical hands on computer hardware, servers, printers etc.

Got a call from my boss Sunday March 15th that we would be working from home for a week or two. I must admit I felt a little vindicated.

I already had a good home office situation. But I did buy a new workstation and a real big screen. My Wife got sent home from her job too, we got a home office set up for her (she has since returned to work because of the requirements of the job.)

I updated my satellite internet connection to Starlink for better ping rates. I kept my old one though just in case. I’m not generally an early adopter of new tech.

I think that COVID will be like the flu. You get your vaccination yearly as COVID changes. The mutation of COVID will mostly be due to people that won’t get vaccinated. And the continued misinformation and idiocy of certain ‘news’ sources and politicians.

In another 100 weeks, I’ll still be working from home. I’m eyeing retirement anyway. Our Information Systems department is consolidating and moving the few people around that must spend some time in the office. I have moved out of my office at the workplace to make room for this.

The first week of March 2020, I outlined some respiratory precautions (like wearing a mask) for my undergrads and walked them through some steps for how to sort out news from hysteria. They had no idea what I was talking about, though the first cases were appearing in our region, and looked at me like I was nuts.

Susan - These people where in collage?

We are doomed to fight COVID forever.

My last day of F2F teaching for the 2020 year was March 18. We thought we would be closed for 2 weeks.

I didn’t see my students in person again until the following January.

They apparently don’t news.

I remember a creeping feeling of dread for about a month, and then everything shut down here (Toronto) all of a sudden. There were the “two weeks to flatten the curve” announcements, then we didn’t emerge from the first lockdown for several months. That first period is super clear in my memory. I remember exactly what shows I was watching on Netflix at the time during the day, I remember going for walks at night just to get some fresh air and exercise, I remember so many of my friends getting laid off (I can’t work remotely so I never stopped working, though there have been periods of rotating 1 or 2 days off a week).

I’m currently planning a trip this October that had been planned for October 2020, but I’m still on edge worrying about what restrictions will be like then. Normally I book things eight or nine months in advance; I doubt I’ll buy a plane ticket before mid-September this time, just to be safe.

I had my quarterly doctor’s appointment on March 13, but everything sort of shut down here on March 12. I remember calling the office to see if they really wanted me in on the 13th. They said yes. I think because my doctor anticipated not being able to see me for a while. He was in the thick of things with the Cleveland Clinic.

I don’t think we were wearing masks by then were we? (March 13) I do remember a young woman on one of my Facebook groups was making and selling masks and it was a big deal to be able to get one. This was early April.

I also remember distinctly being in our late-February council meeting talking about how we’re going to probably have to cancel the first March meeting. That was a huge bummer because that March meeting was to be the last meeting with our clerk who was retiring after 33 years. Turns out she was happy because she doesn’t like to be fussed over.

I also remember the fire chief saying “I’ve heard this could go all the way through MAY…” and I didn’t believe him.

In the last 100 weeks I have since watched a lot of TV. I guess I look forward to a lot more TV.

In the before times, I hosted a conference the first full week of March. The last time we did it in person was 2020, and we managed to not be a super spreader event, despite the international attendance, and all week sitting in a closed room with 150 other people.

We knew what was coming though, and in mid February, 2020 we bought a few cases of hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes, when they were still easy to get. It was enough to put a few dispensers of each on every table, so people could wipe down the shared computer keyboards and clean their hands.

Now we know COVID-19 is airborne, so the excessive sanitation probably didn’t do anything to prevent it’s spread, we just got lucky, and nobody was there who was a carrier.

Within a week of the conference being over, the university of was closed, and it was impossible to buy hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes, and we had lots of leftovers. We offered them up to whoever wanted them, but there weren’t many takers.

I don’t think masks were a thing then, or at least they weren’t here. I had half a box or so of disposable surgical masks that I had bought some years before when one of my kids had the flu, along with a bottle of hand sanitizer. By early April both of those things were non-existent in the stores and I probably could’ve sold them both for a king’s ransom.

The first reusable mask I could get was one I bought on Etsy. Donkey Kong fabric. My wife managed to find some elastic strips at the local craft store somewhere around mid-April and, along with some scrap fabric, made a few for the family. My son still uses one of them; he claims it’s the most comfortable one he has. Most of the others have long disappeared I think because… hell, because it’s been damn near two years. I can find commercial fabric masks that are much more comfortable, but I like to use KN95 as much as possible. But they are spendy and other than work (which supply our masks) I don’t go out in public much.

This reminds me. The 2020 COABE conference was to be held in Baltimore and my boss at the time was pushing me rather strongly to attend. I’m on the left coast, haven’t flown in 15 years, airports and big unfamiliar cities fill me with anxiety, and while I wouldn’t have minded adding a Mobtown shot glass to my collection, I really didn’t want to go. But then the 'rona struck, talk of conferences vanished, and I haven’t been approached again about it. So that’s one positive, I guess.

The last 2 days of February 2020 I was in Boston, attending Pax East. No one wore masks, let alone social distanced, but there was hand sanitizer everywhere. Reminders not to touch your face, too. Meanwhile 1.25 miles away people were licking the doorknobs at Bio-gen’s meeting (but seriously, how did almost everyone get it there but no cases were traced back to our conference of 50k people?)

The first night we watched the news in our hotel room for some reason and saw the very first report of toilet paper hoarding in some distant land outside of North America. This made me order a 36 roll set from Amazon. I would soon wish I had added counter wipes and hand sanitizer.

We went back to work and our planning meetings for our annual conference in May took on an increasingly nervous tone. So very nervous. We looked into how to back out without losing 100k by breaking the contract.

That week the university announced that we would be allowed to work from home if we were concerned about covid, as long as a manager approved.

By March 11th we canceled the conference, contract be damned. I worried that the loss might get a coworker or two laid off. Our operations manager took it upon himself to complete work from home requests for our whole team, in case things got worse. A bunch of people’s last day in the office was the 13th.

The same friend I’d gone to Pax with and I, and her sister, had tickets for the live show of the Welcome to Night Vale podcast on Friday the 13th. We worried a lot about that too - would it be canceled? Should we skip it? There were a few cases in our state, but none in our county. We went.

The next morning the theater canceled everything for months.

The day after that parents were given less than a day’s notice that kids would be remote schooling for a few weeks.

The operations manager, my officemate, and I went into the office at 8am on the 16th. They had a meeting and I was recording a lecture. By 1pm we were informed that you may work from home if you are concerned was now you must work from home beginning tomorrow morning.

I ended the day early, wondering where on earth I could set up the desktop and two monitors I had just lugged out to the car. Apparently I convinced a friend from another department that it would be a really good idea if she brought her monitor home, not just her laptop, because I suspected it was going to drag on longer than a couple of weeks. Maybe until the end of the semester, even. She took my advice, which I promptly forgot giving until she mentioned it a couple of months ago.

Two years to flattened the curve