A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 22

Got drugs?

Monday, March 30

I just conducted a census of my cache of prescription drugs. I take four different pills and have about six weeks’ worth of two, seven weeks’ worth of another, and 11 weeks’ worth of the fourth. So I am in pretty good shape, even though the most important drug will run out first. Since all of these prescriptions are lodged at a Manhattan drugstore, I’ll probably have to figure out how to transfer everything to a store out here even though that will mean contacting three different doctors.

Who’s sick? John Prine, a fingerpicking guitarist and folk singer who first came to prominence in the 1970’s, has COVID-19 and has been placed on a ventilator. Some of his better-known songs include Angel From Montgomery, which was covered by Bonnie Raitt, and Illegal Smile, a knowing wink to the pleasure of cannabis.

Also, opera megastar Placido Domingo, 79, is hospitalized in Acapulco with COVID-19 complications.

Sick and Tired: Instacart grocery-delivery workers and Amazon workers walk out on strike today for better pay and paid sick leave. Amazon warehouse workers on Staten Island say the 5,000 worker facility there, known as JFK8, has numerous cases and should be shut down and sanitized. Seeking similar protections, Whole Foods workers plan a sick-out tomorrow.

More beds: As improvised hospital tents arise in Central Park, U.S. Navy hospital ship Comfort enters New York harbor, providing the city with 1,000 extra beds. 

I meant to say…Having previously insisted that he would reopen the economy by Easter, Trump reverses field and says Americans should continue the current restrictions until the end of April. Holding down the death count to 100,000 would represent “a pretty good job,” says numbers expert Trump.

Safe spaces. In a Nevada parking lot, social-distancing boxes are painted to indicate where the homeless should sleep.

Dinner: The last of the ground beef will create meatballs for spaghetti and drop meatballs with tomato sauce. https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1016833-spaghetti-and-drop-meatballs-with-tomato-sauce 

and a green salad, one of the last since the lettuce is running low.

Entertainment: Two episodes of streaming video The Crown, season three. There has been switch of actors playing all the main roles, with Olivia Colman instead of Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth. The change is disorienting.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 21

It might as well be spring.

Sunday, March 29

If April is the cruelest month, what then is March? Certainly one of the cruelest months this year, and one of the oddest for sure. Surely a majority of Americans are wondering whether civilization can survive an economic collapse brought on by a global pandemic presided over by a mentally disturbed, maliciously narcissistic, reality-denying plutocrat. Who today can remember the golden days of Trump’s impeachment? 

It is rainy and cold, day after day. Spring is officially here, but the signs of verdant life are few. March often looks like this, I have to remind myself. 

And the idleness. It was like this back in 1973, I recall: I had dropped out of graduate school, which seemed very pointless, and sat around in my mother’s apartment watching the college basketball playoffs, while outside it rained and rained. 

Here and now, the death toll from the pandemic continues to mount. There are now over 2,100 deaths across the U.S. and more than 124,000 infected. A third of the deaths take place in New York City. If the current rate continues, there could be thousands of deaths each day.

For cheery news, one has to turn to reports of other species. Have you heard that fish are returning to Venice’s canals, less polluted now that humans are in retreat? And of course the birds must appreciate the reduction in air pollution resulting from the lessening of auto traffic. 

The online New York Review of Books carries articles questioning whether the medieval Black Death was really bubonic plague, as most believe—or maybe something airborne. There are streaming audio reports from Paris, Bogota, Tokyo, and Oakland, all of which sound pretty awful. https://www.nybooks.com

Our food supply is dwindling, and we anticipate with some anxiety the promised Peapod delivery that we have scheduled for April 6. That’s a week from tomorrow. Can we make it till then on our cache of beans, lentils, pasta, and a little frozen meat?

Tonight we will be having canned Progresso split pea soup, baked potatoes (ever fewer in number), and salad. 

Entertainment is also repetitious: The Crown and Detectorists.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 20

No, not that kind of P, Marcel.

Saturday, March 28.

“Invoke ‘P’!” our President commands on Twitter, apparently meaning that General Motors should begin cranking out massive numbers of ventilators for COVID-19 patients. The “P” in question—much mocked by Twitter’s urinal-obsessed activists—seems to be the Defense Production Act, a Korean War Era law that allows the federal government to boss private companies around. But doesn’t that auto maker have many, many fewer plants and workers than it had in the ‘50s?

Now, Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson says he’s got the illness, not wishing to be upstaged by Prince Charles. I’m suspicious of these celebs who announce that they have COVID-19. Aren’t they at least in part showing off that they are important enough to get tested, unlike the proles who can’t get a test? And what about Jeffrey Epstein pal Prince Andrew? Aren’t these plagues supposed to attack sinners, as the Lord did in Pharaoh’s Egypt?

About 65,000 tests are being given every day in the U.S.—but public health experts say 150,000 are actually needed. 

New York City now has more than 23,000 cases of the coronavirus—the country as a whole has something like 100,000—and there have been around 400 deaths in the city.

And in other news, the House passes the Senate’s stimulus/giveaway bill. Publicly, Trump tells Pence not to respond to aid requests from the unappreciative states of Washington and Michigan.

The Times expands its obituaries to include a special section on victims of the epidemic. Five included are a former college basketball star, two school principals, a journalist, and a fashion designer, ages 48, 73, 36, 72, and 62.

Camus’s The Plague is out of stock on Amazon. The book’s British publisher, Penguin Classics, has reprinted twice this year.

Lunch is easy potato soup: You take one large spud per person, cube it and a small onion, add chopped celery and cover with water, then boil for 20 minutes. At the end, smash everything with a potato masher to desired consistency. Add 1/4 cup of milk, some butter and a bunch of salt and pepper. De-lish.

Now, Mexicans are blocking the border to keep potentially infected North Americans out. There are only 500 reported COVID-19 cases in Mexico, and a group called Sonorans for Health and Life thinks that’s enough. They’ve been blocking the border with Arizona for two days.

So far, they haven’t built any walls, though.

Dinner: Spaghetti with fried eggs—essentially a bacon-less spaghetti carbonara https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/member/views/spaghetti-with-fried-eggs-50189975

And a lettuce, avocado, and cucumber salad.

Tonight’s entertainment: More of The Crown and more Detectorists.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 19

Carnival as “the perfect incubator” of COVID-19.

Friday, March 27

An unwelcome lagniappe: Louisiana may have the fastest growing COVID-19 infection anywhere, currently with 1,800 cases. Perhaps the hard-partying Crescent City should have skipped non-social-distancing Mardi Gras, “the perfect incubator,” according to one doctor.

Today, New Orleans’ “clubs are silent,” says the Times. “Bourbon Street is just another lonely street, its only crowds the hordes of rats that have become increasingly brazen in their hunt for food.”

There’s no end to the bad news: The U.S. now has more coronavirus cases than any other country, 81,578, with more than 1,000 deaths. New York City’s hospitals are overwhelmed. At Brooklyn Hospital, 40% of in-patients have the sickness. At New York-Presbyterian Hospital, one of the city’s largest systems, ventilators are shared among multiple patients. Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, which serves a low-income population, is one of the hardest-hit institutions: It says it will be devoting all of its 545 beds to coronavirus cases. Staff are contracting the illness, supplies and ventilators are in very short supply, and the hospital had to rent a refrigerated truck to store dead bodies. For a look at the hellish, apocalyptic scenes there: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/25/nyregion/nyc-coronavirus-hospitals.html

Chaotic scenes hit India. With only 700 reported cases, there’s a national shutdown order, closing schools and other institutions. Although drug stores are supposed to stay open, in one town police attacked a group of pharmacists on their way to work.

And Britain has over 9,500 cases; so much for herd immunity.

U.S. stocks, on the other hand, are up 17%, thanks to the Senate stimulus/bailout. 

And the plastics industry also sees a potential upside: the possibility of reversing legal bans on single-use plastic bags and their replacement by store-goers’ “germ-filled” reusable bags.

The stimulus won’t benefit the hard-hit cruise-ship industry, since most such lines are based in Panama or other low-tax havens. Sorry, Love Boats.

With three million Americans filing for unemployment benefits, there’s lots of uncertainty. Will those working in the increasingly populous gig economy qualify? What about part-timers and the self-employed. News sources disagree and benefits vary from state to state, so the only way to find out is to apply and keep your fingers crossed.

Internationally, the race to manufacture more ventilators is on. In Spain, a group of engineers jerry-rig one device using a modified windshield-wiper motor. It is, they admit, a solution of last resort.

Out here on the East End of Long Island, some full-time residents are wary of urban visitors. “I would prefer that if you are coming from New York City, a hot spot, you stay there,” said Jay Schneiderman, the supervisor of the town of Southampton. He further noted that his town’s population, usually 60,000 at this time of year, had soared in the last two weeks to nearly 100,000. 

Dinner: More beans and rice, green salad, applesauce.

Entertainment: One episode each of The Twilight Zone, The Crown, Portlandia, and The Detectorists.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 18

Wait, there’s no mayo….

Thursday, March 26

It’s “a big crap sandwich,” says Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, holder of a Yale PhD in history and a man with a subtle feel for language that would be the envy of a Francis Parkman. Despite the opposition of Sasse and three other GOP senators (including the statesmanlike Lindsey Graham) to the bill’s stimulus check to the unemployed, the Senate finally passes—unanimously—its $2 trillion package. The House is expected to comply on Friday. 

Not everyone is happy: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, one of the few politicos to have emerged from the current situation with positive public ratings, says the bill is “terrible” in that the $3.1 billion earmarked to help his state with its budget gap is insufficient. Airlines get $25 billion in grants—but will they give passengers more leg room?

Some 3.3 million Americans filed for unemployment last week, breaking existing records.

China is closing its borders to foreigners this weekend in hopes of avoiding a second wave of COVID-19. The number of cases from the first wave falls. 

Next to feel the coronavirus’ effects may be Latin America.

East Hampton Village has its third confirmed case. New York City’s residents may be unwelcome in Florida and Connecticut, thanks to those states’ governors—but many seem to be arriving on the East End, possibly bringing coronavirus with them.

Dinner: Black beans and rice, applesauce, green salad with cucumbers.

Entertainment: More of The Queen and Yes, Minister. What would we do without my Macintosh?

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 17

A pre-Trump death panel.

Wednesday, March 25

Senate Republicans and Democrats forge ahead on a $1.8 trillion stimulus/giveaway plan; the fine print remains unclear. Beneficiaries could include cruise-ship lines and casinos—many of the latter having been allowed only because they promised to generate state tax revenues. Trump escalates his denial of COVID-19, pushing to get people back to work by Easter. The peak of the epidemic won’t even have taken place yet, say many experts. Social distancing in open-space cubicles doesn’t seem very possible, not to mention on mass transportation. 

“Nobody voted in Donald Trump thinking he would become a ‘one-man death panel’ empowered to dispense with American lives like cannon fodder,” says a professor of law and medicine at the University of Ottawa.

The GOP in general seems in denial—or perhaps certain that a few hundred thousand deaths would be preferable to economic ruination, not to mention election defeat. The Texas Lieutenant Governor, a former talk radio personality, says that older folks should be eager to die rather than submit younger generations to another Great Depression.

The news from New York City is bad, with the number of cases appearing to double every three days, according to Cuomo, to nearly 16,000, with around 200 deaths statewide. Governors of various other states have sought to exclude visitors from Gotham. I anticipated slurs against Asians—but making pariahs of New Yorkers?

Meanwhile, Britain’s Prince Charles tests positive, says the BBC. Insufficient social distancing among the jet set, perhaps?

And in Italy, strict lockdowns are causing people to freak out. Some are looking to rent neighbors’ dogs in order to have an excuse to take a walk. One exasperated Umbrian mayor took to social media to berate dog walkers. “Where the f*ck are you going?” he railed. “Stay home, you irresponsible dickheads!”

It’s almost time for dinner: the end of the balsamic chicken, couscous, and another green salad.

Entertainment: Two Twilight Zone episodes, one of The Detectorists, and one more of The Crown

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 16

“The sirocco is oppressive. Not good for the health.”

Tuesday, March 24

At 1:00 a.m., Emily succeeds in posting an online order for a Peapod food delivery, supposed to happen between 6:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Monday, April 6. 

The early-season tick spraying takes place at 8:30 a.m. This consists of a guy in a Save-A-Tree sweatshirt, equipped with a tank of toxic stuff strapped to his back, applying the noxious spray to the lawn and shrubs with what looks a lot like a leaf blower. Maybe it also deters COVID-19.

Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice nicely captures many governments’ hush-hush-it-will-go-away approach. At first, having heard nothing, the novel’s central figure notices that the number of visitors to Venice seems to be declining, particularly non-Italians. But no one says very much. A barber inadvertently mentions “the sickness,” then clams up; a sweetish smell of germicide is in the air; and precautionary placards, which show “every sign of minimizing an existing situation,” warn against infections of the gastric system. It turns out, he learns after questioning several people, that there is cholera in the city. “Death unseen and unacknowledged was devouring and laying waste in the narrow streets.”

On that happy thought—dinner: Balsamic chicken, couscous, and a green salad.

Evening entertainment: Two more episodes of The Crown (it seems there are a total of 40 in the can) and one episode of The Detectorists.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 15

The stinking rose: don’t leave home without it.

Monday, March 23

Under a startling headline stating that “New York Becomes Epicenter,” the Times reports that “more than 15,000 people in New York State have tested positive, with the vast majority in the New York City region. That is about half of the cases in the United States.”

Well, half the proven cases. Testing remains very scattered. How many cases are there in Omaha? Probably no one can guess.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to turn the vast Javits convention center into a temporary medical base with 2,000 beds. 

The police department says its ranks contain 98 confirmed cases. 

There are 2 confirmed cases in East Hampton and 3 in Southampton.

Two unanticipated, if quotidian, alarming developments right here: the can opener is nearly worn out (I had to open the tahini-sauce can with a pair of pliers) and we’re running low on soy sauce. Some things you can’t anticipate. Still lots of oatmeal, evaporated milk, and legumes.

Back to more important matters: The worldwide death toll from COVID-19 has passed 15,000.

Jailed sex offender Harvey Weinstein has tested positive for the coronavirus. How come he can get the test and many cannot?

The Senate Republicans’ stimulus bill has failed for the second time, as Democrats say it’s too oriented to business bailouts.

And New York Governor Andrew Cuomo will order hospitals to increase their bed count by 50%.

I’m getting used to mailing letters (paying bills) from our roadside mailbox, like in the Andy Griffith show or something. When my outgoing letters disappear, it seems like magic: Will they really get to the addressee?

Emily continues daily to try to arrange for a food delivery via Stop & Shop service Peapod. No go, so far—they seem to schedule one day at a time, and even if she gets through, the next deliveries are in early April. But we have a bunch of stuff on hand, with shortages looming only on such stuff as garlic, carrots, salad dressing, and dishwasher soap. (Garlic is important, a key thing to take to a desert island.)

It has rained all day, sometimes quite hard. Windy and gloomy. The heat comes on quite regularly.

Dinner: Lentil salad with roasted red peppers and walnuts, baked potatoes, lettuce and cucumber salad.

Evening entertainment: Ninth episode of The Crown and one episode of Dr. Finley involving a would-be boxer and his wife’s botched self-abortion.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 14

Trump soul mate and likely infectee Jair Bolsonaro.

Sunday, March 22

A beautiful day, although still cold. I’m definitely in a rut here, with coffee, oatmeal, this journal, and the Times for morning companions. Still, habits can be comforting: The citizens in Camus’ plague city found the epidemic’s destruction of their usual ways to be unsettling. Of the pre-pestilence times, the author says, “everyone is bored and devotes himself to cultivating habits.” I am using this occasion to cultivate new ones.

More woeful economic news: Jobless claims jumped 30% week before last, and Goldman Sachs foresees new claims rising to over 2 million. I drive to the town dump to get rid of a week’s collected garbage. The number of reported cases in New York State doubled overnight, says the car radio.

In a daily journal published online by The New York Review of Books (https://www.nybooks.com/daily/2020/03/21/pandemic-journal/), Sao Paulo-based Vanessa Barbara says that 15 members of Jair Bolsonaro’s recent entourage at Mar-a-Lago have now tested positive for the coronavirus. Like his soul mate Trump, Bolsonaro’s approach has mixed denial and sowing of confusion; he recently attended a street rally in Brasilia, taking selfies and shaking the hands of supporters.

I telephone a friend who lives a few doors down the hallway in our NYC apartment building, asking him to water our plants. He says the city is emptied out, like some major holiday weekend, but that the grocery stores have plenty of stuff to sell. He has to teach an online class this week…in sculpting! Students won’t do any projects, just watch him sculpt from his studio in Williamsburg. He thinks this is absurd but, still, the school will pay him and the students will get their needed credit.

A retired judge who also lives in our building, says via e-mail that he is sick. His doctor thinks it’s allergies or a cold, but he also has had a low fever. Rick is staying upstate, having returned to New York City only once since the epidemic broke out. His bronchial problems are exacerbated by 9-11 exposure to the fall of the World Trade Center.

Emily, who speaks very good Spanish, is reviewing her skills via the online program Duolingo. Seems like I should teach myself how to play chess or something. But I will probably just return to reading The Wind in the Willows or maybe looking at the Wikipedia entry on the 1950s polio epidemic or 1918 influenza epidemic.

Tonight’s dinner will be cold soba noodles with sesame sauce and a salad.

Tonight’s entertainment: more episodes of Netflix’ The Crown (just how many episodes are there?) and, from Britbox, the edgy comedy Inside No. 9.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 13

March 21, a Saturday

Oink, oink: In Washington, lobbyists representing interests from pig farmers to drone makers, “are burning up the phone lines and flooding email inboxes trying to capitalize on the stimulus bills moving quickly through Congress,” says the Times.

We’ve now been away from the city for over two weeks, and as might have been anticipated, New York State is now the epicenter of the epidemic in the U.S.  

Half of the country’s confirmed infections are there, and only 6% of its population: The number of cases is up to 9,000, from under 700 earlier in the week. Allowed to remain open are groceries, takeout restaurants, drug stores, laundromats, and liquor stores. Testing in the city is ahead of that in China and South Korea, with 10,000 people tested on Thursday night.

The IRS moved its federal-tax deadline from April 15 to July 15.

Stocks have fallen 35% from where they were in mid-February.

Around the country, there is a hodgepodge of restrictions. Bars remain open in Knoxville, Tennessee. In Chicago and New York, virtually all public places are shuttered. Los Angeles has ordered its gun shops closed, but allowed to remain open are marijuana dispensaries, news media outlets, some farmers markets, and bicycle repair stores. Also funeral homes.

Internationally, testing varies hugely country by country. Australia had tests in January, thanks to China’s release that month of the coronavirus genetic code. At that same time in Singapore, screening was underway in airports, and South Korean labs were pushing out test kits. Meanwhile, in Europe and the U.S., tests were hard to get and politicians were unfocused, apathetic, and in conflict with each other.

Dinner: more chili con carne, green salad, Maria cookies.

Entertainment: More episodes of Netflix’ The Crown and one episode of The Detectorists, a winning Brit comedy about the obsessions, private woes, and small victories of some metal-detector-wielding nerds.