A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 12

Burr: Never let a good crisis go to waste, they say.

Friday, March 20

Went to the local bodega—and, Santa Cleopatra! They supplied me with two boxes of pasta (unobtainable at local supermarkets), two boxes of Jiffy cornbread mix, a bag of dried black beans, a carton of fresh eggs, and a bag of Pillsbury flour. (I was happy to pay $26 for the stuff.) Customers aren’t allowed into the store, but the workers came to a newly installed customer window and brought out all of the above goods. I was never so excited to get boxed pasta!

The crisis in Italy seems truly scary—and none of the reports that I have seen make it clear just why this is. The death toll there—3,405—is higher than in China, which has 20 times the number of people. In Bergamo, in the worst affected part of the country, the number of coffins is overwhelming local facilities. The crematorium is running 24 hours a day. And as in Camus’ novel, families aren’t allowed to attend funerals.

Grace Kelly’s son, Prince Albert II of Monaco, tests positive for the disease.

Others are doing quite well, thank you very much. North Carolina Senator Richard Burr, head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, took advantage of advance information to dump up to $1.7 million worth of stock on February 13, just ahead of the coronavirus-prompted market plunge. Burr and three other senators, including Democrat Diane Feinstein, effected the trick even as they were making reassuring noises to the general public about the impending pandemic. Georgia Senator Kelly Loeffler attended a January 24 briefing with Fauci and the CDC top dog, then she and her husband, who is CEO of the New York Stock Exchange, dumped up to $3.1 million worth of stock—and then invested up to $250,000 in Citrix, a technology company that offers teleworking software (appropriate for working from home). It’s an ill wind that blows nobody good, says the old saw.

In Washington, Republicans are putting together legislation that includes hundreds of billions of dollars in loans to large corporations in distressed industries and checks as large as $1,200 per adult to individuals earning less than $99,000 per year. Lower earners would get smaller checks, as little as $600. The bill also places limits on the paid leave that Trump has already signed into law.

Illinois issues a stay-at-home order for its 13 million residents.

Dinner: Chili con carne, green salad, Ritz crackers.

Evening entertainment: Two episodes of engrossing Netflix drama The Crown; one episode of Yes, Minister.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 11

Thursday, March 19

Much of the day gets spent futzing around with the website, taking and downloading photos to be posted, and seeking e-books about previous plagues, the 1918 Spanish flu outbreak, and other such epidemics. None of these are available, so I pursue escape in Kenneth Grahame’s children’s book, The Wind in the Willows. Surprisingly, there is some resonance with our situation: Rat and Mole get caught in dire weather in the Wild Wood and seek to shelter in place with the hibernating Mr. Badger in his remote bunker, which fortunately has a well-stocked larder.

Back in reality, deaths in Italy have risen by a startling 475 in a day, with 3,000 total fatalities so far. Asians worry about a second wave of the infection, as people returning home from abroad could bring it back with them.

The crisis could be a boon to writers from Richard Preston (The Hot Zone) to Octavia E. Butler (Parable of the Talents)—but can homebound readers find a way to get their books?

Stocks close up slightly, with the S&P 500 rising around 1%.

Dinner: Progresso beef barley soup, lettuce and apple salad, baked potatoes with sour cream.

Evening entertainment: two episodes of Netflix’ impressive The Crown and an episode (impenetrable to me) of Sherlock.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 10

A slice of life.

Wednesday, March 18

I’m up at 6:30, and it’s still dark outside. Without my glasses on, the moon looks very odd, perhaps it’s a half moon. Within 15 minutes, the sky begins to get light, and the birds begin their daily symphony.

I set up the bread machine last night, and a loaf of light wheat bread should be ready around 7 a.m. The aroma is, as always, delightful.

The Times says pollution readings gathered by the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-5P satellite show that emissions of nitrogen dioxide, a gas closely linked to vehicle exhaust, are considerably lower across northern Italy. Humans are huddled indoors, not outside tooling around in their Fiats. Pollution in China is also way down, the images show.

The federal government says it will send $250 billion worth of checks to citizens by the end of April, thanks to emergency borrowing powers. And there could be another round of payments, it seems. The financial markets respond on Tuesday as the S&P 500 rises about 6% percent after a 12% fall on Monday, the steepest drop since 1987. Trump long saw the pandemic coming, he brags.

Biden sweeps primaries in three states, but pandemic-related irregularities prompt questions about the vote. 

I arrive at the supermarket around 8 a.m. But the hours have changed: A sign on the door says the store will open at 9 a.m. for seniors, then after 10 everyone else can come in. 

So I go off to a little coffee shop (“takeout only” reads the sign on the door) and get coffee beans, then back to the IGA. A steady stream of cars (especially Mercs, Lexuses, and Minis) come into the parking lot, people get out bags in hand, venture over to the door—then return, crestfallen, to their cars and leave. At around 8:50, a line forms at the door.

Inside, the atmosphere is relatively restrained. I get most of the fresh veggies I wanted (2 heads of lettuce, cucumbers, bags of potatoes, and bags of onions), vegetable oil, and lots of crackers. But there’s almost no meat, few tomato products, and no pasta. What will the people who come after 10 a.m. get?

Some customers compile strange assortments. The guy ahead of me in line gets four small boxes of facial tissue, four frozen dinners, and little else. Maybe he comes every day.

Back home, I unpack my three bags of stuff and wipe cans and more off with alcohol-dampened paper towels.

Meanwhile, in the nation’s labs, scientists have been told to drop everything else and focus on the coronavirus. In one effort that the Times finds promising, a California lab focuses on existing drugs that may help prevent the coronavirus from using our existing cells to produce viral proteins. Testing continues for at least 50 drugs that attack COVID-19. The first human tests of a vaccine began on Monday in Seattle; trials could take a year at least.

The epidemic has spread to all 50 of the United States, and there have been 100 deaths. France has over 6,600 cases, prompting a lockdown that’s turned Paris into a ghost town.

Even as U.S. hotel chains and restaurants lay off thousands, Amazon announces that it will hire 100,000 workers to handle increased demand for household goods.

Dinner will be avgolemono soup—a greek egg-drop-and-lemon concoction; also, a green salad.

Entertainment: More Yes, Minister.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 9

This supermarket looks empty now, but….

Tuesday, March 17

Anticipating a trip to the supermarket, the question is—which one? There are three within range, and all may be crowded and lacking in inventory. The largish IGA in Amagansett says over the phone that they are expecting a shipment on Wednesday morning, so the best time to come might be then, at about 8:30 a.m. Yesterday, I had a brief conversation with the new neighbor next door, who said he’d just come from that store and there was very little food to be had. I’ve also just called the large King Kullen in Bridgehampton, where they sounded very stressed and uncertain: supposed to get 3 large deliveries today but the trucks might not come. Current hours are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. but that might change—it’s changed twice already, said a harried-sounding manager. I’ll probably try the Amagansett store tomorrow.

Another question: Which store is least likely to be crowded and infectious?

In a recent robocall, the East Hampton town manager announced that all town offices would be closed—-but the town dump would remain open. Since it’s normally closed on Wednesday, I may go there today to dump some stuff and purchase a new permit, which must be displayed starting in April.

In the city, restaurants are able to offer food only for takeout or via delivery. Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Washington State and Puerto Rico have also announced dining shutdowns.

As the number of cases in the U.S. soars above 4,000, six northern California counties order citizens to “shelter in place.” Canada has shut its borders to all noncitizens. Primary elections in Georgia, Kentucky, and Louisiana have been postponed.

A rush among companies to demand federal aid is likely. Airlines lead the pack, already saying they’ll need a $50 billion bailout. If only Joe Biden were prez, they’d be in the money. Today, Trump’s people mull over then promise a stipend of $1,000 per citizen. A one-off? Monthly?

A hodgepodge of coronavirus-fighting regulations and restrictions prevails, varying from city to city and state to state. In some places, for instance, all movie theaters are shut, while elsewhere chains block off seats in every other row in order to maintain social distancing.

At 10:30, I’m off to the dump, only to find that the dump office is closed. I ask a worker if old recycling-center permits, which expire in April, will still be good for a while. “I haven’t been told anything,” she says.

Back home and a return to scary reading. For every person who tests positive for coronavirus, there are likely 5 to 10 others in their community with undetected infections, scientists say.

Lunch: Sapporo Ichiban ramen, orange, dried apricot.

The Times reports that primary voting is light but rife with confusion in Arizona, Florida, and Illinois. The IRS deadline for tax returns gets delayed beyond April 15, as perhaps does the quarterly estimated-tax deadline.

At 5:29, I begin scuffling around to make dinner, a repeat of lentil soup and muffins. Instead of a salad, we’ll have the remaining asparagus.

Tonight’s entertainment: iTunes has some attractive options, but I can’t seem to make the rentals button work on Little Women, Knives Out, or Parasite. They keep asking me to authorize my computer, then when I’ve done so, I am informed that the computer was already authorized but nonetheless it has been re-authorized. And still I can’t rent anything; and my Amazon account has been frozen due to a credit-charge change.

So, it’s time for the seventh episode of Twin on Mhz, followed by an episode of Yes, Minister on Acorn.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 8

Almost as popular as toilet paper.

Monday, March 16

My back is aching, possibly the result of computer work from an unsuitable position or from sleeping on our aging mattress. I get up earlier than I would like, well before 7 a.m., just in time to see two guys deliver some large appliance (a dishwasher? a six-burner stove?) to the still-being-constructed house next door.

In the early morning light, another sunny and cool day seems to loom. Two young deer sprint through our front yard, perhaps spooked by a neighbor’s fierce Yorkie being walked on a leash. Through a window, I can see neighbors pass by on their morning constitutionals, attired in sportive down parkas and knit caps.

How could Joe Biden repeatedly deny that he had called, on the floor of Congress, for cuts to Social Security and Medicare? The videos are out there, in one of which (from the early 2010s, back when policy wonks still worried about federal deficits) he announces that he has called for such cuts four times. Anyhow, somehow he is the “safe” candidate. He also insists that he will pick a female vice-presidential candidate; the fix must already be in, Emily thinks, with Kamala Harris on board.

Meanwhile, the economy is near collapse. It’s happened in an instant, as only recently released February employment figures and weekly unemployment claims promise a gleaming future.

Having cut rates to between 0% and 0.25%, the Fed plans to inject huge sums into the economy by purchasing at least $500 billion of Treasury securities and at least $200 billion of mortgage-backed debt. 

New York City finally acts to shut down almost everything—all restaurants, bars, schools, movie houses, gyms, and concert venues. Fauci says the country should consider a 14-day national shutdown. Having first declared the whole thing a hoax, Trump discourages any gathering larger than 10 people. He tweets that NY Governor Andrew Cuomo should “do more!” which prompts the rejoinder to Trump: ““No — YOU have to do something! You’re supposed to be the President.”

The White House institutes mandatory temperature checks to all who come into the building. Melania Trump cancels the White House Easter Egg hunt.

The World Health Organization’s virus count soars to 142,539. In the United States, scientists say that between tens of millions and 215 million Americans will ultimately be infected, and the death toll could range from the tens of thousands to 1.7 million.

Markets open, the Dow falls 9.7%, or 2,250 points, triggering a trading halt. When markets reopen, the fall continues.

Who will compensate hourly and gig workers for their losses in pay? Who will help their families with health costs or even basic expenses? Joe Biden recklessly says the government will cover for them—once he is president. They will be “made whole.” No one presses him on just how he will pay for this, though he continues to pester Bernie about just how Medicare for All would be funded. AOC points out in a tweet that, despite the jawboning, gig workers will never self-isolate if they have no other source of income.

We’ve now been out here for 11 days. We brought so much grub with us that we could barely get it into the Subaru Outback—but we’ve already made a noticeable dent in it. About half of a 42-ounce keg of Quaker oats is gone, and water crackers, bread, Lipton soup, and rigatoni are MIA. I can see past the dregs to the bottom of the coffee can. Fresh veggies, too, are little more than a memory.

Supermarkets and food suppliers say they are working around the clock to keep shelves supplied, that there is plenty of food in the supply chain, but everyone is stockpiling, especially canned soups and meats, peanut butter, hot dogs, and pasta. Supermarket chain Kroger reports a 30% surge in demand across all categories. The National Chicken council says, reassuringly, that 950 million pounds of poultry remain in cold storage. Apparently it takes hens and their handlers 50 days to transform an egg into a customer-ready cutlet.

Lunch: Campbell chicken noodle soup, hummus, the penultimate slice of bread, one Quadratini cookie.

Reality begins echoing end-of-days flicks and survivalist propaganda. Photos posted on Twitter document a long line stretching out in front of a Los Angeles gun store. In Amsterdam, folks queue up to buy cannabis. Bank of America experiences a run on cash, and a New York City branch doles out its last $100 bills. Will gasoline be rationed?

Apparently, the U.S. is getting a shipment of face masks and coronavirus test kits—from China! According to the German newspaper Die Welt am Sonntag, Trump offered the German company CureVac roughly $1 billion in exchange for exclusive access to a COVID-19 vaccine it was developing. Signs emerge that Britain may tighten its lax response to the health crisis, perhaps by requiring citizens over 70 to self-isolate for as long as four months.

A Washington, D.C. bookseller begins taking appointments for individuals to solo browse its store aisles. A Cleveland-area jail system may release some 300 nonviolent inmates over coronavirus concerns.

The Department of Health and Human Services says it is beginning a program of high-speed coronavirus testing utilizing 2,000 commercial laboratories. Many scientists are skeptical.

Emily changes her American Express billing account to this address, and I likewise change the billing address for our home and auto insurance. That way, bills won’t languish in our Manhattan mailbox—only resulting in computer-generated late fees.

At 3 p.m., time for another walk out of doors.

Dinner: More lentil soup, muffins, and salad.

Entertainment: an episode of Yes, Minister (which we’re rationing like scarce food, only one per day) and an episode of MI-5.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 7

The obscure object of desire.

Sunday, March 15

Still sunny and cool. Are the nation’s churches crowded or empty, I wonder.

Georgia delays its presidential primary till May 19. The tech-oriented city of Menlo Park, Calif., sends out an email announcing “sweeping changes,” including a ban of all gatherings of over 50 people and “severe preventative measures for any that involve between 10 and 50 people.” Someone sounds embarrassed that they didn’t take more stringent measures earlier: ““Each time we receive new information, it gives us all an opportunity to readjust our habits,” says Mayor Cecilia Taylor. 

Spain and France crack down on social life, shuttering bars and restaurants and telling everyone to stay indoors. Infections in the latter country have doubled in 72 hours, to 4,500, with 91 deaths. Spain anticipates 10,000 cases in the coming week. Denmark, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia close their borders to outsiders.

According to one Times account: “The virus has infected more than 132,000 globally. A vast majority of cases have been mild, with limited symptoms. But the virus’s progression can be quick, at which point the chances of survival plummet. At one recent count, around 68,000 people had recovered, while nearly 5,000 had died.”

Meanwhile, another plague looms: “inefficiencies in the marketplace,” in the words of Tennessean Noah Colvin. He and his brother Matt glommed up 17,700 bottles of hand sanitizer from various small regional stores, then offered them on Amazon for up to $70 each. Soon, along with eBay, the online retailer clamped down, evicting thousands of such price gougers from their site. Noah opines that he was just providing a public service.

No breakfast. Lunch: leftover pasta, hummus, and an orange.

Still reading the Sunday Times at 3:41 p.m. I learn that sporting-goods retailer Modell’s has declared bankruptcy and is closing all its stores. At one time, the company was a reliable source of ad revenue for WFAN and other baseball-broadcasting radio; all fans are familiar with the baritone blast of a song “Gotta Go to Mo’s.” If there’s ever another season, I guess car dealerships like Major World or Lexus of Westchester will have to do the heavy lifting.

Times wag and op-ed writer Maureen Dowd observes: “The most totemic parts of America — Broadway, Hollywood, Disneyland, March Madness, the Masters, baseball spring training, the Met, late-night comedy shows, tours of the Capitol, Tom Hanks — are shut down as we struggle to figure out what, exactly, we’ve got on our Purell-soaked hands here.” Washington’s gorgeous cherry blossom season comes into flower, meanwhile “the days grow longer even as the darkness spreads,” she writes.

Time to take a shower and prepare some stuff for dinner. Tonight: lentil soup with hotdogs, corn muffins, and more salad.

Evening entertainment: Bernie vs. Biden debate via democrats.org.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 6

Trump’s model? Government as “dynamic inertia.”

Saturday, March 14 

Another sunny, low-40s day. The birds love it: Our feeder draws a crowd each day, including a brilliant red cardinal who comes early, leaves, and returns later for a crepuscular nosh.

Their seeming happiness and the slightly warmer weather echoes the irony of Camus’ plague account, in which flowers bloom riotously even as the infestation worsens. Why worry—soon it’ll be spring.

The East Hampton library, financed by property taxes, sends e-mail saying that, in accord with the town’s state of emergency, it has closed until further notice. Please keep any books you have checked out, no fines will be levied for overdue items, and many things are available online or as e-books.

Panic shopping prevails across the land. Huge lines form in and around large chain outlets. Store shelves empty of all kinds of goods—canned food, hand sanitizer, cold medicines, and especially toilet paper. At a Walgreens in Massachusetts, a sign says that disinfectant cleaners, face masks, and thermometers are being rationed—and anyway, none of these things are available.

The poshest of New York City restaurants, including 19 eateries of the Union Square Hospitality Group, are closed until further notice.

In New York City, Mayor Bill DeBlasio resists pressure to close public schools, arguing that schools don’t just provide an education, but also food, mental health care and other services. Closing them would make it harder for vital health care workers to go to their jobs since they might have child-care responsibilities. And, it turns out that around 750,000 of the city’s 1.1 million students are living in poverty, including roughly 114,000 who are homeless. Where would they go?

Europe is now the epicenter of the outbreak, declares the World Health Organization. Spain becomes the newest hot spot. Between last weekend and Friday, the number of cases there rose from several hundred to 4,200, with 120 deaths.

Britain has largely avoided the lockdown approach that has worked well in some places. England’s chief scientific adviser said the government was looking “to build up some kind of herd immunity so more people are immune to this disease and we reduce the transmission.”  It is, to say the least, an unusual approach. Herd immunity seems to require infection of 70% of the population. 

Meanwhile, in a North London hospital, a baby tests positive for COVID-19 minutes after being born. Trump expands his travel ban to include Ireland and the UK.

Back here, more oatmeal for breakfast. Emily and I survey our ever-in-progress shopping list. Fresh veggies are always the first things to run out. News accounts about hoarding encourages anxiety here about exactly what we might need: bacon? More Nestle’s crunch candy bars? Walnuts?

Speaking of food, time for lunch. Campbell’s veggie soup, homemade hummus and crackers, an orange, and one Quadratini cookie.

A Fox News ever-Trump fanatic, Trish Regan, was ousted from her prime-time slot after she labeled coronavirus no more than “another attempt to impeach the president.” In front of a graphic reading, “Coronavirus Impeachment Hoax,” she accused Democrats of creating “mass hysteria to encourage a market sell-off” and sowing fear about the virus “to demonize and destroy the president.”

This much is true: The press pays little attention to reassuring voices. And those with a Dr. in front of their names and a frightening tale to tell get plenty of ink. A Johns Hopkins med prof says: Don’t believe the numbers they’re giving out. “1,600 got the test, tested positive,” but those are just the few who have taken the test. “I think we have between 50,000 and half a million cases right now walking around in the United States.”

If you are a medical professor who has not yet been quoted in the papers, what must your colleagues think of you? Slacker? Nonentity?

Time for a late afternoon walk. Sunny but breezy and cool. People are out with families and dogs. Still, in mid-March, there are not so very many folks around in this area of Springs. No one coughs.

Dinner: Rigatoni with roasted red pepper, asparagus, capers, and parmesan cheese. Leftover balsamic chicken; and a green salad.

Entertainment: Two episodes of British political satire, Yes, Minister, which spoofs deep-state manipulation of elected government.  One shaming episode of the British version of The Office

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 5

Dr. Anthony Fauci and the very stable genius manhandle the mic.

March 13, a Friday

Cuba announces its first three cases, all Italian tourists. A teen in Britain is sent home from school for selling hits of hand sanitizer for 50p per squirt. Satellite imagery shows that Iran has dug a pair of massive burial trenches outside of Qom, the country’s seventh largest city and a site of mass pilgrimages to the golden dome of the shrine of Fatima.

The Times infectious disease reporter says that while Italy’s condition (15,000 reported cases and 1,000 deaths) is far worse than that of the U.S., the two countries could be on the same trajectory. American authorities did little in the beginning—other than deny that there could be a problem—and testing here has been among the lowest per capita in the developed world. U.S. testing remains a dysfunctional nightmare, with feverish sufferers being given a yes-no-yes-no runaround before being sent home to self-isolate.

No St. Patrick’s Day parades this week, either in New York or in Ireland. It’s a shillelagh to liquor companies’ bottom lines.

A New York University sociologist foresees a loneliness epidemic resulting from the social-distancing measures imposed by the pandemic. Vox reports that even before the coronavirus, about a quarter of older adults fit the definition of socially isolated. A much-quoted Vanderbilt University infectious-disease expert, Dr. William Schaffner, says he only shops late at night, when stores are uncrowded, and his wife has given up her bridge club.

Time for breakfast: more oatmeal. Then laundry: One of the prime motivators of our isolation was the realization that we needed to avoid the crowded laundry room in our NYC apartment building.

A hard rain is a-fallin’, followed by gloom and damp cold. This raises no one’s spirits. When I read of someone being told to self-quarantine for 3 weeks, I feel better. Only three weeks! 

In fact, no one knows when it will be safe to go out in public again. Camus tells how in his plague-ridden town of Oran, sheer lethargy set in and, in the minds of most people, the future ceased to exist. “There was no reason why the epidemic shouldn’t last more than six months; why not a year or even more?” Memories of the past, of things left undone, came to have only a savor of regret. “Hostile to the past, impatient of the present, and cheated of the future, we were much like those whom men’s justice, or hatred, forces to live behind prison bars.” In the end, the infestation stretched from spring until January, when cooler weather prevailed.

In mid-afternoon, Trump has a press conference to declare a national state of emergency, which he says will free up $50 billion for states and localities to fight the coronavirus—that’s 10% of what he offered to lend the banks for short-term funding. Cases in the U.S. hover around 2,000 and there have been 41 deaths. CDC projections suggest that 2.4 million to 21 million Americans could require hospitalization, potentially choking the nation’s medical system, which has only about 925,000 staffed hospital beds.

At the presser, Trump, Pence, Fauci, and others take turns speaking, each one disregarding warnings not to touch stuff as they make adjustments to the microphone. The diminutive Fauci, adjusts the mic to his shortish level, then immediately scratches his face. Trump says he’s not been tested for the coronavirus, nor does he need to be tested despite his tete-a-tete with the Brazilian infectees at Mar-a-Lago.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announce a deal—immediately passed by the House but deferred by the Senate as its members vacate for a week’s vacation—that includes enhanced unemployment benefits, free virus testing, and additional funds for food assistance and Medicaid. The pact would allow for two weeks of paid sick leave and up to three months of family and medical leave.

Delta Air Lines will ground 300 aircraft and reduce capacity by 40 percent. But markets rebound on the Trump/Pelosi announcements.

And at Mar-a-Lago, a 700-person “celebrity doggie fashion show” and fund-raiser scheduled for Saturday with Lara Trump as honorary chairwoman, gets postponed. Since the Brazilians’ visit, the Trump retreat has become something of a coronavirus hot spot, with numerous guests now infected, says the Times

Tonight’s repast: Chicken breasts in balsamic vinegar, couscous, green salad. Maria cookies, Destrooper biscuits, Nestle’s Crunch candies, dried apricots. No self-denial here yet.

Tonight’s entertainment: Two episodes of the excellent old BBC series Dr. Finley, via streaming service Acorn. Then Britbox provides a streaming episode of Lovejoy, a British series involving a mildly slippery antiques dealer, his daffy if sometimes-knowledgeable cronies, an aristocratic lady friend, various swindlers, wealthy would-be collectors, etc. An antiques roadshow for suspense fans. Diverting if not altogether convincing.

I dream that Emily and I are aboard a smallish boat in the ocean surrounded by a bevy of whales, some with white markings. Like dolphins at play, the whales roll and toss in the waves.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 4

Life as we know it.

March 12

In an effort to keep out the “foreign virus,’ last night Trump banned all visitors from Europe but not from the U.K. Presumably that means he can still get to his golf course in Scotland. Republicans blocked a bill that would have offered sick Americans 14 days of emergency paid sick leave. 

One can watch the PGA Players Championship live on Twitter, so no deprivation there. But the National Basketball Assn. suspends its season altogether. Then follows a snowballing number of cancellations of public events. Museums, concert venues, churches, universities, etc. begin turning everyone away. Major League Baseball suspends all operations, including spring training. (The PGA tourney is cancelled at the end of the day.) In California, Disneyland has closed down for only the fourth time in history. In New York State, gatherings of more than 500 people are disallowed. In the city, restaurants are told they must provide more space between tables, effectively halving their capacity.

Popular movie actor Tom Hanks, who plays TV kid crush Mr. Rogers in a current flick, announces that both he and his wife have COVID-19. (They are stranded in well-prepared Australia, a blessing.) Germany’s Angela Merkel says that 2/3 of that country’s population may eventually be infected. Italy has ordered almost all nonessential businesses to close.

1,240 people in 42 states and Washington, D.C., have tested positive for the coronavirus and at least 37 have died.

Here, the Quaker Oats with raisins and maple syrup seems just fine as usual. It’s a sunny day whose quiet is interrupted only by the haunting call of an owl or possibly a dove. 

Hours pass. Then, Em and I split a packet of Sapporo Ichiban noodle soup for lunch.

We watch a streaming video interview with London Mayor Sadiq Khan. The UK has employed some tortured logic to justify no lockdown or quarantine, just life as usual for those who feel themselves to be unaffected. Unlike China or, say, Italy, the initial locus of infection was scattered, not limited to one location—therefore, no lockdown is needed, Khan explains several times. Huh? The questioner says one might well argue that there’s all the more reason for keeping people apart. But Khan insists that he and temporary pal Boris Johnson are on the right track.

As Trump often says, we’ll see what happens.

The federal government is still preoccupied with economic worries rather than health matters: The Fed announces it will pump more than $500 billion into short-term bank funding. Stocks surge more than 1,000 points. But by the end of the day, the gloom gathers and stocks have their worst day since the 1987 crash, with the S&P down 9.5%.

A crony of Brazilian top tomato Jair Bolsonaro was photographed hanging out with Trump at Mar-a-Lago last weekend. (He sported a hat reading “Make Brazil Great Again.”) Today, it is announced that said crony has COVID-19. What me worry? avers Trump, who is said to be still contemplating holding a mega-rally in Florida next week.

I anticipate increasing public irrationality—people lashing out at Chinese and other “foreigners” amid a pronounced turn to religious nuttiness. In Camus’ The Plague, copies of predictions said to have come from various soothsayers (Nostradamus was popular) and saints were widely circulated, especially after printing companies noted the rich profits to be made. Organized religion waned. The Day of the Dead was ignored—as each day for the plague-bound city was a Day of the Dead.

Dinner: Progresso pot-roast soup (weak), baked potatoes with loads of butter and sour cream (must keep morale up), homemade hummus with water crackers, green salad with radishes and grape tomatoes.

Evening entertainment: Morse investigates two murders—an artist and a wealthy French art collector.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 3

Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)

March 11

We are learning a lot about standing in lines: lines to vote, lines to get food.

Another idle day looms. 46 degrees and sunny, so what’s to complain about?

Biden wins the prized Michigan primary along with Mississippi, Idaho, and Missouri. Bernie apparently wins North Dakota. Washington state remains too close to call. 

Hundreds of ballots remain uncounted from the California primary held on Super Tuesday over a week ago. Why? States continue to close polling sites even as giant lines snake into those sites remaining open. Yet there are no barricades or riots in the streets. The people are so beaten down it’s a wonder that anyone votes.

In Russia, Putin pushes legislation that will allow him to serve for an additional two six-year terms when his tenure expires in 2024. In the event, his term in office will be longer than that of Stalin. In 2036, I would guess he’ll look and act even more of a fossil than Joe Biden. Will he still strip off his shirt and ride horseback?

Meanwhile, on the plague front, two British MPs including the health minister, three Australian Grand Prix formula one race drivers, and several members of the Arsenal football team are self-isolating after being diagnosed with the coronavirus. Arsenal! Things are getting serious. 

The Bank of England cuts rates to the lowest in history.

In Europe, empty plane “ghost flights” have become a phenomenon. In most countries, airlines that fail to utilize at least 80% of assigned takeoff or landing “slots” risk having these reallocated to a competitor. Everywhere, ticket prices are plummeting.

The U.S. now has more than 1,000 cases of the virus, according to the Times, with more than 170 in New York, which has the third-highest total among states after Washington and California. But no one has died in New York yet. In deep-red Arizona, 48% of citizens disapprove of Donald Trump’s handling of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The World Health Organization officially deems the outbreak to be a pandemic.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, offers nightmarish numbers in testimony before Congress. “”If we are complacent and don’t do really aggressive containment and mitigation, the number could go way up…many, many millions,” he said. COVID-19 is ten times more lethal than seasonal flu, it seems.

The Dow closes 1,460 points down, off 20% from its February high. It’s now a bear market.

Dinner coming soon: a bacchanalia of leftovers. Half a meatball each plus a smidgen of pasta; asparagus; half a baked potato each with lots of sour cream; and more green salad.

Tonight’s entertainment: episode 6 of the Swedish suspense drama, Twin; one episode of new Spanish show Felix; another old Miss Marple.