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.

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