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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *