A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 106

Around Jack’s Coffee, precautions remain ongoing.

Tuesday, June 30

States that had eased off of the lockdown are reimposing restrictions. In the U.S., the pandemic appears to be reasserting itself, and this has us pondering what the months ahead hold. 

On June 29, Suffolk County reported its first 24-hour period without a COVID-19 death since June 12.

Meanwhile, there were 46 new reported cases in Manhattan on June 27, and a total of 26,707 cases in that borough during the pandemic. A pilot program has only now gotten underway, selling face masks and hand sanitizer from vending machines in subway stations. So the end is not in sight.

We figure that we’ll probably hang on in East Hampton until the fall at least. Perhaps in September, we’ll go back to the city, at least to pick up more clothing, perhaps the computer printer, and kitchen equipment and spices. Then after a few days, we could well turn around and come back here.

There’s been talk for a while of a second wave of COVID-19. No one knows anything, but that second wave might come in the fall or winter.

Deep winter months out here—and I mean January through March—can be a tad bleak. Would we really want to be here, especially if it’s a harsh winter? But there’s really no place else for us to go…

As an adult, I’ve never before lived through a crisis at all like this. It’s so open-ended, so unclear when there might be any resolution. Our national expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, still maintains that there will be a vaccine by the end of the year. But even if that’s true, just how will it be administered? Who will get first dibs? For the time being, everything is up for grabs.

I might have died in the mid-1950s polio epidemic that claimed my sister, but I didn’t. I was only a child, and had little sense of the passage of time. But in my recollection, the vaccines that appeared within a few years meant an end to the crisis…of which I was mostly unaware anyway.

In the 1960s and ‘70s, the Vietnam War seemed to go on and on, year after year. Always more escalation, no real resolution in sight. More and more deaths. But neither I nor anyone I knew very well was directly involved. Other political crises—Watergate for instance—came to a head after some months and then ended without violence. 

The days after 9-11 could have included more terrorist events—but they didn’t. Instead, the Bush Administration used the attacks to generate wars in other parts of the world. And those went on and on—the Afghanistan conflict is still continuing. But again, I’ve never been directly affected.

So as I am writing this, I realize that I have lived through other open-ended, slow-to-be-resolved crises—I simply wasn’t very affected personally. Yes, the periods were worrisome, frustrating, even maddening. But I never imagined that I would die as a result. 

This time is pretty different in that regard: I went out this morning to buy more coffee, and I was anxious the whole time I spent in Jack’s Coffee store. Was I standing too close to others? Were they too close to me? I hate the masks—you can’t make yourself understood, nor can you breathe very well. But get used to them. We’ll probably have to wear masks for a long time to come.

Dinner: leftover spaghetti with meatballs and a lettuce salad.

Entertainment: Final episodes of Alias Grace.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 53

A gray catbird: Pavarotti of the backyard.

Thursday, April 30

Last night brought torrential rain, some of the hardest I can remember. Plus the cathedral ceilings in this bedroom and in the front room amplify the sound. Rural life remains a bit unnerving: All night long there was a non-melodic, metronomic cry from one bird—coming every two or three seconds. He seems to have the night shift, while a gray catbird talks constantly during the day. We hear no sirens—although a couple of times while we have been here, ambulances have paid visits to houses on this block. One could only cringe and wonder what was going on…a heart attack or a wife-beating? A case of COVID-19?

Right now, I can hear the catbird—tweet, tweet, tWeet, tweet…..Other than the muffling whoosh of the furnace coming on, there are no other sounds to compete with him.

Suffolk County, which includes the East End, is close to reaching the limits that would allow a “reopening,” according to County Executive Steve Bellone. Since April 20, hospitalizations have been declining, and The East Hampton Star says, the county is approaching the limit of 70% capacity in both regular hospital and intensive care unit beds. (I guess that means 30% of beds are unoccupied.) These are the markers set by New York State. Testing must also be readily accessible—and that’s still just a goal, Bellone admitted.

Our Westchester-based friend fears that she has got it. She has to make an appointment for a test, then with luck, go to a drive-through facility to get tested. At last report, her blood oxygen level was OK but her pulse was elevated. Little wonder.

The BBC reports that, strangely enough, many U.S. medical workers are idle at home and drawing no salaries during this frantic period. That’s largely because elective surgeries have been canceled—sometimes since potential patients are afraid to go into hospitals.

“American healthcare companies are looking to cut costs as they struggle to generate revenue during the coronavirus crisis,” the report asserts. “As some parts of the US are talking of desperate shortages in nursing staff, elsewhere in the country many nurses are being told to stay at home without pay.”

Here, a momentary break in the rain may be followed by more pelting rainfall and thunderstorms tonight. Emily announces that online, many people are invoking the Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day to describe their weirdly repetitive and predictable day-after-day lives; she thinks it’s more like The Twilight Zone, “because it seems so surreal and dystopian.”

Nordic noir writer Maj Sjowall, a co-author of the classic Martin Beck series of Stockholm-based policiers, has died after a long illness, aged 84. The series remains one of my all-time favorites, and I read the books again and again, each time finding something new, surprising, weirdly humorous, and upsetting.

“They went beyond crime fiction, breaking new ground by carrying out a forensic examination of the failings of Swedish society,” says The Guardian, as they tackled such themes as  pedophilia, serial killings, the sex industry, and suicide.

I would say the duo seemed to regard the sex crime—depicted in such books as Roseanna—as the defining misdeed of our time. Quite in contrast to the socially benevolent sleuths of British classics, the Maj Sjowall-Per Wahloo police squad is marked by both cleverness and stupidity, brutality and revulsion at their own social role. It’s not unusual for them to solve crimes quite by accident.

Dinner: leftover pasta and meatballs, green salad.

Entertainment: episodes five and six of Occupied, the highly topical and expensively produced political thriller that ran for three seasons in Norway. Themes: climate change, corporate power, the political clash between traditionalists and environmentalists, and ethical compromises excused as accommodations to necessity.