So How Are Things?

Having written an entry about how the cats are doing, it feels like I should write one about how I’m doing.

I’m okay. I’m not great.

After a year and a half of working from home I am so done with it. I’ve always felt like I’m an introvert at my core, but I hate not having people and activity around while I’m working. (I’ve always positioned my desk at work so I can look out the door to see people going by in the hallway.) I miss the random conversations we’d have in the office. And I really hate the mixing of my home and work lives, which I’ve always worked to keep sharply separate. Going up to our study and having my work machines there is disspiriting.

I also have bought lunch at the cafeteria at work almost every day since I started at Apple, which I realize is a really privileged thing to do, but figuring out lunch every day is a drag.

Once the vaccines started rolling out we got vaxxed pretty quickly, and I was hopeful that things would return to normal. Apple had tentatively planned a return to the office in early September. Well, it’s now early September and the return has been pushed back to 2022, and that’s not Apple’s fault, it’s a combination of the Delta variant of COVID, and the amazing number of stupid people who are refusing to get vaccinated. And also the slow roll-out of vaccines to the rest of the world (last I read about 25% of the world is fully vaxxed), which will prolong this until we can massively up that number, as unless we develop an even better vaccine, we probably need 90% or more worldwide vaccination to beat this thing. (I think the worldwide vax rate is a greater long-term thread than the antivax shenanigans in the United States, because the opportunities for the virus to mutate are so much greater outside the U.S. That may change, but we’re not nearly there yet.)

Anyway, some things have improved for me. I scheduled a weekly coffee meeting with some of my cow-orkers at the Philz near work – outside, and yes, unmasked. The eight or so of us who have made it (not all at the same time) are fully vaxxed, and I think only one has children who aren’t vaxxed. I’ve been letting parents decide their level of risk tolerance for getting together with others, and by ‘letting’ I mean trying not to put any pressure on them, because they have enough to deal with.

Debbi has been way more cautious than me during the pandemic, so we haven’t been going out to eat, and I’ve done the grocery shopping – usually during the week when it’s quieter – and picking up take-out. Now that we’re vaccinated she’s been doing a few more things: We’ve switched grocery shopping to Sunday after the farmer’s market, and we’ve gone out to eat several times, though only once inside. We’ve also gotten together with friends, both at their house, and having people over for barbecues at ours. We’re masked during our errands, other than eating, of course. We’re not yet ready to fly, and I don’t know when that will happen, the way things are going. I don’t especially relish wearing a mask for 6+ hours to fly to visit family or go to Hawaii anyway.

So it’s been a long road, and it’s been gradually wearing me down. It feels like everything just gets a little bit harder as the pandemic slogs on. Even though I take the occasional time off, I never get away from it all because I can’t actually go away.

Where do we go from here? It seems clear that successful vaccination is the only path out of this, but the vaccination failures means that even if our vaccinations remain effective and there aren’t new variants that get past them, we’re going to be in this situation for quite a while.

I know a few people who are living lives of hermits (or so it seems), and maybe that’s the smart thing to do. But it’s also very, very hard. Probably harder for many people than it is for me, but it’s hard for me too. I understand people flying on vacation, flying to visit family, trying to return their lives to normal. I really want that too, but not enough to loosen my own level of caution more than I have so far.

I try not to think about how much longer this might go on, though. I just hope everyone will get vaccinated so we can shorten that time as much as possible.

Normalizing

California ended its mask mandate on Tuesday, meaning that people vaccinated against COVID-19 no longer had to wear a mask in any circumstance, though unvaccinated people are still required to. My guess was that about half of all people would stop wearing masks immediately, and of course since there’s no verification of who’s been vaccinated, there’s no telling whether unmasked people have been vaccinated or not. I and most of my friends and family have been vaxxed, and Santa Clara County has a really high vax rate, but this has to be a terrifying situation for people who can’t get vaccinated.

On Thursday, President Biden signed a law making Juneteenth a federal holiday, observed on Friday since June 19 was on Saturday. I wasn’t even aware of Juneteenth as a meaningful date until a few years ago, and as a middle aged white guy I don’t really have any thoughts about it, except that maybe Congress could have gotten its act together and passed the bill a little sooner than the 11th hour. (The Post Office, for example, was unable to shut down on such short notice.) My personal hope is that it helps to promote and develop racial equality, an a better understanding of how slavery affects the United States to this day. I feel like there are things about this that could have been handled better, but that sort of nuance is beyond the federal government of the modern era, I’m afraid.

Anyway, Apple already gave (took?) Juneteenth as a company holiday, so I already had the day off. I don’t think this was the first year we got it, but it seemed like many of my cow-orkers were unaware of it until I told them. Debbi didn’t have the day off, so I was on my own. I went for a long walk in Byxbee Park before the heat set in, as we were at the tail end of a heat wave (it hit 96°F on Thursday).

Then I watched the last two episodes of The Expanse season 5, so I’m all caught up. The production quality of the show is high and gets better over time, but the story is very… emotionally vacant. Lots of action and suspense and a lot of effort put into scientific accuracy, but the characters are generally pretty flat, and it never feels like it gels as more than a series of events. If the series has a message it seems to be, “Humans are horrible people, and we’ll take our horribleness to the stars with us.” Which is probably not wrong, but doesn’t make for pleasant viewing. There will be one more season and presumably it will be more of the same.

In the afternoon I played Magic with my cow-orker Boris over Spelltable, which is a pretty nifty way to play with real cards over a webcam. We played Modern Horizons 2 sealed deck, which was fun, although I don’t think either of us did anything broken. I used a Logitech C922x Pro camera, which I would rate as merely okay: The image it provided of my playmat from about 16″ away was pretty blurry (but props to Spelltable for still recognizing the cards most of the time). I suspect the issue is not that the camera sucks, but that it’s not really made for this kind of task. I’ll have to see if there’s a better choice. That said, getting the camera set up and getting everything working was pretty easy, especially since I have no experience with this stuff.

Long story short, we had fun and will do it again sometime.

Friday night I picked up dinner from downtown Mountain View. My guess is about half of people not actively eating dinner were masked, including the wait staff where I was picking up. Downtown has gotten crazy busy since even before the pandemic, and closing Castro Street for outdoor seating has just made it even more so. Parking was already tight and is now just nuts. Even if things were back to normal we might be avoiding it on weekend evenings from now on due to the crowds and the parking hassle.

Saturday we had our friends Mo and Chris over to meet the kittens, and this was really the first extended experience the kittens had with new people. As I predicted, Simon watched from 20 feet away for a while, but Edison was much more willing to come check them out. We gave Mo and Chris toys to play with them, which got the kittens engaged, and even Jackson got some good play time in. Sadie came and hung out but didn’t play. Simon is a bit of a fraidy cat, but hopefully he’ll get used to people over the next few months as we have more people over.

Sunday we went to the farmer’s market, where in contrast to Friday I’d say maybe 25% of people were unmasked, fewer than I’d have guessed. Vendors were more likely than shoppers to be unmasked. But if I were there for 5+ hours every Sunday, I’d be ready to ditch the mask, too.

Debbi and I are taking things slowly. We’re not ready to dine indoors at a restaurant yet, or go to a movie theater. We still wear masks inside when we go to stores. I quite enjoyed this take on that:

Lady outside of cvs: Why do you have your mask on still?

Me: It helps me mind my business. You should try it sometime.

There’s a lot of controversy on social media about working in an office vs. working remotely. I personally am looking forward to going back to the office and seeing my colleagues there. I like keeping my home and work lives strictly partitioned.

It’s not time yet, but hopefully soon.

Fully Vaxxed

And three weeks after our first shots we went back to Levi’s Stadium today for our second shots of the Pfizer vaccine. So in about 2 weeks we should be as immune to COVID-19 as we’re going to get. Well, for this round, anyway. And no nasty side effects yet for either of us!

I think it’s still going to be a bit of a roller-coaster for the next year or two. I’m confident the vaccines will provide excellent protection against the main strain of the virus, and – much like the flu vaccine – against many of the variants. The problem is they might not protect against all of the variants, and until we are able to roll out vaccines worldwide to 80% or more of the planet, we’re going to keep seeing new mutations pop up.

The reluctance of a significant fraction of the population to get vaccinated is likely to prolong the virus. As a result I think we’ll see some regions achieve “herd immunity” until some mutation from an under-vaccinated region breaks past the vaccine. (This is my own extrapolation from this article. Not that I am not an expert in these matters.)

Uneven Willingness to Get Vaccinated Could Affect Herd Immunity

I’m optimistic that scientists will improve the vaccines in the future as well. And I expect we’ll need a booster shot each year, perhaps rolled into the annual flu shot.

Maintaining this pace for the whole world every year is going to be a challenge, no doubt about that. Things are very bad in India right now and I doubt it will be the last country in such dire straits. Lots more people are going to die. It’s horrifying. I hope the world can pull together to limit the damage.

In the United States it will also be interesting (that’s a word for it) to see the struggle to get everyone vaccinated, persuading the holdouts to get their shots (except people who have a good medical reason not to, of course). I suspect the luddite Republicans in many states will try to force things so people are not pressured to get vaccinated in any way, but I also think – and hope – that there will be overwhelming forces against them. For example, large companies refusing to employ or serve people who aren’t vaccinated. Insurance companies raising premiums for unvaccinated individuals. Airlines refusing to let unvaccinated people fly. And, you know, people getting sick and dying from COVID, especially newer strains. I think it will be slow going, but hopefully reason and science will prevail and the vaccines will become a natural thing for all citizens.

Anyway, on that cheery note.

Today was Debbi’s birthday, too, so getting vaxxed was a nice way to mark the day. She took part of the day off, and spent much of it watching Star Wars movies, too. Things are looking up – for us, anyway.

Debbi & Michael after getting vaccinated
Obligatory selfie after getting our shots!

One Year of Covid-19

These first two weeks of March mark one year since many Americans found their lives changed by the COVID-19 pandemic. March 9, 2020 was my last day in the office – I went in once more to collect my equipment to work at home, and then I wouldn’t go in again until a day in December when I had to clean out some stuff from where I’d been contributing to the M1 Macintosh project. And then again this past Friday to pick up a package I’d accidentally gotten sent to work.

That first month was downright weird. I continued my morning run, and added one or two walks per day as well. But I hardly saw anyone most mornings. There was one morning that I counted five people on my run. I did our runs to the grocery store by myself, staying distant from other people and sometimes admonishing them for not following the arrows for the one-way aisles. Masks weren’t yet a thing.

By the end of March my comics shop had temporarily closed, though it reopened later in the spring and has stayed open since. We ordered a lot of take-out, and cooked at home, discovering a few new recipes.

My wife has mostly avoided going out. The one trip she’d do every week would be to the Mountain View Farmer’s Market, which ironically is one of the busiest places I ever go. Otherwise she’d drive me places to get take-out.

The fear of that first month drained away over the next couple of months, maybe due to exhaustion more than anything else. Not that we were being less diligent, just less fearful. We got together with friends, keeping 6 or more feet apart for drinks in the driveway or in our back yard. The only visit we made to see people inside was to visit my boss and his wife, who were fostering the kittens who we eventually adopted as Simon and Edison. (Who are doing great, by the way!)

We had coincidentally done a lot of things to prepare for shelter in place shortly before it occurred. We’d made a Costco run and had plenty of toilet paper. I made a couple of big grocery runs. We’d both been to the eye doctor, and I’d been to the dentist. We’d taken the cats in for their annual check-up. Lucky, really.

Since then I’ve been to the dentist – twice. We’ve both been to the eye doctor recently. We’ve made numerous trips to the vet for the kittens and for our elderly cat Roulette, but we never go inside. Our parents have been vaccinated, as has my sister. It will probably be a couple more months for us. We made one trip to Half Moon Bay on a day off last summer and ate at a restaurant outside, but otherwise we’ve only left our county to go to the vet. We’ve eaten outside at a couple of restaurants here, but none of them have wait staff.

I try to call my father every other week, and mostly succeed.

In January I joined the people who celebrated a birthday at home. I’ve done that before, of course, but this one wasn’t by choice.

We watched the numbers tick up as hundreds of thousands of people died who probably wouldn’t have if we hadn’t had an incompetent, racist, narcissistic President in the White House. The depth of his failure to act – or even to show the barest human empathy – was breathtaking. Meanwhile the whole Republican Party is careening into fascism.

I miss all the things everyone else misses: Hanging out with friends, eating at restaurants, going on vacation. Even going into the office – working from home has never been my thing.

It’s gradually been wearing me down. More than most? Less? I have no idea. Last year was the year I was going to take more vacation than usual. Well.

While racist impeached President Trump deserves credit for “Operation Warp Speed” to get vaccines developed, he showed his incompetence once again in refusing to expedite distribution. Things have gotten a lot better under President Biden, and tens of millions of Americans have been vaccinated. Hopefully most of the rest will be by summer. Then we mainly have to wait for vaccines to be approved for children – maybe by next fall or winter?

So much more I could write, from the election to the job losses to the concern about vaccinating the rest of the world.

I don’t expect things will change much for us for the rest of 2021. Maybe by fall we can eat at restaurants? I doubt we’ll fly anywhere this year, though.

But I’m ready to. I can really use those postponed vacations.

An Unexpected Puzzle

Puzzles have been a popular pastime during the pandemic lockdown. We’ve only done one, though: Megaplanet, which was pretty neat both because of its vivid colors and its round shape. We finished it over the course of a week – and found we were missing two pieces. Since we have young kittens, we suspected they might have been the culprits, and indeed I found one piece under the couch. But no luck finding the other one so far, so we eventually gave up and took it apart. Would definitely recommend, though.

But this weekend we found ourselves with another puzzle to unravel, as it were:

Like most people, we now own a bunch of cloth masks. Debbi puts them through the laundry in a lingerie bag, which seemed great until she took out the latest load with eight masks in it. In addition to the ear loops, many of our masks have loops to hang them over your neck when not using them. (This is pretty handy when driving from place to place.)

The problem is that the eight masks their loops all tangled up in a big mass. After quite a few minutes Debbi was able to free one mask, but after another while she got frustrated and handed it to me.

It took me several minutes to figure out how to tackle the problem: Pulling at the tangled mass wasn’t any good, as pulling on one end just tightened another end. But eventually I figure it out:

I laid the masks on the counter, with the mass in the center, and arranged them in a circle around the mass. Then I realized that it was a puzzle with two “moves”:

  1. Undo a twist in the loops of two adjacent masks, and
  2. Push one mask through the loop of an adjacent mask.

So the trick was basically to figure out which masks were “adjacent” to each other, and then to take whichever two masks had the “outermost” connection and perform one of the two moves. Every few moves I’d rearrange the masks slightly (basically a simple form of undoing a twist), but this technique made it really easy to methodically untangle the mass. Two masks got freed after a number of moves, and then after a few more moves the other five were freed from each other.

It was actually a pretty neat little puzzle! Not one we need to do every time, and we’re trying to figure out how to wash the masks without this happening again. But it gave me a nice little feeling of accomplishment.

Far From Home

Debbi and I took a vacation day yesterday. I’ve taken some time off since the pandemic started, but Debbi hasn’t taken much, and she was ready for a day off. We decided to take a day trip to one of our favorite places in the Bay Area, Half Moon Bay.

Our trip was slightly complicated by the latest round of fires in the region, specifically the Glass Fire, which has triggered evacuations in the north bay, and dropped a new layer of smoke across the area. But the smoke mostly stayed above the ground layer, so we decided it was safe to go. Well, as safe as anything is in the middle of a pandemic.

It turns out that a pedestrian bridge along our usual walking route was closed – not clear why, but we assume it’s due to the ongoing erosion of the sandstone cliffs along the ocean – so we parked somewhere else and walked along the streets and trails near Pillar Point Harbor. The ocean waves were high, and there were a bunch of surfers out. Also a number of walkers, joggers, and bicyclists, but for the most part it was not hard to keep our distance from others. The ocean mist combined with what smoke did come down to sea level helped keep it from getting too warm, as the area is also in the middle of a heat wave.

We’d made reservations at the Miramar Beach Restaurant, which we’d eaten at once before, and where I saw some friends of ours ate last month. They managed to lose our reservation, and the hostess had trouble keeping her mask over her nose, but otherwise it was a good outing: We only had to wait 15 minutes for a table on their patio, and they were otherwise doing a good job of serving customers with physical distancing and masks.

Afterwards we stopped by the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, which is one of several San Mateo County parks which is still closed, so that was a bummer. But, we stopped off at Dunking Donuts on the way home.

Did I mention the heat wave? It was about 100°F at home, while it only got a little above 80 in HMB. Despite that, we got a little too much sun and spent the rest of the day lying around at home. The cats – who have had us around almost 24 hours a day since early March – seemed a little put out that we’d been gone. The kittens of course have never seen us leave for so long, and Edison was unusually snuggly with me in the evening.

Despite the bumps, it was a nice, relaxing day. And it was nice to get away – safely, we think – for a change.

COVID-19’s Darker Timeline

People sometimes joke (well, maybe they’re not joking) that this is “the darkest timeline”, between COVID-19, the idiots in the White House, the idiots in 10 Downing Street, etc. But it’s easy to imagine the development of COVID-19 taking even darker turns. I think about this sometimes, and wanted to write down some of my thoughts.

This is going to be a pretty dark post, so if this isn’t your thing, then you should skip it.

I have two what-ifs for you, one building on the other, and some thoughts on how they might go:

1) What if we never develop a vaccine?

This is possible. We’ve never developed a vaccine for the common cold, which can be caused by coronaviruses. We don’t yet know whether COVID-19 can be vaccinated against, and we probably won’t know for a year, if not several years.

What does it mean if we can’t develop a vaccine? Well, it means that almost everyone in the world will eventually contract the virus, which at a 1% fatality rate means that about 70 million people will die worldwide, 3.5 million in the United States, and many more will have serious health problems, probably for the rest of their lives. (I don’t know what percentage of infected survive but develop such problems.) I don’t think humans have the will to be able to go into the long-term total lockdown that would be necessary to prevent this.

It also seems likely that immunity to the virus provided by recovering from it won’t last forever – maybe it would last for 2-5 years. So if there’s no vaccine, then everyone who contracts it and recovers would contract it again a few years later. People who got seriously ill the first time around might not survive the second time, raising the fatality rate. And maybe people who came through fairly easily the first time would have a harder time the next time. Or the next. We might each of us end up living in fear of the day that the virus eventually hits us hard.

Moreover, we know that older people are more susceptible to the virus than younger ones, so as we age we may be aware that the next time we catch it could be the last time. People who before were expecting to live to age 70 or 80 might start thinking they’ll live 10 or 15 fewer years – and most of them might be right.

What might such a world look like? Well, we might just decide that since there’s nothing we can do, we’ll just go back to living the way we did before. Maybe we’d ramp up medical services to ameliorate the impact on individuals, but maybe not. (Many nations probably wouldn’t be able to. Some nations might not have the political will to do so.)

Alternately we might continue the lockdown for years, or forever, altering the way the economy works to accommodate. Office buildings would largely be a thing of the past, as would restaurants as we know them and many other social gatherings. Lots of things would move online further. We’d probably see a gradual reshaping of our cities and suburbs along lines it’s difficult to predict – more single-family homes? Fewer? No mass transit? As some have already predicted, people who work in jobs where they can telecommute would no longer be motivated to live near work, and housing prices in places like the Bay Area might plummet as people leave. On the other hand, jobs where people need to interact with other people might become less desirable – but no less critical. Maybe they’d start to pay better as a result.

Some people have already clamored for Internet to be classified as an essential service, regulated or free. That might be a necessity in such a world, but of course the need for medical care hasn’t prevented the U.S. from developing a for-profit health care system where people get raked over the financial coals for essential care. So Internet service might be no different. And even if it is, providing quality Internet service across as large a nation as the U.S. would take time, as many rural areas still have poor service.

If this were to continue into the future, one can imagine significant investments in robotic technology and other automation to serve people who are mostly living in their homes. Automated production, packaging, and delivery, overseen by a bare minimum of people. Restructuring of infrastructure around this sort of life, where cities have automated distribution centers and roads get narrower and mainly used by robots. At an extreme there’s the cheesy science-fictional idea where humanity becomes slaves to our machines, letting our physical bodies atrophy as we’re all living alone in our own homes without the interest in going anywhere. (Much like the “Seerons” in this comic book.)

But I digress. Maybe.

2) What if the virus mutates?

From what I’ve read, COVID-19 is not mutating very quickly. The reason we need to get a flu shot every year is because influenza mutates rapidly, so there are new strained every year. Fortunately we do a pretty good job creating influenza vaccines, though it’s not perfect. COVID-19 doesn’t seem to have this characteristic, and the strains we’re aware of seem to be closely related.

However, we could be wrong about how fast it’s mutating. Alternately, it might start to mutate faster. Either way, it might become more virulent, or more fatal, and mutations might also mean the temporary immunity gained from contracting one strain wouldn’t provide any immunity from another strain.

This isn’t necessarily game over for the human race. If the virus doesn’t become more fatal then it would just be a rougher form of the scenario above. If it does become more fatal, though, well… it probably means mass deaths, close to an extinction-level event. Our only hope as a species then is that it kills so many people that it kills off its ability to spread, and a few pockets of uninfected humans manage to survive long enough to restart the species, without being infected by the remnants of the virus left elsewhere. This is sort of how Europe survived the Black Death – exactly how things play out depends on how fatal the virus becomes.

A cheery picture, yes?

And so:

How likely is all this? Heck if I know. Probably not very likely. I choose to be optimistic that we will develop a vaccine, and that at worst we’ll all be getting an extra shot every year or two to stave off the virus. While it could take longer than the 18 month minimum, supposedly we were close to developing a vaccine for the 2012-13 MERS outbreak before it was determined to be much less virulent than feared and research funding petered out. If so, then hopefully we’ll be able to develop one for COVID-19.

Everyone keep your fingers crossed.

The Spread of the Virus

As I write this (and I say this mainly for posterity, not for anyone who reads this in the next few days), we’re about 5 months into the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, and over 3 months into the shelter-in-place measures which have closed down much of the economy.

Just under 110,000 Americans have died from the virus, with about 2 million having tested positive. However, testing in the U.S. has been woefully inadequate, due in large part to the inaction of the Racist Impeached President Trump administration – since usually government action and coordination is key in driving nationwide efforts to deal with an emergency – so its likely far more people have been infected. A case fatality rate of 1% means that about 11 million people – around 3% – of the population has been infected. Adjust accordingly if you believe the fatality rate is actually higher (which would be bad) or lower (which would be good, but still pretty bad even at 0.5%).

In other words, the pandemic is a long, long way from being over.

Despite this, the nation is starting to “open up”. It differs by state – some states never really entered full ‘lockdown’ – but even California is allowing outdoor dining at restaurants, retail is reopening, and I think we’re on the cusp of hair and nail and similar stores reopening. (I honestly haven’t been following the details that closely as there are some businesses I just don’t plan to visit any time soon.)

We’ve also had the Black Lives Matter protests – as well as some other, smaller (and in some cases far stupider) gatherings – over the last few weeks, where mask wearing has been haphazard and physical distancing difficult or impossible.

COVID-19 has a gestation time of about 2 weeks, which means right about now we’d expect to be seeing additional cases, but it’s difficult to be sure due to the poor testing. The number of new cases reported nationally has been going down very slowly, but it’s going up in some states such as California and Texas. It’s hard to know whether this is due to more cases, or more testing. This is one reason that I look to the death rate rather than the reported case rate. We’ll probably know a lot more by the end of July, unfortunately in the form of a spike in deaths (or not).


The question I keep coming back to is: How many people will get the virus before we develop immunity?

Some people have advocated letting the virus run its course through the population for us to develop herd immunity. But if it takes at least 70% of the country catching the virus to develop herd immunity, that means 230 million people. And that means between 1 million and 4 million deaths – maybe more, if the medical infrastructure gets overwhelmed. Sweden elected not to enact significant social changes and it hasn’t been going well for them. The other issue with this approach is that we don’t yet know whether people who catch and then recover from the virus end up with durable immunity, and many people who survive have significant health problems. So it’s a painful and risky approach.

(When I’ve occasionally butted heads with someone who thinks herd immunity is the way to go, I’ve noted that they should be prepared to say goodbye to between 1 and 5 of every hundred people they know. This goes over about as well as you’d expect.)

Most experts think we’ll need to develop a vaccine. Putting aside the question of whether we can develop a vaccine (which we don’t yet know one way or the other), experts agree that it will take at least 18 months to develop a vaccine which we know works and is safe (i.e., that won’t kill or injure the people who get it) and it could take 3-to-4 years.

So even if we continue to impose physical distancing and masks and other measures, how many people are going to end up catching the virus anyway in that time? If 11 million people have been infected so far, that probably means 33 million by the end of the year, and double that before a vaccine is developed, assuming it’s developed in the 18-month window and is rolled out more-or-less instantaneously. 66 million a lot less than 230 million, but still a lot of deaths.

But now the country is starting to re-open, which means more people may be infected, at a faster rate. Humans are social animals, and our economy and social structures are based around getting together in groups. And it’s just very, very hard for humans as a group to make significant sacrifices over a long period of time to combat an emergency. Historically – for example, during war – this behavior is reinforced through strong leadership at many levels, but especially driven from a unifying force at the top. The United States obviously doesn’t have that – we have the opposite of that – and the mid-level leaders such as the governors don’t have the social capital to maintain this level of sacrifice indefinitely.

I don’t think it’s necessarily impossible to find a way to start re-opening and country safely, but I don’t think the people motivating the re-opening are interested in “safely”, they’re just interested in “re-opening”. So I believe things are going to continue to open up, and then the virus will spread faster, people will get sick and die, medical facilities will be overwhelmed, and things will get worse.

I could be wrong. There are a lot of things we don’t know (for example, maybe face masks are a magic bulletif we can convince people to use them). But based on what we know so far, I think it’s going to be a long summer, possibly leading into a painful autumn.

We’re much closer to the beginning of this than the end.

Three Months Inside

A week or so ago marked three months since I started working from home, and just a little less than that since the Bay Area started its shelter-in-place policy. Debbi started working from home about a week after I did.

As I’ve chronicled, it was rough for the first few weeks, some better than others, but we’ve mostly gotten used to it.

We were doing “happy hour” video chats with friends for the first few weeks, but those have tailed off, though we did one with some neighbors and some former neighbors last weekend. We’ve also done some in-the-driveway evening drinks with other neighbors, using our six-foot folding table to separate us. Sadly, they’re going to be moving at the end of this month, as their landlords wanted to raise their rent, and they found a place closer to where they work. We’re going to miss them. I think their landlords may be in for a surprise, as there are a couple of vacant rental homes in our neighborhood.

The county has been gradually opening things up. Construction started up again a few weeks ago, and the house across the street from us has gone from little more than a foundation to the plywood exterior going up. Other new construction is moving along, too.

Over the last few days, retail businesses are opening up as well. Diamond comics distributors had closed for several weeks, which meant no comic books, but they’re ramping up again and I’ve driven down to pick up my books at the curb the last couple of weeks. Supposedly I’ll be able to go into the store tomorrow – with up to four other people so long as we distance ourselves. Restaurants and game stores and other retail are also opening up – we picked up lunch today and saw a few people eating at outdoor tables at downtown restaurants. Ditto when I picked up coffee today. Meanwhile, the city may close the main street downtown to allow restaurants to set up seating there. (By the time I publish this, the city council will probably already have voted.)

Is it too early? My gut says ‘yes’, but a lot depends on whether the measures to keep people separate work. I do most of the shopping for us – Debbi comes with me to the farmers market on Sunday, and not much else – and what I see is pretty iffy. Safeway supermarkets aren’t very diligent about enforcing masks, distancing, or the one-way arrows in their aisles. I encounter lots of clueless people. By contrast, I went to Costco this morning for the first time since shelter-in-place and it was smooth: Everyone was let in promptly at 10 am, everyone wore masks, almost everyone was keeping their distance. Granted, it was a Tuesday morning and not a Saturday afternoon, but it made me hopeful. I also went to the nursery to get some pots and plants and it was great too. (In case you’re wondering why I wasn’t at work, I took the day off.)

We’ve had a couple of heat waves in the last few weeks – it got over 90° today – and we’ve been glad of our air conditioning. On the other hand, it got cold over the weekend. Strange days in more ways than one.

We’ve been cleaning up our study, buying new furniture and making it a more usable space, and getting rid of a lot of stuff (like, two bankers’ boxes worth of paperwork from my late mother). I’ll likely do an entry about it when we’re all done, but progress has been going pretty well, just more work than I’d expected.

On another front, we’re thinking of getting kittens, since if we’re home all the time it seems like the perfect time to have kittens. And frankly, Jackson and Sadie (who turn 8 this fall) really need and deserve kittens. On the other hand, Roulette (who turns 17 next month) didn’t like these kittens, and has gradually been showing her age. Last night she peed on our bed, though it may have been because we’d closed the door to kick Jackson out so she couldn’t get to the litter. So, I don’t know. I don’t want to have her slowly decline and end up waiting 2 years, either.

So, it’s been a time. I know lots of people have had it a lot harder than we have, even people with jobs, and maybe we’re lucky we haven’t caught COVID-19 (or maybe we have – who knows?). In two weeks Apple has its developers conference, which ought to be an odd experience as an entirely-remote affair.

Now that summer is here we’re gently mourning our vacation plans for the year, which included visiting family, going to Hawaii, and maybe to Las Vegas. But I doubt there will be any non-essential travel in our future for at least a year (and, frankly, any essential travel probably won’t be for happy reasons, if it happens).

I imagine these entries start to sound like a broken record after a while, but so it goes when you’re mostly at home. I hope everyone reading this is doing as well, or even better.

Black Lives Matter

I was thinking that it was past time to provide a personal update about living during the pandemic, but something more important has obviously come up, the protests in the wake of the death of George Floyd.

Make no mistake, I support these protests. Like many, I worry that it will hasten the second wave of the COVID-19 outbreak, but I can’t in good conscience judge the protestors’ actions in this regard. Institutional racism has been holding down the country for centuries – literally centuries – and Racist Impeached President Trump has emboldened the plainer variety of racists for many years. The lives and well-being of millions of people are at stake, regardless of the pandemic.

The protests have been mixed with a dose of rioting as well, but it seems clear to me that the rioters were a combination of right-ring agitators trying to cast the protestors in a bad light, and opportunistic looters. In the last week peaceful protests have continued to grow – spreading across the world – while the rioting and looting has declined.

It’s been delightful seeing our Coward-in-Chief flailing around, talking tough while hiding behind ever-growing fencing between the White House and the rest of Washington, DC. And a smattering of his racist party showing their true colors, such as Boy Blunder Senator Tom Cotton’s New York Times op-ed calling for Trump to send in the troops against American citizens, which led to the Times editorial page editor resigning. (Honestly, what good is the Times these days? They seem like little more than apologists for the Trumpists.)

Far less delightful has been protests against police brutality being met with waves of police brutality. The latest news are people calling to “defund the police”. I don’t know what the answer is here, but the status quo clearly isn’t it.

I live in the suburbs and though a couple of neighboring cities have had some surprisingly-large protests, mine hasn’t. There were some curfews in nearby cities and a neighboring county, and there was at least one ugly incident in nearby San Jose. Across the country, though, science fiction & mystery bookstore Uncle Hugo’s & Uncle Edgar’s was burned to the ground in the Minneapolis riots, while fellow Twin Cities store Dreamhaven (which I’ve actually patronized) was vandalized. Moreover, the offices of one of my favorite Magic podcasts, Good Luck High Five, was damaged in a fire and I don’t think they’ve yet been able to access it to find out what state it’s in.

If this sounds like a “but” to my original statement of support, it’s not. It’s an accounting of some of the things that I’ve noted during the protests. There are many others, such as the arrests of the officers involved in the Floyd killing, and I hope we’ll see more people called to account for the attacks on the protesters.

But I do hope this leads to change. Fast change, slow change, durable and systemic change. I realize that I’m at the high end of the privilege scale in this country, but I recognize that this change needs to happen. I believe that we – individually and as a nation – are better off when we all are able to thrive.

And in order to get there, we need to understand, and act on the understanding, that black lives matter.