The end of March last year, I began showing some signs of low-level hysteria. To see me you never would have guessed. I was trying to be calm, but my fear is easy to detect in my COVID journal.
March 29: “Two things I’ve been noticing: first, cases in the US are skyrocketing. It’s early stages and obviously not predictive, but on this trajectory, we are set to be in some seriously chaotic conditions soon. Not knowing how national or global emergencies play out, my fear is mostly based in the vague idea that this is bad and I have no idea what might happen.“
“The other thing I’ve noticed is the profound hope and optimism it’s kicking off in people. This is unexpected. While the stories I hear on the news are developing into this gut-based fear and self-defense mindset for me, in others it’s developing a gut-based sense that this is what the world needed to finally turn around and embrace peace and tolerance and learn to work together once and for all.“
Did you notice this in your crowd? I mean, I LOVE that in my group of people there was a noticeable bunch who were all spiritually hopeful and optimistic in a time of fright. LOVE you all who experienced the early days like this. I was consistently skeptical of these perspectives though. I had conversations with others about them and remained skeptical. So then I had conversations with the people themselves, “Tell me more about what you’re saying. You see this as potentially a good sign?” There were at least five people in my life determined to have pandemic-related joy and optimism. After conversations with them, I was left unsatisfied and uncomprehending.
“Even though I was more careful shopping yesterday than I’ve ever been shopping, it’s now the following day and I’m still freaked out about my potentially contaminated house. My clothes. Every time I touch my face absentmindedly I feel a twinge of dread. Estimates are that the virus lives on cardboard for 24 hours and on plastic for 3 days. So basically, my house could be filled with virus right now, re-infecting me every time I get something from the fridge or open a cupboard.“
“Latest panic buying suggests folks are turning back to the land. Vegetable starts, seed, and chicks are sold out. By coincidence, I bought pea plants yesterday. I would have bought more, but I bought the only six-pack of vegetables for sale at that store. I moved a link to the CDC website into my most used tabs on my Ecosia browser page, since I check it every day. It’s my brother’s birthday today. He requested carrot cake and I baked him carrot cupcakes and took photos and sent them with my phone. I facetimed him to wish him a happy birthday.“
I remember having such a hard time setting up that video call. My brother, his girlfriend and me all brainstormed how to do it. We weren’t set up for it. We had never done it before. We didn’t know what we were doing. We didn’t have the right software downloaded.
Update one year later: I just went to the same exact store March 30, 2021 and bought all the vegetables I wanted. There were plenty to choose from. I planted my garden in plastic tubs of dirt on the deck because, once again, I do not have a deer fence so I need to protect my plants by keeping them on the deck.
March 30: “The Spring term starts today and I am taking classes at home. I like to be in a classroom. I feel that what I can get from a group discussion is immensely more valuable to me than what I get from reading an assigned text only. We have a welcome message from the professor, and some reading posted, and a reminder to actively comment. But…when and how? Which readings? All of them? Due when? Comment how? When? Where? To what prompt? In this time that things are so different, I am apparently a person who needs much more reassurance and instruction.”
“I mailed the cupcakes. As I walked up to the Post Office I could see a man in the mailbox area, but not entering the room with the counter. I stepped into the foyer, but did not attempt to go into the mailbox area. Another woman showed up at the door, saw me, and waited outside. The person at the counter would only allow two people inside the room at once, even though tape on the floor showed us how to keep six feet apart and would have allowed at least five customers inside. Whatever the rationale, whether it was from the woman at the counter or from the Post Office administration itself, that we had to take the distancing to an extreme, I was eager to oblige. If it will take some stress off her day – either by not having to explain herself, or by allowing her to stay away from us, I am happy to do my small part. I forgot to bring gloves or wipes, so I used a napkin I had in the Jeep to open the doors, to pick up the stylus and answer “no” to “anything liquid, hazardous, perishable, etc.” and punch in my PIN on the keypad, and even to pick up the receipt that was handed to me. When I got the to Jeep, I threw the napkin and receipt to the floor. I’ll get them in a few days.“
March 31: “16 deaths in Oregon. Confirmed cases 606. Positive in Columbia County is still only 1 person. Cowlitz County has 14 cases. Benton County (where Tara is) has 9 confirmed cases. Our numbers are still comparatively low and I am grateful. It means when I do forget to wear gloves to the post office, I might still be ok. Spring term started yesterday and I spent an hour on the school’s online platform, called D2L, digging through layers of menus, just trying to make sure I could find everything I was supposed to find, since I do not get the chance to just ask my professors to their face. School is stressful. It’s not absolutely clear to me what assignments are due, and when, and if I had a professor in person I could make sure. This is unsettling.“
April 1: “I realize that every time I go out into the world, even though I am cautious and keep my distance from people and try to wear gloves and wash as soon as I come home, it feels like just walking into the world is contaminating my body. After I’ve gone out, I come home and it feels like I’ve just brought the plague into my home, and there is virus hanging out on my cabinets and cupboards and furniture and doorknobs – that my safe home is no longer safe. I also find that when I manage to stay home for long periods of time, then the opposite happens. I’m still well and so I tell myself that my home must be safe, and then I feel extra safe at home, knowing that I’m in a virus-free island. But then I have to leave again. It’s stressful.“
I don’t remember at which point the scientists and doctors stopped warning us about virus living on surfaces, and focused almost exclusively on airborne infection, but thank goodness. I never got to the point where I washed down groceries and mail like a lot of people did, but I would leave it all in the garage and untouched for 3 days before I would pick it up without gloves. Oh gosh, I’m so glad we’re beyond this.
April 2. “Message from OPM in my email, asks for any recently retired health care workers to consider working again. Since artists are suddenly robbed of their audiences, I messaged Marcus Eaton to ask him if he needed money for more TP. I wasn’t sure how to ask if he needed money and thought that would be funny. He was cool about it and said he didn’t need any.”
April 3. “Watched a live concert from Marcus Eaton from his living room, sponsored by the Riverside Hotel in Boise. The Riverside was raising money because apparently they are feeding and housing the needy right now? Wow. That’s amazing. I donated. I’ve decided that all the tickets I had already paid for, like the Symphony, and The Armory, and also the Shamrock Run, I’m going to leave that money with them as a donation.“