Friday, April 17, 2020

Life in the Hot Zone

Life changed quickly, a little over a month ago. Maybe for a while, maybe for good.

I know that all of you are practicing some version of isolation. In our household, we may be taking more extreme measures than others, because of Pope’s compromised immune system and, predictably, my perfectionism. I admit I am a little OCD about preventing contamination.

I walk every other day for exercise. The flowering trees have been delightful.
Pope visits his community garden plot. We have made two trips to a grocery store, two weeks apart. In between, I pick up milk and produce at a small, uncrowded organic market close to our house.

Each of those excursions invokes extreme measures. Before leaving, we don our armor. 

On the return – if a store was involved – we unpeel the protective gear, shower, throw clothes in the washer, disinfect shoe soles. Every item that enters the house—mail, packages, food, household supplies, face masks, latex gloves—gets cleaned with soap, disinfected with bleach, or set aside to allow any stray virus fragments to disintegrate. I can recite by heart the estimated time for the virus to break down on various materials.

Consequence: our house is a mess. Food and packages are stacked up just inside the door, grocery bags in a corner of the kitchen. Mail is left lying on the floor, under the mail slot.

The table by the door holds the few disinfecting supplies we were able to dig up in early March; now, it would be hopeless to try to find anything.

Gloves and masks are labeled by the date used and laid out to “dry”; i.e., self-decontaminate. Since we only have a few, we have to reuse them, just like the doctors and nurses in ICUs.

The bedroom floor has turned into my personal gym, with yoga mat, foam roller, weights, and a setup for viewing yoga and fitness classes on a laptop.

The living room has become Pope’s Netflix domain. Aside from an occasional excursion to the garden, he has become a couch potato. Soon, I predict, he’ll be online, ordering a bigger waist size.

Though Pope is a little bored, I am in high spirits. I have my guitar, books, and an endless supply of online classes – yoga, exercise, dance, cooking, blues guitar. Every day, dozens of musicians are live-streaming concerts from their homes, asking only for tips via PayPal or Venmo. Theaters are posting plays, operas, and concerts. Since I am not spending money going out, I donate.


Our windowsills are covered with seedlings. Soon it will be time to move plants outdoors and start the daily weeding and watering of our garden plot. Fortunately, the city of DC declared gardening an allowed activity. Community gardens stayed open. Garden centers offer online ordering and delivery, just like restaurants.

I feel extremely fortunate to be retired and able to enjoy a lot of these activities. I have also tackled long-term projects: updating my will, writing election postcards, and cleaning closets.

I am grateful for having a live-in companion who is intelligent, cooperative, and a good cook.

I hope that all of you are taking precautions, even if they aren’t as extreme as mine. If you are working from home, I hope you remember to look out at the trees and sky, and find time and resources for amusement. Sunshine on your shoulders, a glass of wine on your porch, an exercise class or concert can help ease loneliness, battle boredom, lift spirits.

Life changed quickly and will continue to evolve. For the foreseeable future, isolation will remain a dark cloud on our horizon. I have found the silver lining.

WHO? What? When?

The news from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue this week has undoubtedly led many to wonder: what exactly is the role of the World Health Organization (WHO)? In my view, the answer is...muddled.

Earlier this week, headlines screamed the US statements from on high (quoted below) accusing the WHO of negligence. In light of the dates offered in those statements, I reviewed my earlier research on the  timeline of what was known early on about the novel coronavirus, published in this blog on March 22. It gives some perspective on the accuracy of the accusations against WHO. 

POTUS statement on April 14: “The WHO failed to investigate credible reports from sources in Wuhan that conflicted directly with the Chinese government’s official accounts. There was credible information to suspect human-to-human transmission in December 2019, which should have spurred the WHO to investigate, and investigate immediately. Through the middle of January, it parroted and publicly endorsed the idea that there was not human-to-human transmission happening despite reports and clear evidence to the contrary. … The WHO pushed China’s misinformation about the virus, saying it was not communicable.”

My March 22 analysis of the timeline reveals that POTUS’ claim about “credible information... in December” is questionable. “Whistleblowers” within the medical community in Wuhan tried to warn their peers the last week in December and were shut up by local officials. WHO received the first report of a problem on December 31, from member-country China. 

It is true that, as late as January 12, WHO was falling in line with China’s claim that "there is no clear evidence that the virus passes easily from person to person." WHO did not add the words “not communicable.”

By January 19, after reports of travelers from China to Korea and Japan having contracted the virus, WHO had revised its wording: “it is possible that there is limited human-to-human transmission.” The very next day, WHO tweeted that such transmission was “very clear.” Interestingly, WHO's tweets during those crucial weeks were more dire than the "Disease outbreak news" items on its website.

This changing language is outlined in an April 17 Washington Post analysis of the POTUS statement. The Post offers its own timeline of events, and introduces a new player, Taiwan, which allegedly forwarded an email about the concerns of one of the Wuhan “whistleblowers” to WHO. POTUS appears to be seizing on that new information and putting his own spin on it, claiming that this email from Taiwan (a non-member country), sent to WHO on December 31—the same day WHO received an official, and less inflammatory, report from member-country China—should have prompted WHO to take a much closer look than it did.

The question indeed seems to be whether WHO “should have” gone into Wuhan and uncovered some tightly held facts about the expanding reach of the disease, either “in December”— even before the Wuhan whistleblowers got their message out?—or at least during the first two weeks of January. Is that a WHO role?

A look at the lengthy list of WHO disease outbreak news around the world is eye opening.

There’s a lot of disease in the world, and a lot of it is communicable. Clearly, WHO serves as an information clearinghouse, forwarding "reports" from member countries on a routine basis. Beyond that, it would be an extremely busy busybody if it actively investigated the details of each of the reports described in these dispatches. Does it do so routinely, and does it deploy medical detectives like those we are used to seeing on TV and in movies, who cleverly discover the facts despite official obfuscation and denial? That is not clear.

The WHO constitution states that member countries agree to both “cooperate” and take individual measures to ensure the health of their populations. 

Enforcing public health legislation falls under the latter. In public health emergencies, however, WHO is authorized to respond with: 

- Leadership
- Partner coordination
- Information and planning
- Health operations and technical expertise
- Operations support and logistics
- Finance and administration

Specific actions can include mobilizing in-country WHO staff, “establishing contact” with government officials, and deploying “surge support” if needed. The criteria for initiating such actions, and additional actions, are spelled out in this lengthy document.

Rather than try to analyze this complicated document, I would like to simply ask the experts. Surely the US liaison to the WHO could answer questions about its role and authority without a second’s thought. Would that be someone in the CDC? If so, it’s unlikely that individual will freely step forward to confirm, deny, or even offer explanatory background on the statements about WHO issued from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Thus, my timeline could be updated with some of the newer tidbits of information, but my perspective on what “should have” happened must remain, for now, muddled.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Coronavirus Cruising. Not.

Many lives will be modified, even ruined, by the pandemic scouring the planet. Lost jobs, lost loved ones, interrupted education, collapse of civility.

In comparison with these tragic losses, my grief is minor. Nonetheless, I have a stone in my stomach and an aching heart.

On March 31, the cruising season came to a halt when recreational boating was banned in Maryland, Virginia, and DC. 

On April 6, we sold our 30-foot sailboat, Echo II, to someone who needs a cheap place to live in isolation due to the coronavirus.

My initial reaction was relief. Those of you who have followed my boating adventures via this blog know I had 
mixed feelings about Echo II.  She was 30 years old, moldy, broken down, and required loads of repairs and loving care to get her into cruising shape and keep her operating.

By 2019, she was shipshape for cruising — rebuilt engine purring, new sails and rigging, leaks sealed, upgraded plumbing and electricity systems, comfortable Sunbrella upholstery and bimini. Pope poured buckets of blood, sweat, and tears into those efforts.

Every cruising season she required days and days — and more days — of cleaning and fixing. Plus systems maintenance, loading and unloading, winterizing and de-winterizing, and haulouts for bottom cleaning every few months.

The work was interspersed with play. We cruised to the Bahamas, Charleston, Martha’s Vineyard, Long Island. And spent many weekends poking around the estuaries of Chesapeake Bay.

As Pope aged and his health deteriorated, our cruises got shorter. In 2019, we prepared Echo II for a second cruise to New England. Medical concerns, a bad starter, and a leak in the exhaust elbow disrupted that plan. Instead we enjoyed a few nights aboard, cruised to Gibson Island and St. Michaels, and didn’t leave Chesapeake Bay.

In 2020, we had just drained the antifreeze when the coronavirus struck and we got stuck at the dock.

We had hauled the sails out of winter storage, along with the spare boat parts and the custom-cut linens for the sleeping berth in the bow. Echo II was in good shape.

Then the pandemic arrived, and our plans for the boat changed. Pope made one last repair:  a rusty electrical connection. 

Back on the dock, with everyone in a face mask, and with a few tears falling onto mine, we traded the boat title for a wad of cash. Counted the money with gloves on.

We moved Echo II to a different marina, a short distance upriver. The new owner waited on the dock until Pope and I disembarked for the last time.

We bid farewell to our cursed and beloved boat. She is somebody else’s cruiser now.