Pandemic Post

If you haven’t already, please go check out Roger Edwards’ post on the Covid-19 pandemic in London. As is often the case, Roger has provided me with a topic to similarly address from my own, somewhat less sophisticated viewpoint.

Oh, what a long strange trip it’s been since a week or so ago here in the middle of the middle. In many ways, our geographic location is somewhat fortunate in that we’re far from either coast and both US borders. Here in the middle of the US, we’re often a punchline. We’re the “flyover states”, and the last to pick up on many of the trends that have long since wained in the locations of greater cultural significance. Heck, my middle-school self was still sporting a mullet haircut in 1989, long after that particular abomination had largely faded from the collective consciousness. In the case of Covid-19, however, this type of relative isolation has worked to our advantage. We’ve watched as cities and states with more hustle, bustle and international travel have fallen victim to a threat that my generation can only relate to via zombie films and pandemic video games. We’ve been able to take drastic measures that will hopefully quell the spread of the virus and give our health care system time to catch up with the number of severe cases that will inevitably present themselves.

In the span of about ten days, my thoughts on the Covid-19 virus have altered from “so, it’s like the flu, right?” to “I’ve never seen anything like this”. Indeed, there are not enough superlatives to describe how quickly and drastically things have changed for daily life here. I can even tell you the exact moment that I knew this thing was serious: when I learned that the NCAA basketball tournament had been canceled. Sure, canceling professional basketball games, hockey games and concerts is a big deal, but this was the tourney. Apart from being a huge income generator for the hosting cities and television networks, the college basketball extravaganza is a US tradition that could potentially uplift the American psyche and serve as a distraction to a worried population. For those in other countries, imagine canceling the World Cup a week before it was scheduled to be played, after all of the preparations had already been made and finalized. When I heard that they weren’t even going to try to find some way to play the games, I knew this virus was going to really change things. If the big-wigs at the NCAA were able to be talked into a cancelation of this magnitude, they must have some information that I didn’t.

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And change things, it has!  The first thing that happened was that we got an e-mail from my son’s soccer club stating that all “club related activities” had been canceled until April 15th, which led to much confusion on our part. They didn’t define “club related activities”. Did they mean practices, league games, tournaments? As it turns out, the answer was “yes” to all of the above, which is why they didn’t feel the need to further clarify. We were supposed to play in a tournament in just over a week. I pressed the coach and club for clarification so I could cancel our hotel reservations if necessary, but by the time they were able to answer my questions, the tournament had independently been canceled. Once this domino fell, things started happening rapidly. Closures, delays, and cancelations were being reported one after the other, including a request from my workplace for everybody ‘who can’ to work from home. Fortunately, I am able to.

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My son taking out an offensive player during the fall season. Tiny but mighty.

Two weeks ago, my day looked something like this: I would get up and drive 30 minutes to my place of employment. Mrs. Brax would get the kids up and they would go to school. She would (depending on the day) either go to work herself or do some kind of household activity like grocery shop or take one of the kids to an appointment. We would all come home and Mrs. Brax would prepare dinner and I would run the youngest guy back to the same town I just came from for work so that he could practice soccer for about an hour and a half. Then, back home for a couple hours of video games or to watch a film before crashing to sleep and starting all over again the next day. Since Covid-19, my day looks like this: I get up, VPN into work for a couple hours of silence before waking the kids up at 9am or so. The wellness center where Mrs. Brax works is closed for the pandemic, so she’s training to work a Covid-19 triage tent at the affiliated hospital. She’s at work from 2:00pm – 6:30 or so. At this point, things are still pretty slow at the hospital. Visitors are now prohibited. They have not had any cases of Covid-19 and have only tested one person, but they are trying to be ready for an influx.  While she’s gone, I try to make sure the kids are doing their online schoolwork instead of watching YouTube. I keep an eye on the problem queue at work as well as my inbox and IM client. I unclog toilets. I log off around 3:30pm (or earlier if I can begin the day earlier than normal) to work on dinner. I try to make sure the little guy does at least a little bit of soccer practice on his own, though he doesn’t enjoy it as much as when his teammates are around. We eat when Mrs. Brax gets home at 6:30. After dinner, she and I talk about what’s going on in the world and at the hospital. I may still have a couple of hours to write/game at the end of it all.

This has been the pattern for the past week. It’s not bad, just an adjustment. And even though all of our activities have been canceled or delayed, I still feel almost as busy as before, with the possible exception of the weekends. While it is slightly disappointing that the little guy’s soccer season is in jeopardy, I realize that others are making much larger sacrifices. I do worry about larger issues, such as the effects on the economy. I’ve spent over 20 years trying to do the right thing and save for eventual retirement. However, much of that careful planning is dependant on the value of the markets continuing to increase. I’m worried about how long this will drag on. Nobody seems to have a good exit strategy and one of the “best cases” being presented is a vaccination available and distributed in 12-18 months. It doesn’t seem like our economy can survive that long without people working. I fear another great depression, in which case, not only my future financial stability but my current livelihood and the futures of my nearly-college aged children, would be threatened. It’s a responsibility that weighs heavier the longer I think about it and that is completely, 100% outside of my control.

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As of right now, we do have shortages. Toilet Paper, of course, has disappeared. Earlier in the week, the bread shelves were empty. As of yesterday, Mrs. Brax was able to purchase bread, milk, and eggs but Costco was curiously devoid of tortilla shells, frozen chicken and cooking vinegar. They were limiting the number of customers to 500 in the store at a time, so there was a line at the door. Our small, family-owned, local grocery store is limiting most items to one per customer. We had to go on two separate nights to buy enough tortilla shells for my son’s requested birthday dinner: enchiladas. Restaurants have been ordered to shut down except for drive-through or curbside delivery. As of last night, Governer Pritzker ordered everybody in Illinois to “shelter at home” (what have we been doing?) and all unnecessary businesses to close. At this point, I will, fortunately, be able to continue working from home as my work is considered a necessary service.

My gut feeling is to want to end this post on an encouraging note. As I have no words of my own, I’ll simply re-state a quote from JRR Tolkien that has been bandied about much in recent times. It’s not original, but it is fitting.

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

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