The Plague Year(s)

Being that I live near the epicenter of the Wuhan novel coronavirus (COVID19) outbreak here in the US of A, (Seattle region) I suppose it might be of interest to some people to know how things look from a local’s perspective.

First of all, the situation is fluid. It’s not simply that nobody knows what’s going on, but rather than the available information, and therefore the story/best course, changes rapidly. Last week several major local employers (Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook) told their workers “if you can work from home, so so.” A number of other companies with fewer employees promptly followed suit, either for everyone or for “at risk” employees based on age or health (including my sister’s employer, incidentally). But it looks like for many of them it might take a while to get a the details all sorted out of who qualifies, how to track work, what can be done remotely, etc. Lots of opportunities amid the chaos, but a generally hopeful (if not always optimistic) attitude seems to dominate for the moment.

Suddenly rush hour traffic was vastly reduced. My commute time was cut in half. The normally stop-and-go traffic I can see not that far from my house was much more intermittent. The store shelves were clear of toilet paper and food staples like flour, rice, beans, cans of soup and vegetables, the bakery shelves stripped bare, people at Costco had carts full of cases of water (duh fuque?), but people still felt safe enough to be there with their two or three kids in tow. The normally bustling Subway shop had one guy at a table and no line when I walked in at lunchtime to check it out, and one more guy walked in as I was leaving. The upper shelves at Costco, normally stacked high with pallets of stock, were almost entirely empty in the food section. The Cash’n’Carry was also stripped of many bulk staples like potatoes, rice, flour, onions, etc. Folks are taking it seriously enough to stock up, but not so seriously they are fighting over the last few cans of beans. It was like a weirdly polite version of mad max.

When I went to get a propane tank refilled for the BBQ, I chatted with the guy (typical mid-50s blue-collar sort), and he just shook his head as we swapped a few quick stories and observations about what we’d seen in the last week. The general agreement was “how can all these supposedly brilliant people who work at all these high tech places act so stupidly, and be so obviously unprepared both mentally and materially, in earthquake country?”

Then Seattle schools announced it would close for two weeks or so, but they have no real plan or ability for actually continuing education. Then the local district, with only a vague outline of a plan to develop a course of action, closed on very short notice (they announced mid-day Wednesday that they’d be closed starting THURSDAY) and the district office and teachers would keep working to figure something out for continuing education… and then Governor Jay Inslee (my former state Rep, a liberal Dem who never really impressed me with anything but his ignorance and dedication to liberal causes) announced an emergency closure for SIX weeks of all schools in the three most populous counties of the state, covering roughly half the schools in the state. Most of them don’t have more than a ghost of an emergency plan for this scale of problem, or any way to implement it. Something like 40% of the students in the affected area are on free or reduced lunches, and they are scrambling on how to deal with that, while parents are scrambling for child care, loss of wages because a lot of local businesses (like the above-mentioned sub shop) are not needing as much hourly staff, etc. It’s somewhere between chaos and a total shit-show.

To Inslee’s credit, it looks like he’s doing what he can on short notice, making hard decisions on minimal information, and while he did take a few jabs at Trump, it was pretty mild compared to what he usually does (news report on his press announcement). I don’t know if that was because he’s playing nice because he’s begging the feds for help, if it’s because the feds are really doing a great job and he’d got nothing substantive to complain about, or he’s totally over his head and following the advice of experts (real or so-just so-called experts) while in a panic and partisanship is just reflexive, or something else. I’d say he’s both seriously trying to do what is best, and he’s positioning himself for a 2024 Presidential run, as the Hero of the Washington Wuhn Virus War of 2020. I lost court of how many times he and the other guy talked of Inslee’s “BOLD” action.

I just heard this evening that one of the local school district main office personnel has tested positive for COVID19, so it’ll be interesting to see how the potential disruptions from that interrupt planning for educational delivery over the next six weeks. While any one individual, whether an “indispensable” wise and smart old planner or utterly expendable rabid SJW, can be missing in action and the mission can still be accomplish, if this one person managed to infect any significantly large part of the leadership team (many in the older and various “unhealthy” high risk categories), the effect on planning will be huge. Hard to say if that effect will be good or bad, though. Exciting, and many opportunities, either way.

My kids are taking it fine. They know we won’t run out of anything :-), and the biggest fear of offspring-unit #1 is that the library system has also closed down for a month or so (“oh, no, NO NEW BOOKS? EEEEK!”), and offspring-unit #2 is saddened that I will continue drilling and work on some subjects he’s not doing perfectly with, in spite of school being nominally closed…. after all, I AM a teacher. Can’t do video games all day, every day.

On a more distant note, a coworker with relatives in Iran was very concerned because she’s hearing that the problems there, both in terms of fatality rate and with regard to how many people have it is vastly, VASTLY higher than the official number, such as ten to one hundred times higher.

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