Lab Experiments (Plague, Day 58, May 2, 2020)

First, some blog business… Regular commenter, Doug, had a couple of operations this week for an appendectomy. When he comes back, wish him well.

My area of the New Jersey was hit very hard by the virus. I started social distancing about a week before most of you. As you can see from the ticker in the title, virus preparation and protection has been my life for 58 days.

It’s getting old.

Steve and I have been pushing the envelope more and more. We’re getting take-out food once a week now. We took Ian to the supermarket yesterday, because he needed an outing very, very badly. We’re considering letting the bi-monthly housecleaner into the house again (we’ve never stopped paying her).

We’re going to take advantage of the state park openings for a long hike tomorrow. I mean, we’ll use some common sense. We’re going early in the morning, taking masks, avoiding places that we suspect will be crowded. But we’re ready to venture past a one mile radius of our house.

And what will happen in two weeks? Will the infection rate go up again? Will we feel comfortable visiting my parents, if we start engaging in more dangerous behavior? Nobody knows. We’re all lab rats.

The expansion of our backyard garden is happening today. Steve went to the local landscaping joint to get more plants. But I’m not feeling as antsy about setting up our backyard reserves as I did a couple of weeks ago. Even with the warnings about the meat supply, I’m not seeing it. Our trip to the supermarket yesterday featured overflowing meat cases and vegetable bins. Still, the garden is going in and will be managed by Jonah as one of his summer jobs.

Other things are going back to normal, too. I took a break from paid writing gigs for about six weeks, because there was only about two or three education stories to tell, which were covered adequately by staff writers. Instead, I put all my extra energy into selling vintage books, dealing with Ian’s school needs, and managing the massive extra work at home.

That’s starting to switch back to normal. I have a juicy writing assignment from my favorite magazine on deck. Home chores are getting less attention. Books are going back to a weekend job.

As state officials slowly take steps to open the economy, Steve and I are slowly considering how we’ll slowly open up our lives. How much risk are we willing to assume?

And also, how much of our socially distant lives do we want to take with us into the future? Do we want to continue to eat more at home? Probably. Do we want to have fewer social obligations? Probably. Do we want to continue limiting our spending? Probably. Do we want to be less dependent on state services, like education, and other outside organizations? Probably. In the coming weeks, we will have to decide where we are going to draw the lines.

22 thoughts on “Lab Experiments (Plague, Day 58, May 2, 2020)

  1. I made my first visit to Starbucks drive thru today, after about 6 weeks of not going there. At my husband’s suggestion, I handed over a $5 bill and said, “no change, please,” rather than using a credit card. Starbucks used to be a virtually daily visit. I think I will probably go weekly now, as part of my weekly grocery run.

    Our TX diocese is going to be having 25% capacity Masses starting this week. I have some concerns about this, and am encouraging a slow re-entry. We’ll probably start first with my husband going and testing the waters, followed by the bigger members of the family taking turns going without the 1st grader (as she finds indoor social distancing difficult). We’ll wear masks and scrub down when we come home.

    Haircuts are a thornier issue. Husband and 9th grade boy are doing fine with home clipper haircuts and our 12th grader doesn’t have bangs, but the 1st grader and I have bangs and things are close to getting desperate. Husband just ordered some suitable scissors and he’s going to try to cut the 1st grader’s bangs.

    Husband is planning a second state park trip soon.

    I think it would be prudent to wait 3 weeks after indoor stuff opens to see if it’s actually safe, but we may not make it that far. There’s also the option of just getting bangs trimmed professionally as opposed to doing a full haircut, because that only takes 5 minutes. (I cut my bangs myself once disastrously in 1991–not doing that again.)

    Hilariously, when I googled “when can I get a haircut in TX,” one of the ads on this article was for some genuinely rather chic boho head wraps or turbans from a website called “New Chic”:

    The food situation at the store looked fantastic today. So much bread and jam and peanut butter! The only red flag I saw with regard to food was that there seemed to be a lot of traffic in the meat department.


  2. “ much of our socially distant lives do we want to take with us into the future? Do we want to continue to eat more at home? Probably. Do we want to have fewer social obligations? Probably. Do we want to continue limiting our spending?..”
    My guess is that a lot of people will be making choices like yours. In my town, a lot of our cachet has stemmed from our easy access to subway into DC – if many more people are wanting to work from home and shun the subway I guess our attractiveness will go down. Restaurants will be chasing far fewer eaters, there will be less demand for concerts.


  3. Husband and I are in talks to bring back our cleaners fairly soon. We’d get everybody out of the house and ask for masks to be worn. Maybe just once a month and clean ourselves once a month and then go back to twice a month once things are safer?

    Our current cleaning crew (our 12th grader and 9th grader, aided by my husband and me) is adequate and pretty cheap, but the dusting isn’t really getting done in any sort of systematic way, the work eats up nearly a full day a week and we have occasional “labor disputes” with the teens. The kids have learned a lot, though, and aside from the dusting, things are very clean.

    My current estimate is that it takes 24 man hours a month for us to clean our house (90 minutes a week times 4 people times 4 weeks), as opposed to 6 man hours a month for our cleaners.


  4. We have three more weeks of school for the 9th grader and the 1st grader and two more weeks for the 12th grader.

    AP exams are coming soon. It looks like they’re going to be a trainwreck. The exams are going to be much shorter, the kids are taking them at home, and I believe some of them are limiting material to what was covered up to the point when schools closed.

    College teachers, brace yourselves!



    NJ Gov. Murphy tweets:

    “If we hear minimal reports of knucklehead behavior at our parks, then we know you all have taken to heart your responsibility to help us mitigate this pandemic.”

    “BUT, if we hear reports of people not taking their health – or the health of other park-goers – seriously, I will not hesitate to close them yet again.”

    “If those reports are followed by spikes in the numbers of new cases & increases in the spread of #COVID19 over the next two weeks, then that action would be justified. I hope it’s the first of these two scenarios. I want everyone to enjoy this weekend, but enjoy it responsibly.”


  6. Right there with you on pushing the envelope. I’m a rule-follower and overachiever by nature. You give me some instructions, by golly, I will follow them impeccably. But I’m relaxing a bit. Letting the 18yo occasionally be with friends. Going in public a tiny bit more. Being more OK with our state opening up then I was even a week ago. Is it the sunny, warmer spring weather? The constant barrage of differing opinions, facts, advice? Is it that I’m starting to agree with some others that we’re putting off the inevitable…let’s just all get sick and get it over with? Is it the sheer panic I feel as a teacher imagining a DL start to the school year?


  7. I kind of want to say, nooo, nooo, don’t let up. But, it’s not realistic. We’ve been living like this for for seven weeks+ and our order just got extended to the end of May. I do think the lack of clarity about what we need to do is part of the problem (not anyone’s fault, but, we really don’t know what we need to do). And, advice that seems impossible (and the word might mean something different to each of us) also undermines compliance. We’ve been wearing masks, but then I read a mask article that said, that you can only wear them once, and then, the person said, ridiculously, that you should boil them in water with bleach for 10 minutes + wash and dry on high heat. I cannot imagine making that procedure happen. I’m trying to set up a scheme where they get washed regularly (and I got us 16 masks, and we don’t go out much). But that’s the best I can do.


    1. bj said, “ridiculously, that you should boil them in water with bleach for 10 minutes + wash and dry on high heat.”

      That literally cannot be necessary for civilian use, where you’re not knowingly in contact with COVID positive people. I’d be really worried about degrading mask function while disinfecting them.

      My husband and I have mostly been relying on time as our disinfectant. I think we both have one homemade mask and one surgical mask that we are using (we’ve got a biggish but not unlimited stash of surgical masks). I wear my homemade mask to the store (the fit is snugger), hang it up, and then wear it again a week later. I’m going to need to put more in rotation if I’m out more, though.

      Husband is about to start work on sewing masks for the big kids for church, due to fit issues with surgical masks.

      He did a pick up at Dicks today (tennis balls). The guy tossed our order in the minivan trunk, far far from my husband. I’m not sure why we had to wait over a month to be cleared to do this…


      1. I have to say that (at least for me) wearing a mask very effectively discourages unnecessary outings.

        My normal pre-pandemic routine is to go to our nice local strip mall a couple times a week and drop into at least several different stores, but that’s way less appealing when masked up, when I could stay home or outside and not have to mask up and decontaminate once I get home.


  8. I am thinking about cleaners, as Amy suggest, by leaving the house while the cleaning happens. My problem is that any expansion of the bubble is problematic. But, maybe having cleaners come to the house is the same as going to the grocery store? limited, short term contact?

    I’ve been letting my teen go bicycle riding with a friend, socially distanced. My college student is busy with school right now, but wants to go out in to the world when she’s done. I will probably OK, both, but distanced.

    We have been permitted curbside retail pickup, state parks, and floriculture (yay! I can buy flowers). No restaurants, but I wouldn’t be comfortable with that anyway.


    1. bj said, “But, maybe having cleaners come to the house is the same as going to the grocery store? limited, short term contact?”


      It also probably depends a lot what local prevalence is. And you’d need to be a bit more careful about handwashing at home. Personally, ever since we went to a schedule of weekly grocery shopping being our major exposure to the public, I’ve bathed and changed clothes and usually disinfected my phone after shopping, but I’ve treated home as a “safe” zone. But once you open home up to other people, you probably have to be more careful at home. More handwashing and keyboard, doorknob and faucet disinfecting, etc. Not looking forward to it. If they don’t have gloves, we’ll give them gloves.

      Giving it an extra month might be a good idea, but we’ll probably bring people in a week or two after it’s legal.


  9. I got a voicemail today from the downtown pie place. They say they miss me (awww!) and that if I text them back, I can get a code that entitles me to a free slice of pie.


  10. We started on March 13 and have only been out once since then. (One grocery store trip at the beginning). We’ve managed everything else so far with deliveries. We walk the dog and run/bike, but haven’t been in any other buildings other than our house. We’ve been paying our once-a-month cleaners, but haven’t had them come to the house. I think I’ll wait until June…but who knows? Cases are still increasing in WI, so it seems silly to relax now.

    However, we just found a scary lump on the dog, so I think we’ll have to venture out to the vet this week.


    1. “However, we just found a scary lump on the dog, so I think we’ll have to venture out to the vet this week.”

      Fingers crossed for your dog, Kristen. I don’t want to encourage false hope, but I will say that my dog has a fatty non-cancerous lump in her stomach area.



    “Models show that if 80 percent of people wear masks that are 60 percent effective, easily achievable with cloth, we can get to an effective R0 [transmission rate] of less than one. That’s enough to halt the spread of the disease. Many countries already have more than 80 percent of their population wearing masks in public, including Hong Kong, where most stores deny entry to unmasked customers, and the more than 30 countries that legally require masks in public spaces, such as Israel, Singapore, and the Czech Republic. Mask use in combination with physical distancing is even more powerful.”

    “We know a vaccine may take years, and in the meantime, we will need to find ways to make our societies function as safely as possible. Our governments can and should do much—make tests widely available, fund research, ensure medical workers have everything they need. But ordinary people are not helpless; in fact, we have more power than we realize. Along with keeping our distance whenever possible and maintaining good hygiene, all of us wearing just a cloth mask could help stop this pandemic in its tracks.”

    It could be possible to return to a fairly normal life if we adopt a social norm of mask-wearing indoors in public areas and in crowded outdoor settings. (Not sure how well this works for K-12 school, though…)


    1. I would bet that there won’t be a vaccine. This virus apparently targets immune system proteins. Earlier vaccine attempts for a SARS virus set off severe lung inflammation.
      (and many other reports)

      Just because it would be Really Nice to have a vaccine for this, doesn’t mean it is possible. There certainly won’t be a vaccine in time to prevent the first wave from infecting everyone who is susceptible.


  12. The meatpacking thing still worries me. Not that I won’t have meat, but that they apparently can’t (or won’t) keep the virus from spreading in the plant and the odds of one of my mom’s caretakers being close to somebody with covid keep going up.


  13. Hi Laura! Thanks for the good wishes!

    And thanks also to social distancing and other measures that have kept the health system in Berlin from falling over. It was critical for me about a week ago.


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