Assessing Costs of Corona (Plague, Day 122, July 6, 2020)

Back in early April, I blogged about the cost that the virus was having on my family. Jonah lost out on rent for a vacant college apartment. I got hosed on some freelance writing gigs. We paid for tutors and private online classes for Ian, when his teachers and school disappeared during the second week of March.

The costs keep adding up.

In an incident that we’re now calling the Great Poop Disaster, the main sewer line backed up; our the bottom floor was flooded with nastiness last week. The iron pipe that carries shower, dishwasher, and toilet water out of the house became clogged with oxidized rust pellets, grease, and lint. With four people home for the past four months, the pipe could not handle the extra water flow.

It’s going to cost thousands to replace the flooring, walls, trim, furniture in the downstairs family room, storage closet, bathroom, and laundry room. Minus the $1,000 deductible and the $700 plumber, it will be covered by insurance, thank God.

The guys from the water remediation company, who are downstairs presently pulling up old linoleum, told me that they have been super busy. Everybody’s plumbing is breaking down with increased usage. Our homes were not designed for 24/7 hour usage by families, who usually spend most time at schools, colleges, and workplaces.

Steve’s company is not unhappy with the relocation of workers to home. They are saving a ton of money. It’s our pipes that need repairs, not theirs. We’re responsible for keeping the workplace tidy. I’m sure they fired the huge staff of people who are responsible for everything from IT repairs, janitors, stocking the coffee area, and maintaining the massive security system to get into his building. And they haven’t even reduced the physical size of the office yet. But that will happen for sure.

We’ve also taken over the expenses of purchasing and maintaining Steve’s computer. He spends ten hours a day parked in front a computer maintaining documents and databases. Right now, he’s using a low-end Dell, which was purchased a couple of years ago to run a couple of rudimentary video games and maintain the Quicken accounts. Now he’s using it to tap into the massive banking server and run zoom meetings with a staff of 12. Steve needs something better. His monitor doesn’t even have a camera. But the company has only given workers a $300 voucher for home equipment.

Businesses are saving money by having their workers assume the costs of running their companies.

Journalism, on a good day, was always a lousy way to earn an income. Now, it’s a disaster. My brother who works for a regional paper has to take a week furloughed every month. Our local paper is trying to keep its head above water by publishing long glossy obituaries for families who pay for that service. I’ll continue write, but in a very limited way and only on my own terms, until things pick up again.

But even if journalism wasn’t in the toilet (yes, the potty metaphors continue), I wouldn’t be able to work much anyway. Like millions of mothers, I had to assume the job of educating, entertaining, and providing therapy for my younger kid. Even the college kid, requires extra work, mostly in the area of food production.

K-12 schools and colleges, like private corporations, are taking advantage of us to do their jobs for them. We are still paying taxes for schools and tuition for colleges, but we aren’t getting services for those expenditures. How much longer will we pay for those broken institutions?

As I am writing this, the costs keeping adding up. The water remediation guys just found asbestos tiles under the lineoleum. So specialized workers are going to have to come here to pull all that up. And Jonah wandered downstairs to say that Rutgers announced that all of his classes were going to be online this fall, but there won’t be a discount in tuition.

We’re saving money on transportation, for sure. Our cars are used less frequently, so less gas money and car repairs. Steve’s saving money on train trips into Manhattan. We might actually get a refund on the commute parking lot by the train station. We’ve saving money on restaurants and entertainment, too. These savings won’t offset the costs.

Susie Orman was just on the Today Show talking about the problem of people who had good jobs will be on food pantry lines now. She said that in the future, everybody has to make sure that they have an 8-month safety account.

We’re lucky enough to still have solid employment, a savings account, insurance, good health, and a beer fridge in the basement. Our losses won’t put us in danger, but they are still annoying. We’re going to get sick of mopping up society’s messes soon.

40 thoughts on “Assessing Costs of Corona (Plague, Day 122, July 6, 2020)

  1. I’m surprised that Steve has to provide his own computer. I work for a large financial services company in NYC and they have provided work laptops for everyone who did not have one at the start of the pandemic. In addition they have bought extra monitors for a lot of employees to have a second screen at home.

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      1. I work for an American bank and for security reasons we are not allowed to do any kind of work on a non bank computer. We aren’t even supposed to email a document to our personal computer to print it (it’s a hassle if not impossible to connect work laptops to home printers.). I know lawyers with similar restrictions. I’m shocked he can even use his home computer.

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    1. This has varied quite a bit between, and even within, large companies. One issue (that is really more of a pretext to make a decision that is otherwise preferred) is that if the item will be owned by the employee, the cost needs to be treated as compensation. If it will be owned by the company, they need to keep track of it somehow.

      A related truth is that many companies of all sizes and industries have always been willing to waste a vast sum of employee time in order to cheap out on IT. A good setup isn’t that expensive compared to the cost of employees, and the productivity improvement is substantial. If a company was penny-wise, pound foolish before… that has probably continued.

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    2. I’m surprised Steve had to buy his own computer. My company (a European tech one), has always provided computers – desktops years ago, laptops for all now. They also said employees could take home monitors, docking stations and wireless headsets for conference calls. Some employees asked for compensation for furniture, which they are considering.

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  2. We’ve only bought two tanks of gas since St. Patrick’s Day. I think we need to take a long road trip just to maintain the cars. My work provided laptop, which is nice. My wife’s work gave them nothing but still has them working from home.

    Sorry about the asbestos.

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  3. Laura said, “Everybody’s plumbing is breaking down with increased usage.”

    Not to mention dubious emergency TP replacements….

    “The water remediation guys just found asbestos tiles under the lineoleum. So specialized workers are going to have to come here to pull all that up. And Jonah wandered downstairs to say that Rutgers announced that all of his classes were going to be online this fall, but there won’t be a discount in tuition.”

    Boo!

    The bright (?) side of the pandemic is almost nobody sees your house. So there are a lot of areas of wear and tear at home that would normally make me feel bad where I can now just shrug and tell myself that we aren’t going to be entertaining for half a year, anyway.

    I expect that calls for at-school volunteering are going to be way down, too, even if school reopens normally…

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    1. La Madeline had a very nice dinner offering a while back that involved the following:

      –kale
      –squash
      –salmon

      I’m not normally a kale person, but it was really good as a counterpoint to sweeter items like salmon and squash.

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  4. Laura tweeted, “Did people actually sign for Disney — yet another streaming service — just for Hamilton?”

    Disney+ is an excellent pandemic value. We’ve gone on and off (usually on during long school breaks), but I’m really patting myself on the back for signing us up again.

    You can get it for $7 a month and quit when you don’t need it anymore. That’s the price of a single movie ticket (which you’re not going to be buying, anyway) or one bargain bin DVD.

    We like the 1940s/1950s shorts (Goofy tries skiing!) and Phineas and Ferb.

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  5. https://thehill.com/homenews/news/506007-harvard-to-offer-all-classes-online-next-school-year

    Harvard will be offering all courses online all 2020-2021 but having some students to campus.

    “Harvard’s faculty of arts and sciences said Monday it is planning to bring up to 40 percent of undergraduate students to campus, including all freshmen for the fall semester. The university said in a statement it is also allowing “those who must be on campus to progress academically” to return in the fall as well.”

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  6. One warning about Disney+ – it has like, 30 seasons of The Simpsons. I thought it was child-friendly and gave my 9 year old relatively free rein on it for the week between school and our home ‘camp’ starting up…suddenly he was copping attitude and I realized he’d watched 5 Simpsons episodes that week. Now we’re a bit more involved. 🙂

    When the lockdown started, we started a Saturday Night Marvel Movie + homemade pizza tradition, using both Disney+ and Netflix. We just finished Captain America: Civil War. I’m sort of thinking once we get to Infinity War, we might be looking at a return to as-normal-as-it’s-going-to-get life.

    For money, I’m still unemployed. Our expenses are definitely doable and I was able to use my Canadian emergency benefit partly for tuition in my UX certificate, which is going great and which I hope gives me a boost getting back on the market once I know what is happening with school. I’m actually really happy with that result, thank you Federal Government and I feel like I have used it in the spirit of the thing, if not for food. But if I don’t get a job within a year the remaining savings will be for that anyway.

    My youngest also dropped his Chromebook and although we got some rebate for it under an extended warranty program, we felt we had to get him another one to get him through online school. We have boosted the bulb business for the fall and I have a lot of planting coming up. Craft supply spending is up. After your cornhole post I’m looking at sets although I think I’ll get my dad to fashion us one out of some plywood. Our grocery bill is up some because we’re using that as a stand-in for like, a lot of fun things, and I bought a set of Italian ices, and I’m still hoarding a few items, but our eating out bill is non-existent. This week we are going to get vegan soft serve as a “great job in school” treat (youngest is lactose intolerant but we just learned that Sweet Jesus has SUPER FANCY vegan cones) and I have to admit I feel a bit nervous about it.

    We have broken out some of our old things and re-using them feels great. We spent yesterday kayaking – A++ would do again and storing two kayaks in my garage even when I thought we’d be moving up to a canoe was in hindsight, great.

    We also have spent about $300 on a variety of masks (disposable, semi-disposable (you can wash them up to 7 times) and cloth. We could have done it more cheaply but I want a good supply in, and if my kids are back at school I know they will lose them regularly because it took 2-3 years of training them around gloves to not have to spend a whack on those things.

    If I don’t get back to work fairly quickly I was thinking of selling one of the cars, but one’s paid off as of September and the other only has a couple of years to go so I’m not sure. But we are delaying a lot of things – planned renos, vacations for obvious reasons, I don’t need a stitch of clothing, etc.

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    1. “for obvious reasons, I don’t need a stitch of clothing, etc.”

      Heh. I basically have 2 knit sundresses, 3 pairs of shorts and 4 tank tops that I wear. Shoes? What are those?

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    2. Jenn said, “One warning about Disney+ – it has like, 30 seasons of The Simpsons. I thought it was child-friendly and gave my 9 year old relatively free rein on it for the week between school and our home ‘camp’ starting up…suddenly he was copping attitude and I realized he’d watched 5 Simpsons episodes that week. Now we’re a bit more involved. 🙂”

      Oh, man!

      “When the lockdown started, we started a Saturday Night Marvel Movie + homemade pizza tradition, using both Disney+ and Netflix. We just finished Captain America: Civil War. I’m sort of thinking once we get to Infinity War, we might be looking at a return to as-normal-as-it’s-going-to-get life.”

      My husband and the big kids are also working their way through the Marvel canon.

      “Our grocery bill is up some because we’re using that as a stand-in for like, a lot of fun things”

      Ditto. I’ve gotten into fancy jam and honey.

      “We also have spent about $300 on a variety of masks (disposable, semi-disposable (you can wash them up to 7 times) and cloth.”

      I haven’t added up, but we’re probably getting there. I have taken to referring to my husband’s “mask wardrobe.” It includes such items as a 3M 6000 series half-mask, which is probably almost good enough for cooking meth.

      (That was a JOKE, dear DEA readers.)

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  7. “After your cornhole post I’m looking at sets although I think I’ll get my dad to fashion us one out of some plywood.”

    Awww. They did look happy, didn’t they.

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  8. Glad for you on the insurance. Sorry about asbestos.

    Everyone seems calmer than me. I have really reached the head exploding stage of the pandemic now. I foolishly started reading Nora Robert’s plague book, thinking, well the Doom (2 billion+ dead in the first few chapters) really is over the top and there’s magic so maybe it will be calming. But then, her scenes of New York City seemed too scary to continue. And now, I’m thinking about it all the time.

    Harvard announced that all their classes would be online and then ICE announced that international students taking online classes would have to leave the country. More head exploding.

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    1. bj said, “And now, I’m thinking about it all the time.”

      The four older members of our household played a game of Pandemic (on a low difficulty level) a month or two ago.

      https://www.zmangames.com/en/games/pandemic/

      I found it oddly therapeutic.

      “Harvard announced that all their classes would be online and then ICE announced that international students taking online classes would have to leave the country. More head exploding.”

      Oh, man.

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      1. We used to love Pandemic, and I introduced it to our After School Program so all the kids were expressing their strategies as we were shutting down in March. I have to admit we haven’t played it since. Carcassonne is our latest.

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    2. The 10th grader (a biology kid) has been doing some programming projects the last few weeks. He’s been doing some prey-predator simulations.

      Me (just now): You should do a COVID simulation!
      Him: It would be boring unless you cranked up the speed and you’d still just have 1% die.
      Me: You could have the little bubbles change color when they’re infected?
      Him: It seems a bit too on the nose.

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      1. bj said, “Or, I just guess it’s not visually interesting?”

        Yeah, that.

        The predator-prey visualization is a lot more dynamic.

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  9. Hearing that the current federal plan is that we’ll just tolerate the fatalities also head exploding: even if the death rate plateaus at 600, we’ll be on our way to 230K deaths this year, making covid the 3rd leading cause of death (behind heart disease & cancer). And, it doesn’t come with an economic recovery either, because I’m not thinking everyone will engage in devil may care spending at restaurants and flying and traveling.

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    1. bj said, “And, it doesn’t come with an economic recovery either, because I’m not thinking everyone will engage in devil may care spending at restaurants and flying and traveling.”

      …but presumably people’s avoidance of those things will suppress the COVID to some extent?

      Our family won’t be going out of state until next summer at the earliest.

      We had been hoping to do a big extended family trip to Disneyland in March 2021 (our 2nd grader’s first ever), but there just isn’t going to be enough predictability to be able to plan that.

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    2. We’re already suppressing the virus by people like me not flying or dining, so the 600 deaths/day is based on that level of suppression.

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  10. The CDC continues to do what they do best…keep other people from controlling diseases.

    https://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/campaign-k-12/2020/07/cdc-covid-testing-schools.html

    “New federal coronavirus guidance does not recommend universal testing of all students and staff in K-12 schools, an idea that has been floated as educators and policymakers seek ways to safely return students to their classrooms after extended building shutdowns.
    The Centers for Disease Control fand Prevention recommendations suggest testing efforts for K-12 students should focus on those with symptoms of the virus and those who may have had exposure to infected individuals.”

    They have concerns about confidentiality, parental permission, etc.

    One of the suggestions that I’ve seen that might help with that is pooled testing. It would also conserve testing resources, if that is a concern.

    https://blogs.berkeley.edu/2020/05/06/out-of-one-many-the-benefits-of-pooled-covid-19-testing/

    I believe that the CDC is also advising against mass testing of college students. I can’t find it right now, but I believe there was a wsj piece from a college arguing for mass testing. Given that 20-29 year olds are such a hot spot right now even without colleges being open, I think there is a pretty good argument for focusing on college students.

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  11. I think the problem with testing based options is that if the virus isn’t generally in control, with a small number of cases, the idea that you will keep a subgroup from getting it is a false hope. Maybe at an isolated location where local counts are low, like Cornell or Williams. But places like Harvard in Boston or Emory? Or Duke? I don’t think it will work.

    And I can’t imagine where such resources could be found for k through 12.

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    1. bj said, “And I can’t imagine where such resources could be found for k through 12.”

      It sure beats not having a school year at all.

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  12. MLB is using the testing approach and both the Astros and Nationals have paused practices because of testing delays.

    Unis might be able to do testing in house, but unless we get cheaper fast tests, I don’t think it will work.

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      1. FredPeng said, “Harvard is requiring all students on campus to be tested every 3 days.”

        WOW!

        That is a lot.

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      2. But if you don’t do it that often, schools are a very mixed population and if cases are fairly high, kids could encounter someone who is positive between tests.

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  13. Here’s an interesting parlor game:

    https://mobile.twitter.com/KevinWGlass/status/1280231910174789639

    TX and Colorado opened on more or less the same schedule…but are having totally different case counts right now.

    Some of the suggestions:

    –CO had a lot more cases earlier, so those people aren’t getting it again.
    –Mask culture?
    –CO is much cooler this time of year, so there’s much less temptation to stay inside in the AC; likewise, CO was much harder hit during the “indoor” winter months
    –socioeconomic differences
    –ethnic mix different (CO is way more white).
    –CO has fewer major cities than TX.

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    1. Haven’t double checked, but Colorado’s approach was slower and the messaging on maps different than Texas. And my quick look suggests bars opened almost a month later.

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  14. Watching the US with continued horror and attempts at disbelief. Confirmed cases here yesterday in a population of 83 million: 219, deaths: 4.

    Knock on wood, the company I work for is stable. Grocery bills are up, travel budget is down, although tbh until my better half is fully employed again, there’s not a lot of the latter anyway.

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    1. A colleague tried to get my old boss to sign up for a conference in Austria in September as if travel from Arizona was going to be allowed by then.

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      1. “as if travel from Arizona was going to be allowed by then”

        Nope, nope, nope.

        We’re not planning on any of the American side making it to Kid Two’s confirmation in early October. Bummer all around. A step-brother in Texas has covid, fingers crossed.

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