The Unbearable Heaviness of the Unknown (Plague, Day 130, July 30, 2020)

Things are shaping up to be a full fledged clusterf@ck for the fall. Schools and colleges are not on a good path at all.

I’ve been attending Zoom Board of Ed meetings, reading Facebook parenting forums, e-mailing the superintendent, and watching YouTube presentations trying to figure out what the hell is going on. I’m still confused. I have a meeting with Ian’s school – a Zoom call with four administrators – in an hour to get the details on everything from transportation, compensatory education, hours in live classes, therapy, and aides.

Jonah’s situation is also up in the air. He’s definitely having all his classes online for the fall. He is planning on moving into an off-campus dorm in a couple of weeks, but we’re not sure how long that the dorm will remain open and how safe he’ll be there.

I’m trying to keep my marbles in the midst of all this. Some days, I’m about two steps away from public crying. I’m tired to my very core with the overwhelming chore list and the never-ending guilt that I’m working in my office, while the kids are rotting upstairs in their bedrooms.

But in the past few days, I am finding myself moving from exhaustion and worry to a much better place of nihilism. In two weeks, we’re going to pack up the car with bathing suits and hiking boots in duffle bags and head into the mountains. We will drive the old Subaru to some of our favorite backwoods hideouts.

I can’t save the world, but I will save ourselves.

At some point, we all have to laugh at the complete collapse of social institutions and social safety nets. I’m ready to give everyone the finger and drink a beer around a fire. Because without laughter and rude hand gestures, we’ll all start crying in public.

We’re going to have to rebuild our worlds in the next year. In the fall, we have to look forward to economic collapse, a second wave of infection, and a contested election. But sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. So, in the meantime, let’s have beers and campfires.

29 thoughts on “The Unbearable Heaviness of the Unknown (Plague, Day 130, July 30, 2020)

  1. This is unfortunate:

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2020/05/30/south-korea-closes-schools-again-amid-covid-19-spike-days-after-reopening/

    “But according to the Korea Times, hundreds of schools were closed again because of high infection rates in their communities. It cited the Ministry of Education as saying that 838 schools of the 20,902 nationwide that were supposed to reopen on Wednesday did not, including in Seoul, and hundreds closed on Thursday in Seoul, Bucheon and other cities.”

    “But new clusters of the coronavirus have been identified in recent days, leading the government to close not only schools but also parks and museums — and people are being urged again not to gather in big numbers.”

    The South Koreans are really good at this, so we should be watching them close.

    However:

    –It’s some schools, not all schools.
    –The accompanying picture shows a heck of a lot of kids in one room, even with dividers (it doesn’t look like they’re wearing masks). I think/hope that the US would put that many kids in one room right now.

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    1. The United States is completely non-functional at the federal level, unequipped at the state level, and very obviously doing worse at disease control than every other wealthy county.

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      1. MH said, “The United States is completely non-functional at the federal level, unequipped at the state level, and very obviously doing worse at disease control than every other wealthy county.”

        We are the largest free, developed country and we have a number of distinct regions that are going through COVID on different schedules (i.e. Northeastern during the late winter/spring versus sunbelt in late spring/early summer), so we have unique difficulties, aside from any issues with competency and compliance. Our population is literally 4X bigger than Germany’s and we border Mexico, which is so bad COVID-wise that nobody really knows how bad it is right now. It’s a lot harder to limit movement between US states and regions than it is for, say, New Zealand (an island nation with sub 5 million population) to control movement into New Zealand. It’s noticeable that our remote areas (Hawaii, Alaska and Maine) are also doing quite well with COVID right now.

        Also, if you look at COVID deaths per million, the US is right in there with a bunch of Western European countries.

        https://www.statista.com/statistics/1104709/coronavirus-deaths-worldwide-per-million-inhabitants/

        Deaths per million are:

        861 Belgium
        691 UK
        609 Spain
        581 Italy
        563 Sweden
        460 USA
        450 France
        363 Ireland
        357 Netherlands

        What might make our situation worse is that we aren’t done yet…but that’s true of everybody.

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      2. I’ve always wondered what the purpose of this particular competitive ranking is — that the Belgium, UK, Spain, Italy, and Sweden are worse than us (France, too, potentially).

        I do believe that we can’t tell what is going to happen next and that declaring any form of victory over the virus based on the moment is a unwise.

        But, recognizing the uncertainty does not mean that everyone is doing equally poorly or that no mitigation is possible. Let’s look at a longer list (per million) sorted by deaths in the last two weeks.

        Country total 2 weeks
        US 455.32 37.33
        Sweden 567.37 13.57
        UK 677.03 12.40
        Israel 56.73 12.36
        Belgium 848.69 3.54
        Ireland 357.25 3.04
        Italy 581.01 1.85
        France 461.26 1.12
        Canada 74.53 0.77
        Denmark 106.00 0.69
        Netherlands 358.74 0.58
        Austria 79.50 0.56
        Spain 608.30 0.53
        Norway 47.04 0.18
        Germany 109.03 0.05
        Australia 0.12 –

        The US, which has had the time to refine it’s response, is doing 3x as poorly as the next country, per capita (Sweden). We are doing 10X as poorly as Belgium.

        Of course, I hope we turn corners in the US and stabilize at something other than 6K deaths/week, but it’s foolish to rely on the total deaths number per capita to measure our success. Other countries experiencing predictable resurgences are still keeping their per capita numbers in check at levels far lower than ours.

        Why is the per capita ranking a talking point? Is it an argument for doing nothing but hoping for the best (some form of nihilism)?

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      3. bj said, “Why is the per capita ranking a talking point? Is it an argument for doing nothing but hoping for the best (some form of nihilism)?”

        Nah, it was simply a response to MH’s post saying that “The United States is completely non-functional at the federal level, unequipped at the state level, and very obviously doing worse at disease control than every other wealthy county,”

        especially the last bit of MH’s remark.

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      4. But, he’s right, if you measure by what is happening now. I fervently hope that the death rates turn and start dropping again in the US (and there are promising signs, in Arizona, where the cases/hospitalization have been trending downward for a bit) but, if they stabilized at their current level (and Belgium’s did as well) we’d be doing worse than Belgium by the end of the year.

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      5. States in America that have had the virus burn through the area in the first pass (e.g. New York, New Jersey) had much higher per capita death rates that Belgium.

        We’ve stepped out of an airplane with no parachute at 30,000 feet. There’s not much good in arguing that the first five minutes went better than expected. The next 15-30 thousand Americans to die of Covid have already got the virus. We don’t know who they are and because we have no good testing system, we don’t even know who they might be. The wave of new cases in the U.S. is now leveling off, but rising deaths from that have just started.

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    2. It’s frightful beyond imagination. On the eve of the 2016 election, Trevor Noah did a bit on the dystopian American that would result from a Trump vote. It involved Noah broadcasting from a bunker. I don’t think I can watch it again: https://youtu.be/bvhqTNzpmYo

      When I met with a distraught friend on the day after the election (her son had yelled at her because our generation was destroying America), I tried to reassure her that well, the Noah dystopian future wasn’t going to happen. That we were seeing what was under the rocks in the US (as a former victim of sexual harassment at work, she was particular distraught about the treatment of women). I thought I was being rational, but I frighteningly wrong about how bad things could get, and how the undermining of American institutions from Justice, to the CIA & FBI, to the census, CDC, NOAA, . . . would get (and how that would effect dealing with a crisis).

      And Noah is broadcasting from a bunker.

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  2. I was bemused to see that one of your links was from February 20, 2020. How long ago that seems now. We talked about skiing in the comments and not the pandemic (my first pandemic comment on the blog was a week later).

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  3. Wow. I just rad the Vermont quarantine requirements. I wonder how the colleges there are managing the requirements? If you travel from out of state via any form of public transportation (including planes), you have to quarantine for 7 days followed by a negative PCR test, not leaving your abode for anything other than the testing! You can quarantine at home if you travel to Vermont by private vehicle, though. But that wouldn’t work for us, if kiddo was going to school in Vermont.

    Frighteningly dystopian.

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    1. bj said, “I just rad the Vermont quarantine requirements. I wonder how the colleges there are managing the requirements? If you travel from out of state via any form of public transportation (including planes), you have to quarantine for 7 days followed by a negative PCR test, not leaving your abode for anything other than the testing! You can quarantine at home if you travel to Vermont by private vehicle, though. But that wouldn’t work for us, if kiddo was going to school in Vermont.”

      Is anybody enforcing this, though?

      A lot of state restrictions on travel and quarantines seem to exist mostly on paper.

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    2. Not Vermont, but in upstate New York my college sophomore will be in a quarantine hotel for two weeks, and will not be allowed to leave her room during that time. Her school is footing the bill for room and food for those two weeks. With 35 states on NY’s quarantine list this has to be inordinately expensive for colleges. The kids will be tested on arrival, but will be quarantined regardless of result.

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      1. A friend’s daughter is at Syracuse and was informed *yesterday* that they should get in the car today, drive up, deposit her in a hotel for a week (where she’ll get two tests and be in isolation), and then can move into her dorm room to quarantine for one more week. They are going from a “hot spot” state so rules are tighter for them.

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  4. Spouse and I took a 1 hour drive (along the interstate) to a pond in the mountains. We’ve never gone there before, and it was glorious. I am addicted to reflections on water, and I’d seen pictures like that on the internet (it’s a very popular photo backdrop), but was worried that the reflections might be disrupted by the time we arrived (as happens in our local ponds). But, I’m thinking it always looks like that. I wonder if it has to do with the temperature of the water & air? so that the heat/water temperature differential drafts do not develop?

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  5. Sylvan is preparing to cash in on school closures:

    https://www.mis.store/sylvan36353535

    “School at Sylvan offers:
    A safe and supervised place to drop off your kids every morning to complete their schoolwork
    Peace of mind as students work in our safe clean learning space
    Without distractions from home, teachers on hand to help kids get online, stay focused on learning and answer occasional content questions
    ​Limited in-center capacity to ensure enforcement of social distancing.”

    There are two different tracks, individual and pod (where you sign up a group of four kids at the same time).

    Individual is $300 for a week of half-days (8-12 or 1-5) Monday-Friday or $475 a week Monday-Friday (8-5).

    Pod is $225 per kid for a week of half-days or $356 for a full-day week.

    That’s a lot compared to what we pay for private school, but it’s smaller and it might not be for many weeks.

    We’ve all probably already heard about the various arrangements where you can pay for your child to go do remote learning (but not actual classroom teaching!) at their public school.

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    1. Fascinating. And yes, about the “daycare” at public schools, though our public school is still being coy about how remote instruction will work at daycare. The faq currently answers the question about whether remote instruction will be available at the daycares by saying it is “under discussion”. Which can’t be the answer —

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    2. A mom in our area, who had designed a “homeschool” with tutors for her own child last year (after deciding she disliked her child’s private school), before the pandemic, has now set up a trading site to help groups of people find tutors at the MS/HS level.

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  6. The Ontario Plan was announced today. For a point of reference, we have had under 100 new cases (for a population of 14.5 million) each of the last two days, with under 225 for a number of days before that, on 25,000+ tests (stats are here: https://www.ontario.ca/page/how-ontario-is-responding-covid-19).

    Our K-8 schools are going back, full time, full classes. Kids in k-3 are masks-optional; kids in gr 4-8 are masks-required if they don’t have a medical reason for not wearing one.

    Our high schools are going back half time in-person, half time online. This may mean restructuring classes. The idea is to cohort them in half-size classes so that there’s no more than 15 in a room.

    I haven’t really taken this in yet. I do worry we’re setting ourselves up for failure, but if we shut anything that spikes down quickly…it’s one approach. I am worried for teachers and everyone though. However, with the case counts so low – 10 new in Toronto today, there was 1 new yesterday, 4th largest city in North America – I think it is (perhaps barely) justifiable public policy. Is it wise or safe? I cannot say.

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  7. “not sure how long that the dorm will remain open and how safe he’ll be there”

    Not long and not very. I’m sorry, but you probably knew that already.

    Good God, the American situation is bad. California, Texas and Florida — with a combined population of about 10% more than Germany — have 90% as many confirmed cases in the last week as Germany has since the beginning of the pandemic.

    Schools start again in Berlin on August 10, with masks required in the age groups of my kids. Meanwhile, the incidence rate here has gone up from 3.5 per 100K to 7 per 100K over the last week (yes, I know that’s just a change from 10x safer than NJ to 5x safer), and evidence from Israel to South Korea (as in Amy’s post above) suggests that opening schools is a prelude to resurgence. I kinda think we’ll get in about a month of normal-ish schooling. Might be time to get that second monitor and definitively clear off my desk at home.

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    1. Germany probably doesn’t have a political party with leaders openly urging the populace to go back to accepting mass death.

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      1. MH said,

        “Germany probably doesn’t have a political party with leaders openly urging the populace to go back to accepting mass death.”

        We have a political party urging the populace to do mass protests, though, and pooh-poohing concerns about risk. Heck, I saw a clip yesterday of Dr. Fauci side-stepping a question of whether the US should curtail protests.

        Six of the one, half a dozen of the other. So, we have TWO parties that are negligent about COVID, plus a public health establishment that doesn’t want to tell people to socially distance. Lucky us.

        This is also happening in Germany:

        https://www.cnn.com/2020/08/01/world/berlin-germany-covid-19-protest-intl/index.html

        “A large crowd of far-right groups gathered for a “sit-in” at Berlin’s iconic Brandenburg Gate on Saturday to protest against the German government’s coronavirus restrictions.

        “A march earlier Saturday that was criticized by police for not adhering to rules on social distancing and face masks was halted by organizers.
        The march, which was named by organizers as “Day of Freedom — The End of the Pandemic,” included anti-vaccine groups and some far-right and neo-Nazi organizations. On livestreams of the event, some protesters could be heard yelling, “We are the second wave.””

        “Current coronavirus guidelines in Germany stipulate that people must maintain a distance of 1.5 meters, or about 5 feet. Where that is not possible, face masks must be worn. Berlin police said on Twitter that most of the protesters were not adhering to social distancing rules or wearing masks.”

        I believe I can see some rainbow flags in the crowd, so I’m not sure how accurate it is to describe it as a “far-right” group. I also suspect that 20,000 is a very conservative estimate on how many people participated.

        Germany is having a bit of a surge right now (smaller than the US, though):

        “Germany recorded 955 new coronavirus infections in a 24-hour time span for the first time since the beginning of May, according to data from the Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s agency for disease control and prevention.”

        “The German government has been warning about a new spike in coronavirus cases after the pandemic had largely been brought under control. The institute says lax enforcement of social distancing and hygiene rules as well as travelers returning from abroad are to blame for the steep rise in cases.”

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  8. The entire Rutgers football team is in quarantine. At least 15 players have tested positive: https://www.wcvb.com/article/entire-rutgers-football-team-in-quarantine-15-players-test-positive-for-covid-19/33473738

    Much of the spread seems to be due to parties and social events. If you search for “house party -Google,” you’ll find many reports of house parties across the nation.

    A house party on Cape Cod has caused a cluster in Massachusetts. The state is now investigating 8 (!) clusters: https://www.nbcboston.com/news/local/gov-baker-to-provide-update-on-coronavirus-in-mass-9/2169431/

    Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said Friday that the state is investigating at least eight potential COVID-19 clusters in the state due to people holding gatherings without wearing masks or social distancing.

    They include a large lifeguard party in Falmouth, an unauthorized football camp in South Weymouth attended by kids from 17 communities, a Chelmsford graduation party, a 90-person prom party in Cohasset and house parties in Chatham and Wrentham. Baker said the state Department of Public Health is also investigating possible clusters at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield and from a crowded Boston Harbor Cruise held last weekend.

    It took police 5 hours to clear a 700 person party in New Jersey: https://abc7.com/airbnb-party-house-new-jersey-coronavirus/6337193/

    A Chainsmokers concert, with 2,000 attendees, in Southampton NY made the news: https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/07/28/896429686/video-of-audience-at-chainsmokers-concert-prompts-new-york-to-investigate

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    1. Cranberry,

      That’s quite the wrap-up.

      There’s been a lot of focus on regulating businesses, whereas a lot of infections are happening in private and domestic venues, where people are much less likely to mask.

      I drove by a moving truck unloading near a student apartment building today, and it suddenly crossed my mind that it would be possible to have a college outbreak before classes start.

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  9. Somebody on NextDoor is comparing the COVID response in Pennsylvania to ISIS. This is in a thread complaining about the grocery stores no longer taking returns.

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