Friday, April 10, 2020

Pandemic: The Beginning, A Story of Three Polls

The covid-19 epidemic of spring 2020, it seems that everything happened in a blur of speed, yet at the same time crept up as a series of gradual changes. Somehow the days now feel like both were true. We saw it coming and yet we didn't. For me what stands out wasn't being furloughed from my job--first for two weeks, then for two months, then for the rest of the school year, but the results of three polls.

It all started with short news stories of a sickness in China in January and February. Barely a thing to be marveled at. Entirely too far away to be meaningful to people going about their lives or concentrating on the impeachment of the president. But then the sickness hit in other countries. Iran. South Korea. Italy. And the story got bigger. We began to hear wash your hands, use hand sanitizer, avoid crowds.

By the time we thought to buy hand sanitizer, the stores were all out of them. After working at a school for year and years, I searched my dresser, my desk, my purse, and came up five travel-size bottles. Some still full. I had friends who are kindergarten teachers with stock piles of the stuff in their classrooms and borrowed a pump-sized bottle. We felt rich, but most people hadn't noticed the disease yet.

At work, school went on as normal. Co-workers were beginning to wonder if they should cancel their plans for Spring Break in April, to skip that trip to Florida. I saw a tweet from Hillary Clinton in late February from Scientific America that mentioned stocking up for two weeks of groceries. We stopped going out except to the grocery store. I bought frozen food, canned chicken, extra snack, and paper towels. I grabbed one of the last containers of Clorox Wipes. Notably: I didn't grab toilet paper.

There were cases popping up in the U.S. in some states, but not everywhere.

And on Friday, March 6th, I created my first Twitter poll. 

It asked one simple question: How often are you going out? Are you moving about as usual? Taking only needed trips? Or have you become the world's newest hermit? It was funny. A joke. I never thought it would get real.

Here were the results from March 6th:

72.2% Going out as usual
24.4% Only taking needed trips
3.3% Were hermits

As most of my followers are writers and writers are often introverts, I thought the poll might have a slight lean toward hermits. I was surprised most people were going out as usual. After all, coronavirus had hit the US now. People were dying in Washington state. It was starting to appear in other states. Testing had started and was entirely too limited. Many people hadn't notice. The president had called it a hoax. Had said it would disappear. My stuffed pantry said I wasn't so sure.

The week of March 9th we made more visits to the groceries stores. Three or four people wore masks. We had been using hand sanitizer heavily after we left any public place. We washed our hands when we got home. We stocked up, more. Shelves began to empty. I got one of the last packages of toilet paper at Meijers--Angel Soft Lavender Scent. I just took one because this is America. Why would I need to keep extra in my basement when someone else might need it?

Italy went on lock down. The epicenter had moved from China to Italy. 

This is the week colleges told students to go home. They pulled classes and put them online. University after university followed suit. They'd brought foreign students home the weeks before, from China, from Europe. I remember Purdue closing, then Indiana University, followed by Michigan State, our own local Notre Dame went next, followed by Saint Marys. All closed within days. Public schools in other states began to close for two weeks. Our school librarian had grandchildren in Portland and there was a case at their school. Another co-worker had her sister's Indianapolis school close for cleaning after a case.

Events closed: the NBA shut down their season, high school sports went without an audience, spring training stopped, concerts cancelled. The local theater stopped the Broadway showing of the Lion King. Movie theaters tried to spread out patrons and then gave up and closed. Sport after sport cancelled. No more, college basketball, no March Madness, goodbye hockey, everything but some golf events shut down. Writing conferences were cancelled. Music concerts gone. On and on. So many cancellations.

Another co-worker came in and said stores were empty, no toilet paper to be found. We hurried to the store yet again and found this:

Ramon Aisle

It began to hit home that normal was out the window. When we went to the store I took pictures of the empty shelves. Frozen fruit, vegetables all gone. Nothing in the water aisle. Little flour, sugar, and no yeast, few eggs. Some cleaning supplies were gone but others plentiful. Few tissues, paper towels, and little toilet paper. Canned food gone. Feeling scared or anxious became the normal state.

Water Aisle


Paper products

Last time we saw cleaning wipes
On one bright spot our son in Chicago got a work from home notice from his company. Something he could easily do as it's a software design company.

The next day, Thursday, March 12 Governor Holcomb gave schools a 20 day waiver. They could miss 20 of our required 180 days and not have to make them up. Our first local school system closed that afternoon. It wasn't mine. We had our first positive test case in our county. I spent the evening texting my boss with the closing I was seeing on Twitter because she wasn't on social media. Ohio closing all their schools. Michigan closing all their schools. We were still open.

Friday, March 13, I was afraid to go to school for the first time. We had cases here, in our county. Not just in Indianapolis. Teachers didn't follow their regular schedule. We expected to be closed at any moment. They were instructed to send all math and reading work books home with students. All Chrome books for the 6th graders to go home. Teachers were frantically copying packets of worksheets to send home. Our media tech frantically printed up step-by-step instructions on logging into important learning systems for parents and then stapled every child's password and login to the back, an incredible task that I don't know how she managed. Word was we weren't closed because we had so many at risk kids. Kids who needed our lunch and breakfast services. They were working on a solution.

At 2:00 they called all time card staff to the office. Fill out your time card for the rest of the two weeks and bring it down. We were told not to report on Monday. Only the cafeteria staff and custodians would now be the only ones working. Students would be expected to do two online learning days a week. They could drive up between 11 am and 1 to pick up a hot lunch. The plan was to close for two weeks. That wouldn't last.

All evening we got emails from administration, sometimes with conflicting information. We would all be paid during the closure. (Huge sigh of relief) Teachers would switch to on-line learning. Students would be required to complete assignments and report attendance two days a week. 

That night, I did my second twitter poll. There were around 1700 cases in the U.S. The same poll as before. Just one week from the last. The results were a lifetime of difference. We were the same, but everything around us had changed.

23.9% Going out as usual
59.7% Only taking needed trips
16.5% World's newest hermits

Several people said their usual was being a hermit or only needed trips so the results are what they are--unscientific. Still the difference from the last week was stark.

The week of March 16th is the week Governor Holcomb finally closed all schools--just for two weeks. It was my first week at home. My husband's work was slow and the weather uncertain so he stayed home. We made quick trips to the store to get what we could. Everyone now sheltering at home was cleaning A LOT. Doing puzzles. Baking. People posted funny memes about being home. Our pets became our co-workers. People learned how to use Zoom to teleconference and laughed as pets and kids wandered though. We shared our favorite isolation movies. Celebrities did videos of singing from their basements. Nobody wore pants and we laughed about changing from day pajamas to evening pajamas. We were scared, but still had our sense of humor.

We also went to the local craft store and bought two puzzles. We were the only ones in the store and used hand sanitizer and washed as soon as we got home. We put the puzzles aside for days in a sort of quarantine because no one knew for sure how long germs could stay on surfaces. We washed our hands after handling the newspaper or the mail. Oh, and gas prices dropped under $2 a gallon. Way under. First down to $1.80 area and then lower. 

A week and a new escalation. The governor closed restaurants and bars on March 16th. My daughter's fiance lost his chef job. They fired everyone the moment the announcement went live. Most restaurants did. Those with drive-thru or carry out stayed open, but dine-in options were gone. Unemployment was huge, but just getting started. We already hadn't eaten out for weeks. We went nowhere but the grocery store and that one trip for puzzles.

That Friday I did my third and last poll. People were no longer unaware. They were scared. There were 18,000 cases in the U.S. California had gone on lock down. Deaths were being reported. Congress was trying to come up with a relief plan to help. The changes in the poll results again were drastic.

1% Going out as usual
54% Only taking needed trips
45% World's newest hermits

Things had changed, but the worst hadn't begun. Not even close.

The next week I got a fever.

1 comment:

  1. I'm a grocery worker who pays attention to world news and we stocked up in February. I didn't really see what was coming-- I just had the feeling the supply chain would have hiccups. I made it to the end of March but then had to request a leave-of-absence. I'm in my mid-50s and I was feeling every year by the end of each day. It wasn't so much the amount of running I was doing as it was the attitudes of a good number of our customers-- they were treating it as a joke while I felt like I was inhaling poison with every breath. I'm feeling a certain amount of guilt for "bailing" but it's what I had to do. Hope you're feeling better.