Scott Hardie | February 28, 2020
Do you feel ready for the spread of COVID-19 in the United States? Do you fear any specific effects of this spreading pandemic?

NPR has run a home preparation guide and a general prevention guide. It's important that people take action.

Scott Hardie | March 1, 2020
Well, that was fast. I might already have it.

Florida's first case was just reported tonight at a local hospital, where a patient arrived in late February. A friend of ours works as the intake nurse there. Kelly had dinner with her on Friday, where papers were passed around.

I keep thinking, if I am infected, how many people have I met and touched, and how many will they go on to meet and touch? On Saturday, we had lunch with friends and hugged them, and they told us that their cousins from Indiana were staying over that night. Then we had dinner with family members and shook hands; they're flying back to North Carolina on Monday. Today, I passed and received items with a few strangers; I have no idea who they know.

A lot of our local friends are joking and saying that this local case is no big deal. I'm not panicking, but I don't feel like making jokes either. I can't shake the feeling of dread that we're about to go through something terrible.

I think of myself as mildly germophobic; I wash my hands frequently. But I found out, thanks to Slate, that I'm not even doing that correctly. I tend to scrub for 3-5 seconds, and 20 seconds is the appropriate amount. I'm picking up that habit immediately.

Even if I haven't caught this local case (nobody knows for sure how the virus is transmitted), I still feel anxiety about the pandemic overall. Hopefully soon the virus will pass, the news and the stock markets will turn their attention to other matters, and life will go on.

How do you feel about it?

Samir Mehta | March 2, 2020
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Scott Hardie | March 4, 2020
Some of those family members that we dined with on Saturday were my 80-year-old mother and her 87-year-old partner. Obviously they have more to fear from this sort of illness than we do. When I told them about the possible infection, they contacted their doctors, who ordered them to stay inside their apartments and self-quarantine for two weeks, as did the head nurse at their retirement home.

I've been staying home too, waiting for a clear answer from my doctor or the CDC about whether I should also self-quarantine for two weeks. I don't live in a village full of vulnerable seniors like my mother and her partner do, but I have the same risk of exposure that they do, so them being ordered to stay home sounds like it might be appropriate for me to do too. Kelly is going to work as normal. So far we are all asymptomatic.

Staying in is easy for me; I have little psychological need to go outside like many people do. But what is starting to drive me up the wall is being told to "calm down" when I explain the staying home as a precaution. I'm not afraid of the illness; I'm unlikely to have it, and even if I do, it will probably be no worse for me than a cold. I'm also not agitated; I'm perfectly calm and rational when explaining why I'd prefer to err on the safe side until I get confirmation from medical professionals that it's ok for me to go out in public. But I keep being told that I'm "panicking" and "need to chill out." Is this what it feels like to be a calm woman told by men that she's hysterical and emotional just for having a different opinion? It's very irritating.

Samir Mehta | March 5, 2020
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Scott Hardie | March 5, 2020
My motivation is trying to do the right thing. The CDC has been very clear about the need for isolation for anyone who is sick with the virus or suspected to have it. I'm in a gray area where I might have been exposed and don't have symptoms, for which a quarantine might or might not be appropriate, so I'm erring on the side of caution until I can get a clear instruction to the contrary. If I get confirmation that it's safe for me to go back in public -- from actual medical authorities, not from friends on Facebook -- then I'll do so. My attitude is in line with this L.A. Times editorial:

Here's one more reason to try to contain the coronavirus: Because we just might be able to do it.

"We don’t even talk about containment for seasonal flu—it's just not possible," said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO. "But it is possible for COVID-19."

And if taking basic precautions saves even a few lives, isn’t that worth it?
Not everybody can self-quarantine easily, for a variety of reasons. I can. It seems like a reasonable precaution to me under my specific circumstances.

Chris Lemler | March 12, 2020
I don't understand how some people don't listen at all to what the authorities say. They say don't travel and people just say screw it i won't get the virus and im going. If someone can explain why people don't care about their health and do the opposite of what the health authorities tell them.

Erik Bates | March 12, 2020
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Scott Hardie | March 12, 2020
Chris, the L.A. Times wrote about this just today.

I suspect that part of the explanation is American selfishness. People reason that they're fine, or they'll be fine if they do get the illness, so why should they deprive themselves of a good time? They neglect to take herd immunity into account. We should all take reasonable precautions to slow the spread of the illness, because too many vulnerable people (elderly and immuno-compromised) getting sick at once can overwhelm the medical care system, resulting in deaths that could have been prevented. FlattenTheCurve makes an excellent argument about this.

I see that people are starting to avoid large events where they would come into contact with crowds, which is good. But we have to think about the same thing on a single-transaction scale too. For instance, if you go through a McDonald's drive-thru, you're only interacting with one or two staff members, but they've just interacted with hundreds of other people on their shift before you, and I doubt that there's enough hand sanitizer for them to apply it frequently. We should think about encounters like that the same way that we do about large crowds.

As for Kelly and me: I'm still asymptomatic and looking forward to the end my self-imposed quarantine on Saturday morning. But I'm wondering if I should continue working from home and skipping most public outings in general, which wouldn't be a hardship for me. And we're both worried about being out of work in a recession. Kelly is especially vulnerable to furlough or layoff, since her entire job involves preparing for industry conferences that are likely to be canceled soon, for who knows how long.

This is all going to get worse before it gets better. I hope that everyone reading this, and your loved ones, stay healthy and safe, and aren't impacted too badly by either the virus or the economic crisis.

Scott Hardie | March 12, 2020
My company just ordered everyone to work from home through at least the end of March, so I guess that settles one matter.

Scott Hardie | March 12, 2020
At some point in the future, do you think we'll see a societal shift towards touching your face being considered as rude as picking your nose or belching loudly?

Erik Bates | March 12, 2020
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Samir Mehta | March 12, 2020
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Samir Mehta | March 12, 2020
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Scott Hardie | March 12, 2020
I agree about how the messaging should be about saving other people's lives. I have a number of friends who are pro-vaccination for kids, who argue that the anti-vax movement is eroding herd immunity. And some of those same people argue in favor of going about our normal routines in the face of COVID-19, as though herd immunity to the virus isn't also a thing. I don't get it.

Scott Hardie | March 12, 2020
I don't know if a true hand-washing taboo will develop. Unlike face-touching, which tends to happen right in front of other people and could be called out for shame in the moment, not washing your hands in the bathroom tends to be done privately. And when it is noticed by another man in the bathroom, there's a contrary taboo against men talking to each other in the bathroom, especially if one is at a urinal or in a stall. That said, I *hope* that a hand-washing taboo develops, because it's long overdue and sorely needed, and not just for this coronavirus.

Denise Sawicki | March 13, 2020
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Scott Hardie | March 14, 2020
I'm sorry to hear that you've been sick, Denise! That sounds miserable. :-( I wish you a happy birthday in spite of all of the misery going on these days. Maybe you can go out to eat after all? I'm sure some restaurants are still open and hurting for business (some more than others). Kelly and I would normally eat dinner out for our wedding anniversary tomorrow; we might or might not this year.

Is anyone getting needless coronavirus emails from companies they do business with? I'm getting a bunch. Some of them make sense, like Disney informing me that I cannot use my annual pass while Disney World is closed. Others are marginally useful, like Taco Bell telling me they're closing dining rooms but keeping drive-thru and delivery, or Geico telling me that their local office is still open in case I need to see an agent. Others are just pointless, like the bank telling me that their call centers are still open, or my domain registrar for funeratic.com telling me that their call centers are still open. Yeah, I would expect that; what's your point? Tell me if it's not business as usual.

Denise Sawicki | March 14, 2020
I probably won't go out. My voice is still a little hoarse. Don't want to freak people out. I am at work catching up on some stuff while no one is around. It is not so bad, I was a little bored at home honestly. Yes, I am signed up to a ton of email lists thanks to my predilection for joining clubs to get free stuff on my birthday, lol, and I am getting emails from every single one of them telling me about their coronavirus plans. Mainly that everyone is making sure to clean more thoroughly and give their employees sick time.

Scott Hardie | March 14, 2020
Kelly and I just went for a drive and made a loop around Siesta Key. I'm sure that college kids on pre-planned spring break trips are partly to blame, but it was really hopping with people out enjoying the bars and restaurants. Apparently, the coronavirus isn't impacting nightlife, not yet anyway.

Scott Hardie | March 17, 2020
Sorry for the snark, but I have to vent: I can't help but notice that some of the people who told me I was "panicking" and "overreacting" have now done a 180 in attitude and have become busybodies telling other people to cancel small gatherings and shaming people over going out. Why mind your own business when it feels so good to mind other people's?

It hasn't even been a week since sports were canceled, but if you're jonesing for any kind of sports to watch during this dark time, Kelly sent me this cute video. I am amused.

Chris Lemler | March 17, 2020
Where I work the shelves are completely empty like TP, PT, water alot of can goods, frozen food items, and etc. It has been really really bad to be in retail.I have worked 23 hours in 2 days and off for 2 days.

Samir Mehta | March 19, 2020
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Scott Hardie | March 20, 2020
Chris, I'm really sorry to hear it. Working those hours must be brutal. :-( Have customers been understanding or rude about it?

Kelly and I are mostly fine so far. She's now working remotely too. We have had a little face-to-face human contact, like the door-to-door cable company saleswoman yesterday. There's nothing like people being trapped in their homes by a pandemic to bring out the door-to-door solicitors, I guess? We go for drives around town without getting out of the vehicle, mostly curious to see which places are closed and which are still busy. Siesta Key is still flooded with tourists as of last night. The closest thing I have to a complaint is, to my surprise, how much I miss board games with friends; they were a frequent activity before this (2-3 game nights per week), but Kelly won't play them with me, and I have a few 1-player games but it's not the same. So I have more downtime than usual, and I'm catching up on some old projects like some back-end improvements in Funeratic. My work has been unusually stressful this week due to some effects of the virus on our systems, but we're managing. I know that a lot of people are struggling right now with illness, unemployment, and exhaustion, so I'm very grateful that I have it so easy.

How are the rest of you holding up?

Chris Lemler | March 20, 2020
I appreciate that Scott but I finally got the rest I needed. But trying to keep the shelves full isn't easy. We get a 1,200 piece load and it doesn't fill the aisles. But I the best thing is that I got OT for those hours which I'm not complaining.

Steve West | March 20, 2020
Everyone is homebound. Me by choice, Brenda and Olivia because local schools are closed for at least two weeks as well as our church. Faring well except for Olivia's standard reaction (not good) to having her schedule changed.

Scott Hardie | March 20, 2020
If you're curious to see your score, Kelly found a questionnaire to see how much of a coronavirus risk you pose to society. I don't see why it asks about attitude, when action is what makes a real difference, but it's still interesting.

Scott Hardie | March 21, 2020
I'll miss a few restaurants around here if they don't survive a prolonged closure, but I'm more worried about the game stores. They're one of the few places in the community where game nerds like me can sit down at a table and play board games or card games with strangers for a few hours. We have three such businesses in town, two of them traditional stores and one a board game café. The stores are offering curbside pickup, which might help a little. It appears that the café is in the most trouble, since it serves meals and thus qualifies as a restaurant and has to comply with the governor's order that all restaurants close. (I knew it was a restaurant months ago because I had a good laugh when I came across it on DoorDash. Who wants to get a board game café's food delivered and skip the games? That's like going to a movie theater, buying popcorn and candy, and leaving with it instead of seeing a movie.)

Speaking of movie theaters, could this be the end of that industry? They've been under increasing pressure for years as the home entertainment experience has gotten better and better. With the coronavirus, people will potentially spend months at home watching their TVs and computers and phones, and getting accustomed to that form of entertainment. Even once people are able to go out again, I can't see them wanting to sit in a different dark room watching another screen; they'll want to go to bars and restaurants and parks and so on. I think the movie exhibition industry is still strong enough to withstand this crisis, but if indeed it collapses in another ten years as is widely predicted, this will have been a major nail in the coffin.

Erik Bates | March 21, 2020
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Samir Mehta | March 21, 2020
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Scott Hardie | March 25, 2020
Samir, why are you hostile to preppers? Do you mean people buying more supplies than they need and depriving other shoppers? To me a "prepper" is a person who builds underground bunkers or makes other preparations for disaster scenarios as a sort of hobby, and that sort of person is coming out of this coronavirus outbreak looking better I think.

I asked above if this would be the end of movie theaters. The L.A. Times wondered the same.

Though there are some outliers who refuse to stay home (not counting the folks who can't), overall I think Americans have done well at accepting this new stay-at-home reality we're sharing, certainly better than I would have guessed. But imposing and accepting a massive shared quarantine is one thing. Lifting it is another. When the infection rate decreases and we seem to be past the peak of this, there's going to be pressure on our leaders to get the economy going again by reopening businesses, and people are going to have lots of pent-up eagerness to get out of the house and socialize, and if we all do it at once, we'll just all spread the virus and the infection rates will spike again. There has to be some kind of slow, controlled lifting of the stay-at-home orders, but how? How do you send some small fraction of Americans back out into public spaces at once, without everyone going out together, and without risking infection for the most vulnerable Americans all over again? If we can't figure out a workable way to do that, the only alternative that I see is everyone staying in like this until the vaccine is ready next year, and that's discomforting to say the least.

Samir Mehta | March 25, 2020
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Lori Lancaster | March 26, 2020
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Scott Hardie | March 27, 2020
Lori, I second your "Aaahhhhh!!!!" Thanks for the words of support; I appreciate it. :-) I'm sorry to hear that your family has been through so much illness lately, and that there are still jerks out there questioning the wisdom of staying in or wearing masks. We see it around here too. I'm sick of people doubting the seriousness of this. Maybe Samir's right and it will take a tragic massive death toll for people finally to approach this with due seriousness. Good for you for working the election in general, but especially under these circumstances.

Chris Lemler | March 28, 2020
This may sound harsh but if people have the virus and some person decides to go out and break the lockdown order and go out to be around other people they deserve to get the virus. Now people who have jobs that have to go out and be the front lines need to take precautionary measures. People who have to go get gas or groceries need to try and get in and out as fast as they can. My parents ask me to pickup stuff and I don't mind doing it cause I'm already at the store working. I tend to think that people who just want to go out and do whatever us there business but, more receptive at picking it up and spreading it to their family. I hope everyone is staying safe. :)

Scott Hardie | March 29, 2020
If anyone deserves this virus, it might be the people who go out in defiance of stay-at-home orders. It's bad enough to risk their own health; it's far worse to risk the health of everyone else with whom they have contact. But I don't want to get into shaming; Twitter has become an engine driving some really hateful, righteous public shaming, and we should all steer clear of that sort of thinking. When I hear about someone getting sick, I try not to think "they shouldn't have risked it;" I try to think "that could have been me." :-(

Samir Mehta | March 29, 2020
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Scott Hardie | March 31, 2020
Samir: Shaming in moderation and proportion, I support. But online shaming has become a blood sport enjoyed by masses of people who take it much too far, ruining people's lives over misunderstandings and minor misdeeds. The worrisome trend is continuing in the coronavirus outbreak. I worry about out-of-control shaming and about shaming for the fun/thrill of it, and I encourage people to resist the urge to join in. That's where I was coming from. I don't know about "anti-shame" and I don't want to live in a society with no shame. As for your related question, I'm no fan of cancel culture; I'd prefer that the people disgusted by Louis CK cease to spend any money or time on him, rather than demanding that clubs cease to book him and studios cancel his productions. We have a criminal justice system precisely because public mobs cannot be trusted to be fair or just, and cancel culture often illustrates that.

I'm getting tired of the political polarization of this coronavirus crisis, as with all things. On the left: People out of work who are no longer able to pay rent, who have declared (I swear I am not making this up) that to charge money to rent a home is inherently evil and should be abolished. Setting aside the communist politics, I wouldn't make that moral judgment. I've had plenty of landlords, some jerks but none of them evil, certainly not just for having wealth. That's ridiculous. On the right: People in my local Nextdoor are worried about rich New Yorkers coming to our vacation-home state and bringing the virus with them, and have started monitoring cars with out-of-state plates to see where the owners live and walk around. I warned that this sort of vigilantism can result in false assumptions and dangerous escalation, sharing this article about a town in Maine that barricaded three renters inside their home after mistaking them for new arrivals. In response, I was criticized for relying on the New York Times as a news source. *annoyed sigh*

Samir Mehta | March 31, 2020
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Scott Hardie | March 31, 2020
Rural America is so spread out, though. It's not like all of rural America can get the coronavirus at once. Some towns will get it in early April, others in late April, others in May or June, others maybe even later than that if they're small and remote enough. So there will be a big but slow-moving wave of infections. Otherwise, yes, I agree, rural America is screwed. When this is eventually all over and the dead are counted, I expect that there will be more deaths from this in rural areas than urban (proportionate to population), and some small communities will be decimated or wiped out completely. This will be very, very hard on them.

Also -- and I really hate to say this because I don't want to lump decent, reasonable people in with the whiners -- but from my point of view, some number of rural Americans seem to bemoan their lot in life. They complain about their towns decaying, as though that's not an economic inevitability. They complain about power being concentrated in major coastal cities, as though that's not a fair outcome of population density.* They complain about politicians not taking their concerns seriously, as if a few voters in podunk nowhere should control the fates of states or regions. And when it's suggested that they move to somewhere else, they refuse, as if they should be entitled to those things no matter where they live. I just don't get the mindset -- if small-town living is so great, shouldn't you be willing to trade political influence and economic opportunity as the price to live there? Anyway, my point is, if indeed the coronavirus ravages small towns across America because there's insufficient health-care infrastructure to treat them, and if indeed they're still coping with the virus long after the rest of the culture has dealt with it and moved on, I expect a truly epic amount of complaining about the rest of the country forgetting them and not caring if they die and not taking their needs seriously. I sympathize with their suffering, and I don't want that kind of complaining (if indeed it happens) to interfere with my sympathy.

*Related tangent: I still remember a Facebook post right after the 2016 election, showing a U.S. map with the many red counties that voted for Trump and the few blue counties that voted for Clinton, that said, "Democrats: Imagine that you live in one of these red counties. And over and over again, the people in the blue counties get to decide everything. Wouldn't you be pissed off too? THAT'S why we have the Electoral College." Setting aside the fact that that's not why we have the Electoral College, I could not fathom the author's misunderstanding of population density. Does he not get why New York and Los Angeles and Chicago have such massive influence? Does he not realize that a bajillion more people live in those huge metro areas than out in the boondocks? "One person, one vote" is a simple concept and yet it's so elusive.

And just to be really clear: I get that there are more complex reasons why many people don't leave small towns, such as not being able to afford the relocation and resettlement in a more expensive city, or needing nearby family support for childcare or illness. And I really don't want to paint everybody with the same brush. If there are people out there who (falsely imo) argue that racial minorities should just "pull themselves up by their bootstraps" as if racism and discrimination were not severe headwinds blowing against them, then I don't want to understate the economic factors working against rural Americans the same way. That said, small towns really are doomed to disappear in the long run. Paul Krugman wrote one of the best explanations I've ever read of why small towns are doomed to decline, and imo it's worth reading even if Krugman is not your cup of tea.

Scott Hardie | March 31, 2020
I really regret writing that last comment. How tone-deaf and insensitive and arrogant. I'm embarrassed. It was wrong for a bunch of reasons.

Samir Mehta | March 31, 2020
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Scott Hardie | April 1, 2020
Among the reasons I regret writing that:
• I shouldn't hold it against millions of people that I've encountered a few jerks online and in person.
• I may not live in New York or California (yet), but I am so close to the "coastal liberal elite" stereotype that I should not pass judgment on anyone in the rural heartland, because that's what coastal liberal elites do.
• As I said at the time, I shouldn't hold people responsible for economic forces working against them. Telling them "just move" is not helpful, any more than telling poor people "just work harder."
• I didn't just judge people unfairly, I pre-judged them for something that they haven't even had a chance to do yet.
• I've lived in tiny towns. I have friends and family living in tiny towns. I should know better.
• I spent yesterday fighting a head cold and I'd been awake for 33 hours when I wrote that. I know better than to say or do anything online when I'm sleep-deprived. I tend to regret it.

Lori Lancaster | April 5, 2020
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Samir Mehta | April 5, 2020
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