Covid-19 Isolation Diary, Day 10

The West Seattle freeway was shut down today, This is our main connection from the rest of the city. The high bridge is too dangerous to drive on. The low bridge is closed to all but first responders, transit, and freight. For now, the quickest route into the rest of Seattle is on the Water Taxi or on the 1st Avenue South Bridge, way south. The announcement was made just before 3pm, with closure scheduled for 7pm. Must be bad! The repairs will take months.

Of course, nobody’s going anywhere soon, due to Governor Inslee’s mandatory stay-at-home order. Nothing changes for the three of us, I’ve been bugging out for ten days. We had a situation where someone came to visit, delivering some supplies we needed, and then calling us two days later saying she had a cough. She hasn’t developed symptoms, thank goodness, and neither have we, so we think it’s a false alarm. However, better safe than killing dozens of people through exponentially increasing infection. I don’t want to get it, and I don’t want to give it to three people.

Finally, my school is doing a slow walk toward synchronous video classes. Luckily, we’ll be doing 45 minutes rather than the 80 minutes as originally planned, I’m not thrilled to be on camera live for that long every day, but I do like getting paid, and I would like a summer break, so I’m playing ball. My room has gone through several iterations as I’ve tried to wrap my head around teaching from inside here. Today I took down a green screen and brought in a Malm dressing table. big enough for my two laptops to be running simultaneously, plus some space for a cup of coffee. K and I have talked about upgrading our broadband handle the increased traffic.

Quarantine Mask Prototype

A few weeks ago, a friend ordered a box of N95 disposable masks from China; I was pretty impressed! She offered me some, but I demurred. Seems like a lot of trouble.

My sister made me a mask!

Americans are spooked by surgical masks, it’s a cultural fear. The Surgeon General all-caps tweeted to stop buying masks because they don’t work for the general public, but health care providers (HCPs) need them, but they don’t prevent the public from infection. Honestly it’s a strange message, saying that it works for HCPs but not for us; the general public is not smart enough to use them correctly. Of course, he’s trying to prevent a shortage at this point. I wish they would just go back in time to February and put American industry and manufacturing to work. Alas.

So Americans cultural fear of masks goes so far that people will deny any benefit and all that masks may serve.. They’ll even imagine that masks put you at greater risk, but you can see how they backpedal and qualify. True, wearing a mask won’t stop aerosolized viruses; however, even homemade cloth masks will stop a droplet. Stopping droplets is not good enough for intubating COVID patients, but it’s probably good enough for essential grocery shopping during a shelter-in-place order.

That’s why hospitals have started asking for volunteers to start sewing masks. Individual Americans, are stepping up to sew them which doesn’t contribute to the shortage for HCPs. Honestly, hand washing and quarantining feel like chores, but sewing.. sewing feels like fighting!

I mean, not me, I can’t sew. My sister once told me to sew my own damn button, and when I tried as hard as I could, she yelled at me, “What did you do?” The Japanese teacher told me later, just tell me next time you need to sew a button, I like to sew things. Whimper.

I didn’t sew masks, but I did cut the fabric for seven more.

Luckily, my sister and mama CAN sew. Both of them are sewing masks, right now. My sister follows this pattern, using an adjustable bra strap for the top strap, and a wide ribbon for the bottom. I can take it off one-handed and drop it in the laundry without touching the outside.

One-handed removal, no touching surface!

Of course, wash your hands before and after removing the mask. I asked if I could have one with a rhino horn, she said, “sure.”

Yasss, rhino horn!

Outbreak: Something New Every Day

We watched in horror as the news came in from China, it seemed to be getting worse everyday. Everybody learned the word “corona virus” and “Wuhan.”

On January 21st, the first positive corona virus test was reported here in Washington in Snohomish /county. There was some drama behind the tests themselves, apparently Dr. Chu at the UW had a test ready to go, but, bafflingly, the CDC told Dr. Chu not to test. She defied the CDC, ran the tests, and sounded the alarm. We don’t know when the virus first arrived or where it had been spreading, we were in the dark until Dr. Chu ran that test.

On February 27th, I learned the word “Covid-19” from the news. Bothel High School closed for a deep clean after someone tested positive in the building.

On February 29th, the first novel corona virus death was reported in Kirkland, and we started hearing about positive tests around the Puget Sound area.

The following day, March 1st, more schools in the suburbs started announcing closures. By this point, we are talking about proper hand washing, covering coughs, and disinfecting surfaces. On March 3rd and the 5th our faculty starts having meetings about plans for a closure. Admin assures us that the first week would be digital learning, and following weeks would be synchronous virtual classroom.

Digital learning: we post assignments on our website by 10 am; students complete the work and submit it electronically by 10 pm. Synchronous virtual classroom: teachers and students do video conference calls over Google Meet, delivering our usual 80 minute classes, from 8 am to 2:30 pm. To be clear, delivering two or three 80 minute classes as a conference call sounds like a nightmare to me; with everyone on a screen for 5 and a half hours per day. We teachers quickly discover several ways that students could use Google Meet’s features to sabotage the broadcast.

On March 5th the big corporations in Seattle (Amazon, Microsoft, Starbucks, etc.) told employees to start working from home. The following day, events started to be postponed and cancelled. Emerald City Comicon, WWU Winter Graduation, etc. College and university campuses announced that all classes in the quarter would be completed online, no more meetings on campus.

On March 9th, there was the first stock market hit the emergency brakes after a plummet. Ireland cancels St. Patrick’s Day parades, Italy the country goes into a hard shutdown.

On March 10th, Washingtonians voted in the presidential primary. I cast my voted for Bernie Sanders. Super Worm Moon. All kinds of amateur and professional sports start announcing cancelled events.

March 11th, my school announces that we won’t be returning the following day, or they day after, and that digital learning starts March 16t (today). The WHO declares that this outbreak is a pandemic. Governor Inslee bans any event of over 250 people. The archdiocese cancels all public celebrations of the Eucharist until further notice. Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson announce testing positive for covid-19, having been tested in Australia (they probably wouldn’t have been able to get the test in the US due to unprepared labs, due to the federal government dragging its feet). The president gave a rare oval office address and botched all the information, announcing the ban on travel from Europe and calling the virus “horrible” and “a foreign virus,” and congratulating himself for keeping America on top of the situation. For some reason, the UK and Ireland are not included in the travel ban.

March 12th, I had the day off, used it for some planning. Governor Inslee closed all schools in King, Snohomish, and Pierce Counties. Stocks were halted again. Libraries, museums, and zoos closed.

March 13th, Friday, Governor Inslee ordered all schools in the state to be closed. State health officials put hospitals on warning to get ready for Covid patients. Mayor Durkin orders a moratorium on evictions during the crisis. The stupid president declared a national emergency, “two big words.”

March 14th, the stupid president includes the UK and Ireland in the travel ban, in the media briefing room. He was wearing an ill-fitted USA cap and no necktie. More and more cancellations. The Safeway across the street is out of toilet paper, hand sanitizer, wipies, eggs, and is very low on spaghetti. Plenty of fresh produce, though.

March 15th, yesterday. Governor Inslee announced that restaurants, bars, and other entertainment had to stop dine-in services. People are starting to understand that by being exposed, they might be killing other people, even if they themselves don’t get sick. The Governor limits gatherings to 50 people. Restaurant take-out and delivery are still allowed. The Safeway across the street is restocked with eggs.

March 16th, today. The president recommends gatherings of no more than 10, and warns of a recession. People are trying to stay 6 feet from each other. Grocery stores are hiring. The Fed cuts interest rates to zero. Certain stores are allowing senior citizens to shop for supplies during early hours, just after the store is freshly sanitized, as a way for them to avoid younger virus carriers.

I spend most of the day inside today, with my first synchronous virtual ukulele lesson. Made a loaf of bread, cooked rice, baked a salmon filet. I posed my classes’ assignments in the morning and did some emails. Took an afternoon nap.

This month has been crazy, and it’s only halfway over. Something new is developing every day, and we’re no longer thinking of those fired Kennedy teachers or the presidential election. All we can think of nowadays is self quarantine and isolation. Tomorrow may bring new restrictions.

I relied heavily on this timeline article for this post, as well as my own facebook feed and personal messages.

Fat Face and COVID-19

My mama saw me on FaceTime and said I looked fat. I said, “mama, i’m wearing three layers of clothes!” No, she said, it’s your FACE that’s fat.

In other news, classes are canceled for today and tomorrow. Starting on Monday, we’ll go on Digital Learning Days “snow day protocol,” where we post assignments online and students complete them at home and send them back to us. After two weeks, if we still have to stay home, we’ll go to virtual classes by video conference. I am dreading having to video conference my classes but no one ever said this job would be boring.

Schools are closing, of course, in an effort to slow the spread of the novel corona virus. It’s a little shocking to see all the events being cancelled; this afternoon the archbishop sent a video cancelled all public masses in western Washington, after the governor banned any gatherings of more than 250 and warned folks to practice social distancing.

I’m all for it, I’m tired of going to school and wondering if there is pre-symptomatic transmission, and if someone is going to take the virus home to an immunocompromised family member. It could have been sooner, but I’m glad it was today. The kids were all excited about it, and I wish more of us would be, there’s too much shock and dismay. I’m glad that we’re being part of the solution finally, instead of waiting to be part of the problem. I wish I could do more.

I also wish the federal government would do more. The president came on TV today bragging about our fast response, but what I remember from the last two weeks have been foot dragging, slow walking, blaming and recriminations, denials, and coverup. They literally seemed more concerned about their stock market portfolios than actual people dying. In his address, he called it a “foreign” virus, congratulated himself on banning travel with China, and announced a 30 day ban on Europe, blaming them for infecting us.

I can’t believe he’s bragging about his swift response. I literally heard from my school’s administration, the governor, the county and city government, the archbishop, my health provider, my dentist, my ukulele teacher, my storage unit company, my university alma mater’s athletic department, a community college I attended one summer session a couple of years ago, two airlines, a local bookstore, and two members of Congress before the president decided to address the problem, and his remedies are travel bans and tax cuts.

Cheese dip recipe; and news of the day

When I think “cheese dip” I usually think of a queso fundido; this is not a melted cheese dip. It’s more like a cheese salad.

Take some gouda cheese and shred it in a bowl. Add finely chopped red onions, or chopped green onions if your brother-in-law doesn’t handle raw onions well. Add some Worcestershire (or some Salsa Lizano if you’ve got ticos in the house) and just guess at the amount, whatever. Finally add just enough mayo to bind it up, and that’s your cheese dip; serve it on crackers.

I made some today, and surprised my brother-in-law with a bowl of it while he was watching something on Netflix. When he realized what it was, he gasped and squeed at the same time; it was a funny sound.

I first learned of this cheese dip from J the AP English teacher, who found it at the Ralph’s on Country Club in Palm Desert. Apparently she and N kept buying it and eating it and were thankful that it wasn’t always available so that they wouldn’t be constantly eating it. It was really good. I think J introduced it to me on spaghetti night.

I found this recipe and modified it because I forgot to buy all the proper ingredients and got bored of measuring. Anyway, my version hits the spot. What else is happening?

What else is happening?

  • I’ve been writing a bunch of music, and my choir at St. Therese is singing it!
  • I’ve been taking ukulele lessons, learning songs like “Hukilau” and “Paumana” and “Yeasterday” (sic) and others. The latest was “Saint Honesty.”
  • Some of my colleagues and I have been trying to find a way to keep our beloved gay colleagues from getting fired when they decide they want to get married. We’re working on it. For now the biggest obstacle we face is goons. Goons at every turn.
  • The coronavirus outbreak is starting to affect our lives here directly. Today we had a meeting about how to give distance learning classes if and when the health department closes our buildings. That’s going to be a mess.
  • Joe Biden seems to be the front runner for democratic nominee now. We’ll see.

That’s it for now. Apparently R is on his “pilgrimage;” they gave him a bus ticket and $5 and said, meet us in DC in a couple of weeks. How will he make it? Trust in the Lord, they tell him. He’ll be fine.

Expat Ethos

So here’s the story. W lives and works in 廈門 Xiamen, but since it was just Spring Festival he and his family were spending the long break in nearby Vietnam. While they were in Vietnam, the corona virus outbreak happened in China, and so now they were stuck outside of China due to the medical travel ban. W’s family are US citizens, and W himself is an Aussie holding a Permanent Resident Card in the US. But since they hadn’t been planning on returning to LA, he had left his green card in his apartment in Xiamen. Without the document, he had little chance of returning to LA.

Here’s the plan he came up with; they contacted the babysitter back in Xiamen, who contacted the landlord and asked for a spare key. She entered the apartment, found the document, and then mailed it to Taipei, where Aussie W and the family would stop on a layover. The only problem was that W doesn’t know anyone in Taipei. He put a post on FB saying, basically, does anyone have a trusted contact in Taipei who can take delivery of this important immigration document?

I connected W to Kiwi J over messenger and of course J agreed and they figured it out. Aussie W and the family flew to Taipei on their way to LA. W and J met up, W got his document back, and I assume there was beer. I was happy be a small part of this story, and for my part I requested a selfie.

When I was living in Shanghai, there was a strong but unspoken ethos that expats had to take care of each other, even if we were all from different countries. So I feel like this green card adventure was a very easy and common expat interaction, not even that remarkable within the community. It would have been more of an ordeal if it had all happened in Seattle; if I had asked my Seattle baby sitter to contact my Seattle landlord, enter my apartment, find a document, mail it to a complete stranger that someone I knew ten years ago had connected me with; it would be sketchy at best; too much to ask for all involved. It probably wouldn’t have ended in a beer and a selfie.

Black History Month Break, 2020

Last week a choir director, a very kind and talented person I’m glad to know, asked me to come to a Thursday night rehearsal at Immaculate and join the tenor section of his choir for a gig on Saturday. I’m trying to say yes to these things, because Gospel music is a joy to sing and it comes to me pretty easily.  Well, I showed up for the Thursday rehearsal, and the song was kind of hard, it is some contemporary Gospel stuff that required me to pull some notes out of thin air. I left that rehearsal thinking, oh no!  But whatever, I enjoy spending time with them.

On Friday afternoon we got out of school early so I went to lunch with a bunch of teachers. I enjoy my role as the organizer of the weekly faculty skate party. After lunch I went home and tried to practice that Gospel song, and worked on my ukulele homework a little.

On Saturday morning, I got up early and went to the Square Knot for breakfast, and then The Bounty to grade papers. I spent some time in my room later on trying to learn that song, and also trying to figure out how to record multitrack demos with the equipment I have.  For lunch I got some fish and chips at Sunfish and then I got dressed for the choir gig.

I showed up for sound check at the Rainier Avenue Church in Hillman City. The event is a Gospel concert to raise awareness and funds for sickle cell anemia research. It was a pretty cool event, all the neighborhood mainline Protestant churches (which I know nothing about) seemed to be there, and everyone was cool.  We were on pretty early in the program and I was starting to feel a scratchy throat so I didn’t stay too long after we sang.  We sang fine, of course.  Me, I missed a note or two but I managed to keep it all in the cord.  I’m glad I went. By the way, I sang tenor.  I’M NOT A TENOR.  I should probably stop

On the way home I stopped for a vegetarian plate at the Mawadda Café, my favorite spot in Seattle for “Mediterranean food.”  It’s an Iraqi family, the cashier calls me “brother” and one time years ago I peeked around the corner and saw that an employee was using an empty corner of the dining room for the afternoon salah. He looked at me sheepishly, like he wasn’t supposed to disturb the customers, and I looked at him sheepishly, having just intruded on a holy part of his day.  I thought, well go ahead, brother, I don’t mean to bother you. I also thought that if I’m ever an employer it would be nice to have a quiet place for employees to have some peace.

Today I got up early and had a small breakfast at Lost Lake.  They had very the old school country music up pretty loud, and I noticed the three other customers were all black men, each one eating alone.  At one point a Charlie Daniels song came on, and he was singing about how he would defend himself from crime with a 12-gage shotgun.  I thought to myself, wow, this is the wrong neighborhood for that message (there are several restaurants there that display a “no firearms” sign at their entrance).  But before I could complete that thought, someone found the volume knob and turned it way, way down.  Not off, but down, so there was still old school country music playing but you couldn’t hear the lyrics.  After that, the sky started getting light, and the white customers started finding their way in.

I firmly believe that the people who work there should get to pick the music, I’m fine with that. Just let it be known that I prefer a Motown breakfast.  Anyway, I’m not sure if I’m going back there again, their regular breakfast menu was replaced by an expensive brunch menu.

After that I went to mass at St. Therese, where I cantor’ed.  I don’t think I like cantoring.  It was fine of course.

And after mass, I met my friends for brunch at Café Selam, and had a lovely lunch with two colleagues and some visiting French people.  I ended up spending most of the day with them, speaking French the whole time on a walking tour of the Central District and International District.  We stopped for a crèpes at Eastern Café.  We also took a quick peek at the Panama Hotel.

I’m most excited about having spoken French all day.  I learned a bunch of new words, had to ask for a bunch of new words, and magically remembered a bunch of words that I hadn’t thought of in years.  I think after a couple of hours my grammar flew out the window; in the past it used to take me two weeks to achieve that stage.  I think the weirdest part was that I was telling a story about some Aussie and Kiwi friends, and my friend said, wow you did their accent in French!  Which was something I was neither trying to do, nor something I heard myself do, nor something I could do if there was a gun to my head.  But apparently just the thought of New Zealand English was enough to color my French.

Who knows what my French accent is nowadays, anyway; I know my pronunciation is still good, but I also hear something non-French going on.  Tomorrow might be another French day, as we’re scheduled to meet up again at Kerry Park.

I have to practice my ukulele tomorrow though, for real.  I have a lesson tomorrow afternoon.