Continuing under COVID
In July I wrote “soon this can end and we can all meet” to remember everything I could about the early days of the pandemic, ending travel, following NextStrain, and quarantining.
Now, almost another four months gone, I live in another state with an apartment overlooking the ocean, I have a new freelance gig (alongside my old job), every day I update a site with the latest voter records from Texas.
But there’s still a pandemic, everywhere.
To escape winter, I left town again. I’d read all about Barbados and Bermuda’s remote work visas, but the costs are considerable. To get here (Myrtle Beach) I rode a commuter rail, stayed in a hotel, and flew for the first time. In the early ‘shutdown’ times, I would sometimes remember: the planes are still in the air, the trains are still running. Seeing familiar places closed down or masked up made me feel like I was in a documentary that people will watch years from now. This is my imagined background track of that documentary:
In mid-September I get dropped off at a hotel. I put my surgical mask on flipped in the dark, but check-in didn’t call me out on it. Opening the door broke a meaningless ‘hygienic seal’ sticker. The next morning I woke up early and rolled my bag to the terminal rather than take the shuttle. I pulled my mask down for the TSA. In the waiting area, two bros talked about their golf plans in Myrtle Beach. Just before boarding the flight, I strapped on my face shield. An elderly lady, one of the few other members of the shield club, lifts it to talk to the gate agent. I get a row to myself and read my book in peace. On arrival, there was nowhere to go, so I ate breakfast outside and waited for check-in time.
Things that suck
When I get frustrated, it usually comes down to this: you see the number of positive tests is 8.7 million. In the early days we estimated 10x as many infected as positive tests, but now that we have more testing, maybe 30, 50 million people have had COVID. Higher numbers are actually embraced by COVID skeptics, because it lowers the death % and they can float the apathy accompli: everyone will get COVID sooner or later, eat it and move on. I start to believe it’s inevitable. Do I believe 100s of millions will get it and yet I’ll stay clear for another whole year? My mom wears white cloth masks she ordered early on, the kind I stopped using after hand-washing one and seeing right through it. Do I believe everyone else will get COVID and not her?
I’ve had my university job for a year. Sometime soon it will be the longest I’ve held the same job. We make a difference, it’s usefully part-time, but knowing any part of my life is unchanged irritates my nomad brain. It’s a pandemic, it must be excused, I assure myself.
It’s probably the longest I’ve gone without meeting a new friend. I’ve made some mentor-y and professional connections. But it’s painful to think about, how would I ever organically meet someone new. There was a phase where (this is embarrassing) I thought someone was my special new pandemic connection, then it would be someone else, but now that’s stopped and I filled the hole with a few podcasts that I listen to religiously.
I return to speaking at virtual conferences for OpenStreetMap, TWIML, Utah, Hong Kong, Indonesia… somehow the first three record within a few days.
In Myrtle Beach I see Trump, Graham, #FillTheSeat signs, and the occasional confederate flag. I’m lucky to walk through neighborhoods without feeling at risk. I only wear a mask indoors, or when passing on a sidewalk or beach path. Grocery stores and the CVS flu shot nurse are smart. The DoorDash and Instacart and apartment linens people, not so much. Elevator people don’t wear masks. At one hotel gift shop, I risk a maskless family and cashier to buy a postcard, using cash for the first time.
I had a stress dream in 2017 where I was back in a movie theater after some apocalyptic danger had ended, then got stuck counting out tiny unfamiliar coins. It comes back to me, but I don’t believe in foresight.
I shouldn’t complain about South Carolina, though. I’m lucky to find a place by the ocean and walk in the sunshine. It’s easy to socially distance and avoid restaurants. The northeast got a record snowfall for October so my trip makes sense. We had set records into April and May this year, so I had vague suspicions about global warming or shutdowns affecting driving or Asian factories affecting our weather.