COVID-19: Welcome to History

So this is weird.

Of all the ways I could imagine the world grinding to a halt, this wasn’t one of them. COVID-19 has shut down pretty much everything, everywhere. Myself and my wife are working remotely from home and most everything is closed or soon to be closed. World is on lockdown.

Undeniably, we’re experiencing a moment in history. For the rest of our lives, 2020 will have a big asterisk. “Ah yes,” we will say, “That was the coronavirus year.”

We’ll all have stories about where we were and what we were doing. We’ll talk about how we were afraid, but not really, but sort of. We will laugh about silly things like people hoarding toilet paper and hand sanitizer. We’ll get upset at a complete failure of the federal government (at least in the U.S.) and a health care system unprepared for a pandemic.

And because I have this website, I figured I would tell my story. Somewhat for the sake of history. Somewhat for the sake of self-therapy. I can’t imagine my story is that unique or different, but here it goes.

COVID-19 started as that viral infection in another country. We’ve had a few of these in the past decades. Flus with animal names. Swine flu. Bird flu. We also had SARS. While these were concerning, they were never anything that concerned me personally beyond “being aware” and trying to be hygienic.

But COVID-19 kept going. I read about China using extreme quarantine measures. Iran wasn’t doing so great. Shit was hitting the fan in Italy. And yeah, this was some pretty crazy shit. But it was still far away and it seemed unimaginable these things would happen in the U.S.

I’m not from Seattle, but I spent a good chunk of my life there and it is like a home to me. I read about some of the first U.S. cases appearing there and how Seattle was starting to respond. Cancelling large events and gatherings, having people work from home, all of the stuff you’ve heard. This was happening to my home!

Even so, there was still this sense that measures were precautionary. That some places with large outbreaks would need to shut down, but life wouldn’t be disrupted.

Then pretty much every large scale event in the world shutdown, beginning with sports. NBA, March Madness, MLB, NHL, it all started to go away and fast. Group gatherings were cancelled. I had a work conference planned that was cancelled. I had routine social gatherings like birthdays and dinners get cancelled. Boom, it was everywhere.

I work for the City government and am very fortunate to have saved well. I have not been concerned about money or job security during this crisis, but so many others have. Even my coworkers, other City workers, feared they would run out of money if they were forced to go home. We were closed to the public, but still being asked to come to work and twiddle our fingers. They feared for their safety but still reported to work. The stress and anxiety over the uncertainty was palpable.

I made the call (which might not have been mine to make) to send my department home. It felt silly and even irresponsible to continue to have our staff report to work, while we were closed, during a pandemic. Leadership didn’t necessarily feel the same, but I felt I had to put my foot down and protect myself and my staff. I’m not saying anyone fought me on my decision, only that it was going against the current norm. Later that same day, after I stressed out about sticking my neck out, the City decided to send all non-essential workers home. Phew.

My wife works for a university, who I feel have been ahead of the game through this entire ordeal. They were one of the first places to close and send their workers home. So today I have joined her as someone working from home.

It feels strange to write this, as many of our friends don’t know, but my wife is pregnant. It’s a strange time for the both of us. In many ways, I have felt incredibly fortunate that our baby is not yet born. So many people are worrying about schools closing and childcare while working. Thankfully, this is another thing we don’t have to worry about right now.

But, you know, I am incredibly worried about her and our child! Sure, that isn’t new. It was the first thing I felt when I found out she was pregnant. Oh my God, are you and the baby healthy?! (We eat well and exercise, her more than I, so this is a somewhat irrational concern) But now I have to add COVID-19 to the mix of pregnancy worries. Fun.

My wife being pregnant was ultimately the deciding factor for me saying I was going home to self-quarantine. I wasn’t going to risk the health of my wife and our unborn child because my boss wanted to hold large all-staff meetings during a pandemic.

Now that we are both home, we deal with problems in extremes. There are the new and silly everyday problems, like logistics of two people working from home. “I’ll make you breakfast,” I say, “No! I have a system. I will make YOU breakfast!” And interspersed with these mundane issues are infection rates and economic collapse.

We have been pretty big followers of the FIRE movement and have invested heavily in retirement plans. Watching the market collapse has been interesting, to say the least. Perhaps I am too indoctrinated in the long-term investing strategy, because I’m not the least bit concerned. We’ve lost, at this point, perhaps 40% of our retirement, but for some reason it’s only a blip on my radar. Shouldn’t I be more worried? My lack of concern is strange.

I’m definitely worried for others. I worry about bars, restaurants, and other small businesses. We are learning more and more how much our way of life is a delicate balance. Many businesses can’t survive extended closures (why would they?). I worry about what our life will look like when we finally come out of all of this. Will we still be able to do the things we enjoy? Visit our favorite restaurants? And I wonder if that is such a selfish concern at times like this.

I don’t know what the next few weeks or months will look like and that uncertainty is a unique feeling. Wrapping up my last at-work day yesterday felt like saying goodbye forever. I don’t know when I will see these people again. No ones seems to know if this will go on a few more weeks or if we are going to be home until summer or even longer.

‘Crazy’ is a word I have been throwing out a lot lately. This is crazy. Sometimes I feel crazy. Sometimes it feels like others are crazy. Is crazy even an appropriate term to use these days? I don’t know anymore, but it’s how everything feels.

Now, I suppose, we soldier on. Into the unknown, but at least together.


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