My Experience with 2020, the year of COVID-19.
I’m not sure if I’ve just been waiting for a disaster or if I’m just more informed or if I tend to have a longer view of things than other people – but this pandemic has come as no surprise – though I must admit that the speed with which it is happening is mind blowing.
Late last year (December 31, 2019) I started reading about the outbreak in Wuhan, China. This was the official notice that China gave to the WHO that there might be a problem. I didn’t think much of it, but decided to keep an eye out.
This was going to be the year I started traveling again – so by the start of 2020, I already had several trips planned. The first to Australia in late February and early March – then a trip to the mainland USA in April, and then I was thinking Iceland over the summer and maybe Cuba before the year ended. In any event, I pay attention to the world. I’ve had more than a passing interest in epidemiology for more than a decade.
By January 3rd, China was reporting 44 cases. On January 7th, they identified it as a coronavirus. The first death came two days later. Thailand had it by January 13th. Another Chinese death on January 15th. Japan had it by the 16th. It jumped to 204 cases on January 19th. On the 21st, WHO revealed that it was passing from human to human. On the same day, Netflix released a series called Pandemic.
I made some snide social media comments about how callous Netflix was to release their mini-series ‘Pandemic’ right on the heels of the ‘Wuhan Coronavirus’ starting to spread in early January (They released it on January 21st) . A couple of days later the death toll was at 17. By January 23rd China had three cities on lockdown and had cancelled Chinese New Year Celebrations in the Forbidden City. Singapore and Vietnam now had it.
I didn’t really expect it to be ‘the one’ but apparently it is – at least so far. I began to feel alarmed when China began taking extraordinary measures to quarantine and contain the virus. China is far away – I’ve been there, I pay attention to China – and putting millions of people into a lockdown quarantine was not a normal thing for the Chinese government to do.
January 24th there were cases in the US as well. The next day Hong Kong suspended flights to and from Wuhan. France had it, Australia had it, Malaysia and Canada had it. January 26th more than 2800 cases and 80 deaths. January 29th the WHO finally declares it a world health emergency. The U.S. In the meantime was doing nothing, the president brushing it off as nothing. It kept spreading. Philippines, India, Nepal, UK, Russia, Spain, Sweden.
I attended a tech conference in Honolulu on January 31st. The focus was on bridging East and West tech cultures – lots of folks from China, Japan, Taiwan, S. Korea, the US, and more. Coronavirus was heavy on everyone’s mind and a big topic of conversation.
February 1st 14,380 cases and over 300 deaths.
On Superbowl Sunday (Feb 2nd) – I had a tour with a couple off of a cruise ship. I was already feeling hesitant about cruise ship passengers – because cruise ships are notorious for norovirus and as virus incubators. Still, I took them to the North Shore where they sat on Sunset Beach and enjoyed the day. While they sat there, I had a conversation with a woman named Sally in the next car over – we were both watching the big waves from our cars. She was coughing – I joked – “Did you just come from China?” To my surprise she said yes. She and a friend had just come from a tai-chi retreat in Wuhan province and he was back at the hotel sick – she had come out to see the waves but was heading back to the Turtle Bay Resort and they were going to watch the Superbowl in the bar there…
I’m incredibly grateful that we didn’t get out of our cars or shake hands!
At this point, I knew that things were serious. I asked the app developer I work with to put aside all projects and build me a coronavirus app that showed where cases were, number of deaths, and the spread. I told him to build it fast. He told me he could have it ready in three days.
This was the day that the first death outside of China took place. A 44 year old man in the Philippines. Travel bans began and donations began to go to China where millions of people were under quarantine. 17,386 cases and 362 deaths at this point.
China was building hospitals in days and various anti-viral medications began to be tried. In early February stories began appearing on the mainstream media in the US though no one outside of the Gates Foundation, medical personnel, or geeks like me seemed to be taking things very seriously. February 5th was when 10 passengers on a cruise ship in Japan were identified as infected. 28000 cases and 565 deaths.
My developer told me the app would be late – February 7th. On February 7th – he said it was delayed further. That day an article came out from some guys who built an app that launched that day and had 3 million users. They beat me to the punch, but I should have been two days earlier if my developer had done what he said he would. Who knows, maybe he built it for them instead. In any event, this should have been a bit of foresight that earned my family millions – but my mistake was trusting someone else to do it. No matter how you look at it – he royally fucked me, but given that hundreds of people were already dying – I tried to keep it in perspective.
February 7th the WHO announces that there is a severe global disruption taking place. Cases on the cruise ship explode upwards. Two days later deaths exceed the SARS epidemic from 2002-3. Over 800 dead.
I started thinking I might have to cancel my trip to Australia – but with only a few cases there and a few in the USA and none in Hawaii – I figured I was probably okay but I had a number of things to make sure were done before I left – health insurance, deferring my student loans, getting taxes done, paying the rent, getting the registration and safety inspection on my car up to date…I didn’t have time to agonize over my missed opportunity with the app – actually, I give myself credit for seeing it – and have mixed feelings about profiting from it – so maybe I got missed by a bullet there. On February 11ththe death toll passed 1000 and the virus was named COVID-19.
On Valentines Day, I took my wife and daughter on a whale watching cruise. Cruise ships were already a big problem in my mind, but this was on a smaller ship – still, I couldn’t stop looking at the other passengers to see if they were coughing or sweaty. Feb 16th, an American woman on another cruise ship tests positive.
At this point, it was already global and obviously going to be a big problem so I made sure that my friend would take care of my wife and daughter if I were stranded in Australia because flights were cancelled. He thought I was being paranoid to even think it a possibility.
On February 20th – Iran and South Korea announced that they were seeing spikes. On Feb 23rd it becomes a big problem in South Korea with over 340 cases. Italy begins to see a spike. On February 24th, the day before I flew out – I heard the first use of the word Pandemic – the WHO Director General warned that the world needed to get ready for a potential pandemic. US President Trump suggested that it was all a hoax.
I was in Australia for ten days during which Hawaii reported no cases and Australia’s cases grew from 8 to 12. In Tasmania, I was struck by the abundance of caution in airports and on a brewery tour where they said that anyone who had been to China, Japan, Iran, Italy, or South Korea would not be able to go on the tour. I watched and hoped that my flight back to Hawaii would not be cancelled. COVID-19 began to spread much faster outside of China than in it. Travel bans began cropping up. The US still was playing a game of poo-pooing the seriousness while the world began to take notice. Toilet paper shelves were stripped naked in Australia in the days before I left. I found it bizarre, especially since Aussies are much less prone to panic than Americans. I suggested to my wife on March 1st that she go buy toilet paper, bottled water, and some shelf stable food. She thought I was being a bit silly, to be honest, so did I.
I flew back to the USA on March 5th.On the very empty Quantas flight, I watched Mr. Rogers with Tom Hanks and thought to myself how he was the most iconic of baby boomers and how the shit would hit the fan if he contracted the disease. I have no way to prove it – but it’s true. As Forrest Gump, he pretty much represents the way every baby boomer thinks of themselves – as Vietnam Vets an protesting hippies both.
By that time, the US had started to take notice. The US Congress had approvedan emergency spending package. It wasn’t much, but it was something. March 7th, the number of COVID-19 cases passed 100k. It was pretty much everywhere by this time – over 100 countries had reported cases which meant it was probably everywhere. The U.S. Hadn’t even begun testing yet.
In Tasmania and Australia I had been rigourously tested and screened before my flights. Arriving in Hawaii, no one even bothered to ask if I had been to any hard-hit virus areas. No thermal scanning. Nothing. I was surprised to see that cruise ships and tourists were still operating.
On March 11th, the WHO finally declared COVID-19 a pandemic. President Trump continued to claim it was under control even as Seattle, the SF Bay Area, and New York began to to see a huge increase in cases. By this point – which seems a year ago but was less than a week ago – there were a couple of traveller cases reported here in Hawaii.
On March 12th – Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson were diagnosed with COVID-19. I started having dreams that I was actually in some sort of artificial reality. I find it difficult to believe that I am not. The world has flipped on it’s head. I had one dream where I was told that I was in a coma and needed to wake up if I wanted to live. I saw similar social media posts.
In 2005, my girlfriend (a brilliant epidemiologist!) and I went to Burning Man – when we came out, we learned that Hurricane Katrina had happened. It was surreal. It was nothing compared to this reality.
I suppose I must summarize the past five days – The U.S. Cancelled flights to and from Europe. Seattle, San Francisco, and New York went into lockdown, and the state of Hawaii slowly moved to stem the tide of possibly infected tourists. Schools have been closed. A friend (also a tour guide) took a group of people from an infected ship on a six hour tour – no word if he has it yet. My wife and daughter were going to go visit friends in Oregon on Spring Break but we cancelled the trip. I am so grateful we did. Spring break has been extended one week and then two weeks and probably will be more. All of us are being told to shelter in place and exercise social distancing. School has been cancelled in California, Washington, Oregon, Hawaii – and probably everywhere else in the USA. Every hour there are new developments in the past two days we’ve gone from 1 case in Hawaii to three to eight to sixteen to twenty-six. And we’ve barely begun to test people.
The US and Hawaii governments seem to have finally woken up to the nightmare unfolding. Hawaii resisted shutting down tourism since we rely on it – but it is foolish to keep letting irresponsible vectors come here to enjoy paradise and bring the seeds of destruction with them. Wiser heads seem to be prevailing. Shut down the airports, put arrivals in quarantine, shut the hotels and restaurants, stop the fucking madness.
As for me, I have what I think is the flu. My wife has it. My daughter has it I think it is flu. Our noses are running. We don’t have fevers. We are all tired and grumpy. We have mostly been inside our little apartment together for almost a week.
I’ve bought a reasonable amount of food (but no toilet paper- yet) and my wife has slowly fallen into a depression that I am becoming fearful of. She’s a teacher, so her work has been stolen from her by this virus. All of my guide work has also been taken away, but I don’t really mind. The stock market has only begun to crash losing 33% so far, but I suspect it will go much further down. Still, I’ve been surprised by the resilience and recovery of hated capitalism before – so I keep buying quality stocks as the price goes down.
The truth is, I don’t know if any of us will survive what is happening. This may just be the end of us all. Or, maybe it’s the end of the world as we know it. I hope so.
I feel like this is a last ditch effort by our planet, Mother Nature, to get us to stop. It’s funny, but while we are freaking out about toilet paper, the air and water are clearing. Dolphins are re-appearing in Venice, Italy. People in Beijing can see the stars at night because the pollution that blocked them is gone. I have always felt like it’s ridiculous to think that my collection of cells and systems has consciousness but OUR entire collective collection of cells and systems does not. Our planet almost certainly has a consciousness – and if you think it does not – well, I urge you to rethink that. Why wouldn’t it? We are a part of that consciousness.
I may die in the coming days. You may die in the coming days. It is my hope that my daughter won’t die in the coming days and thus far – I can only express gratitude to whatever powers may exist that this disease is largely sparing children.
I love my child. I don’t want to see her grow up in the disgustingly ugly, dog-eat-dog, god-eat-god, capitalist monstrosity that has emerged from our collective history. I want to see us change the way we do things. I want to see us begin to take care of each other, take care of our planet, and take care of all the other inhabitants on it. If COVID-19 is what it takes to make that happen, I’m happy to welcome it, but I fear it may just make things worse – it may just bring out the worst in us.
But of course, it’s easy for me to say that. All I’ve lost from this is work that I didn’t particularly enjoy and money that I’ve never felt particularly in love with. It is so early – and there is no telling what I will think tomorrow.