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Pandemic Diaries 9

Housebound Italians, singing on their balcony (Ruptly screenshot)

From Barcelona; this is my niece, who has been living there since January, and who shared this on Facebook:

From London:

People are finally taking things seriously here, with Boris’ latest curbs introduced. We (me, my wife, our 18-month old) are midway through the second week of 14 days self-isolation after I had symptoms last week. Still not sure if I had it!
We’re pretty safe thankfully. I study part-time, supported by church and small amounts of giving from individual supporters, and work in a state school the rest of the time, as does my wife. Our income is pretty stable, but we’re concerned for many around us, including vulnerable family members.
A few years ago, when I first read The Ben Op, I scoffed at these lines towards the end, as you describe what we must do to survive the coming social and cultural collapse in the West: “And we also tell [our children] in the orchard and by the fireside about Odysseus, Achilles, and Aeneas, of Dante and Don Quixote, and Frodo and Gandalf, and all the tales that bear what it means to be men and women of the West”. I actually wrote a note in the margin that just says “…right…”
I scoffed at the time because you placed those things alongside (though admittedly after) teaching our children the Bible. I’m still firmly evangelical, but was more gung-ho then. A few years later, getting married, becoming a dad, considering homseschooling, and being exhausted by the cultural destruction of the woke agenda has changed a few things.
What do I find myself doing with my emptier evenings now we’re confined to the house and now that the culture around me is having to consider its own mortality?
Well, I was reading Dante’s Inferno anyway already (alongside your book). And, like you, it’s given me unexpected nourishment.
In spite of graduating with an English degree in 2014, there’s so much classic poetry I’ve never studied (largely because my degree was essentially a degree in postmodern critical theory). I finally plucked a volume of Tennyson off the self, and have been reading aloud to my wife. I’ve been recording readings of him and other classic poets to send to isolated friends. I’m trying to memorise Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan”.
Most notably, I ordered myself a copy of Augustine’s City of God. There seems no finer time to read a great work about how the church stands whilst a morally decrepit, decadent civilisation is washed away in an unexpected disaster (though said civilisation still finds a way to blame the Christians!)
There’s much to come in the months ahead. But, for now at least, I have to admit that you got me. The great works of the West are nourishing me in this strange time.
Thanks for all your work on covering the virus. It was a real help, and spurred me to take things seriously and make my vulnerable dad isolated a while before restrictions were imposed here. That may have made the difference for him.
From Cambridge, England:
I am a joint degree candidate at Harvard Law School and the University of Cambridge, and am here in the UK with my wife and 1yo daughter.  We’re hunkered down here for however long this lasts, unable to afford a relocation on such short notice.
The UK response at every level has been appalling so far– all dictated by the glacial imbecility of 10 Downing.  The university is bound to regurgitate government directives (and did so), but I was astonished to find that even my church and British friends were also committed to a steadfast ignorance even in the face of my research and arguments.  As soon as Johnson’s govt began talking about a ‘herd immunity’ strategy, I did the math based on public NHS data and began publishing documents detailing why it was a doomed idea.  This was three days before Imperial College researchers got the exact same arguments in front of Boris.  At the same time I began writing and publishing guidance on why the vulnerable must start isolating, as well as how to reduce transmission to them.  Almost a week later directives came down from on high validating every word.  The obliviousness is pervasive: up until two days ago my classmates talked of nothing except what format they wanted our June exams to be changed to, arguing about time zones, word limits, open or closed book, etc.  Few realize, even now, the scale of what we may be facing.  If we have examiners by June, that will be an undeserved blessing.
The last few days I’ve been producing training documentation for the student governments of the Cambridge colleges, explaining the key legal and organizational steps to take now to become self-reliant as their administrations start to fall sick.  (There are at least a thousand students still resident here, and likely for more than that.)  This morning I woke up to a long email from senior university officials; apparently this work is “encouraging of panic” by projecting “misplaced fears of [an] inadequate institutional response”.  This from the same officials whose “inadequate institutional response” left the coronavirus to circulate among our students and faculty for at least two more generational cycles than was necessary.  Fortunately for my spirits, the university Student Union also contacted me today looking to partner on future projects, having seen my work so far.
As in the US, much of the fight here has been between the collectivists and the individualists, but unlike the US it has been the latter who have been at the forefront of COVID-19 prep here.  The Americans in particular are a revelation.  I have one friend from Louisiana who is usually a very polished PhD candidate in computational Hebrew linguistics, but when he and I sat down and discussed the coming storm he went straight to backcountry doomsday prepper folk in a matter of seconds.  I swear even his accent began to revert.  Now that the country is beginning to mobilize, I hope and pray that the British collectivism will prove to be an asset.  But up until now I have not seen such a thickheaded response to reason (on the part of the authorities and public) since I attended Falwell’s Liberty University as an undergrad in 2012-15.
It’s hard to say what exactly the next weeks will bring.  There will be many deaths, especially in London.  Boris will likely have to revise his lukewarm lockdown to a more Continental set of policies for them to be effective.
Depending on how well resources can be moved around the country, the NHS may struggle on for a time.  But I fear for the university I’ve come to love over the last year.  Its faculty are one of the world’s greatest intellectual resources, and many (most?) are squarely within the COVID-19 danger demographics.  The project I am working on now is a cross-college comms network to assist those vulnerable professors maintain isolation when the official infrastructures begin inevitably developing gaps.  If we who are young cannot step up now, who can?  This will be no country for old men.
Pray for us.  Pray for me.
From Chicago:

I’m a busy homeschool mom from Chicago with two daughters. My husband is in the highest risk category as he is immunocompromised due to an organ transplant. Because I had been keeping up with your coronavirus blog posts, following infectious disease epidemiologists on twitter, and had also been in contact with my husband’s transplant clinic and doctors – we had some sense of what was coming in early February and started prepping.  I decided to take a leave of absence from our homeschool co-op and my husband transitioned to working from home in early March, before the state started canceling schools and locking things down.

I would be dishonest if I didn’t say I am scared for my husband. He has already been fighting another virus for almost three years – the JC virus – which does not act as quickly as the coronavirus, but can be just as deadly if gone unchecked.  So I know he already has a weakness towards viruses. I am willing to do whatever I can to prevent him from getting the coronavirus.

Which brings me to my current project/obsession. When things started ramping up in places like Seattle in early March and later in California and New York, I kept remembering back to February 14 when I got sick with what I thought was the flu. Fortuitously my husband was on a business trip while I was sick.  I had two excruciating days of sickness starting with chills, low grade fever, and the absolute worst ongoing headache of my life. I was in bed for two days sipping bone broth and kombucha and rubbing essential oils all over myself. I might have taken a Tylenol a couple times. The fever and chills subsided after the first day, but the headache continued for another day and it was debilitating. There was residual but abating head pain for a couple days after that.  I read this recent article from the Washington Post recounting what people with mild symptoms of COVID19 experienced. A few people experienced what I had with the headaches.


All this to say, I am now wondering if I had COVID19.  By the way, after I got better and before my husband returned from his business trip I cleaned and sanitized the home thinking at the time that I wanted to prevent him from getting this awful flu bug.  And perhaps it really was just the flu. Which brings me to my current obsession. Because I am following science twitter carefully these days I am aware that the protocols for a serology test is available.  For those not familiar with a serology test – it tests for the presence of antibodies in your blood. If you have been exposed to the virus and had been asymptomatic or symptomatic and recovered, tests will show you have the antibodies in your blood about a month and a half later.  Please read these twitter accounts first from a medical school professor in NYC – he and his team actually came up with the protocols for the serology tests and are making it available to any lab for their use.


Also, here’s an excellent twitter thread by Yale professor Nicholas A. Christakis on the importance of doing serological testing now.


Christakis’ thread is quite long, but his tweets 29, 30, and 31 in the thread are what I want to highlight the most:

As the epidemic proceeds, we will want to do serological tests (by drawing blood) on as many people as possible to identify people who have recovered and are highly likely to be immune. This should be a national priority. 29/

People who are known to be immune based on such serological tests for SARS-CoV-2 are no longer infectious (they basically cannot spread the virus), and they can return to work, school, etc. This is going to be especially valuable for health care workers. 30/

But here’s the thing: once you’re immune to COVID19, you can go about your business. Immune people can move about & help restore our economy. As number of such people rises, it will also confer “herd immunity” to our population, by blocking viral transmission, helping us all! 31/

Obviously, if I might have had this virus already (and maybe my daughters too, they both had colds around the time of my sickness) – that changes everything for us.  It means I can go out and do the grocery shopping without fearing I am bringing the virus back to my husband. It means we can resume our homeschool co-op whenever that gets going again.  And of course it means everything that Christakis mentions – it’s valuable for the health care systems to know which of their workers are immune, immune people can’t spread the virus leading to an eventual herd immunity in the population, and finally a recovery of our economy!

So this week my efforts have been to tell all my doctor friends who work in hospitals to get their in house labs to start the serological testing.  I’ve also tweeted, commented on facebook, and emailed the Chicago Public Health department about getting serological testing going. Every day at 11am central time the Chicago Public Health department has a livestream on Facebook and Twitter – for a Q&A with the public and I watched yesterday and asked my question live.  So far – no responses from the Chicago Public Health department. Granted they are busy just trying to deal with the rise of COVDI19 sicknesses in the city. But as Christakis says – this should be a national priority.  The test protocols are available, any lab in America should be able to test.

Towards the end of yesterday, I decided to contact my alderman, IL state rep., and IL state senator.  I called their offices, spoke to staff and then followed up with an email message to each staff person I spoke to.  So far my IL state senator is the only office that responded to me saying they received my email and will pass it on to the senator.  So this morning I found myself asking – is there anything else I can do? Then I remembered your Pandemic Diaries posts and thought – I will write to Rod!  I feel I’ve done all I can do to advocate for this testing. Can you help me advocate for this as well? – seeing how valuable a tool it will be to fight this virus.

From eastern Pennsylvania:

I live in eastern Pennsylvania – a Roman Catholic father of 5 (ages 1-9) with a 6th on the way in August.  That makes me an old Millennial though I don’t really identify as one (for the reason that I actually practice a faith, among others).  My family’s safe and I’m lucky to have a white collar with which I can work remotely.  I thank you for taking this seriously early on – I credit a good deal of the “prepping” I did over the past month to you, Wyoming Doc and a few other sources.
Reflecting recently, I’ve come to realize the world my daughter’s coming into will be much different than that of even a month ago.  I agree with your thoughts on the “apocalypse” or revealing this pandemic has brought, particularly for America.  We will be a different culture when we come out the back end.  Even despite the crash of 2008, we as a culture really haven’t suffered…truly suffered.  Life has been comfortable for most and this is the first time we, particularly middle and upper classes, are forced to sacrifice.
As terrible as this time will be, and I truly believe most Americans have not yet grasp what the next month particularly will bring, I believe we – all of us – have an opportunity to stop and re-evaluate our priorities, our lives during this time.  Many of our cultural comforts and securities have been stripped away – almost fitting when you consider this crucible is occurring during the depths of Lent.  Some are handling this well, or as well as one can.  Others are struggling; I think part of this may be a result of the peeling away of our normal everyday routines to reveal there’s not much substance or a foundation on which lives are grounded (i.e. we live in a godless world for most).  I’ve witnessed this with family and friends, particularly as people are forced to confront their mortality in a way that previously went unacknowledged.  Some people are manifesting this through panic and hysteria, others through denial – hence the ridiculousness of people I still see at public parks, having play dates and parties and congregating in grocery stores etc.  I expect the next 2 weeks will change that as this spreads and people realize this isn’t a hoax.  As part of my job at a Fortune 500 company, I’ve done org transformation and change implementation.  It’s interesting to view how our society is progressing through the change curve with the seriousness of this….you can see it in mainstream news, social media.  People are starting to see that this sh*t is real;  When people are dying by the dozens in our own region, doing push-up’s on Instagram in the latest viral see-10/do-10/give-10 “challenge” sorta becomes irreverent.  But hey…the first stage is Denial.
However, I was reminded yesterday that we can’t lose hope for what this will bring for our world.  In order to avoid the cabin fever of being stuck in a house with 5 young kids, my wife and I have been taking post-dinner drives to our parish parking lot, praying the rosary in the van at the Marian grotto (you want to experience self-mortification…try leading a 1,3,5,7,9 yro in a rosary, while strapped into carseats). Side benefit – it kills about a 40 minutes before bedtime.
It was rainy, cold, and cloudy all day, but just as we finished the rosary in pouring rain, the skies opened up and the sunlight shone through, creating a rainbow.  I’m not one to look for “signs”, but I could not help but see this as God’s reminder to remain faithful and hopeful through this all.  Of recent, the latter has been a challenge, especially as the media (you excluded) sensationalize this situation and only focus on the death tolls and pitiful government response (both terrible…not minimizing these). But nevertheless, we have hope – despite the irresponsible behaviors, suffering and death, I’m reading stories of people stepping up to help their neighbors – even if it’s just by staying home and washing their hands.  This likely will bring out the worst of humanity, but also the best.  We can’t forget that part and we need to remain hopeful.
We have a choice as to how we will respond to this situation.  I thank you for helping us to respond with hope and charity in these dire times.
Oh – and after the brief rainbow…the clouds closed up, the rain began again and it got even darker….we’re not out of this yet.
From Minnesota:

I would like to thank you for your early warnings.  A couple weeks before everyone else was cleaning out the shelves we stocked up on some necessary things.  That included a couple large packs of toilet paper from Sam’s Club.  I recall reading a while back that during Russia’s economic collapse in the 1990’s toilet paper was used as barter currency so it occurred to me that we should get some.  Maybe there is something about the primal urgency of nature’s call that causes people to get anxious about it.

I live on the outskirts of a small town of 600 in Minnesota, but I work in Wisconsin and my work place is considered “essential” so it is not included in Gov. Evers of Wisconsin’s imminent stay at home order.  Fortunately, at my work place it is relatively easy to maintain distance from each other.   My wife on the other hand is home.  She is an outpatient physical therapist at one of the local hospitals whose  rehab services department is closed down due to the crisis, but if and when the SHTF she may be asked to come in a pool capacity to help out.  My two teenage children are old enough to take care of themselves at home if it come to that  and we are far enough away from town that it takes some effort to sneak out to hang out with friends.

I am not sure how serious my 79 year old parents are taking all this.  My Dad called me Saturday evening from a farm supply store where he was buying a couple of 50 pound bags of clover seed.  I told him he should probably be staying home, but he said that there was hardly anyone there, so don’t worry about it.  He wanted me to come over Sunday afternoon and help him spread the clover seed in his cow pasture.  My first inclination was to go, but my wife talked me out of it.  I could tell my Dad was exasperated when I declined.  “You aren’t coming over to sit on my lap!  What’s the big deal?”  He called me again late Sunday afternoon and made sure I knew how tired he was from walking around the pasture by himself.  I could understand all this if he was younger and was still an active farmer, but he retire several years ago and is renting out all his crop land and pasture land.  If the pasture needs clover, he should get his 40 year old renter to do it.  My Dad and Mom are very healthy for 79, so the odds are probably still in their favor but why take the chance.

I can count on one hand the number of times I have stayed home and watched Mass on TV since I became Catholic 21 years ago, all for illness or weather.  This was the first time I ever participated in a live streamed Mass.  My wife is fan of Fr. Mike Schmitz, the priest at the Newman Center of the University of Minnesota-Duluth who does podcasts and special speaking engagement, so we participated in his live streamed Mass.  We recited the responses, stood when we were supposed to stand and knelt when we were supposed kneel in our living room.  The Mass was very stark.  No music.  Just Father and a couple college students to do the readings and read the intersessions.  The sound and video were a little out of sync (I am not sure if the problem was on our end or not) so that was a bit distracting, but for me on the whole the mass very moving not in spite of the starkness but almost because of it.  40 days of Lenten fast indeed.

So, all and all I should feel fortunate at my individual circumstances, but it is hard to shake a feeling of dread in the back of my mind over an uncertain future.  I have a job now but what about a month from now?  Will someone close to me or will I myself die alone in quarantine choking on a ventilator tube?   Looking at the current numbers, I have good odds but the chance of a bad outcome is not zero.  I always knew on an intellectual level that I have very little control over the events of this world and that God is in charge, but you are faced with it directly it is much more uncomfortable.

From Miami Beach:

I moved to Miami Beach four years ago from DC, for a job.  I’m a DoD contractor, so I’m teleworking now.  My fears of being laid off were not serious–the Pentagon never sleeps.  My wife owns her own tax consultancy, so she works from home anyway.  The only hit we’ve really taken is our Airbnb rental, which has completely tanked.  It used to be booked solid, year-round (it’s on Capitol Hill in DC), now people have cancelled as far out as October.  I don’t know what the long-term consequences are going to be for us.
Here in Miami Beach, everyone noticed how the Spring Break revelers didn’t care one bit about social distancing.  They’re gone now, and the beaches are closed.  Hotels have closed.  Restaurants are open for take-out and delivery only, but many have simply closed.  This is a giant blow to a city that is almost entirely hospitality-based.  The mega-wealthy are fortressed, and the rest of us are just stumbling along.
I’m 58, but for some reason I have lots of friends in their 20s.  The restaurant servers among them have already been laid off.  The airline flight attendant, 24 years old and thrilled with her job, is now expecting a layoff any day now.  The trio of sisters from Minnesota who run an organic restaurant are counting the days until they shut down.  Their location is in some of the highest-rent commercial real estate in the world, so how can they make it?  The gal who sells her silk-screened t-shirts is going back to NYC.  At least she has people there.  The guy who just opened a gym, after years of struggling with permits and licenses, is now ruined.  Everyone is shell-shocked.
The City of Miami Beach closed not just the beach, but all parks and even the popular boardwalk on which folks are accustomed to run, walk, and bike.  I see more people wearing masks and gloves out in public now.  Many of these are older, retired people.

What strikes me is the sense of doom that hangs over everyone and everything.  In my high-rise condo, people are almost afraid to talk to each other.  We still communicate by text, so there’s that; but I wonder what the lasting effects will be, once the restrictions are lifted and the crisis is declared “over”– how much will people really trust that?  Will they still keep their distance?  What will that mean for us?

Finally, I had a dream about the end of the world a few weeks before this really got going.  The first time I’ve ever had a dream like that.  Make of that what you will, but my prayers these days run along those lines.  May God have mercy on us all.

This reader did not say where he is from, but his message needs to be heard:
As a leukemia and stem cell transplant survivor (2009-2010),  I am one of the immunocompromised people who would not fare well with the coronavirus. In the ten years since my transplant i have lived an almost normal life. In 2015, however, I contracted a severe bacterial pneumonia which resulted in septic shock. That shock developed into ARDS, acute respiratory distress syndrome. I was put into a medically induced coma. I was on a ventilator for two weeks. When my kidneys failed I was put on dialysis. Then my liver failed.
I write this because ARDS is the reason the corona patients with severe pneumonia are dying. In 2015 I was a patient in one of America’s top hospitals. In the ICU I had one doctor and one nurse whose sole responsibility was my care. Caring for an ARDS patient requires a tremendous amount of near constant vigilance . Blood pressure needs to be raised then lowered then raised again. I shudder to think of the quality of care that the corona ARDS patients will receive when the amount of ARDS cases swamps the hospitals. Even if i had the best care like I had in 2015, i would likely not survive ARDS a second time, as this is a very very rare thing to happen. And so I trust God and recite many psalms and hymns that i have loved and have leaned on in tough times prior to this. Christ is my shield and my hiding place. I hope in his word. (Psalm 119)
Keep them coming, friends. I’m at rod — at — amconmag — dot — com, and please remember both to say where you’re writing from, and to put PANDEMIC DIARIES in the subject line.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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