A few milestones, unrealized in the moment, from the Before Times:

12/21/19: The last time Prairie and I went out to a performance (Handel’s Messiah, in downtown Seattle).

Prairie and I at Handel's Messiah

12/28/19: The last time Prairie and I traveled to the Portland area to visit family (my mom, her mom, her dad). Neither of us have seen any of our parents in person since this visit.

My mom and I at dinner

2/15/20: The last time I went out to the Mercury. I believe this would also be the last time I hugged anyone other than Prairie.

Me at the Mercury nightclub

2/16-17/20: The last time Prairie and I traveled, for a weekend on Whidbey Island.

Prairie and I at Fort Casey Historical State Park

2/22/20: The last time Prairie and I were in a big crowd, at an Elizabeth Warren rally.

Prairie and I at the Elizabeth Warren rally

3/7/20: The last truly out-of-the-house social activity I did before going into pandemic lockdown was the March 2020 Norwescon ConCom meeting, and I didn’t even think to get a selfie or other picture. Also the last time I had any non-medical physical contact with anyone other than Prairie — a couple “elbow bumps” with friends. My own pandemic Day Zero.

Since then, Prairie and I have been in near-total lockdown. For a while we tried going on walks on trails in the area, until it became clear that too many people refused to wear masks while out on trails and we stopped. We did careful grocery runs for a while, but since November (driven by the expected holiday infection spike) we’ve moved all of our grocery shopping to ordering from Amazon Fresh and Instacart. When we get food from local restaurants, we order through Door Dash or use businesses with drive-through windows. In the past year, we’ve had three socially distanced visits with family in Olympia (twice sitting in their driveway at least six feet away from each other, once meeting to walk the trails at Flaming Geyser State Park), and one equally distanced visit from a friend here at our place. When we need other goods, we order as much as possible from Amazon (or, if books, from Powell’s or Bookshop to support independent booksellers); on the few instances we’ve needed to source something locally, we’ve done everything we can to go during the safest times possible (early mornings during the week rather than weekends or evenings, etc.).

Meanwhile, infection and casualty numbers continued to rise, because too many people wouldn’t follow similar guidelines. We absolutely understand that in many ways we are privileged in how we can afford (both financially and personally) to move so much of our lives online and in that we can both work from home. But there are so many people that could have been doing more than they have been to get this situation under control.

And it is especially frustrating when we see so many people we know, acquaintances and friends alike, who are traveling, visiting family and friends, eating and drinking in bars and restaurants instead of getting take-out, and so on. We watch the cars go by the road outside our windows, for all we can tell at pre-pandemic levels, and wonder how many of them are actually doing necessary errands, and how many are just living life as if it was normal.

We’ve spent so much of this year sad, frustrated, angry, isolated, and all too often, despairing that this will ever actually improve. I try to tell myself that things are getting better, that vaccines are (all too slowly) becoming more widely available, and that we’ll be vaccinated eventually (though we’re not likely to be eligible before general availability) — but some days, it’s really, really difficult to keep that in mind.

Happy plagueiversary.

Honestly, there are still too many exceptions in today’s new restrictions for Washington state for my tastes (but I recognize that without federal assistance, the state can only support so much).

Stay home. Order delivery and get takeout for food. Let your hair grow out. Order the things you need from small businesses that offer delivery or curbside pickup, or from Amazon or other big retailers that will ship to you.

Travel, restaurants, haircuts, and many other things are niceties, not necessities. And they all depend on the workers who support and provide those services risking their lives to let you have those few moments of faux normality.

If you’re a worker who isn’t able to work from home, take every precaution you can. I’m sorry the federal government refuses to give you the assistance you should be getting so that you don’t have to risk yourself to cater to other people’s selfishness.

When you do have to go out, mask up. And even if you’re out on a trail or hiking and don’t think you’re close enough to anyone else to need a mask, think about those times when you can smell cigarette smoke from far away and reconsider that cavalier attitude towards aerosol transmission. Or, if you still won’t wear a mask, don’t scoff and mock those who do; they’re making the effort to protect themselves and others, and such behavior should be rewarded, not denigrated.

And yes, some of these comments are very pointed, and unapologetically so. As much as I love you all, I’ve seen far too many posts and photos and heard and read too many comments and statements that make it clear that these behaviors aren’t limited to red states, rural areas, and Republican voters.

Yes, this sucks. But death is worse.

If at all possible, stay home. When it isn’t possible, wear your masks. Stop risking the health of yourselves and others.

I’m so tired of this year.

Crossing my fingers for the best-case scenario: Trump is actually ill. He ends up having a case that’s serious enough to keep him isolated and unable to debate or campaign for at least the next few weeks, but not so bad that Pence assumes the Presidency (and possibly brings anti-Trump Republicans back to vote for a ticket with Pence at its head). His sycophantic followers, used to gleefully following a bellicose, bellowing bully of a god-king, have to reconcile that with reality and decide if they still support a frail, sickly man, laid low by the very thing that he told them shouldn’t be worried about and that they decried as a hoax. From his sickbed in isolation, he watches in impotent fury as his campaign crumbles, his family and advisors turn on each other as they scramble to hold on to whatever power they can, his base stays home, either unwilling to brave a virus that suddenly seems real or simply uninterested in supporting a mere mortal, anti-Trump Republicans and Republicans unwilling to vote for someone in undeniable ill health either don’t vote or vote against him, and Biden/Harris solidly and unequivocally win the election.

We’ve had a year of worst-case scenarios, of course, so the odds are against this. But I can hope.

Seems the USPS had a fairly well developed plan to distribute reusable masks to US households, and was far enough along to have a press release drafted, until the White House killed it. Excerpted from this Washington Post article:

Some top administration officials even hoped to tap the mail service’s vast network — and its unrivaled ability to reach every U.S. Zip code — to help Americans obtain personal protective equipment. The idea originated out of the Department of Health and Human Services, which suggested a pack of five reusable masks be sent to every residential address in the country, with the first shipments going to the hardest-hit areas.

At the time, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had been working on coronavirus guidance that recommended face coverings, a reversal of its previous position, in the face of mounting evidence that people could spread the coronavirus without experiencing symptoms. The Postal Service prepared for the possibility it might be deputized in the effort, drawing up a news release touting that it was “uniquely suited” to help. The service specifically identified Orleans and Jefferson parishes in Louisiana as the first areas to receive face coverings, with deliveries shortly thereafter to King County, Wash.; Wayne County, Mich.; and New York, according to the newly unearthed document, which is labeled a draft.

Before the news release was sent, however, the White House nixed the plan, according to senior administration officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share internal deliberations.’

“There was concern from some in the White House Domestic Policy Council and the office of the vice president that households receiving masks might create concern or panic,” one administration official said in response to the scrapped mask plan.

So—possibly goofy idea, proposed by someone with absolutely no medical background whatsoever:

One of the things I keep seeing about the coronavirus is that one of the reasons outdoor environments may be less transmissive (in addition to the natural ventilation) is that the ultraviolet wavelengths of sunlight break down the virus. (This doesn’t mean the virus can’t be transmitted outdoors, only that it breaks down faster—wear your masks!)

So what if we required that all indoor public spaces had to use lighting that consisted of at least, oh, 25% high-UV output sources like black light bulbs? It wouldn’t be anything like a guaranteed knockout punch for the virus, but might at least help to speed the breakdown of any airborne infectious particulates.

As a bonus—whether or not this would be a good bonus is an exercise left up to the individual—everything would get a bit of a cyberpunk glow to it, especially into the evening hours, and we might see a resurgence of ‘70s/‘90s-style UV-reactive neons, colors, and fabrics in fashion and pop art. 😉

Plus, who knew that LED black lights were so plentiful and relatively inexpensive? I’m tempted to find some way to work these into the home decor, whether or not there’s any medical benefit! (I don’t think Prairie would be as excited about the idea, though….)

Update: It’s been pointed out on Facebook that cancer might be a concern of notably increased UV levels. This, obviously, is why I started this post by noting that I’m not a medical professional (or even amateur). ;)

During a Pandemic, ‘How Are You?’ Is a Bad Question:

The innocuous “How are you?” at the start of a conversation—which is normally understood in American culture to be a polite way of expressing concern for a person’s well-being, and to which the socially agreed-upon response is “I’m good,” “I’m fine,” or “I’m doing well”—hits differently in the COVID-19 era. The coronavirus pandemic and its effects are dramatic and widespread enough that it’s safe to assume everyone’s life has changed for the worse in some way. This moment has laid bare the extent to which “How are you?” is a mere pleasantry and not an honest inquiry in search of an honest answer. To ask “How are you?” is either to make the conversation very gloomy, very fast or to force someone to lie straight to your face and say they’re fine. We need better questions to ask.