News of the novel coronavirus first hit the news big time in the U.S. in February 2020. Little was known in those early days about the coronavirus’ behavior so the usual rules for general flu were recommended by experts—stay home when sick, cover your coughs and sneezes, and wash, wash, wash your hands. I had a long anticipated birthday trip to Seattle March 7-8 to see the town and attend an opera in the magnificent opera house there. I remember a couple of large conventions had already been voluntarily cancelled and the media response was mixed as to whether it was an overreraction or not. As our Seattle trip drew near, I checked daily and none of our events had yet been cancelled. While Seattle’s King County had the most U.S. cases at the time at about 50, where I lived, Santa Clara County, was also a relative hotspot with the second most U.S. cases at 20. My husband and I decided to go to Seattle. We figured Catch It Here, Catch It There, our risk was about the same.
My first inkling that this whole ill-defined coronavirus thing was going to get a lot more serious was when we boarded the plane for Seattle. It was only about ten percent full. I had not been on such an empty plane since before deregulation in the 1980s. The second warning came ironically on Friday the 13th , after our safe and uneventful return to San Jose. On a routine early morning trip to Safeway, I was surprised to find the grocery store as crowded as peak shopping time on a Saturday. I had toilet paper on my list and when I got to the right aisle, it was entirely empty except for an off brand I had barely heard of, Viva, in packs of two roll sizes, regular and jumbo. My anxiety beginning to rise, I quickly picked up a pack of jumbo rolls and put it in my cart. Then a calming voice took over in my head and smacked down the panic. “Surely this TP shortage is an isolated incident,” the little voice said. It continued, “Don’t be silly and overreact. Those jumbo rolls are so fat…will they even fit in our TP holders?” Alas, thinking I was the one voice of reason amidst a bunch of irrational hoarders, I put the large pack of jumbo rolls back on the shelf and opted for the much smaller pack of regular sized rolls. The Shelter in Place to prevent the spread of coronavirus went into effect four days later on March 17 in Santa Clara County. I was not able to find another pack of toilet paper in a store until April 23, five weeks later.
Now six weeks into the Shelter in Place, it would be an understatement to say my life has changed. I am home with my husband and teenage son, a senior in high school. We are definitely on the fortunate side. My husband can conduct his job from a makeshift home office we created in a corner bedroom. Our internet is speedy and we have all the computers we need to engage in online learning, tap dancing, socializing, yoga and memoir writing. I call this story Modern Pandemic 101 because these weeks staying at home has felt like a sometimes interesting, sometimes bizarre course in science, human nature, technology and innovation while learning to cope with a viral enemy no one really understands yet. Here is what I have learned so far.
Submitted by Margaret Ma, Santa Clara County
Editor’s Note: This is one of a series. The links to all twelve parts are: Syllabus, Lesson 1, Lesson 2, Lesson 3, Lesson 4, Lesson 5, Lesson 6, Lesson 7, Lesson 8, Lesson 9, Lesson 10, and Final Exam.