III Surge Ahead


Make that title for my third fortnight in quarantine tentative.  Here in Washington State, we’re still slowing down but our infection curve is to peak sometime mid month. This simple effort to keep track of a rapidly changing situation continues.  It’s bringing out a bit of the would-be historian and journalist manqué in me.

April 1 – No April fooling

Excerpt of the day. This from today’s New York Times.  Thirty days ago, there was one detected case in New York City. By April 1, there were more than 40,000 infections, and 1,096 deaths from the virus.

The situation is more hopeful here. IHME COVID-19 projections  for Washington state assume full social distancing through May 2020. The surge is now expected to peak about April 11. The box on the curve shows what resources are required: regular beds, ICU beds, and ventilators.

April 2 – In Gear

By 9am I’m in my first meeting. Our rocket scientist neighbor, Earll Murman, is zooming nonprofit leaders from throughout Jefferson County into Zoom. Earll’s overview of how to avoid Zoom bombing gets everyone’s attention and keeps it as he gives a backstage tour of Zoom. We use the grid view quite a bit so we can raise our actual hands. Participants are all at different levels. Mutual support immediately sets in.

I spend the rest of the morning on research, adding to two annotated bibliographies for PHLUSH. The soup is finally ready; we sprinkle feta on the top. It’s a random combo of pantry staples whose jars happened to be less than a third full.  Lentils, lentilles de Puy, and split peas. Plus faro from full Ball jar, long neglected.

Why not a short nap? No need to set a timer for a just a restorative 20 minutes.  As it happens I’m roused after 90 minutes by a phone call from David Mundie.  I clean the kitchen and sweep our entire living space while chatting. David is also just fine with staying at  home.

I’m at my screen again when I hear Jack move from composing music in his studio to go to the garage for his ritual afternoon excursion.  I join him and give him a blow by blow of the conversation with Davy, so he’s be ready when he gets his follow on call. On the way, I greet Nate, emerging from the bowels of the Schooner Adventuress wearing a one of their respirator masks.  He’s working alone, in change of the winter maintenance. Shelly catches up with us and we catch up on her recent trip with Mike. Coronavirus news  completely sidelined the 55th anniversary of the Selma march.  Shelly is moved by the warmth of the people in rural Mississippi where Mike has done voter registration and also their extreme poverty.  I remember how reading Brett Walton’s award-winning reporting was a wake up call for me. I want to bring this young Seattle journalist who works for the nonprofit Circle of Blue  to Port Townsend. I send the link to Shelly in hopes of enlisting her support.

Supper is ready for the oven by the time I sit down to meet with Genevieve and Rinnah in Portland. They’ve each just completed a full day or work but PHLUSH is active. The new website, though unfinished, launches next week and these two are seriously producing content.

April 3 – Flags and history

Morning efforts, fatigue by lunch, short nap, restorative chat with Poonam, frustration session trying to order groceries for pick up from Safeway and toothpaste from Amazon , shore walk with Jack under hot sun, supper of  ready leftovers, cleaning up while listening to The Return of the Governor on The Daily.

Tayloe’s flag display featuring Africa, includes notes on neighbors who lived in various countries and inspires a fine historical overview from Mike Reiss (see Apr 3). This articulate observer provides an overview of the long (and ongoing?) emergence of African countries from colonialism to independence.

Thank you, Tayloe, for the flags and for the reminder of Africa’s place in the world.

In February, The New York Times ran a wonderful piece looking back 60 years at 1960 as The Year of Africa.   In that year, 17 countries gained their independence.  My own involvement with Africa came slightly later.

In East Africa, independence was staggered – Tanganyika in 1961; Uganda in 1962; Kenya in 1963; Zanzibar in 1964 (that year it united with Tanganyika to become Tanzania). Julius Nyerere, the first President of Tanganyika had offered to hold up his country’s independence so the three countries of the East African Federation could become independent at the same time and possibly form a single, federated government.  (Kwame Nkrumah was proposing somewhat similar Pan-African Unity measures.)  But incipient nationalism overrode their unity proposals. 

In the early 60s, Tanganyika was the farthest south independent nation in Africa.  The country was flooded with refugees from South Africa, the Rhodesias, Mozambique, and even some from Congo and Southern Sudan.  In 1962 a group of Harvard students started a school in a refugee camp outside the capital, Dar-es-Salaam.  I went there the following year, in 1963, working in the school for a couple of semesters.  In December I went up to Nairobi for Kenya’s Uhuru (Independence) ceremonies.  Prince Philip represented the Crown; Jomo Kenyatta, the new President of Kenya.  They stood at attention as the Union Jack came down and the new flag of Kenya was hoisted to the top; a color guard of the former King’s African Rifles were renamed the Kenya African Rifles.  (I am sorry, Tayloe, that you don’t have that flag anymore; it’s a very beautiful flag.)  

April 4 – A Ride and a walk

North beach.  The way the Klallam went, pushing their ocean going canoes through the reeds of that would become the Chinese Gardens and the city golf course.  And easy pedal seaside to seaside across a part of the Quimper Peninsula.

April 5 – Do they know the border is closed?

My early start is no help birthing this issue of the weekly newsletter.  The emails are flying in again and strange items are appearing in the draft.

Jack and I spend nearly an hour admiring the Brants.  Shouldn’t they have left by now? Do they know the border is closed?

April 6 – Well done, west coast Governors!

I get up early to proofread.   With a certain arrogance in my ability to help a local person advise a relative or the media somewhere across the country on avoiding contagion and death, I post a last piece on the how and why of COVID-19 trackers and at 8:45 a.m.hit send on Local 20/20 Weekly Announcements

The rest of the day is great. I’m cheered that the governors of California, Washington and Oregon are all shipping their ventilators to beef up the federal stockpiles.  While their states have not yet surged, the curves are flatter.

I go on with my day, enjoying the sun and flowers outside my window. In the afternoon  a text comes in saying my grocery order is ready. I pedal off to the Safeway,  park in a designated Pick Up and Go spot, and dial the number.  A girl brings out a week a produce and I load the plastic bags into my own bags in the trailer.

Back at home I realize that even  hands may have touched my stuff than if I’d risked going into the Co-op. Unload Safeway plastic bag and put them outside. Wash hands. Do not touch face. Scrub fruit and veggies with soap where feasible. Disinfect any packaging and put away.

I print out Announcements to post on the outside of the back fence.  Local 20/20 seems intent on adding subscribers and maybe this will help. Turns out, Lorraine has a big sign on her house: Happy Birthday, Daisy so I chalk that onto the fence as well.  Nothing like a fine socially distanced party for dogs to end the day.

April 7 – Racial disparities in infections

A quick glance at the New York Times:

More people have died in New York and New Jersey, by far, than in any other state. The two states together account for more than half of the virus-related deaths in the United States. New York’s toll was 5,489 as of Tuesday; New Jersey’s was 1,232.

In Louisiana, about 70 percent of the people who have died are African-American, though only a third of the state’s population is black. Same for Milwaukee and Detroit. COVID-19 is following poverty, obesity.

April 8 – Betsy and Terry!

I disinfect the door of the mailbox and spray down the contents, opening the paper so it will dry off quickly. A picture of Betsy Showater is on the front page, the first publicly identified COVID-19 case in the county. She has recovered. At home in the care of Jon who’s remained unaffected. The last time I spoke with Betsy was on March to thank her for her work with the homeless and to excuse myself at the door of a gathering Jammi had invited me to. “I’m a different decade from you,” I’d said.

My day is long and productive.  I end with a brisk walk and a follow up meeting with Poonam on the phone. As I turn the corner toward home, Lynn rides past on her bike.  She’s home from her work in Alabama. I sign off with Poonam to flag her down.  I realize I get within 6 feet. Oops. Usually I’m the one recoiling.

Jack reports that Terry Wagner is also recovering. She lives downtown, teaches yoga at the gym, someone I normally would see nearly everyday. Like my sister in New York, I also have two friends who’ve pulled out of the infection.

Selena’s partner Joe is wrestling with CARES to save First Ascent and its five climbing gyms. And to stay in touch with members, 35% of whom are note requesting refunds.

Jack wonders what will happen to gyms. Will they ever be the same? The thought of the funky PT Athletic Club going under makes him shutter. We decide buying gift certificates is the way to help.

April 9 – Second viral wave over Seattle houseless

Guarded optimism. In Washington, 9000 Cases and 420 deaths. It looks like there are enough beds but the lack of PPE remains a big problem.

Homeless people in Seattle are clamoring for toilets and handwashing facilities as a second, more deadly, viral wave passes over them. Now King County has 108 cases Hep A; baseline for a usual year is 4 or 5. We’re seeing a repeat of San Diego.   That’s what I’ve been trying to research and communicate about today.

The Brants have left! The first geese  arrived on New Year’s Day and stuck around much longer than we’d expected. Our beach seems to have been a gathering place for the area’s flocks before they flew off to breed in the Arctic.

April 10 – Finish week. Observe weekend.

Good Friday. Relief from pundits explaining market ups and downs.Wall Street closed for holiday.

I have to work today as cases reach 100,000. New York Times excerpts on a rough week:

Over the past few days, some glimmers of relative hope have flickered down the end of what had seemed until recently a possibly endless tunnel. The COVID-19 news since the weekend isn’t all good; in a pandemic it rarely is, and yesterday marked the highest number of new deaths in the United States reported yet: 1,941, almost 50 percent higher than the previous peak, which came just on Saturday. In New York, the epicenter, 800 patients died yesterday of COVID-19, twice as many as on any day before, and now, in addition to those deaths registered by hospitals, 200 New Yorkers are dying at home each day, uncounted in the official statistics, perhaps ten times as many as died during a typical day before the pandemic arrived.

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington suggested that the country would ultimately need fewer beds, fewer ICU beds, fewer ventilators and doctors and nurses and PPE — in short, fewer hospital resources of all kinds than was expected. More strikingly, it revised its most recent estimates for the ultimate coronavirus death toll downward by 11,765, or roughly 15 percent: from 93,531 to 81,766. A couple of days later, it revised them even more dramatically, from 81,766 to 60,415, or roughly 25 percent more.

I cut and paste this quote from Zeynep Tufekci’s “Don’t Believe the COVID-19 Models. That’s not what they’re for “in The Atlantic. She’s got it spot on. These “models”and “curves” – if not the kind that interest our federal executive – are the explanatory essence of epidemiology and public health.  If public health communications were stronger everyone would internalize the concepts. At least know what on the Y and X axes and that there are many “peaks” – number of cases, number of deaths, number of beds and ventilators needed.

Right answers are not what epidemiological models are for. Epidemiologists routinely turn to models to predict the progression of an infectious disease…Here’s the tricky part: When an epidemiological model is believed and acted on, it can look like it was false. These models are not snapshots of the future. They always describe a range of possibilities—and those possibilities are highly sensitive to our actions.

That variety of potential outcomes coming from a single epidemiological model may seem extreme and even counterintuitive. But that’s an intrinsic part of how they operate, because epidemics are especially sensitive to initial inputs and timing, and because epidemics grow exponentially.

Every time the White House releases a COVID-19 model, we will be tempted to drown ourselves in endless discussions about the error bars, the clarity around the parameters, the wide range of outcomes, and the applicability of the underlying data. And the media might be tempted to cover those discussions, as this fits their horse-race, he-said-she-said scripts. Let’s not. We should instead look at the calamitous branches of our decision tree and chop them all off, and then chop them off again.

Sometimes, when we succeed in chopping off the end of the pessimistic tail, it looks like we overreacted. A near miss can make a model look false. But that’s not always what happened. It just means we won. And that’s why we model.

It’s almost bedtime when I click on a communication from Steve. I lovely video of his story telling self reading a Madeline book. The Holgate Family lived in Paris when Steve was in the Foreign Service and the book was a favorite of his two sons. For me it triggered the splendor of memory that the virus time out allows. And prompted me to send this recollection of Jack’s swearing in:

Taking 4 month old Selena, neé Kate off to Qatar was unexpected. Jack was the first of his Foreign Service class to ship out without further training. We took off as soon as his class was sworn in, in a ceremony at the State Department HQ in Foggy Bottom in a fancy room on a top floor. Like all fancy State Department places, it required guests to stand.

So there I am, demure and attentive, standing where we’d gathered – lovers, spouses, parents, and children of the new officers. In front of the desk where the Declaration of Independence, or something like that, was signed. When Kate lets loose with a really loose stool!  Both of us a mess, we head for the restroom behind the attentive standers. Equipped with plastic bags and pre-soaped towels, I bathed Kate in the sink and we emerge – she in only her diaper. Present for the swearing in.

Thanks, Steve Holgate for inspiring stay home documentation of memories,

April 11 – Binge Reading

Walking from home to Fort Worden and the beach beyond the lighthouse and back home and around the hood again, I got deeply into a book whose author Scott Simon interviewed just this morning. A Hundred Suns by journalist Karin Tanabe is historical fiction, a dive into the splendor and horror of French colonialism in Indo-China in the 1930’s. A movie in my head, thanks to a superb performance by Audible.com readers.

With a negative tide just after lunch, I cross the vast beach and walk next to the breaking waves. On return, I take the the upper edge of the beach.  Wearing my iPods I fail to hear jagged-edged chunks of the bluff fall fifty or sixty feet into my path but fortunately I see  them. I’d thought beachbuilding erosion happened in the rain and now learn dry cliffs fracture and fall.

April 12 – Easter

Washingtonians are behaving themselves.  Crosscut shares some interesting numbers.  According to a New York Times review of cellphone location data, the average distance traveled per person per day in Seattle fell from 3.8 miles on Feb. 28, to 61 feet on March 27. The newspaper noted King County had a “100% reduction in mobility” over that time period, making it one of only a handful of counties in the country under stay-at-home orders to achieve this.

A breath of fresh air from Leanore Skenazy. What’s a parent to do during a pandemic? Give up.

April 13 – Weeding

I rise early, do some writing and editing against the deadline and schedule Local 20/20 Announcements to go out to 1100 plus people at 9 a.m. I decide to lie down during Dr. Locke’s weekly briefing but fall asleep in the middle of it only to wake up when I hear Siohban Canty ‘s voice.  She’s briefing the Commissioners on the state of the community. I’m so happy she has been able to establish herself as a leader so quickly and is ready and inspired when we need her. Funding is flowing into the Foundation as well. After lunch I climb back into my jeans to take advantage of the patch of sun on the patch of garden that needs weeding. My body warms up, my spine get bendy again and I just keep going. Excise the tiny tufts of grass struggling up through the packed gravel of the path. Cut up the branches lying  on the side lawn to liberate strong ‘Y’ branches.  Use them to prop up the branch growing over the forsythia. Tie a length of rope from branch to fence to reorient its projectory. All while everything comes apart and together in A Hundred Suns. It proves the perfect book for a three day spring weekend.

At the end of the day while I’m watering the plants in pots, I hear Siobhan’s voice again, this time from the other side of the fence. I call her around to the gate for a short chat while I cut her white and orange tulips. I again ask her dog’s name and immediately forget it. I’m terrible with dongs’ names.

The word projectory gets a red line as I type it. I suspect it’s wrong so copy it into my browser and get this:. positive projectory. New Word Suggestion. a project whose trajectory is knowable, known, required, feasible and viable as assessed against the values of the project owners.  Well that’s what I’m looking for in that branch, so I leave it.

April 14, 2020

Went to the Beyond Waste meeting!  Very good to see everyone. Tracy did such a job organizing and now Mandi is taking over for next year.  Shared pride in pulling off the first Repair Fair on the peninsula.

April 15, 2020

The news in one sentence: Mr. Trump’s decision to attack the W.H.O. comes as he is under intense fire at home for a failure to respond aggressively to the virus, which as of Wednesday had claimed more than 28,000 lives and infected at least 600,000 people in the United States.

The numbers are still rising steeply, number of deaths especially as this figure lags behind the peak in the number infected daily. And all this is paralleled by the economic shocks, which are too much for me to wrap my feelings around right now.

The economic story I am following income disparity. Suddenly the news is full of data and anecdote. A rich Florida community on an island buys test kits for every resident. Blacks are dying in numbers many times their proportion of the population.

Second day in a row I get up feeling fine and by 8 am am crawling back into bed again. Then good again all afternoon and evening. Possibly just need more sleep than usual. Very strange.

April 16, 2020

These are perilous times. Over the last three years, much of what the Guardian holds dear has been threatened – democracy, civility, truth. This US administration is establishing new norms of behaviour. Anger and cruelty disfigure public discourse and lying is commonplace. Truth is being chased away.

The Guardian has become a paper of record for the US. Who would have thought?

Heard on the radio that pollen counts are off the chart.  Same headache hits this morning again, with chills, and I was racing to clear mail and get back to a journalist when everything got confusing and I gave up. Slept it off and joined Jack for a fine lunch in very hot sun.

Doris gets me to a 2.5 hour safety at sea seminar.60 plus participants.  It was terrific. I was in a break out group with Hayley Lhoman, who skippered Sail Lika a Girl,  the winning Race to Alaska boat in 2018. Got to stay in touch with Doris. She knows what’s up. After seeing these  amazingly networked group of sailors, I’m wondering if Port Townsend doesn’t have more “freeze”than Seattle.

April 17

32,000 deaths across the US.  Soon it will be equivalent to the Vietnam body count, though not young men sent to war by their government.  More just random people skewing older and sicker and blacker and browner and simply neglected by their  government.

After checking models and curves , I merely glance at the headlines. The president is off the rails. A demonstration in one state was a Second Amendment special.

I can’t help but love,  trust and applaud  a friend whose email  signature line is this:

hope through meaning; meditation through music; 
community through dance; freedom through bicycling

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