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Doubling Down, Part 2

 Early last week, I went to our local supersized supermarket to pick up a prescription. To my complete surprise, I could barely get into the parking lot, much less find a parking space once I got there. “What’s going on here?” I thought. “Spring break isn’t until next week.”

     To avoid the hassle of circling around and around, I decided to pick up my medications in the drive-thru pharmacy.  As I sat with engine idling, I watched a growing parade of shoppers rolling by, their carts stacked with 12-roll economy bundles of toilet paper, huge 6-roll packs of paper towels, shrink-wrapped cartons of 24 bottled waters, and of course, multiple cases of beer — this is Texas, after all. The whole frenzied scene reminded me of the hysteria that erupts when a hurricane is coming, except that this time it was the Coronavirus. 

     No doubt this sudden preparation anxiety was due to to some local news the day before. An evacuee from the Diamond Princess who had been quarantined at Lackland AFB here in San Antonio was mistakenly released to return home. Though the woman had had two previous Coronavirus tests which were negative, she had not yet gotten the results of a third test, which later turned out to be positive. Meanwhile, she had spent about 12 hours downtown at a hotel near the airport, had taken a hotel shuttle to nearby North Star Mall where she had done some shopping and eaten dinner in the food court, before being retrieved by officials at 2 a.m. and taken for treatment to the Texas Center for Infectious Disease. Subsequently, the entire Mall had to be closed down and disinfected and any mall employees who had dealt with the woman had to be notified. Understandably, the Mayor and local citizens were upset.

     Lackland AFB has housed and released over 200 Coronavirus evacuees from the Diamond Princess since February; this week, another 150 or so (exact numbers keep shifting) evacuees from the Grand Princess arrived here from California. Assurances have been given that new arrivals have not tested positive, though whether they have been tested at all is questionable. The speed at which events and conditions change, along with modifications of “the facts,” is just stunning. Who knows what’s what? Even the President had to tweak his address in a tweet just minutes after delivering it Wednesday night.

     In my last post (“Doubling Down Under,” 2/29) about our upcoming trip to Australia/New Zealand, I mentioned that our traveling companions were already nervous about going. Well, they did cancel as I expected they would, but my husband and I remained determined to stay calm and await further information on the situation. That information first came in the form of an announcement from our cruise line that some of our shore excursions in New Zealand were being cancelled; the next day, the president of the company announced that we could cancel the cruise itself without penalty for a full refund (which we read as a a subtle encouragement to do so). Still we hung on. Then came an advisory from the  US State Department discouraging ALL Americans from cruising, not just the “elderly” or those with pre-existing conditions, and not only because the virus more easily spreads on ships, but because the US government could not guarantee repatriation of citizens should we get quarantined or stranded overseas.  At least the State Department was honest and straight-forward.        

     While we were mulling all this over, I went on a cleaning rampage, which I often do in times of stress. Not only did I clean, but I disinfected every surface: doorknobs, phones, TV remotes, light switches  — everything. The house smells like Clorox, but it is clean! I figured if we were going to be secluded here for a few weeks, we might as well start off sanitized. Plus, allergy season is upon us, so it was time for a household anti-allergen treatment anyway.  After this flurry of effort, I felt better, calmer, more in control for being as prepared to stay home as I was to go abroad.

    And so, as of a couple days ago, we are now doubling down, but not ”Down Under.” We will be staying home, and staying close to home, for the next few weeks. The World Health Organization officially declared the COVID-19 a pandemic, and Dr. Fauci, whom I believe, declared that things will get worse before they get better. Events around the country are being cancelled, travel is being curtailed, schools and colleges are closing, and everyone is being advised to take precautions, avoid crowds, and hit the pause button — at least for a while. All this may very well slow the spread of the virus and protect our collective health, but it will also reshape the way we live and play everyday, which could have some longer-term social and economic consequences. 

     While I am now busy, and aggravated, with trying to recoup all our expenses for the trip and cancel all the arrangements we had made for our absence here at home, I am fully aware that many Americans have threats to their livelihoods and wellbeing infinitely more serious than simply worrying about the cancellation of a luxury vacation. And I am grateful that we have the freedom from work and care obligations and the resources to simply stay home and stay safe for however long might be necessary. Of course I am disappointed, since we have been planning and preparing for this big trip since last August. 

     More than that, however, I am angry and alarmed by the blatant incompetence of the federal government laid bear in the face of this disaster. The shameful attempts to “control the optics” and manage the numbers (both economic and pandemic) show just where the priorities of our so-called leaders lie. Members of this administration have resembled a bunch of clowns tumbling out of a circus car, with none of them willing to occupy the driver’s hot seat. Regardless of your political party or policy beliefs, this is disgraceful and dangerous, and it exposes a greater and more fundamental threat to the health of our nation than the coronavirus. That fear keeps me awake at night.

     Meanwhile, hysteria at the grocery store here seems to have subsided, at least for now; maybe everyone has just been away for spring break. I go early in the morning to pick up a few things — mostly wine and beer and fresh vegetables. At the rate I am cooking and that we have been eating and drinking just this week, we will be “doubled” ourselves before we can get Down Under. Something else to worry about …

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