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Shelter in Place

A month ago, we lived in a world of over-abundance that was easy to take for granted. I grew up on the poor side, but we always had enough, and as a white, millennial, American my life has been free from the pain of true scarcity. If you were a typical middle-class family, you had no problem getting everything you needed. Things got even easier with the availability of 2-day shipping from major retailers. Not only can I have anything I want, it can be delivered to my doorstep in two days! As a new parent, the ability to get a subscription to diapers, wipes, and everything I needed for my child without leaving the house or thinking much about it was great.

That all changed in March.

On March 5th the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Alameda county, where we live, but we were in Pasadena for a work conference. As I mentioned in the conclusion to my last post, in hindsight, attending that conference was probably not the most prudent thing to do, but on March 4th when we left, we were both still cleared to attend and I honestly didn’t realize how serious it was going to get in the US.

We returned home on March 8th. Gatherings over 1000 people were banned, leading to a slew of conference and event cancellations, though major league sporting events were still going on. Traffic had started dying down in the bay area with companies starting to suggest people work from home, including the company I work for on March 11th. On March 11th we also started seeing major sporting events finally starting to cease. On March 12th, our au pair, Adam, and I went to the grocery store to do the biggest grocery store run of my adult life. At this point the toilet paper shortage had already taken hold, and jokes about it abounded, but we had a decent supply so the absence didn’t phase me. Surely things would calm down, and when we needed more in a couple months, it would be available? But generally things were still pretty chill and normal, our dryer had recently been repaired, we got a new dishwasher installed that week, Adam went out for his first haircut, and we browsed a furniture store with a plan to buy a couch for the family room. I had also just hired a yard maintenance service to start dealing with the yard that had gotten out of hand as we strove to survive the first year of parenthood.

Big grocery run!

So, at this point, my daily life hadn’t changed much. Our au pair from Brazil lives with us, and I was fully WFH with all of my planned visits to the office put on hold, but she and I were otherwise on our normal work schedules. MJ’s office had started offering WFH options, but as an executive, he was going in, along with the rest of the skeleton staff.

It wasn’t until that weekend that it was clear things would get serious. On Monday, March 15th, the number of cases in our county had jumped to 18, and they announced that on Tuesday, March 16th, the shelter in place order would go into effect for six bay area counties through April 7th. We became the first area in the United States to enact such a strict lock-down of the population. My conservative relatives were still posting memes on Facebook about the threat being overblown and nothing to worry about, it wouldn’t be until the end of the week that they started taking it seriously. That yard maintenance service I hired was in the non-essential category and cancelled their service. The weather was rainy that week, so our ability to take Adam out for walks was curbed anyway. Our house was fully stocked with food, so my runs out for groceries were limited anyway. MJ working from home was a change, but doing take-out for dinners was pretty normal for us. On March 19th the shelter in place order was issued for all of California.

On March 23rd the first virus-related death was reported in our county. On the 26th, we were supposed to fly to Philadelphia to visit for two weeks, but shelter in place restrictions also restricted travel, and by then the virus had spread there anyway, so a visit would keep us cooped up in the townhouse, unable to visit family anyway. By Saturday, March 28th, that number would be six, and 240 confirmed cases. This second week is where things really got real for me. Every upcoming event I was supposed to speak at was cancelled, leaving me to scramble to make virtual-focused plans for the next several months at work. I had a mild panic attack one afternoon when I went out to pick up lunch for the family. It all hit me really hard. Walking downtown to see what was once a vibrant collection of small businesses, now shuttered, was devastating and I started worrying about how they would recover. I bought a few gift cards online for my favorites, in hopes that they can weather this storm and return to us when it’s over. Making things worse, the symptoms of a panic attack for me are similar to that of the virus (pain in the chest, dry cough, shortness of breath). For hours, the anxiety and fear that I was sick fed each other in a vicious cycle, but thankfully I was fine the next day.

Our local comic shop, with a sign outside explaining their closure, like all other non-essential shops downtown

I had to go to the grocery store, alone, and got my first glimpse of empty shelves and picked over produce. The lines were long, even in the middle of a weekday. I couldn’t find any yogurt for Adam, but he still had some at home. Along with all paper products and cleaners that had been out of stock for weeks, dishwasher detergent was nowhere to be seen, a fact I was sure to pass along to my friends and family who hadn’t started to see shortages yet – you do more dishes when you’re all at home! Parks and beaches started to close, since people were looking for an outdoor place to go, but then overwhelmed those areas, causing traffic for locals and making it impossible for people to stay physically distant. We started reducing the distance and frequency with which we took Adam for walks, mostly staying in our neighborhood.

Walk around the neighborhood

This past week, week three, is when the new normal of shelter in place really took hold. Our every-other-week housecleaning service was cancelled. More states were issuing shelter in place orders. Big stores started limiting the number of people who could enter at one time. At my local grocery stores, signs and stickers on the floor explained the physical distancing protocols and barriers were erected between cashiers and customers. Package deliveries slowed to a crawl and online retailers started running out of inventory, which means even things I was accustom to being delivered, like the diapers, were no longer available and required a trip to the store (or several, to find the right ones!). I started cooking at home more, which I don’t particularly enjoy and I’m not very good at. Still, I did manage to successfully make corn muffins from a mix and they even came out of the pan intact! The muffins were accompanied by crock pot beef stew. I made tacos one night, and MJ took the lead on hot dog and sausages night.

Crock pot beef stew

I used my Instant Pot for the first time to make chicken piccata, which came out pretty good, but it was a lot of work, and I’m not convinced the Instant Pot helped considerably in this case, since half the cooking was using the Saute function. I’ll have to try some more recipes.

Instant Pot chicken piccata

It was this week when the shelter in place order was extended by almost a month, to May 3rd. The stories coming out of New York City from doctors and nurses began piling up, and the severity of all of this was terrifying. On Friday the CDC issued a recommendation that everyone wear cloth masks when going out to protect others in case you are infected. We have some disposable face masks we bought last year when Adam was an infant to use when one of us was ill but still needed to be on limited diaper duty. But we don’t have many, so I placed an order on Etsy for some reusable cotton masks, and with a week+ delivery date for those, on Saturday morning I attempted to buy the supplies to make my own, but elastic is sold out everywhere. There are designs with elastic replacements now, but that starts going down a rabbit hole. And before you, dear reader, try to offer up advice and solutions for masks, I will assure you that you’re missing the point. A month ago, I wouldn’t have believed we’d be having this conversation. That’s the point. That’s what is so jarring.

It’s not all bad though. I recount the above so I remember the timeline, and how quickly this all happened. So I am reminded to give myself grace on the days when I’m scared or struggling.

So far we’re all healthy in our household. The handful of cases among friends and acquaintances haven’t been life-threatening. Adam loves having us all at home all the time. At just 15 months old, he has no idea why his life has changed, but it’s mostly been great for him! And his happiness is infectious. He’s started standing recently, so we expect he’ll start walking while we’re all home to see it. We have plenty of food, and can still go out for take-out at a number of places, even as their dining rooms remain closed. Both MJ and I are able to work from home while our au pair watches Adam during the day. And while this definitely isn’t the cultural exchange our au pair was hoping for, we’ve been playing board games together after dinner most nights to keep us all entertained and connected, and she’s staying connected to her friends and family online, we’re hopeful that she’ll ride this out with us. We haven’t had a lot more time on our hands to explore a grand new hobby or watch much TV, as keeping up with additional chores has kept me busy, but we have had some time to work on a few projects at home, like finishing some baby-proofing in Adam’s room and the family room.

The transition for digital for a lot of things has actually been helpful to us as new parents, too. With our synagogue moving to online Friday night Shabbat services, we were able to attend for the first time since we had Adam. My friends in Philadelphia hosted their first virtual Philadelphia Linux Users Group, so Adam and I got to “attend” a meeting from afar.

We have a nice setup in the family room to watch live streams, like PLUG! (the colors are fine, taking pictures of TVs is not optimal)

Adam dressed up in his GitLab onesie for the PLUG meeting

Perhaps best of all, we’re cautiously optimistic that shelter in place seems to be working for the bay area. We were an early hot spot, still have a large number of cases (as of yesterday, my county had 566 cases and 12 deaths), and have been warned that the worst is yet to come, but it hasn’t grown quite as quickly as was feared. It’s given the hospitals here the essential time to prepare, time that other areas where it spread faster didn’t have.

Our local Chabot Theater, telling us to take care of each other

As we approach week four, our family is preparing for Passover. That a plague played a starring role in the Passover story is not lost on us. We’ll be picking up our Seder supplies and meal for from a Jewish deli in San Francisco on Wednesday, but finding other supplies to take us through our chametz-free week of Passover has been harder than in years past. Thankfully, MJ ventured out to a shop in Oakland we hadn’t tried yet, and successfully found everything we needed.

With the new shelter in place order lasting through May 3rd, we have four more weeks to go. Stay safe and healthy everyone.