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Press Talk: Hunkering down for now

PUNTA GORDA, Fla. — Greetings from Southwest Florida, where Maley and I spend our winters. As you read this, we have been Sheltering In Place, or SIP, for 23 days. More than half the country’s population has been ordered to do so. But when we began our journey we were — by far — the exception.

Elected officials were either sending mixed signals or no signals so we opted to take our own advice and stay at home. Just how early did we make our decision? Difficult to say. To put it into perspective, I read California was the first state to issue a SIP order on March 19. We had already been at it for almost a week.

This is our story. Our journey. We invite you to come along. (Editor’s note: The second half of this column will appear in Sunday’s Columbian.)

March 11: Two days before we begin to shelter in place, I post a single sentence on Facebook: “Everyone except essential services shelter in place now for 14 days.”

The date doesn’t seem that long ago, but here are some sobering numbers. On that day the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 1,215 confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States. Today, we are nearing 300,000.

If we had all locked down right then and there, for two weeks, we’d have had this thing almost beaten by now.

How different would our country have looked today? No desperate need of ventilators, no death count, no national news anchors breathlessly beginning each show “Breaking news! Hospitals in crisis!” and no war footing.

Two weeks of — yes — enormous sacrifice early on and we would almost have been back to normal today. Instead, we sit here frightened and alone, cut off from our daily routine.

March 12: After posting my views of SIP I decide it’s a good idea to put my words into action. I approach Maley. She’s skeptical. No library, no coffee with friends, no visits with our daughter who lives 50 miles up the road? But after some discussion, she’s all in.

March 13: This is it! Day One. We wake up a little late, but why not? We sit on our front porch to drink our morning favorites: coffee for me, tea for her. It’s 70 degrees and sunny. It’s soothing to look at the anchored sailboats in Charlotte Harbor. We can also watch the walkers in Gilchrist Park, which borders the harbor. I observe they are not practicing good social distancing.

After coffee we come inside but do not turn on the TV. We’ve decided not to watch TV during the day. We don’t want to go down that rabbit hole. Instead Maley reads. Her goal is to get through 100 books, including audio books, this year. She will easily reach it. She also is learning Spanish online. And she has a few favorite games she likes to play. I read as well, but mostly news stories. I do read everything that my good friend, Randy Wayne White, writes. He’s a New York Times best-selling author. In addition I play backgammon, pool and poker online. All free.

In the afternoon I am still thinking about the importance of sheltering in place. So I text Catherine Kroll, a Vancouver friend, for some information on the novel coronavirus. She’s a trained/educated applied infectious disease epidemiologist.

She emphasizes how important social distancing is to this fight. But I wonder how much better SIP is. “In other words,” I ask, “if social distancing is a good approach, then everyone sheltering in place for 14 days is a great approach?”

“Accurate if we could achieve it!” she says. And, she adds, “The difference home quarantine is making, we could save a lot of lives.”

That evening we go for a swim in our pool. We have a floating basketball hoop. So we shoot some hoops (Hey, who needs March Madness) and then Maley does laps. I just swim.

Coronavirus cases go from 1,215 — the day I first posted my SIP challenge– to 1,896.

March 16: Mockingbirds sing just a few trees down. Their melodic tunes cut through the clear blue, warm morning sky in a soothing, calming way. The hum of traffic down Marion Avenue reassures us — along with the construction of a new home just down the road — that life goes on. Our pool pump kicks on every morning at 9:10 and lets us know it’s ready … if we are.

If I didn’t know any better I’d simply consider it another idyllic day in the paradise where Maley and I spend our winters. But we know differently.

U.S. coronavirus cases: 4,226.

March 17: A visitor is coming. Someone we don’t know. It’s the bug guy. If you have a home in Florida you need a bug guy. Sure, you could do it yourself, but I like to hire experts in certain fields, especially when you’re dealing with bugs that can get as big as cats.

The bug guy arrives, puts on gloves, takes off his shoes and — like a doctor — begins tapping the entire house, listening for open spaces that shouldn’t be there, looking for telltale signs of termites.

He checks everywhere, including under the sink, the garage and in the attic. He gives what I would call a clean bill of health to our house. Still, he pitches us some preventive options. I tell him l’ll likely take one, but not today. I’ll wait for this storm to pass.

We practice good social distancing the entire time he is here, realizing that every moment of every day we make risk vs. reward calculations. In this case the reward was there. We simply couldn’t afford to lose our house to termites.

Coronavirus cases: 7,038.

March 19: Up and thinking by 9 a.m. It’s been a week since we began sheltering in place, and we’re managing well. I get how difficult this would be for those not in our circumstances; in other words, retired and self-sufficient. But I also get how bad it will become if we don’t make difficult choices sooner rather than later.

After dinner I’m rummaging around Facebook and see a post from a good friend of mine, Pat Jollota. She’s a Vancouver treasure, a notch or two older than 80 and — in these times — alone. “I am experiencing the isolation that so many people of my age experience every day,” she writes.

Dozens of other Facebook friends — around 100 actually — offer her help and encouragement. It’s the strength of Vancouver. People helping people. I suggest I might make a video of me juggling and singing at the same time and send it to her. To my surprise a few people actually think that’s a good idea. Desperate times allow desperate measures, I guess.

Coronavirus cases: 15,219, more than 10 times what they were on the day we developed our plan.


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