COVID-19 Coronavirus

POSTNOTE, March 15: Beginning today, I will continue the conversation about the Coronavirus Crisis here, titled Speaking personally.   Note also, my post on March 13, Fear itself“,  March 15, 17 and continuing

POSTNOTE early a.m. March 14:  In this early morning batch of e-mails was a letter to subscribers from Executive Editor Martin Baron.  The first paragraph said this: “On January 8 this year, Washington Post reporters Gerry Shih and Lena Sun reported an outbreak of an “unidentified and possibly new viral disease in central China” that was sending alarms across Asia in advance of the Lunar New Year travel season.”

The e-mail immediately preceding was today’s Just Above Sunset, Staging an Intervention.

Yesterday was a large trove of notices about cancelled events and essentially identical advice about COVID-19.  I have been grateful for these assorted advisories, and the ones I’ve seen in person, at my coffee shop, fitness center, grocery store, etc.  Most of these posted yesterday or a day or two before.  I’ve been involved in a couple of those decisions affecting groups in which I’m very active

It was March 6, one week ago, that I published the first segment of this post.  That’s how long it took for me, an ordinary citizen, to get the message.  I don’t think I’m unusual.

Now, six weeks later, it appears that the ‘boots are on the ground’, a community in action, more or less together.

This will be a unusual weekend for most of us.  A good time to read and to contemplate how we fit in to all of this in a week with scarcely any equal in my lifetime.   We have an opportunity to truly ‘get’ that we are all in this together….


Comment from Jim, Mar 10 (I believe Jim’s wife is a retired ER physician:  “On the coronavirus: laboratory testing shows it as a SARS virus on steroids. It binds to the same epithelial cell receptor protein as SARS but does so more strongly. It also mutates rapidly; already there are seven circulating strains of the virus. A rapidly mutating virus is hard to control via a vaccine. Trouble, trouble, trouble.”

There have been and will continue to be periodic updates here.  Check back once in awhile.

Today’s Minneapolis Star Tribune devoted most of the front and last page of the news section to COVID-19.  At the same time, there do not seem to be any confirmed cases in Minnesota, though the Thursday paper headlined “2 MSP fliers in self-quarantine” who “had been in close contact with infected person in Europe.

On the ground, today, I’ve been scheduling a dinner meeting for perhaps 60 people on April 15, and one of the directions included “we would like know the deadline for canceling this reservation, since there may be a need to do so due to coronavirus concerns.”  The situation is not abstract, anywhere.

Yesterday we were in Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis for a concert at 11 a.m..  The hall was pretty well packed with senior citizens, reflecting no panic.  Similarly, last night we were at a large fund-raiser in St. Paul, and all was cool.  Again, as of now, nothing happening here yet.  But we are not detached from the world here in Minneapolis-St. Paul and probably everyone expects the virus will light here, and spare them.  All the blanks can be filled everywhere by the daily news.

Today’s front page photo had vice-president Mike Pence touring 3M, which is about 5 miles from where I write.

Two or three days earlier, I was watching Pence’s news conference about the crisis.  In my hearing, it was all about, and addressed to, corporate America…basically an infomercial for Big Business.  It was so thick with implied ‘advertising’, I tuned it out.  There’s lots of money to be made from a crisis…and lost, too, when Wall Street drives the conversation and the Street takes a dive.  There are priorities at the time of a crisis, and they aren’t the most vulnerable and thus most likely victims of something like Coronavirus.  Self-interest comes first.

(As I write, 4 p.m. CST March 6, a report that the first Minnesota case of Coronavirus has been confirmed – no other details.  We’ll all be watching this evenings news and retracing our own steps, wherever these were.  

Later, 5 p.m.  The first Minnesota case is in Ramsey County, which is the next door county to us, St. Paul and area.  )

The chatter on the tube these days reminds me a something I read a few years ago: “The Rise of Disaster Capitalism” by Naomi Klein.  Later, Naomi expanded on this in the later book, Shock Doctrine.

The first consideration of business is the economics: how much will our involvement be worth to our bottom line?  Cynical?  Perhaps.  Prove me wrong.

So, we hunker down here, and hope it doesn’t stop by here.  Escaping is, unfortunately, unlikely, since I live in what is by and large a professional community with lots of people working for big international companies.  For the moment, at least, I’m not going to change my lifestyle, but….

Stay tuned.

POSTNOTE:  I have no hostility to “business”.  I would much rather that it would be a partner rather than competitor of government, which is also essential in so many ways.   The debate about Capitalism and Socialism is, I believe, rooted in this sense of competition – who wins, who loses.  Both have a very important role, and always have.  The current administration, as evidenced by the massive tax cuts in December 2017, has a big bias in favor of big business, and we shall see more and more evidence of this in coming months.


Saturday, March 7: This morning at coffee, friend Dave showed me some photos on his tablet.  He’d been at the local Costco yesterday, and many shelves were stripped of their wares, apparently by customers worried about the next few days.  A short while ago, I stopped by my daughter, and she suggested we lay low for the next couple of weeks.  Folks over 70, and people like myself who’ve had major surgery, are prime targets for traumatic disease.

Such is how it goes, beyond the headlines, with ordinary folks.

So, today, no trip to the gym, which is always a busy place.  A new interest in washing hands, hopefully not a coming compulsive behavior for this country cousin long in the big city.  Decisions to be made: going to church; elbow bumps or shaking hands; a class I don’t want to miss on Tuesday evening; on and on….

The news on the tube and in the papers can take care of itself.  Probably I’ll update this post whenever something pertinent and personal occurs.  The folks who emptied the shelves in the local superstore had their reasons.  Tonight our elderly friend across the street will come over for supper, I understand.

Have a great day.


Sunday, March 8, Reasonable Paranoia:  There’s a phrase that has always caused me to smile: “Just because I’m paranoid, doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get me.”

Today I decided to go to Mass at Basilica, my usual Sunday destination.  I suppose we’re considered a ‘touchy-feely’ place, so it wasn’t much of a surprise when the Priest read the following brief advisory from the pulpit: coronavirus Basilica20200308.

The presence of the virus in the U.S. is no laughing matter, even if in Minnesota there seems to be only a single case so far.

Yesterday afternoon, I checked in at the Weather Channel, and at the time they were playing a program about the deadly Moore Oklahoma Tornado of May 20-21, 2013.  It was followed by a program on the assorted hurricanes of 2017, including Puerto Rico.

In my mind came a blending of the contrasting, yet similar, images of tornado, hurricane and virus, particularly in the present day.

With tornadoes and hurricanes, these days, there is generally pre-notice – be watchful.  Some places, like Oklahoma specifically, are more at risk more often.  No matter the preparedness, sometimes it isn’t enough: 24 died in the Moore tornado; thousands in Puerto Rico hurricane.

With coronavirus, it’s a nastier animal than its cousins, but it is also far more stealthy.  You can’t see it or feel it until its upon you, and then you will likely survive, or possibly not.

Storm shelters are part of the preparedness for weather/climate events.  Preparedness for coronavirus is not simple, and easy to overlook.

Be prepared (I tell myself, too).  I live in best of all possible worlds, and worst: a very large metropolitan area close to care, but full of potential risk as well.  How to deal with this?


Sunday evening, March 8: I did my ordinary exercise at Lifetime Fitness.  The greeting today was essentially the same as at Basilica: the basics of avoiding contracting, or transmitting, Coronavirus.  Someone told me that CDC (Center for Disease Control) has the menu on its website.

A great friend since I was in 8th grade over 65 years ago lives only few miles from the epicenter of the outbreak in suburban Seattle.  I can hardly imagine how traumatic this must be for folks in that neighborhood. Here’s the latest news I could find, from closest to the scene.

[Latest news, Mar 12: here]

Apparently there was a second report today, of another case in St. Paul.  Obviously, among over 5 million people, very small, but I appreciate the awareness.

The big learning for me, so far, is hands: wash them, often….  It does involve relearning.


Monday evening, March 9: My friend in Seattle area wrote this afternoon: “Hi Dick, this Coronavirus thing is indeed scary.  And what makes it even scarier is that until we do some serious tests like they are doing in South Korea, we really won’t know the extent to which it has spread across our nation.  Can’t believe how long it is taking to get the testing underway.  In the mean time, I just continue being the recluse that I am and limit my interacting to my family other than doing a bit of shopping from time to time.”

There is a great plenty of news, which I won’t add to.


Thursday morning, March 12: A great deal has transpired since March 9:  I did contact my family physician yesterday.  I feel fine, and told her so, and filled her in by e-mail of my daily habits (coffee shop, church, fitness place).  Her prompt e-response was to refer me to the Center for Disease Control website, here.  Another excellent source is Johns Hopkins University is here.

In sundry ways, I am seeing proactive response in my own circles.  The Caribou coffee shop manager told me that they are instructed to sanitize common exposure areas, like door knobs, every half hour.  Business is way down, she says.  

I speak to church and fitness center advisories above.

Personally, I attended a workshop at Basilica of St. Mary on Tuesday evening.  This was a group of over 50, and there was no perceptible change in ordinarily careful behaviors.  I am not sure about the status of the last three workshops, on following Tuesdays.  The programs are being video-taped.

Within the last 24 hours, the decision was made to postpone a 4-15-20 program we were organizing here; a 3-22-2020 program I planned to attend is also being postponed.  Both were expected to attract from 50-70 people.  I’m very active in both organizations. The decisions were made without dissension.  No question, fear is a driver.  These are both voluntary events.  Who will come?  What will it be like next week?  Next month?

A friend expressed concern about the impact of Fear in decision making at the time of this Crisis.  He did a more than reasonable imitation of FDR in 1933: “only thing we have to fear is fear itself”.  It is a concern worthy of noting, but fear is likely a real factor in the reactions of individuals, including myself, at this time.  It brings to mind a powerful illustration, Crisis Sequence, I saw at a presentation in the early 1970s.  Here it is, below, and the illustration explains itself.  Basically, we are in stage I.  Here is a pdf of the chart: Crisis Sequence 1970s.  (I dusted this off after 9-11-01, and on other occasions since.  In some ways we are still living in phase I when it comes to 9-11.  It is not healthy.)

I don’t think we’ll be able to rest easy for considerable period of time; on the other hand, if community response is like what I have seen so far, we will lessen the risks.

Comments are welcome.

from Lydia, March 12, a letter transmitted from a friend in Italy (Lydia is a long-time friend):


I am writing to you from Bergamo, Italy, at the heart of the coronavirus crisis. The news media in the US has not captured the severity of what is happening here. I am writing this post because each of you, today, not the government, not the school district, not the mayor, each individual citizen has the chance, today to take actions that will deter the Italian situation from becoming your own country’s reality.  The only way to stop this virus is to limit contagion. And the only way to limit contagion is for millions of people to change their behavior today. 

If you are in Europe or the US you are weeks away from where we are today in Italy.

I can hear you now. “It’s just a flu. It only affects old people with preconditions”

There are 2 reasons why Coronavirus has brought Italy to it’s knees. First it is a flu is devastating when people get really sick they need weeks of ICU – and, second, because of how fast and effectively it spreads. There is 2 week incubation period and many who have it never show symptoms.  

When Prime Minister Conte announced last night that the entire country, 60 million people, would go on lock down, the line that struck me most was “there is no more time.” Because to be clear, this national lock down, is a hail mary. What he means is that if the numbers of contagion do not start to go down, the system, Italy, will collapse. 

Why? Today the ICUs in Lombardy are at capacity – more than capacity. They have begun to put ICU units in the hallways. If the numbers do not go down, the growth rate of contagion tells us that there will be thousands of people who in a matter of a week? two weeks? who will need care. What will happen when there are 100, or a 1000 people who need the hospital and only a few ICU places left? 

On Monday a doctor wrote in the paper that they have begun to have to decide who lives and who dies when the patients show up in the emergency room, like what is done in war. This will only get worse. 

There are a finite number of drs, nurses, medical staff and they are getting the virus. They have also been working non-stop, non-stop for days and days. What happens when the drs, nurses and medical staff are simply not able to care for the patients, when they are not there?

And finally for those who say that this is just something that happens to old people, starting yesterday the hospitals are reporting that younger and younger patients – 40, 45, 18, are coming in for treatment. 

You have a chance to make a difference and stop the spread in your country. Push for the entire office to work at home today, cancel birthday parties, and other gatherings, stay home as much as you can. If you have a fever, any fever, stay home. Push for school closures, now. Anything you can do to stop the spread, because it is spreading in your communities – there is a two week incubation period – and if you do these things now you can buy your medical system time. 

And for those who say it is not possible to close the schools, and do all these other things, locking down Italy was beyond anyone’s imagination a week ago. 

Soon you will not have a choice, so do what you can now. 

Please share.

March 13:   My in-box is full of notices of cancellations of major and not-so-major events, most of which have been very well publicized on major media.

This morning I was surprised at my Caribou Coffee, where everyday I bring my “antiques roadshow” quality Caribou Coffee Mug, long used and well-loved.  Today there was a sign that they won’t fill mugs – part of the COVID response.  I took a photo, and told the manager I appreciate their actions.  Their business is down, but I guess this is a normal consequence.

Caribou Coffee March 13, 2020. Note the sign. Thank you to Caribou.

March 14, 5 p.m.: I watched the White House press conference today and I have no comments on that.  What informs me, now, is ‘on the ground’, here at home, where in many and diverse ways the community is dealing with the present reality in what I feel is a very positive way.  Of course, stuff is selling out at stores , the same as everywhere else.  Virtually every program has been postponed or cancelled in the Twin Cities area – if you wanted to go out it would not be much fun.  The annual St. Patrick’s Day parade in St. Paul has been cancelled; best advice, call ahead you go anywhere.  I’m not one who thinks that the emergency aid bill in the Congress will go through without controversy, even though the House Democrats, most Republicans and the President gave agreed on the terms. The Senate won’t act until next week…dependent on the Speaker.

It’s a beautiful, sunshiny, chilly day here in Woodbury.  Pretty quiet.  I plan to go to Church tomorrow – my day to usher.  I expect it will not be well attended, and lots will be different compared to usual Mass.  That will be tomorrows report, probably.

from Mary in New York, March 14: Hope all are doing well….so many closures that the world is a different place this Saturday….at least in Fairport, New York.  I have cooked and cleaned and picked up yard sticks and while debating next move decided to make a few phone calls but even that is a bit fruitless as folks are doing whatever……perhaps searching for something in a poorly stocked market.  So back to e-com!!

Social distancing is certainly the norm today-and probably for many more days to come.  Not particularly upsetting, just different.

I find the coverage of this pandemic a bit over the top but  understand that many folks have not worked in a field where scary microbes are the rule, not the exception. I believe in basic hygienic practice and hand washing.  I am also humbled by how rapidly disease can get out of control and, with this last week or so as evidence, how quickly normal expectations and practices can change.
Still not sure why toilet paper is being hoarded?? This is a nasty respiratory virus, folks!!
In any case-weather the worries and normal will return.  Perhaps, on the other side, some of the cautions will have become habit and we have wisely decided to ignore some of the ridiculousness.
Oh bother……theaters are now closed!  Net Flix here I come!



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