The calm before

pandemic cherry blossoms

Tuesday March 24: in which politicians volunteer to die, billionaires distribute millions of masks, cherry blossoms bloom


I grew up in the midwest, in the so-called tornado alley, where weather is an unpredictable and constant presence.  There are four seasons, each with its own version of extreme; summers are fryingly hot and deeply humid, the tar softening into bubbles on the road. Summer storms boom with thunder and crackle with lightning, great darkening cumulonimbus clouds billowing up over the prairie. Fall is a season of color and murderous amounts of pollen; winters are icy and cold.

But spring is the worst, by far: one minute pretty and blooming with dogwood blossoms, the next hail is pounding you from a blue sky. The first pleasant day of temps in the 70s wearing shorts is likely as not to be followed by a killer early frost that destroys your garden. Mostly I associate the spring sky with tornadoes, and the fear of them. Even as a very young child I knew what tornado weather was; how the sky gets lowering and black with ominous tints of green. Well before the wind starts, it gets really still, a feeling like the air holding its breath.  A smattering of cold rain or hail might fall. National weather service tornado watch and warning alerts on television were a feature of my childhood, when they interrupted regular programming I knew it was time to move to the basement, avoiding windows. All of us kids knew where the candles and flashlights were kept.

Sheltering in place monitoring the pandemic news, I have the same feeling now as I did then, between the tornado warnings going off but before the storm hits. The very stillness of the air feels malevolent, because you *know* that, shortly, this traitorous calm will break wide open with the freight train-like roar of the tornado. Tornadoes being what they are, you may emerge with your house blown away, or sitting untouched amidst a neighborhood that has been absolutely destroyed, your neighbor’s car up a tree four blocks away.

Every night on the news, healthcare professionals tell us about their preparations for the onslaught of patients expected, based on the progress of the virus in China, South Korea, Italy.  We hear about the shortage of personal protective equipment, ventilators, respirators. The statistical curves projecting our future are frightening, and add to the surreality. Temporary hospitals are going up in parking lots in New York and San Francisco in readiness for the deluge of sickness that is still far out to sea, a tidal wave that has temporarily emptied the beach. People are trying to emotionally connect the stories out of Italy with the US doctors calmly explaining the critical shortages, but misinformation and uncertainty are like a fog that stops us from seeing whatever lies beyond. 

It’s as if we are stuck on a ship in a becalmed ocean, but distantly we see the flash of a lighthouse, warning us of the rocks ahead, rocks that will splinter the ship in seconds if the ocean begins to storm and we’re unlucky enough to be slammed against them. Dr. Fauci is the captain pacing the deck and yelling at sailors to stop playing cards and get ready for the danger.

As a kid, I would sit in the dank unfinished basement watching the candles flicker and make shadow-shows on the walls. Dad’s workshop was down there, but he never puttered around if we were sitting out a tornado warning; that’s how I knew the danger was real, that we weren’t sitting there in the mildewy smell of concrete out of an abundance of caution.

Meanwhile the information trickles in, like beads from a broken necklace, no sense-making narrative string to connect these disparate facts into a coherent story:

  • Today the stock market rebounded 1600 points
  • Today Italy again reported a decline in daily deaths; an entire generation has died
  • Today infections in the US are at ~47,000, with 2,297 in California, 926 in the Bay Area, 131 in San Francisco
  • Today South Korea averages 200k tests per day, while the US has yet to complete 200k tests in total
  • Today the WHO said the US could be the next epicenter of the virus
  • Today the Lt. Governor of Texas said he’s willing to die of the virus for the economy
  • Today the CDC reports the coronavirus lived for 17 days on a cruise ship
  • Today CEOs Marck Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, Tim Cook, Jack Ma and Mark Benioff have collectively donated 13 million masks
  • Today the CDC recommended healthcare workers use a bandana or a scarf as a PPE ‘last resort’
  • Today Japan announced the Tokyo summer Olympic games will be delayed for a year
  • Today President Trump said we’ll have the economy up and running by Easter
  • Today Warren Buffett’s fortune has dropped by $9.6 billion and now he only has $66.4 billion

Good things: the cherry blossoms are in full bloom; Colorado has eliminated the death penalty in that state.

See past entries in Coronavirus Event

One response to “The calm before

  1. Pingback: a praiseworthy mouth | reliablyuncomfortable·

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