This semester was well and truly f—-d from the beginning. I missed the first week of class due to being hospitalized for a complication stemming from the disease I was diagnosed with a couple of years ago. When I returned to class, it felt like I was struggling to get my feet under me. Then an incident happened that made me question my whole decision to teach in the first place. And now? Well, now I’ll be confined to quarters for the duration of the semester as we have switched over to online instruction for the balance of it owing to the virus. It is the right decision. But it still kinda sucks. Now, I’m not Daniel DeFoe, but he wrote a wonderful book called Journal of a Plague Year which is technically a novel (though it is often seen as non-fiction) about the Great Plague of London in 1665. I decided to do something a little similar. Not in book form, but in blog post form. While this plays out, I shall record my weekly record of my experiences here. In this first post, I will talk about everything that happened from when I first learned about the virus to now, so it might be a little longer than the subsequent posts.
CAVEAT: I am not a medical doctor. Nor do I pretend to be a doctor in bars. This is due to the fact that I don’t drink alcohol and so I don’t go to bars. And even if I did, I wouldn’t pretend to be a doctor. I’d pretend to be an attorney. So nothing that follows is medical advice. It is merely the pandemic as I have experienced it.
I first became aware of the novel coronavirus during the last week of January. Now, I’ll confess that viruses, plagues, and pandemics have always fascinated me. I’m not sure why. Part of it is professional, as I helped draft my FD’s pandemic response plan back during the whole bird flu mess. At that time, I wasn’t much worried about it, though some of the leaked video and images out of China were fairly alarming, frightening even. I think I referenced it in class for the first time either that week or the next when talking about the Bubonic Plague in my 1301 class.
Around Valentines Day, I discovered a podcast that posted daily updates on the virus. It was pretty in depth and scientific. Often, they’d discuss some new conclusion reached by the doctors several days before the mainstream media did. I’ve continued to listen daily. It was around this time that I had my first twinges of alarm. Given how interconnected the world is, I knew it was just a matter of time before it reached my state.
I was kind of amazed over the next couple of weeks how not many people seemed to care of the looming threat it posed. I wasn’t afraid, necessarily, but as a person who is immuno-compromised with s–t for lungs, I knew I’d be at high risk of contracting it should it result in a large outbreak. Better to be safe than sorry? Right? Well, apparently not. Late February into very early March, we had troubling news out of Washington state. An outbreak in a nursing home. Firefighters exposed. Patients dying. Nurses exposed. What a s–t storm! Coming soon to a town near you!
And then, the first week of March, I think, the City of San Antonio said that the CDC let a patient (from a cruise ship) who had been quarantined there was allowed to walk out of the facility and even visited the freaking mall when still positive for the virus! What a clusterf–k! And then, Dear Readers, it happened!
The first case in Texas (not connected to the cruise ship passengers quarantined in SA) was reported on the evening of March 4th. It was in Fort Bend County, where my college has two of its three campus and I teach at both of them! Within a couple of days, there were six cases in the county all connected to a trip to Egypt. The college where I teach was supposed to draft a pandemic response plan back in 2006 (probably in response to the bird flu), but it was never completed. On the morning of March 5th, I sent a lengthy email to one of our VPs outlining the specific questions we needed to be thinking about. Yes, in a way I was exceeding my brief, but at the same time, I do have experience with this type of planning. She agreed and had some questions of her own. As I understand it, the issue was discussed at the cabinet meeting that day, but I know of no specific measures that were taken at that time.
We were on Spring Break the week of March 9-13, and that is when the bottom dropped out. NBA player testing positive. Tom Hanks testing positive. Baseball suspending Spring Training. The NBA suspending the season. The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo cancelled, despite the Mayor having said a day or two before that it wouldn’t. And then the school closures. Wave after wave of colleges and public schools began to announce closures. My college sent an announcement on Thursday, March 12th that said we would be extending Spring Break by a week (March 16-20). Rumor had it, we were going to be switching to online instruction like virtually all of the schools around us.
My wife and I had enough groceries and water that we were able to stay more or less isolated during Spring Break, but with the extension of the break, we made a a double grocery order on the 14th which will last us for a while. We used Kroger’s click list so we don’t actually have to go in and shop for it ourselves.
The college sent out its official notice to us on the evening of Monday, March 16th. (Word was sent to students two days later). Full time faculty/staff were to report back on Monday the 23rd, but the college would remain closed until March 29th. Classes would resume, in an online format, on Monday, March 30th. I teach at least one class online each semester, so it isn’t a huge deal for me to make the switch, but that isn’t the case for everyone. Given my health issues, I do not have to report to work on the 23rd, and, to be honest, I doubt very many people will.
It was a greatly subdued St. Patrick’s Day. I don’t drink, but I do pour out shots for my absent friends and relations. Pouring out liquor is kind of a hood thing, but that’s where I grew up, so I merged it with my paddy ways. Sadly, I had to add a glass this year for my cousin Marty who passed away unexpectedly last summer. Apart from that, it was a day filled with Irish music and Irish movies.
My wife is a high school teacher and she’s working from home now too. It’s funny, really. Yesterday, she woke up at 0600 and pretty much worked all day (phones, Google hangout meetings, emails) while I played video games in my room. When she noted that we will basically be together all day until August, my response was, “Sweet Mother of God! Somebody infect me now!”
But now we are headed into a brave new world. I worry for my students who don’t have reliable internet access or technology. I worry about the ones who might lose a family member. I worry about my brothers and sisters in the fire service knowing that they will take casualties from this as well. I don’t worry about myself. As I write this, we are at nearly 9,000 cases and 150 deaths when just a week or so back, it was 100 cases. My back is f—–g killing me. I can’t sleep. And I’m bored out of my mind. I don’t know what the future holds for me, or for any of us. But I do know that we can get through it. We’ve survived terror attacks, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, wildfires, and pandemics before, and we can do it again.
And for all you teachers and professors out there, this is our new anthem!
Until next time, Dear Readers, take care of yourselves. And each other.
(But do it from six feet away)