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Updated: Aug 24, 2020

April 10, 2020

After weeks of being told that face masks weren’t necessary/didn’t really work, or might even increase one’s chances of catching the virus, we are now being urged to wear them. The President is opting out, and told us (on April 3) that the choice is ours. But his advisors are now adamant that everyone else should wear masks in public.

The joke on Facebook now is how much money women will be saving on makeup now! That actually does make me happy :):):. I also have to wear sunglasses whenever I go out because one of my pupils doesn’t contract. The sight of me in my big black sunglasses, a mask and a hat (it’s still cold in NJ!) is pretty funny. I look like a bank robber.

(Of course some people are worrying that mask-wearing bandits will start appearing among us … which I suppose is possible. But it hasn’t happened yet, that I know of, so I am not about to add another worry to my already long list.)

On Etsy and elsewhere, a cottage industry has sprung up almost overnight to help meet the demand for masks. Hand- or machine-sewn masks in every possible design (florals, stripes, sports logos, animal snouts, sequins and feathers, cartoon characters, you name it) are being produced by individuals in their homes. In fact, I have a friend in Hawaii who’s making at least 10 a day for people she will likely never meet.

People are also making masks and other equipment with 3-D printers. Industrial giant 3M has been manufacturing N95 masks (also called “respirators,” which is kind of confusing) ever since January — not formally under the Defense Production Act, which still has yet to be really implemented.

I really wish we would have started wearing masks sooner, and gloves, too. I wish the government would have started gathering or helping industry make PPE way back in January, or even February. I wish Trump hadn't shut down the pandemic preparedness office Obama left all set up for him. I wish doctors and nurses had supplies, and I wish we had followed South Korea's lead. But wishing is pointless. I know.

Today there are 466,000 reported cases of COVID-19 in the US, and there have been more than 17,000 deaths.

I’m sure I’m not the only person right now who can hardly absorb these numbers. Honestly, I’m not a numbers person — a lot of the time 33,000 and 3 million feel like the same thing (depending on what the number refers to). If I can’t mentally picture it, it might as well be 3 billion.

Money or math people are probably a lot savvier, but I suspect a lot of people, never mind their right/left brain ability, are having a really hard time wrapping their minds around these virus statistics. The tally never stops climbing, and the fact that each uptick represents a person infected or dead is almost too harsh to take in. Your mind pushes it away. You don't want to understand those numbers, and your frontal cortex helps you out by refusing to let them in.

Even now, weeks into this, we are still in shock. We’re functioning, we’re trying to keep up, and as I wrote yesterday, populist anger and political infighting rage on, in some ways stronger than ever. Most of us are strong and calm enough to work from home (kind of), and many of us are taking active steps to stay collected, to help kids endure the confinement, or even to find some fun in all this (see animal snout masks, above).

But I can feel that we are still traumatized. And out of it. And holding our breaths in fear of what we’ll find out today.

On this day, April 10, we’re told the virus is tearing through nursing homes. This strikes me as heart-wrenching and unsurprising, both. Nursing home residents are not only elderly but housed closely together, without ready access to medical equipment and personnel. Most have co-morbidities, a term we’re all learning (meaning, already-present medical conditions that make the virus hit even harder). I can easily imagine that once this virus finds its way into a nursing home, not much can stop it.

The same is true of prisons, and a public debate has started up about releasing prisoners. No one can social-distance in a prison setting, not the prisoners, and not the staff either. On April 3, the U.S. Attorney General ordered three institutions that had reported high coronavirus numbers to release prisoners who were eligible for home confinement, were particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus, and who were believed to no longer pose a threat to society.

In Washington State, prisoners protested at the Monroe Correctional Complex after several inmates and at least one staff member tested positive for the virus. One long time inmate, Arthur Longworth, told the Northwest News Network, “I've been in fires in the cell block before, it's a scary thing. And when the virus gets in here, as it has, it feels kind of like that.”

To many people already living in terror of getting sick, news of convicts being released into the community is unwelcome, to say the least. I get that, but overall it sounds like the prisoners have it harder than we do. Not only do they share all the contagion fears we have, they are also being released in haste and without any of the usual support mechanisms like transportation and housing assistance.

Yesterday California released 2,000 prisoners with 60 days or less left on their sentences. Another 1,500 will be released on Monday. That’s a lot of people to send back out into society all at once, especially since it sounds like no one is making sure they have a place to go or a way to get there.

And (the big question): are these prisoners positive for coronavirus? It’s great to protect the prison population, which is uniquely vulnerable to contagion. But, hello, there's also us. Has anyone tested them?

(If so, how are prisons even getting tests? We out here still can’t get tested.)

Like almost everyone else in the nation, I’m perplexed, anxious and furious about testing -- where it is, why it's so hard to get. What is the holdup, Washington??? We need testing! How can we do anything this pandemic demands of us — start contact tracing, figure out how much hospital capacity we'll need, learn about the virus, know how long to stay indoors — without knowing who is sick and who isn’t?

The days go by and the news gets worse every day (today more than 6 million people have applied for unemployment! A US record!), and it feels like our country is not any closer to managing the crisis than it was a month ago.

The social distancing may be starting to flatten the curve in New York City. Maybe. We’ll know in a few days — say, next week?

But in the meantime, I imagine all of us in our houses, trying to pay attention during Zoom meetings, rationing paper products, distracting ourselves with Netflix and cute kitten videos on the internet, while wondering in the back of our minds … how do we even know how many people have this, when still less than 1% of the population has been tested?

If you've ever driven down a country road after midnight without headlights, say in the fog or snow, this probably feels familiar. You can't see a damn thing but you have to keep moving anyway, because stopping and giving up would be even worse.

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