Covid Pandemic Diary Part 1

Last week on Twitter, a writer in France reached out for accurate information about what is going on the US right now with regard to vaccines.

This got me thinking about the value of narratives and true stories. I’m going to chronicle a few of the Covid events experienced by me personally. Myself and the adults in my family are fully vaccinated, so life is starting to feel normal again, even though I still wear masks in many public places. I’d like to write this down in case it is useful and so that I don’t forget it.

India is on my mind this month. I hope that the United States can play an active role in making and shipping vaccines to help others.

January 2020 – I heard news about the outbreak of a deadly virus in Wuhan, China. This information was easily available to anyone. Asia has had deadly viruses before, so I didn’t conclude that this was going to impact my life. I keep up with scientists and economists on Twitter. Smart people started sounding the alarm on this topic before most Americans realized that this would affect us at all.

February 2020 – I brought the virus up in my lecture to students in February 2020, to warn them that people were dying in Iran. That turned out to be one of my last “normal” face to face lectures. The writing was on the wall.

Unless Americans could seal off our borders (see our great success with borders) and quarantine domestic cases, this was going to spread to us. I live far from San Francisco and New York City, so my city had time to learn a bit from other American cities before the virus hit us.

March 2020 – The first Covid case was identified in the next-door state of Georgia.  Mass testing was not possible, so the first case in my own state might have gone undetected.

Thanks to my insider knowledge from the Twitter science community, I stocked up on toilet paper two weeks ahead of the “run on the bank”. During the Great American Household Toilet Paper Shortage of 2020, I quietly texted a few neighbors to let them know that we had plenty to share. I didn’t short the stock market, so I’m not all that smart.

Before Spring Break, my university emailed faculty to warn us that we might have to switch to online instruction. The leadership at Samford University handled this crisis well. I appreciate their clear communication and commitment to safety. In the middle of Spring Break, when many students were at home already, Samford announced that the campus was closing. All classes moved fully online.

Days later, my kids’ daycare announced that they were closing. It was hard to be stuck in the house with two young kids and no help. At least we had income and toilet paper. Thankfully many things already operate digitally here in the US. I reflected on the infrastructure we were all depending on, that had been built before.

This is a tweet from a professor in New York. It illustrates the disconnect between the Twitter nerds and most Americans

I created an assignment for my students about exponential growth, available here. I quoted an excellent piece by Tyler Cowen from early February.

With some friends, I started an ultimately failed internet project to track Covid symptoms around the country. We thought people would participate, to avert 500,000 deaths. It turns out they couldn’t be bothered. My students couldn’t get their friends and family to sign up. In Spring 2020, there were very few Covid tests to be had. If someone somewhere could have convinced even 10% of Americans to report symptoms daily, the year might have been different.

April 2002 – Russ Roberts and Alex Tabarrok, along with others, started spreading the word that masks really might work. I believed. The problem was that there were none to be had.

From what I understand, my own CDC lied to me temporarily about masks in order to protect the supply for doctors. I also still believe that most of the people who work there are well-intentioned and that most of their information is reliable. One thing that I did not expect about Covid was the importance of trust, messaging and leadership.

I’m not crafty, but I cut up an old T-shirt and tried to follow online mask directions with my son. The result was bad, pictured.

I wore my sad T-shirt mask to the grocery store. Most customers had no masks, although a few Asian people had surgical masks on (where did they get them?). One Asian man in a real mask glanced at me. ‘This man pities me,’ I thought. My mask slipped off and fell on the dirty floor. Then I had to decide whether it was more unsafe to put it back on my face or to breath the scary air.

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