Diary

What will it take?

I live in a nation that, since it’s battle for independence, has never felt foreign boots on our soil, or citizens displaced because of war. We fought WWI and WWII and the Korean “Police Action” and Vietnam remotely without feeling bombs shaking our living rooms or walls falling down around us. Generations have lived in comparative luxury, unchallenged by the need to find one’s own food or shelter; relying upon distribution chains and the illusion that life can be as we want it to be.

How will we fight against an enemy like Coronavirus; an enemy with no remorse, with no ethics, no hesitation to wipe as many of us from the face of the earth?

You might think that this is a very negative way to begin a blog, and I agree it’s scary, but the situation the U.S. finds itself in right here and right now is just that: scary. But the scariest part is that a great many of our friends and neighbors still don’t believe it’s something that can affect THEM.

You and I can’t solve the pandemic alone. In fact, none of us is able to just make it go away. The virus emerged from the world of nature on it’s own, it will stay around for a while and eventually it will go away. That is the way of nature. Nature has ways that are beyond our ability to control, or to even understand. We aren’t superior to Nature, we are her vassals; we serve her whims in more ways than we consider. The only question is how many of us will suffer before we work together for self-protection?

Yesterday I mentioned the state park parking lots that were as busy as during a normal weekend. Today I read on my news feed that even as the infection total rises and even as the death toll climbs people are still praising government inaction and still arguing about why they are not complying with orders for self-quarantine or sheltering in place. Collectively we are not learning the lesson and until we do the rate of infection will rise; it’s not rocket science people. You don’t have to be a scholar to get the fact that sick people infect sick people and you can infect someone even before you show symptoms yourself. You can also be infected by touching things an infected person has touched — and those germs we are finding out now — can survive on surfaces for hours and days depending on the surface they land on. It’s a dangerous world out there — the very one we took for granted just a few days ago.

I don’t want you to fear; I want you to take all the actions you possibly can to protect yourself. Fear helps nothing, saves nothing, accomplishes nothing. Action based in knowledge changes everything.

I read last night that California and New York have changed their testing for COVID-19 policy. Both states will not routinely test, and in fact they will only test if the results of the test are likely to change the outcome of the treatment. They are reserving test kits for the most ill and for the healthcare workers working to save lives. That’s a scary decision, but it’s the only decision left to them.

Ask yourself, how can these other countries manage to do so much better at testing that the Great United States of America?

We know a lot about what’s happening in other countries, but to be honest we don’t know a lot about what’s happening here. We have not tested on the same scale as other nations, we were unprepared for what’s happening — but the comparison above indicates that not every nation was unprepared. Some nations took the warnings of scientists to heart and worked to address their weaknesses. The U.S. did not. Plain and simple. The numbers don’t lie.

There is no answer to the title question. I don’t know how long it will take. But you and I and our families and friends are going to be here to find out — and our own actions will help shorten that time, or lengthen that time.

Now would be a good time to have confidence in your neighbors. Unfortunately, from what I’ve seen, I don’t think I’m very confident in them at all. After all, look who they voted for; the one man who has made the situation infinitely worse because of his inability to admit his own mistakes.

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Diary

Tips on Isolation

You can find this article on the New York Times website


I Spent a Year in Space, and I Have Tips on Isolation to Share

Take it from someone who couldn’t: Go outside.

By Scott Kelly

Mr. Kelly is a retired NASA astronaut who spent nearly a year on the International Space Station.

Being stuck at home can be challenging. When I lived on the International Space Station for nearly a year, it wasn’t easy. When I went to sleep, I was at work. When I woke up, I was still at work. Flying in space is probably the only job you absolutely cannot quit.

But I learned some things during my time up there that I’d like to share — because they are about to come in handy again, as we all confine ourselves at home to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. Here are a few tips on living in isolation, from someone who has been there.

Follow a schedule

On the space station, my time was scheduled tightly, from the moment I woke up to when I went to sleep. Sometimes this involved a spacewalk that could last up to eight hours; other times, it involved a five-minute task, like checking on the experimental flowers I was growing in space. You will find maintaining a plan will help you and your family adjust to a different work and home life environment. When I returned to Earth, I missed the structure it provided and found it hard to live without.

But pace yourself

When you are living and working in the same place for days on end, work can have a way of taking over everything if you let it. Living in space, I deliberately paced myself because I knew I was in it for the long haul — just like we all are today. Take time for fun activities: I met up with crewmates for movie nights, complete with snacks, and binge-watched all of “Game of Thrones” — twice.

And don’t forget to include in your schedule a consistent bedtime. NASA scientists closely study astronauts’ sleep when we are in space, and they have found that quality of sleep relates to cognition, mood, and interpersonal relations — all essential to getting through a mission in space or a quarantine at home.

Go outside

One of the things I missed most while living in space was being able to go outside and experience nature. After being confined to a small space for months, I actually started to crave nature — the color green, the smell of fresh dirt, and the feel of warm sun on my face. That flower experiment became more important to me than I could have ever imagined. My colleagues liked to play a recording of Earth sounds, like birds and rustling trees, and even mosquitoes, over and over. It brought me back to earth. (Although occasionally I found myself swatting my ears at the mosquitoes. )

For an astronaut, going outside is a dangerous undertaking that requires days of preparation, so I appreciate that in our current predicament, I can step outside any time I want for a walk or a hike — no spacesuit needed. Research has shown that spending time in nature is beneficial for our mental and physical health, as is exercise. You don’t need to work out two and a half hours a day, as astronauts on the space station do, but getting moving once a day should be part of your quarantine schedule (just stay at least six feet away from others).

You need a hobby

When you are confined in a small space you need an outlet that isn’t work or maintaining your environment.

Some people are surprised to learn I brought books with me to space. The quiet and absorption you can find in a physical book — one that doesn’t ping you with notifications or tempt you to open a new tab — is priceless. Many small bookstores are currently offering curbside pickup or home delivery service, which means you can support a local business while also cultivating some much-needed unplugged time.

You can also practice an instrument (I just bought a digital guitar trainer online), try a craft, or make some art. Astronauts take time for all of these while in space. (Remember Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield’s famous cover of David Bowie’s Space Oddity?)

Keep a journal

NASA has been studying the effects of isolation on humans for decades, and one surprising finding they have made is the value of keeping a journal. Throughout my yearlong mission, I took the time to write about my experiences almost every day. If you find yourself just chronicling the days’ events (which, under the circumstances, might get repetitive) instead try describing what you are experiencing through your five senses or write about memories. Even if you don’t wind up writing a book based on your journal like I did, writing about your days will help put your experiences in perspective and let you look back later on what this unique time in history has meant.

Take time to connect

Even with all the responsibilities of serving as commander of a space station, I never missed the chance to have a videoconference with family and friends. Scientists have found that isolation is damaging not only to our mental health, but to our physical health as well, especially our immune systems. Technology makes it easier than ever to keep in touch, so it’s worth making time to connect with someone every day — it might actually help you fight off viruses.

Listen to experts

I’ve found that most problems aren’t rocket science, but when they are rocket science, you should ask a rocket scientist. Living in space taught me a lot about the importance of trusting the advice of people who knew more than I did about their subjects, whether it was science, engineering, medicine, or the design of the incredibly complex space station that was keeping me alive.

Especially in a challenging moment like the one we are living through now, we have to seek out knowledge from those who know the most about it and listen to them. Social media and other poorly vetted sources can be transmitters of misinformation just as handshakes transmit viruses, so we have to make a point of seeking out reputable sources of facts, like the World Health Organization and the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

We are all connected

Seen from space, the Earth has no borders. The spread of the coronavirus is showing us that what we share is much more powerful than what keeps us apart, for better or for worse. All people are inescapably interconnected, and the more we can come together to solve our problems, the better off we will all be.

One of the side effects of seeing Earth from the perspective of space, at least for me, is feeling more compassion for others. As helpless as we may feel stuck inside our homes, there are always things we can do — I’ve seen people reading to children via videoconference, donating their time and dollars to charities online, and running errands for elderly or immuno-compromised neighbors. The benefits for the volunteer are just as great as for those helped.

I’ve seen humans work together to prevail over some of the toughest challenges imaginable, and I know we can prevail over this one if we all do our part and work together as a team.


Oh, and wash your hands — often.


Scott Kelly is a retired NASA astronaut who spent nearly a year on the International Space Station.

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If people are staying at home with family members, especially kids and special needs family young or old, they may want to make a Just in Case list of things their kids or family members need, health issues, doctors names and numbers, etc. Since we don’t know when or if it will hit and how hard, making sure that your family is taken care of in the best way possible if you have to be absent for any length of time would help both future caregivers and your family. Most of us don’t like to think about this, but it seems a real possibility that caregivers could get sick, leaving behind kids that are healthy or showing no symptoms. It would be hard to play catch up with a kid who is worried about a sick parent, or lost them due to illness, especially if they have special needs. I have also thought about including personality quirks about my kids. Some are easy to get talking but others need to be snuggled first before they will open up. Having a “cheat sheet” would lessen the learning curve.

COVID Cheat Sheet

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Diary

Corps Campground Shutdowns

We may have sold our RV but we think often about our friends still on the road. I just noticed this notice on the USACOE website:

WASHINGTON, DC — 3/20/2020

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) announced today that it has begun the orderly shutdown of all USACE-managed campgrounds to protect against the further spread of coronavirus disease 2019. Visitor centers, beaches, special events, and USACE-sponsored events such as shore sweeps, interpretive programs, Kids to Parks Day, Earth Day events, public meetings and other public gatherings at all USACE-managed sites and facilities have also been closed and/or put on hold until further notice.

Individuals with paid camping reservations will be contacted by email and full refunds will automatically be processed by Recreation.gov with no cancellation fees. Individuals should not contact Recreation.gov to request a refund as that will lead to a cancellation fee being charged.

USACE is maintaining access to its projects by keeping day-use facilities and lake access areas open such as boat launches, picnic areas, fishing piers, and viewing areas.  These areas are, however, subject to evolving conditions related to COVID-19 and decisions may have to be made locally to close specific areas.

For more information on the current status of USACE recreation area closures, we ask that you contact the USACE lake or river project before your visit. A complete list of recreation areas is available at www.CorpsLakes.us. The public’s patience and understanding during this unprecedented time is appreciated.

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Diary

Absence makes the heart grow fonder

Saturday was our daughter’s birthday. It’s rare that we don’t spend the day, or part of the day with her to celebrate, but this year we did not. The reason, I would think, is obvious, but that didn’t make it any easier.

this photo from a couple weeks ago of
our daughter Kathryn with our Great
Grandchild Sophia!

It takes discipline to stick with the self-quarantine program. Discipline for the entire family grouping. We’re a close family, always have been, but there are times when what you need to do is simply too important for that thing not to be done, so you pull up your big girl panties and you go do what needs doing…. or in this case you refrain from doing what you’ve always done.

This quotation from Elon Musk really hit me. I first saw it the day before Katy’s birthday and I was thinking about the fact that we weren’t going to be seeing her on her special day. Musk has put this expression to test a goodly number of times; he’s a great deal more flamboyant than Peggy or I but mavericks seem to be the people who get things done in this world and there’s a lot to be said for this simple, straightforward statement. No fuss. No excuses. Just get out there and do what needs doing and worry about the consequences afterwards. A great many silent heroes are doing that right now, as I write, as I sleep, all day tomorrow, and the next day and the days and weeks, and yes, months to come. Putting their very lives at risk; and we know a significant number of them will pay a heavy, if not final price for their constancy and faithfulness. In the meantime some of us are called on to sit on our butts and stay out of the way — or at least to stay away from contagion.

Today, I was saddened to see two photos taken this afternoon at one of our state parks. They were both photos of state park parking lots. And both lots were filled nearly to capacity with cars. This, in a state where people are supposed to be sheltering-in-place. I know that families with kids are feeling the pressure of kids with lots of energy wanting to be out of the house and active, but I can’t help but feel, indeed I know without a doubt that a great many of those cars were not the cars of families with kids — they were simply singles and couples and small groups who simply wanted to do their own thing in spite of pleas from authorities for help in lowering the contagion curve. My heart bled.

“There is one thing humans can always do. We can always find a reason to do whatever it is that we want to do. It matters not that authorities are asking us to consider other humans and cooperate by limiting our harm to others simply by staying away from people; for some people it’s too much to ask them to consider others. They will always come first and they will always have a plausible excuse. And they will never think that there might be times when it is good for them to give up something that they want so that someone else might not suffer.”

Yesterday Peggy worked on a jigsaw puzzle, I did some reading and surfed the Net for a while. We enjoyed being home, we laughed a little, we spoke with our daughter by phone, and we enjoyed being alive. Life doesn’t have to be complicated for us. When we were younger we were a lot busier, but I trust that we would have tried to shelter as asked. I don’t know for sure that we would have but everything in our life tells me we would. I know for sure that we will be doing so for the forseeable future. This will not be over in two weeks. Nor in two months. I’m not even sure how much of the summer we may get to spend at our summer place — or whether we’ll go there at all. Right now a great deal is up in the air. And it’s possible for us to simply wait and see. I know it’s hard to do that when you’re young. I know some personalities are unable to do it at all. And it saddens me.

But, hey, I can’t live their life for them. I can only live mine. And I’ll try not to be the cause other people get sick. It’s the least I can do.

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Isn’t it time to go from anger about the earth and the ecology to action?

Earth

More than Anger: Action

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Diary

Challenging Times

I don’t know how anyone else is handling daily life with the Coronavirus but I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m finding it difficult to fight off the psychological aspects of depression that result simply from confinement.

I am fine about reasoning out the rational understanding of what’s happening, why, and what the likely outcomes might be. That is sobering but I’m not panicking and I’m not depressed about that. There have been tough times for humans all the way through history; we ought not to expect to be spared just because we think we’re an advanced culture.

Dealing with the effects of a more sedentary lifestyle, of not being able to be out among other humans interacting with them — that’s a different story altogether. But, in my organized sort of way it’s something that I consciously think about every single day and I work at countering the frustration and the discouragement in conscious ways. Keep my brain active even if my body is stuck in one place; and when worse comes to worse I can alway go out into the very short hallway and do stairs for exercise!

I don’t know how many of you have seen a chart like this. This one was made by an associate and it scares the bejeezus out of me. Not because the virus is so deadly — after all the death rate has been hovering around 10% which although it is bad it’s not as bad as other pandemics that have decimated earth. But the thing that scares me is the angle of ascendancy on that U.S. curve. In part because we know that because of the lack of test kits we are not actually testing all that many of our citizens and that the number of cases is probably much higher. We here in the U.S. are seeing more acceleration of the infection rate than other countries did at the same “time-since-the-100th-case”. And that speaks to the fact that:

  • a lot of people aren’t cooperating with the voluntary restraints
  • a lot of people are skeptical about the real threat and won’t be easily convinced
  • we have a larger population than most of the nations we are tracking — so that the potential for loss of life is a lot greater.

It’s true that our population density is lower than a lot of countries. But we sort of compensate for the advantage of not being crammed into such tight spaces by also being the richest country and therefore the most accessible to transportation. We can easily undo all the good that some of are doing by self-isolating by letting other people travel wherever they want — and we can afford to do so.

One of the dangers is that with a healthcare system that is profit based, we never saw the need for excess capacity. Stockholders don’t want to pay for beds that aren’t full and making money, so healthcare companies never built hospitals or beds for extraordinary circumstances. And if that infection curve rises too rapidly we will simply present too many patients at the hospital doors too quickly to handle. It’s a scary thought.

Add to that the fact that we have under supply of testing supplies we don’t really even know how many patients we have. It’s a bit of a frustrating situation for anyone trying to actually deal with the situation and I’m not sure that the executive branch of our country is really trying to do that. There have been too many hints at the fact that rich men and women really don’t give a rat’s patootie about how much the poor are suffering as long as they make a profit on their healthcare.

I know, that sounds terribly unfair.

But I’m not relying on the media for any of my opinion except for listening to live broadcasts by administration members themselves. Their phrasing, the topics they talk about, and those they ignore are all telling and don’t have to be interpreted. All you have to do is listen.

I’m keeping busy. I hope you are too. Idle hands are the devil’s workshop you know. Keeping your brain going is a good thing. 🙂

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