Oh boy. My colleague must have noticed the panic in my eyes.
When both he and the neighbor had drifted away, I made a beeline for the restroom, where I washed my hands far longer than the requisite 20 seconds. Then I went back to my cart, cleaned the handle with a sanitary wipe — for the second time — and was able to resume my foraging for random food items that my wife and I might or might not need during a period of semi-isolation of open-ended duration.
Decades ago, my favorite author, Gabriel García Márquez, wrote a novel entitled “Love in the Time of Cholera.” Today, someone needs to write a Netflix screenplay called “Life in the Time of Covid-19.” Our lives have changed.
In my household, we understand and take seriously the mandate for social distancing. We understand that if, in six months or so, the disruption we’re experiencing now looks like an overreaction — if we don’t suffer the horrors seen in China or Italy and end up with relatively few deaths — the measures we’re taking today will have worked. We will have bent the now-famous curve and kept the disease from overwhelming our health system.
What we don’t understand — because no one seems to know — is how long this hunkering down has to last. We don’t fully understand the dimensions of our sequestration, because they keep changing. And it is clear by now that there will be no rational, reassuring leadership from President Trump. We’re on our own.
My wife and I are in an age group that has to be more concerned about the prospect of contracting the virus than, say, our millennial sons. But we’re not so old or infirm that we feel we have to go beyond distancing to total isolation — and that wouldn’t be feasible anyway. Each day, then, involves a series of decisions. Do I really need to pick up the dry cleaning? If I wait until later in the week, will the dry cleaner still be open?
The fact that the rules and restrictions keep changing is probably a good thing, because it means people are taking the threat more seriously. But it discourages procrastination. If there are errands I believe I can run safely, there is an incentive to do today what I might not be able to do tomorrow — or, perhaps, for an indefinite period of time.
I miss going to the office. I’ve worked in newsrooms all my adult life, and I miss the bustle and excitement. Somehow, perhaps counterintuitively, it helps me concentrate. But the sensible policy at The Washington Post is that those who can work at home should do so. This morning I wrote down my 16-character password for The Post’s network on a business card and tucked it into my wallet, because I don’t know when I’ll get to my office again and don’t want to have to go crawling to the IT folks because I’ve forgotten how to sign on.
Schools are out, and my neighborhood has lots of children who can only bounce off the walls for so long before their parents have to let them outside. Unfortunately, we have to give them a wide berth. I look at happy, friendly, well-behaved boys and girls and — not being paranoid here — I see potential asymptomatic vectors of serious disease.
I’ll still be watching the presidential campaign, but what kind of campaign will it be? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention posted a recommendation against gatherings of 50 or more people for the next eight weeks; on Monday, the White House suggested those circles should be drawn even tighter, to 10 people or less. For former vice president Joe Biden, 77, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, 78 — both in the vulnerable age group — this means no rallies, no handshaking, certainly no baby-kissing. For voters, it means that standing in line at polling places exposes them to some degree of risk.
Normally, I’d be preparing to go to New York to participate in MSNBC’s coverage of Tuesday’s Florida, Ohio, Illinois and Arizona primaries. But the network has decided not to ask contributors to travel, and I wouldn’t be comfortable spending time in train stations or airport security lines, so I won’t have to pack my suitcase to go anywhere.
Maybe the trip to the dry cleaner can wait after all.