Day 835

For a few weeks in May, the color-coded map used by the state of Ohio to identify the spread of COVID-19 showed my county in green. Yet by the middle of the month we migrated up to yellow, then orange, and all the way to red. We’ve since eased down to yellow and have remained there most of June.

The community college where I tutor lifted its masking requirement in the middle of May, re-instated mandatory masking in June, and has now made masks optional. I check my college email account before going to campus to check the current rule because that’s the only way I can keep up. There’s far fewer students in the tutoring center during summer session, so most of the time I’m alone with another vaccinated tutor. Most staff I see on campus are masked, but since I typically have little direct contact with anyone I only wear a mask when a student comes in.

Masking isn’t required for my grocery store job, but I wear one anyway as I’m in close contact with hundreds of people during my eight-hour shift. Only 10% of our customers and employees are masked.

Both of my sons were infected recently. My wife and I quarantined the son who lives with us and we had to cancel a trip we’d planned to visit our other son. Both sons were vaccinated and boosted; they also take reasonable precautions. Their cases were mild and they came out of isolation five days after testing negative. Infection seems almost inevitable for my wife and I, and our hope is that by staying up to date on our inoculations we’ll get through our illnesses as easily as our sons.

I’ve decided not to return to my fencing club until I’m reasonably certain our county won’t turn orange or red on Ohio’s COVID map. At this point I have no idea when that will happen.

Celebrating the Unusual

HOTO PROMPT © David Stewart

When the pandemic began, working from home was Arlen’s sole option. For nearly a year he came into the office once monthly, never for a full day. Once vaccinated he went in once each week; feeling comfortable a month later, that increased to two days, then three a few months later. In January, nearly two years from the virus’ outbreak, he was in the office all five days.

Today was his last of scheduled remote work. Starting Monday, his daily commute would resume.

Arlen’s wife prepared an elaborate breakfast to celebrate the end of this unusual time in his career.

Friday Fictioneers is a weekly flash fiction challenge.

Day 730

Didn’t occur to me until I did the quick division of the above number that this is the end of the second year of this informal COVID-19 journal. If I write a post a year from now titled Day 1095, that probably means any hope of going back to our pre-pandemic existence is destroyed.

***

Yet another color-coded map of the virus’ spread was issued a few weeks ago, but this time the colors for our corner of Ohio look promising. We’re yellow trending to green, not orange or red! The Center for Disease Control now states our county’s in good enough condition for maskless indoor gatherings.

The mandates are being lifted all around. Last week I went maskless at work for the first time since summer. (Can‘t swear without being detected anymore… dang, gotta watch myself now.) Today I went to the gym and while I chose to wear a mask I didn’t see any other covered faces. The library now “strongly recommends” masks; I’m not tempted to test the policy by going in bare-faced. The community college where I work is currently on spring break and has issued an updated masking policy which… isn’t quite clear. When I go back to work at the Writing Center next week, I expect to remain masked through the end of the semester in early May.

Will I return to the fencing club in April? All depends on the masking policy. Wearing an N95 under a metal fencing mask isn’t something I can do comfortably.

***

Ohio has a fairly consistent meteorological tradition of a major snowstorm in mid-April; we call it the Tax Day Blizzard. It’s usually heavy and deep, but is usually followed by a warm front that melts all the snow in a day or two.

I’m wondering if we’ll have a similar disruption with the pandemic, a spike in new cases and hospitalizations caused by a new variant. I hope this suspicion turns out to be incorrect, but the past two years have taught us that bad news is far more likely than good.

Day 709

With the omicron wave subsiding, there’s cautious optimism that we’re entering a new and less-restrictive phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. Of course, I’ve been giddy over promising news before, and again, so I’m going to wait this time before declaring victory.

It’s been a while since I’ve summarized the pandemic protocols at various locations in my world. Here’s where we currently stand.

***

At the community college where I work as a tutor, mask wearing is required throughout the campus, regardless of vaccination status. My shifts are four hours long, but as I’m sitting the entire time there’s little inconvenience. We’ve had very few students walk in to the tutoring center since the start of the semester last month; many are still requesting virtual consultations via Zoom. Spring break is in three weeks… maybe, maybe, the mask requirement will be lifted when classes resume after the break.

***

At the grocery store where I work on Fridays, employees are required to mask at all times. The store requests customers also wear masks but does not require them. Mandatory masking for customers would lead to a lot of negative publicity and reduce store revenues. In other words, public health standards are fine so long as they don’t affect profits.

Yeah, that’s pretty cynical and unfair, but this isn’t a time for generosity.

***

The public library also requires masks of all patrons. I go there to check out books and movies I reserve online, but given a choice between writing at the library while masked and writing at home without covering my mouth, I’ll keep the car in the garage.

I haven’t written at the library since the summer. When the mask mandate ends, I’m there when the library opens the next morning.

***

Employees at any health-care facility or business are all masked. Outside of health care, it’s hard to predict which businesses require masks of their employees. I still wear mine when I go into any public building out of respect for the general public.

***

I also haven’t been to the community gym since the summer, and I can’t remember the last time I was at the Pilates studio. I don’t know what their masking policies are either. Once the library ends its mandate, I’ll investigate these activities as well.

***

The place where I long to return is the fencing club.

The deciding factor for me will be the masking policy. If I have to cover my mouth while also wearing a cage over my face, I have to stay away. I know many people do so on a regular basis, but I was never comfortable doing so during my two-month resumption of fencing last summer. That might mean this is the final place I return to. So it goes.

***

I haven’t been exercising enough since the Delta variant hit last August. We have a recumbent bike and Pilates machine at home, and while I use both once a week I don’t feel satisfied. I need to get moving again, and I’m hoping that within the next two-three weeks I can get back into something like my former workout routine: a day at the gym… a night or two of fencing… one morning Pilates class… get on the bike while watching a ball game on Sunday…

Unnaturally Quiet

PHOTO PROMPT © Ted Strutz

My town’s public library has closed to visitors again due to the latest COVID surge. Patrons can request materials online and have them delivered to their cars when they drive up, much like the grocery store where I work.

Before the pandemic I’d go to the library on opening one or two weekday mornings. The building would be nearly vacant until children arrived with their parents around 10. I’d then hear young excited voices from the children’s section before leaving around noon.

It’s easy to imagine most of the library being quiet, but a placid children’s section seems unnatural.

This is one of the few times where I’ve written non-fiction for Friday Fictioneers.

Day 663

My wife and I have been fortunate enough to spend the last three weeks on Maui, with four more days to go. Getting here is always arduous given the length of the flight, but the COVID-19 pandemic made this excursion a bit more challenging than it had been in the past.

***

Our airline didn’t require proof of vaccination or testing, but did mandate mask wearing throughout the flight. And with airports requiring masks for all visitors regardless of vaccination status, my wife and I had our faces covered almost nonstop for 14 hours. Not the most enjoyable experience, but there are worse fates during a global health crisis.

***

We were able to bypass the arrival restrictions, which are far more burdensome than those during transport.

The state of Hawaii requires visitors to quarantine for 10 days after arriving unless they provide proof of vaccination or a recent negative test result. I got my second Moderna shot back in April, and my wife has also been recently vaccinated after completing her obligation to the clinical study she’d been in. The week before our flight we uploaded our vaccination data to Hawaii’s online portal.

Before our connecting flight in Chicago, we checked in with a gate agent who reviewed our data and issued us temporary wristbands. I’m not sure what those wristbands did for us — we were waving our forearms at our destination to anyone who looked like an airline employee, none of whom seemed to take notice. We breezed through the airport without any further questioning or screening, and upon entering the car my wife’s parents used to pick us up, we finally took off and discarded our masks.

***

Our sons and nephew arrived a week later and weren’t issued wristbands despite having loaded their vaccination data to Hawaii’s Safe Travels site. They were asked some screening questions on arrival, then allowed to come in.

Briefly before his trip, one of our sons was exposed to two people who later tested positive for COVID. He followed the CDC’s guidelines on arrival and later tested negative. More evidence that being vaccinated and boosted pays off.

***

Mask wearing is mandatory regardless of vaccination status within indoor public spaces anywhere in Hawaii. Many businesses also require proof of vaccination before they’ll let you in the door; all who have so far have accepted a picture of a vaccination card displayed on a phone. In my estimation, these COVID precautions have been more than reasonable.

***

Many condos in the building where my family stays are owned by retirees. One couple we often see during our visits is a boorish pair who take a perverse enjoyment in broadcasting their political views to anyone within hearing distance. Doesn’t matter if people agree, disagree, or don’t give a fig about their beliefs, because for some odd reason they feel that being a pain in the ass is somehow beneficial to society.

We haven’t seen them on this trip, and the other day we heard they haven’t come out because they refuse to get vaccinated.

Good riddance.

I’ve lost patience with those who make health decisions based on politics. I don’t wish them harm, but I do enjoy knowing they’re being inconvenienced. Coming to Hawaii is a gift, a blessing, and if prefer the medical advice of a cable news program over that of the overwhelming majority of doctors and infectious disease experts, then you deserve to stay home.

***

But I don’t want to end on a sour note.

Four more days in paradise, then it’s back to our mainland home. The flight back will be difficult, but the memory of our time here will get us through. We are very fortunate to have returned after a long absence, and hope we won’t have to wait another two years before coming back. 

Back

Twenty-five days between blog entries is a considerably gap. Don’t have anything brilliant to say, but that’s never stopped me from writing before.

Just another Tuesday at dusk

After the COVID pandemic interrupted our annual sojourn, I’ve returned with my family to the land of routinely incredible sunsets and less frequent but still awesome moonrises. My wife and I arrived almost three weeks ago, and we don’t leave until a week from today. Yeah, we’re pretty fortunate.

Locals I’ve spoken with have commented that the wide-open spaces of the last two years were only briefly pleasant. Tourists have returned, in spite of the inconvenient but absolutely essential travel restrictions (and I’ll have a lot more to say about that in the next day or so).

Phone cameras can’t quite capture how magnificent the moon appears

We’re typically very active on our trips out here, but we’re taking it easy this year. No whale watches, no diving or snorkeling. Didn’t even take my first beach walk until yesterday. It’s a time to sit back and enjoy the warm weather and cooling ocean breeze, being thankful that we’re back at this amazing land after a too-long absence.

And that’s all I got for today. 

 

Day 603

It’s been two months since my last entry in this ongoing journal about life during the COVID-19 pandemic. There hasn’t been much new to write about, which is a good thing indeed. Yet even with vaccinations on the rise and the hazardous numbers going down after the Delta surge, this coronavirus remains our unwelcome visitor.

***

The sinus infection I contracted in early September lingered for nearly a month, long enough for me to take another COVID test, which again came back negative. Both tests were of the polymerase chain reaction (PRC) variety, which is more reliable than the rapid test.

My sore throat and sinus congestion started a day after a length visit to a wastewater treatment plant. I never had a fever or any of the telltale COVID-19 symptoms such as loss of appetite. I tested negative a few days after my sickness began, and several weeks later when I felt like I couldn’t shake this thing.

Could both test results been incorrect and I did have COVID all this time? Perhaps. But there’s far more evidence supporting the theory that I picked up some nasty bug while at the wastewater treatment plant and it just took a while to get over it.

And as my sinuses finally cleared, the congestion spread into my lungs, leading to a month of asthma. These things happen to me every few years so I’m not terribly concerned. But I’m even more determined now to avoid COVID as long as possible.

***

Last weekend my wife went to lunch with a half-dozen friends, one of whom tested positive for COVID the next day. As a precaution, she wore a mask at home when I or my son was around and slept in a separate bedroom than me. She took two rapid tests on the fourth and fifth day after her exposure and took a PCR test; all results were negative.

My wife and I should be eligible for booster vaccination shots in the coming month. Our flight to Maui for a month-long vacation will be in mid-December, so we’re hoping to get our boosters two weeks before departure.

COVID is still very much part of our lives, but living has become much more comfortable than it was a year ago.

Day 551

On Tuesday, I returned to one of my old workplaces for the first time since March 5 of last year.

Since 2019 I’ve worked as a tutor in the Writing Center for a local community college. The job pays well, and I enjoy interacting with students and other tutors. Some day I’ll write about “Son of Sam the Poetry Man,” but that’s for another time.

The COVID-19 lockdowns began when the college was on spring break. The college extended the break an additional week, then moved entirely to remote instruction at the end of March. With the campus effectively closed, the Writing Center resumed as a remote service through email, phone, or online conferencing.

While continuing our work has been a relief, tutors agree that the experience isn’t the same. We’ve learned to read the messages students convey in their bodies and faces while we work with them, and this unspoken communication is often very helpful. We also consult with each other when working with a student, and when there’s no students around we enjoy each other’s company. Of course, none of that happens when working remote. We’ve also found that we spend more time on student essays when there’s no one sitting across a table from us. Our work days are longer, and not as much fun.

The campus has reopened this fall semester. Masks are required of everyone, but in-person classes and services have resumed. The Writing Center has also reopened, and this week I walked into that office for the first time in 558 days.

And I was the only one there.

The Writing Center us a glass-walled office located inside the college’s tutoring center. In the days before the pandemic, I would usually see a dozen to 20 people sitting around tables in the tutoring center, with between three and six people in the Writing Center.

On Tuesday, there were three people in tutoring — all staff, no students. There were no other tutors in the Writing Center, and not one student stopped in during my four hours there.

Since the semester’s just started, the lack of “foot traffic,” as we call it, isn’t surprising. The pace should pick up in the coming weeks. I hope so, because the “I Am Legend” feel of the other day was kinda creepy.

I’m a little apprehensive about spending more time in close contact with other people, but working in the Writing Center will be no riskier than my grocery store job. And the increased risk is far outweighed by the benefit of knowing there’s one more thing I’ve taken back from this damn pandemic.

Day 543

I took a COVID-19 test on Sunday, and was notified today that it came back negative. I’m free of the coronavirus — for now, anyway.

***

For my tech writing job, I took a tour of a wastewater treatment plant last Thursday. Most of the tour was outside, and both my guide and I had been vaccinated.

About 24 hours later, my throat began feeling sore. My sinuses began congesting a few hours later. When I woke up the following morning, I had a headache in addition to the earlier symptoms.

No fever, no muscle or joint aches, no swelling. None of the notorious COVID symptoms — the toasted English muffin covered in blueberry jam smelled wonderful and tasted even better. Eighteen months ago, I would’ve resigned myself to battling a nasty cold for the next few days.

But… didn’t I meet other plant workers during that tour? didn’t I talk to some of them? didn’t some of those conversations take place indoors? I hadn’t asked whether other workers at the plant had been vaccinated. And I hadn’t always remembered to put my mask back on when we entered a building after being outside.

All minor faults. But too many for this anxious time.

***

Many pharmacies and other sites in our area offer COVID testing. Not paying for the test takes a little creativity, though.

I didn’t find any walk-in testing sites, of the here I am come stick a swab up my nose variety. The tests I found required online registration, along with a series of questions to determine if I was eligible for free testing. Ordered by your employer or doctor to be tested? Been in contact with someone with a confirmed COVID infection? Severe symptoms (fever, diarrhea, loss of smell or taste)? Upcoming plane trip to destination requiring a negative test? I chose the three symptoms I exhibited, all under the “Minor Symptoms” category, and after clicking Next found out that I could schedule a COVID test — for a fee of $125.

So I hit the Back button, selected every check box under “Minor Symptoms,” and clicked Next again. Free test!

After the scheduling screen showed no available appointments for the next four days, I registered on another site, selecting all symptoms that wouldn’t generate additional questions — so who is that person with the confirmed infection? The scheduling tab showed one appointment available Sunday afternoon. Haven’t clicked an icon that quickly.

***

As instructed, I entered the pharmacies drive-up window ten minutes before the appointment time. After giving my name and date of birth (without being asked for identification or insurance card), the pharmacist behind the large window printed my paperwork and inserted it into a baggie with the testing supplies. She then pushed the baggie out to me, and walked me through the test:

  • Rip open the disinfecting wipe and clean my hands
  • Open the swab
  • Insert into one nostril, swirl around, hold for fifteen seconds
  • Repeat for the other nostril
  • Open the sample tube without spilling the contents
  • Insert the swab and break it at the perforation
  • Close the sample tube and put it in the baggie
  • Close the baggie and place it in the deposit box at the end of the drive-thru
  • Have a nice day

***

Taking the test on a Sunday afternoon before a national holiday delayed the testing results — instead of one to two days, it was three. But just as my irritation began approaching an unhealthy level, I got the email confirming my hypothesis.

Inhaling the fumes at the wastewater plant likely overloaded my sinuses. Mowing the lawn after coming home that afternoon probably didn’t help.

Could I be more diligent with masking? Certainly. Should I be bothered at exaggerating my symptoms to qualify for a free test? Please.

***

At some point in the future, I’m going to get COVID or one of its cousins. This virus and its mutations is too contagious, this country’s commitment to public health is too effed-up to contain it, and I’m not perfect.

But I don’t have it today, and that’s going to have to be good enough for now.