Coronavirus Daydreams and Nightmares

Gentleman prefer nitrile rubber gloves.

As of this writing, the Shasta County Health and Human Services Agency reports it has tested just 62 people for novel coronavirus in Shasta County. Sixty-one tested negative and just one person tested positive, a travel-related case who has since recovered from COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the virus.

The patient remains self-isolated at home as do millions of other Californians in the wake of the state’s “stay-at-home” order issued last Thursday, including a good portion of Shasta County’s population.

(UPDATE: A second Shasta County resident has tested positive for COVID-19.)

For those of us who’ve instantly lost some or most of our income to the global pandemic and the efforts of federal, state and local governments to stop the spread of COVID-19, it’s tempting to ask, “Hey, what’s the big deal? Just one positive case, travel-related, the dude lived. Looks like Shasta County dodged the coronavirus bullet! Let’s get back to work!”

Not so fast, coronavirus daydreamer!

Divide the 62 people who’ve been tested in Shasta County by the 180,000 people who live here, and the quotient is so infinitesimally small, a ten-thousandth of one percent, we might as well say no one has been tested in Shasta County. America has a coronavirus testing shortage and rural communities have been left waiting at the end of the line.

Until testing is dramatically ramped up and we have a clearer picture of the virus in Shasta County, the state’s stay-at-home order should be followed. No one should go back to work in an occupation declared “non-essential” if doing so risks catch COVID-19 or spreading it in the community.

It goes without saying that healthcare providers, law enforcement personnel, grocery store and gas station employees and other workers deemed “essential” should refuse to work if not provided with the proper personal protection equipment for interfacing with potentially infected individuals.

For a coronavirus reference point, I personally chose to stop substitute teaching on March 10, my 60th birthday, the same day the Centers for Disease Control warned Americans that the coronavirus is particularly lethal to the Baby Boomer demographic.

The CDC advised my age group to socially distance themselves from large groups, including school settings, to prevent catching coronavirus and dying prematurely. I was happy to oblige.

At the time, according to worldometers.info, 120,000 people worldwide had tested positive for COVID-19 and 4300 people had died from it. As of this writing, 320,000 people have tested positive for COVID-19 and 14,000 have died.

Here at home, ten days ago, 1000 Americans had tested positive from COVID-19 and 30 had died. As of this writing, 27,000 Americans have tested positive and 350 have died.

And this just in: Two confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Siskiyou County, two cases in Yuba County and one in Butte County.

Novel coronavirus isn’t coming to the north state. It’s already here; it’s been here for weeks. Don’t panic when Shasta County’s case numbers go up exponentially in the coming days as testing ramps up.

Stay cool, stay calm and above all stay at home except for essential trips.

When I first pulled myself out of substitute teaching two weeks ago, I had these notions about all the things I’d be getting done now that I wasn’t working full time.

I’d get an early start on the garden, which is going to be vital this plague year. I’d expand the defensible space around the house before fire season returns. I’d do much-needed maintenance on the car, truck and the chainsaws.

For now, those notions remain just idle daydreams. Instead, I spent the first week of my self-imposed exile online, obsessively tracking COVID-19’s relentless spread across Italy and Spain and throughout most of Europe.

The week saw New York overtake Washington state as the nation’s coronavirus epicenter. New York currently has 12,000 cases and 76 deaths compared to 1800 cases and 94 deaths in Washington.

California presently sits at No. 3 on the list, with 1500 cases and 28 deaths. Those cases and deaths are on the rise and are currently clustered around the Bay Area and the Los Angeles area. The purpose of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s shutdown is to flatten the curve of COVID-19 infections so the state’s hospital system isn’t swamped by an exponential growth in severe cases.

I live in Whitmore, in the forested foothills 30 miles east of Redding. My “essential travel” has so far been limited to a trip into town once or twice a week, to run errands for my parents and pick up various supplies.

Neither I nor my parents have any COVID-19 symptoms, and we’re aiming to keep it that way. The state’s saying more than half of us, 20 million people, may test positive. We want to remain in the other half.

For the past two weeks, whenever I go shopping, I put on a pair of nitrile rubber gloves before entering the store and dispose of them in the parking lot waste basket after leaving the store.

I find it’s easier to not touch your face when you’re wearing gloves. People tend to stay away from you as well, which is a good thing nowadays! The gloves provide an extra layer of protection from coronavirus lurking on surfaces such as door handles, grocery carts and shelf items, which is why I peel mine off before I get back in the car.

I wash my hands immediately upon arriving home and my girlfriend sprays our packaged goods with a 70 percent alcohol solution. We have been taking novel coronavirus seriously.

My favorite coronavirus daydream is that we’ll all obey the state’s “stay-at-home” order and for once Shasta County’s remoteness will work in our favor. As far as anyone knows right now, there are no confirmed cases of community-spread novel coronavirus in the county.

The sooner we can ramp up testing and declare COVID-19 has been contained in Shasta County, the sooner we can all get back to work.

Ideally, this would be part of an integrated, fully funded federal, state and local government effort to contain and mitigate novel coronavirus in the United States. It would all be over in two months or so with minimal death and hardship. Everybody would be made whole again with a big fat government check.

A glimpse of our future?

Then there’s my coronavirus nightmare scenario, which is pretty much the opposite of the above and more in line with reality.

COVID-19 doesn’t care about national, state and county lines, it’s a virus. It doesn’t care about shit. In part because of lack of testing, it’s now spread to all 50 states in the union, not to mention 140 countries around the globe.

In this pandemic scenario every action any government takes is by definition too late to contain the virus. It’s already on the loose, everywhere. We are the world and we are its oyster and we are screwed until someone comes up with a vaccine for this thing.

That vaccine, the experts say, is 18 months away, unless we get lucky.

I got a free preview of this nightmarish future last week, my second week in coronavirus isolation. I’d made up my mind to finally get to that garden and ranch work in the morning when I woke up to eight inches of snow. That happens at my altitude every now and then.

Snowflakes were falling in thick curtains, making outside work out of the question, so I jumped on the internet. I was happy to discover almost all of the local school districts had canceled regular classes, not because of the snow, but because of the coronavirus.

It was the right call. Better late than never.

I surfed the net for a while, indulging my coronavirus obsession, which during the past two weeks has also included the video streaming of “The Stand,” “Outbreak,” “Re-Genesis,” “Contagion,” “Containment,” “The Return of the Living Dead,” and the truly prophetic “Nostradamus and the Seven Seals.”

All of a sudden, my always reliable locally provided internet service started going out for large chunks of time. “Coronavirus?” I chuckled to myself, chalking it up to the snowstorm. “Guess I’ll do a little writing.”

The instant I booted up Microsoft Word the electricity went out in Whitmore.

Later I learned someone had skidded off the slippery road and taken out the main power pole to Whitmore during the snowstorm. At the time I imagined the electricity had gone out because the power plant operators hadn’t showed up for work. The schools were shuttered, the operators had to stay home and watch their kids.

I was getting a little ahead of myself. Imagine my terror. No internet. No video. No electricity. Out here in the middle of nowhere.

I managed to hold out for two hours before I cranked up the propane-powered generator and the secular threesome were immediately restored. A PG&E crew put in a new pole and power was restored to Whitmore by the next day.

But, man! Eighteen months from now? Will there be anyone left to do the work?

The scariest thing about that question is no one can say for sure what’s going to happen in the next 18 months, because there’s too many damned variables. That’s why Wall Street has gone topsy-turvy.

It’s clear to me that COVID-19 is extremely lethal. If the fatality rate ranges from 1 percent to 3.5 percent and it spreads across California, infecting half the population, the expected death toll would be 200,000 to 700,000 people statewide.

The expected death toll in Shasta County would be 900 to 3150.

If novel coronavirus infects half of earth’s 7.7 billion inhabitants, 77 million to 270 million people could die.

The stock market is pricing in these deaths. Why else would the DOW plummet from near 30,000 points to just under 20,000 during the past two weeks? It’s lost fully one-third of its value, despite trillions of dollars being injected into the market by the Federal Reserve, which also cut its overnight lending interest rate to zero?

Trillions of dollars of economic stimulus. No effect!

Why?

Because in order to sell widgets, you need people to make widgets and you need people to buy widgets. The global supply of widget-makers and widget-buyers is in serious question! It’s a supply-and-demand shock of spectacular magnitude rippling across our economically entangled planet.

For now, the safest thing to do is follow the state’s “stay-at-home” order.

To repeat: Stay cool, stay calm and above all stay at home except for essential trips. FYI, beer runs are essential trips.

R.V. Scheide
R.V. Scheide has been a northern California journalist for more than 20 years. He appreciates your comments and story ideas. He can be emailed at RVScheide@anewscafe.com.
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