Take the Politics Out of Covid-19

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Just when I thought I it might be safe to get out and about once again the numbers of Covid-19 cases in my part of Texas are continuing to rise. Our hospitals are filling at a frightening pace so quickly that our renowned Texas Children’s Hospital has agreed to provide medical services for adults. It is a disturbing situation that I saw coming but, I hoped against hope that I was wrong. Sadly the fight against the virus became political almost from the onset when it should have been a collective community and national effort to do whatever was needed to get things under control. While the doctors and nurses in my family and circle of friends were warning me to stay the course of precaution I saw the process devolve all around me. Now the predictions of the medical experts regarding the dangers of ignoring this deadly illness are coming true.

Many weeks ago the Harris County Judge, Lina Hidalgo and the Houston mayor, Sylvester Turner, mandated that all citizens wear masks in public places. They also created an overflow medical facility at the Reliant Center in the event that the local hospitals became overwhelmed. At the same time the Lieutenant Governor of our the state of Texas, Dan Patrick, was insisting that businesses needed to open up and that anyone who was afraid should just stay home. All the while President Trump refused to wear a mask to any of his briefings or appearances, boasting that he was not afraid. Never mind that he is quite possibly the most protected individual in the entire country considering that everyone who comes near him gets regularly tested. He continually bragged that he had lead the best response to the virus in the entire world and insisted that the growing numbers of cases were there only because of all the testing that was taking place for everyone else. Before long he had managed to turn the pandemic into an election issue rather than a national emergency, resulting in his followers ignoring much of the advice coming from medical experts.

Along the way Trump supporters in Houston launched a lawsuit against the mandate to wear masks. Before long wearing one had become more of a choice than a rule. The governor ignored the guidelines for reopening businesses that had been created by the CDC and the Covid 19 task force. Here in the Houston area people were hurling insults at Lina Hidalgo, calling her an “Hispanic Nazi” for daring to require citizens to wear masks. They criticized both her and the mayor for wasting taxpayer funds on an overflow hospital that they believed would likely never be used. They rushed back to normal as quickly as possible, crowding beaches and bars and tubing along the rivers in the Texas hill country. They were determined to get on with living and they spoke of their belief that all of us had been duped by a hoax designed to make our president and our state leaders look bad. They insisted that after the November elections were over the virus would miraculously disappear. They turned all of the efforts to control the virus into a political battle and created an unnecessary division between those who wanted to move more cautiously and those who laughed at the very idea that Covid 19 was any worse than the ordinary flu.

None of this ever needed to happen. The efforts to contain the spread of Covid 19 should have been a united goal devoid of even a taint of politics. We should have been working together as a nation, supporting any city, town or state that needed help. Our guidance should have erred on the side of caution. We should have been willing to see ourselves as one people with a common goal. Each individual should have been eager to make sacrifices and help in the effort. We should have listened to the medical experts and allowed them to guide all of our decisions. We should have been patient and willing to proceed forward with great care.

There will be those who will blame the resurgence on the protestors who have filled the streets night after night. There will be others who will say that it came from Memorial Day partying. There are claims that the increases are coming from migrant workers and people in meat packing plants. Others will point to political rallies in enclosed spaces. Some will simply hurl racist accusations at China, insulting our Asian Americans with taunts of “kung flu.” Sadly each of those explanations point to how broken we have become during all of this when we might have demonstrated more strength of character just as our parents and grandparents did during World War II. Somehow instead we are talking over one another and ignoring the realities of what we should be doing. This should always have been a medical issue rather than a political one. 

We will probably never know exactly why Covid 19 has refused to release the grip it has on our country. I don’t think that blaming it on any specific group serves to make things better. What I do believe is that every effort should be focused on what is good for the people of this country. It is not too late to focus on those who are sick and dying. We still have time to move beyond our differences and agree to do what is best for the protection of the many. If we continue to refuse to do this I fear for the toll that Covid 19 will take on all of us. If our leaders won’t lead us we need to take the reins and do the right thing without them. We must take the politics out of Covid-19.

A Road Trip In Isolation

hillcountry

We have been locked away for a many weeks now. The last day that we did something fun was February 28, when we had lunch with my brothers and sisters-in-law and then attended the Houston Rodeo Barbecue Cook-off with friends that evening. My husband had surgery on March 8, and I had an injection of  Prolia on March 13. After that we have stayed at home. We don’t even go inside grocery stores or sit outside with our neighbors when they regularly gather on the driveway across the street. We don’t trust the frivolity because they don’t wear masks nor do they distance themselves from one another. They are mostly young and healthy so I suppose that they will ultimately be just fine, but I can’t take such risky behavior lightly and so I remain responsible for myself just as our governor and president have suggested we all need to be.

This past weekend Mike and I came up with an idea for a way to have a little outing. We decided to haul our trailer to San Antonio with the proviso that we would keep our contact with other people and crowds to practically zero. We made reservations with an RV park that we often use and packed up all of the food that we would need for the adventure. We had hoped to go to a state park so that we might enjoy a bit of nature but they were all booked up, so we decided that we would make do with any place that had a spot for us to park the trailer.

We would normally stop at Buccee’s in Luling, Texas for a bathroom break, some lunch and to gas up the truck but we had promised ourselves that we were not going to eat out or go where there were lots of people, so instead we found a service station that was all but empty, filled our tank and used the facilities in our trailer for relieving ourselves and preparing lunch.

The experience at the RV park was exceptional. The manager was masked and gloved and insisted that Mike use hand sanitizer after opening the door and passing the credit card. We got a wonderful spot in between two very quiet trailers that did not even appear to be inhabited by anyone. We enjoyed a great dinner and were finally able to try out the new mattress that we had purchased from Costco back in early February. We learned that it was the best investment we have made all year because we slept like babies and I did not wake up with the usual aches and pains that the old mattress always produced.

On Saturday morning we had a leisurely breakfast, did some reading and then had lunch before setting out on a drive to Inks Lake. Riding through the Texas hill country is always delightful and it felt even more so since we have only seen the view from inside our house for so long. We passed through little towns like Boerne where the streets were filled with people dining and shopping. Sadly I realized that we would not want to stop there because only one person was wearing a mask and the people were literally on top of one another as they walked along the sidewalks.

When we got to Kingsland we knew we were quite close to Inks Lake and our favorite winery, Perissos. We decided to stop there to buy some of the wines that cannot be found in stores, so we donned our masks and made our way inside for a quick purchase. We were the only two people wearing masks and those who were there looked at us as though we were curiosities from another planet. Seeing that nobody was being precautious we made our selections and left as quickly as possible, stunned that the place was filled with people drinking and listening to the live band as though nothing like a pandemic was still happening in the world.

That evening we went to see our daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren all of whom have been very guarded in their behavior since schools let out in March. My son-in-law is still working from home and his company, USAA, has urged any employees who can to continue working remotely. My daughter only goes out to pick up groceries and she has been happy to see most of the customers at her HEB wearing masks and keeping their distance. The children have stayed home mostly finishing the school year, gaming and texting friends.

We met on the driveway and sat on chairs that my daughter had carefully placed well over six feet apart. Mike and I sat on one side and everyone else sat on the other. We talked about what we had been doing since we last saw each other and discussed the happenings in the world. Then we played a game of Scattagories at the suggestion of one of my grandsons because the rules allowed us to maintain our distance without physical interaction with one another or the necessity of using game pieces. Of course we had a blast laughing at the answers and just being together

The next day we decided to take a drive through the heart of the hill country. We traveled to Bandera where we once again noted no people wearing masks as they walked along the sidewalks and went in and out of little shops. A bit farther on we saw crowds tubing in the Medina River. Tents were set up side by side and the water was so congested that it appeared to be difficult to even move.

Our route eventually took us to Kerrville where we encountered a very small group of young girls standing along the roadside holding Black Lives Matter posters and waving at passersby. Every one of them was wearing a mask and attempting  to stay safely apart. They were as peaceful and earnest as can be and they made me smile.

Before long we were in Fredericksburg where we found some shade in Lady Bird Johnson Municipal Park and ate the lunch I had packed for our long ride. As we later drove down the main thoroughfare  I observed about twenty five percent of the people wearing masks, but it appeared to be nearly impossible to keep a safe distance from others because the sidewalks were jammed with people.

We head back to the RV park using side roads that took us through the loveliest of vistas, including a brief stretch of Luckenbach, Texas.  We listened to Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings on our radio and felt contentment in just being in such a beautiful place. We even got to pass through Kendalia, the town where my grandson William was able to find a home for his pig Daisy so that he might rescue her from slaughter.

We returned for another visit with my daughter after dinner in our trailer. We played a contrived version of “Hedbanz” which my grandson put together to provide us with hands free, contact free fun. Once again laughter filled the air especially when the next door neighbor drove up and looked a bit askance at the post-it notes on our foreheads.

We gauged our little trip as a success and think we might be able to venture out even further once I have concluded my sessions with the children that I teach. We have learned that with our self contained cocoon we do just fine. We don’t need to eat at restaurants or visit stores or museums or other amusements to have a glorious time.

We still plan to be careful because we know that the dangers of the virus are still with us. Only this past week someone we know attended a family funeral, spent some time with extended family in Galveston and then learned that one of the people in the group had only days later tested positive with Covid-19. So far only one of them has tested positive for the virus but all of them are going into quarantine. They will no doubt have to do some contact tracing to inform anyone with whom they interacted before they knew that the virus had entered their family circle. The extent of people that they have seen is unbelievably large and will affect the lives of countless individuals. That’s why I am still being very precautious. We may be tempted to just wish this virus away but it seems determined to stay. For now I’ll stick to my road trips in isolation. 

You Never Know What You May Find

bumpy road

June 1, 2020

To my incredible children, grandchildren, students, nieces, nephews and young people who are like family,

I wrote a letter to you when we first began our stay at home orders here in the United States. At that time most of the Covid-19 cases were occurring in Washington State, California and New Jersey. Here in my hometown of Houston, Texas there were no more than a couple dozen folks who had tested positive for the disease so it was a bit difficult to believe that our area would get hit very hard with the virus. While we were locked away in our homes we watched as the illness penetrated almost every corner of the world in one way or another. The images of empty streets in London, Paris, Rome, and New York City were a haunting backdrop to the rising numbers of sick and dying. Now as I convey my thoughts to you the United States there have been 100,000 deaths even as we begin the process of reopening our cities and towns. At the same time the tragic murder of a Black man, George Floyd, by a police officer in Minnesota has led to an outpouring of grief and rage not just in our own country but across the world. 

So much has changed in such a short amount of time. The world as we expected it to be feels very different. People who able to do so are still working at home and students are finishing the school year from their bedrooms. The proms and graduations and track meets and school competitions were mostly eliminated from the end of the year calendar. Some of you took your Advanced Placement tests online without the usual review sessions from your teachers. Being part of this historical event has been tough and the coming times feel almost as uncertain as the last several weeks have been. Who knows what all of us will face as we begin to rebuild the world again? Now with the added difficulties of the protesting and the unfortunate destruction that has sometimes come with it, we are all asking ourselves what we might have done to prevent the suffering.

I have watched all of you working hard to comply with the directives designed to flatten the curve of contagion and protect the vulnerable in our midst. I have heard your impassioned pleas for justice and equality and the recognition of Black Lives. I’ve witnessed you continuing your studies and preparing for a future whose form is evolving even as I type these words. We simply don’t know what the next weeks and months will be like for anyone and yet all of you are maintaining your optimism and your resolve. Regardless of what the world is going to be like as we move forward I sense that each of you will be ready.

I’ve had conversations with some of you regarding your concerns about the environment, the cost of attending college, the inequities of this world. I know that you are thinking well beyond your own needs and you have proved your mettle in this difficult time. With little or no guidance you have worked as hard as you would have if there had been directives and deadlines. Nothing has stopped you and that is the mark of greatness. I have also been exceedingly proud of your compassion and willingness to speak out for those whose lives are being turned upside down.

I recently heard a woman speaking about the effect of Covid 19 on the psychological health of the nation’s youth.  With a smile on her face she insisted that those of you who are young possess an inordinate amount of grit, the quality of maintaining determination even when life is challenging. She assured her audience that true grit will propel people like you forward regardless of what kind of changes are wrought by this pandemic. She pointed out that some of the greatest discoveries and positive developments were born in tough times. Isaac Newton invented Calculus when he was sent home from the university during an outbreak of plague in the 1600s. That same terrible time resulted in sanitation improvements and new medicines. She believes that it will be the young men and women of the world who will define the problems that the pandemic has exposed and then invent new ways of enhancing the world. You are the explorers, entrepreneurs, creators and leaders of the future.

I know that you have faced so many disappointments and the possibility of even more as the virus and the unrest dictate how we will return to a new kind of normal. I really hope that the older generation will listen to and consider your ideas. You are dreamers and your thoughts have the potential to fuel a worldwide renaissance. You have seen the possibilities and now it is time to begin to bring them to fruition.

You still have dues to pay and hoops through which you must jump but you are quickly earning your wings and respect for your hard work and patience. The sacrifices you are making now and  the challenges you will most certainly face in the coming times will make you strong as long as you refuse to allow them to defeat you. You are creative and flexible. Use those natural tendencies to keep your optimism flourishing. Think beyond the confines of the way things have always been. Continue to be curious and unafraid to notice problems and address them.

I smile when I think of you and my chest puffs up with pride. Learn from this experience but do not allow it to pull you down. Be ready to teach some tricks to old dogs like me. Be open to unexpected opportunities and be willing to take a side trip down a bumpy road. You never know what you may find.  

Yours,

Mama, Gammy, Aunt Sharron, Mama B. 

I Keep Busy

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I plan math lessons. I teach math lessons. I grade math homework. I write blogs. I cook dinner. I clean the house. I wash the clothes. I walk on my treadmill. I read. I call to see how people are doing. I read posts on Facebook. I check my email. I take part in Zoom conferences, I order groceries. I take drives around my neighborhood. I floss my teeth and take showers and dry my hair. I organize drawers and paint lawn furniture. I feed the birds and watch them in my yard. I plant a vegetable garden and weed my flower beds. I text family members and friends. I watch Netflix and Amazon and Acorn and PBS and Hulu and CNN and CBS and NBC and YouTube. I keep busy. It’s the way I cope and always has been.

When the end of the day draws near and all is quiet in the neighborhood my mind begins to wander. I think about things and thinking about things leads my awareness to worrisome places. We are in new territory and there are so many different ideas and theories being bandied about. Are we humans overreacting, under reacting? Who is right and who is wrong? I feel as though we are all being gaslighted, but by whom? Am I the crazy one or is it them? I have to squeeze my eyes shut and listen to calming sounds on my Echo Dot to shut out the thoughts that make me anxious. If I manage to fall asleep I can begin again tomorrow. I can keep busy again in another rotation of the earth around the sun.

I know that I can do this. It’s how I kept going after my father died. I just kept busy, tried not to think too far ahead, went one day at a time. Things got better just as they always seem to do, at least until the next challenge came along. Whenever my mother presented her symptoms of bipolar disorder I just kept busy. When my husband had a stroke and my city filled with the waters of hurricane Harvey I just kept busy. It’s what I do. It’s how I cope, any yet somehow things feel very different now. My mind tells me to pace myself for the long haul, to be prepared for more bad news before the good news returns. I keep busy in spite of my concerns.

I prefer to listen to the realists, not the ones who attempt to lull me with seemingly false promises. I’m a big girl. I can take the truth. In fact I crave it. Still, I want to remain optimistic about the future even if that future may take awhile to unfold. I like the guy from the federal reserve who believes that our economy will slowly heal in the next many months even as we continue to witness illness and death. He is not attempting to fool me and I appreciate that.

I listen to the scientist who sees this moment as an opportunity to envision the world in a new and better way. I hear the historian note that in other times of pandemic humanity applied its inventiveness to improve sanitation, move toward more equitable living conditions and invent medicines. The darkest hours have almost always led to brighter futures from the lessons that we learned, but then I wonder if we have truly grasped the significance of our foundational weaknesses or if we just want to rush back to the way things were without thought of whether or not we might do things better.

I keep busy. I watch the birds in my yard and notice that there are more of them than I have ever before seen. My plants are greener, more prolific. It is as though nature is happier now that we are not filling the air with our pollution. If we just return to the way we were will the haze of ozone once more fill the sky? Is it possible to reconsider how we live? Did we learn how little we actually need during our lockdown? Isn’t that lovely sound of singing birds worth so much more than the frivolous things that we have sought in the past?

I keep busy but I think of the people who have lost their jobs. I hear that Rick Steves is adjusting the salaries of his employees so that he may keep all of them for at least two years. Why isn’t this a tactic being used by every business, every corporation? Why fire some while keeping others and even giving raises and bonuses in the process. What would be wrong with asking everyone to share in the sacrifice until better days come?  Why must there always be winners and losers?

I keep busy but I know that just because we wish the danger of Covid-19 to be over it does not mean that we will all be safe and sound. Just because we may not know someone who has grappled with the virus does not mean that it does not exist. How is it even possible that so many seem to believe that the pandemic is nothing more than a hoax? How is such thinking even possible when there is no logic to it? How have some managed to conflate being careless with patriotism? In what kind of world do we attack our scientists and medical experts for demonstrating the methodologies that guide their work and prevent emotional bias from tarnishing their results?

I know that Covid-19 has forced us to operate in the present. Today and today and today creeps in its petty pace. I keep busy. It is what I do, but maybe this time I should allow myself to think just a bit more.

A Time for the Young

Four-seasons-tree-1r-747x394To every thing there is a season,

and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate;
A time of war, and a time of peace.

Upon the advice of our doctors my husband, Mike, and I essentially began self isolation twelve weeks ago. We were a bit earlier than most people in hibernating in our home because Mike was going to have a heart procedure done on March 13, and the doctors felt that it would be wise for us to distance ourselves from the potential of running afoul of the virus which was yet to become so rampant in the United States. When we did arrive at the Walter Tower of Houston Methodist Hospital on the day of his surgery lockdown procedures were already well underway. Each patient was only allowed to have one person accompany him/her and everyone entering the building had to undergo an interview and screening at a checkpoint. Because I admitted to sometimes having a sore throat I was required to wear a mask.

The experience at the hospital was both encouraging and frightening. I realized that the medical community was taking extreme precautions to keep the patients safe as well as to prevent an outbreak of illness among their own. The atmosphere was strangely reassuring and it marked the moment when I too began to really take the virus seriously.

When I went to get my six month injection of Prolia five days later I felt a bit strange wearing a mask and gloves but my doctor had advised me to do so and I have always valued his instructions. He has kept me quite well over the years and so there I was all decked out in protective gear long before our city of Houston had even closed down. I got a few stares and soon realized that people were somewhat afraid of me, wondering why I felt the need to be so precautious. As I climbed the stairs to the infusion center I noted that there was a screening table at the entrance to my doctor’s office where patients were being checked before being allowed to enter the waiting room. That was on March 23, about three weeks from the time that I had first begun staying at home and limiting my contact with others.

From that point forward my husband Mike, and I have had little occasion to leave our home. We meet with family and friends via Zoom or FaceTime, procure our groceries from Instacart, order other necessities online and “go to mass” via YouTube. Once in a great while we venture out for rides around town just to remind ourselves of what the world looks like. Our only real human contact has been with my father-in-law and mother-in-law who are in their nineties and feeling a bit overwhelmed by what is happening. We mainly go to visit to ease their anxieties and to help keep their technology running. Mike regularly orders food for them on Instacart. We even managed to send a cake and some ice cream to my father-in-law on his birthday. When the sweet delivery woman realized that this was for a celebration she included a balloon with the order.

Mike and I are both in our seventies and to a large extent our lives have slowed considerably from the days when when worked ten and twelve hours a day. We have a much smaller income but we planned for that and at least for now it arrives regularly each month. It has not been a great sacrifice to stay at home and we are confident that we have planned well enough to stay put for as long as needed. I don’t think of my current status as being frightening or tyrannically beset upon as much as having the luxury to help with the cause. Namely, Mike and I are doing our parts to attempt to stay healthy so that our medical community will be able to care for those who may unfortunately become ill in the process of attempting to return to work.

I hear so much about those in my age group being the most vulnerable and I suppose that is true in the strictest sense of the virus’ effects but in many ways it is the young adults and their children who are bearing the brunt of the harm that Covid-19 has done to the world. They have had to keep the food supply chains moving and have done their best to keep the heartbeat of the economy tenuously alive. They have been the teachers of the children and the brave souls who have attempted to provide the rest of us with a semblance of normalcy in an upside down world.

I sometimes hear grumpy old people referring to today’s youth as “snowflakes” but I think that we have all seen proof that they know how to carry on in an emergency with grace. I have been greatly impressed by the college students who completed their semesters online. I have watched the youngsters in my neighborhood working inside their homes during regular school hours and then frolicking in their yards in the late afternoon. Like me they have not gone anywhere or done anything special for weeks and yet they are not complaining. Instead they are adjusting to their new world and doing whatever they need to do to. I’ve seen how creative and generous they are and it has warmed my heart.

However this all ends it will fall upon the young to move the world forward. I have every confidence that they will succeed. I believe that they have proven their mettle in spite of the naysayers who have been predicting that they don’t have the right stuff to carry the weight of responsibility. I know more than ever before that those of us in the twilight years should be quite eager to hear what they have to say and how they wish for the world order to proceed. Even the Bible tells us that there is a season for everything. Now is the time to trust the young for this is their world as much as it is ours. They are the ones who will be reopening the cities and towns and states and nations in the coming months. We need to support them as they carve out a world that suits their desires and needs. This is a time for the young.