The leadup to the panic

March 13, 2020

From the beginning through March 13, 2020


I start journaling today because it seems that public regard for the virus has been increasing exponentially. By that I mean it wasn’t that many days ago that most people gave little regard to the virus. I myself didn’t pay much attention, because I had lived through scares about bird flu, swine flu, mad cow disease, ebola virus and zika virus (off the top of my head). None of which significantly impacted my day to day life.

Seeing so many events canceled (concerts, conferences, Buffalo Saint Patrick’s Day parades, etc), sports leagues prematurely ending their seasons and then today, the announcement that Buffalo City Schools will be closing really drove the point home that this time it’s different.

While it’s fresh in my mind, I’ll go over my perceptions from the start of the WuFlu.

February 10 –

On February 10, I went to visit a friend of mine in the hospital. He had woken from a 2- or 3- week coma and had been conscious for about a week when I saw him. He had not been watching TV or consuming any media between the time from when he woke up and when I went to visit him. He asked me what was going on in the world, since he had been “unplugged” from any sort of outside news for over a month.

I mentioned WuFlu to him, and that it was a big deal over in China. To drive the point home, I said that the Chinese had quarantined an entire city that’s larger than Chicago.

Two days later, on February 12, I left for vacation and flew to Argentina, where I stayed until February 22. While in Argentina I unplugged myself from the Internet for the most part, but I did check headlines every few days – mostly to see if the virus had left China and if flights home might be canceled.

Going home, I went from Buenos Aires, connected in Panama City, Panama, and landed in Orlando, Florida. I spent a couple days sightseeing, then flew from Sarasota, Florida, connecting in Charlotte and finally back home to Buffalo. Air travel was unremarkable. Maybe a few more passengers than usual wearing N95 masks, particularly on the BA to Panama flight. At USA customs, there were a few signs up about virus symptoms, but they didn’t really care unless you had been to China recently. I had just about the smoothest border crossing in my life.

Once back in the USA, life was normal more or less. People stopped booking airplane flights and I started to think about all the places I should fly to, to take advantage of the super low rates. Jokes about Chinese people eating bats were popular online for about a week, and a bunch of people acted outraged that such jokes were racist against Chinese people. But it’s 2020 and lots of people will cry “Nazi” at the drop of a hat. So yeah, back to normal.

Part of the issue is that it took until now for health authorities to loosen restrictions on testing for the virus. I don’t know the actual reason why the US was not doing testing until now, and I know that the lack of testing rankled a lot of health professionals. So we have very little information about how widespread the virus is, and where the virus is.

Like a piece of abstract art, this lack of info lets people fill in their own blanks. It could be the end of the world, or it could be something to joke about, depending on your personal disposition. Over the past week, more anti-flu measures have been adding on, gathering momentum. Cancellation of the NHL playoffs, cancellation of the Saint Patrick’s Day parades, stuff like that.

For my part, yesterday (March 12), I made sure to get my haircut. I considered having all my hair shaved off, but just went with a shorter than usual cut. My reasoning was that I wanted to get my hair cut before the virus got a hold in my community, and the shorter my hair, the longer I could wait for the next cut. At the barbershop, people were still taking the virus pretty lightly and incredulous about the fact that for several days now, you couldn’t find any toilet paper locally due to hoarding.

Other things that are short right now, based on looking at the shelves in Wal Mart and other grocery stores:

  • Toilet paper
  • Cleaning supplies
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Masks
  • Gloves
  • Canned food (but not too bad)
  • Feminine hygiene products (but not too bad)

Then, today Trump declared an official state of emergency and the mayor of Buffalo announced the closing of Buffalo public schools for up to 3 weeks.

So all the major cancellations so far have been hitting, and accelerating in the past few days.

Things are changing so quickly, that I wanted to start writing before I forgot how it went. If anything, I’ll have something cool to read years later when this all passes and be able to track my experience.

I expect shit to move even quicker in the coming days, especially as results come in from the mass testing that they’re going to start doing. Depending on how those look, people will either feel reassured, or they will start to panic.

I also wonder what it’s like right now in places like the Pacific Northwest, since they have a lot more confirmed cases there. So far, there have been no cases confirmed in Erie County, where Buffalo is, or any of the other nearby counties. We had a single case pop up a day ago in Monroe County, about 90 minutes away. The lack of local cases could explain the sanguine attitudes of the people around me.

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