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Coronavirus, Control, Irritability, and Guilt

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Coronavirus, Control, Irritability, and Guilt


It is hard to think that anyone is getting through this Covid-19 crisis unscathed. Even the super rich have fled and tried bunkering themselves, only to discover that they can’t get ventilators and the specially trained operators on site too if they are felled by the disease.

Most people are looking at at best, interruptions to income. Last week’s unemployment filings, 6.6 million, came after 3.3 million the week prior total and considerably exceeded the most dour forecasts.

Coronavirus, Control, Irritability, and Guilt 1

Blood is in the street everywhere. From the Financial Times:

About 4m French workers — equivalent to a fifth of France’s private sector employees — had applied for temporary unemployment benefits during the past two weeks, according to data released on Thursday.

Spain, which has the third-highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases after the US and Italy, recorded the biggest jump in unemployment in its history, with more than 800,000 people losing their jobs last month. The country was already grappling with joblessness of 14 per cent and almost all the job losses came from people on temporary contracts, who represent more than a quarter of the workforce.

In the UK, almost 1m people have applied for universal credit, a state benefits scheme, while in Ireland about 34,000 companies have signed up for a government wage-subsidy programme in less than a week.

As readers know, big companies like airlines took bailout money and still fired staff. Gig economy workers are largely idled or barely working. A note from a well-known writer who lived in NYC:

Moved the family up to a rental upstate, it’s been exhausting. 2 kids (4 yr and a 7 month) + 2 cats + wife in a rented minivan. Precarity takes on new meaning.

While small companies are in line to get payroll support, banks (enlisted as the government’s agent) still don’t know enough about the program to set up documentation, let alone process loans. How many small businesses are flush enough to keep advancing payroll checks when they don’t know when Federal rescue money will hit their accounts? And keep in mind Treasury has threatened it has only a fixed pot, meaning some applications might be denied or pro-rated by being deemed to be on the late side.

And as the pink paper warned, it’s already too late to save jobs:

“It is and continues to be an eye-watering number. It continues to confirm our worst fears about the speed of lay-offs,” said Torsten Slok, chief economist at Deutsche Bank Securities. “[Job claims] tells you that government programmes are too late, and companies have already reacted.”

Many criticized the top-down approach, of funneling money through companies to workers (as opposed to individuals and households) as misguided, since trying to prop up businesses won’t preserve activity in a consumer-led economy. Admittedly, with so many stores shuttered and people frightened about their futures, it’s not as people would spend as if it were the old normal. But getting money to people faster would at least allow them to pay mortgages and rents, food, utilities, and other necessities and hunker down in place.

The IRS is planning to get its “$1200 a person” payments out to those who gave the IRS direct deposit information starting the week of April 13, but on a monthly basis, that’s barely above the poverty line. Those who will get a check probably won’t see it until May.

Even so, businesses are starting to fail. For instance, North Dakota’s Whiting Petroleum, a top oil producer in in the Bakken Formation, filed for bankruptcy on Thursday.

And that’s before considering those at health risk: the elderly, particularly people in nursing homes. Front-line medical workers, who are also exhausted and traumatized. Individuals with auto-immunine diseases, or weakened immune systems, like chemotherapy patients or HIV sufferers. And even though people who are relatively young with no co-morbidities may consider themselves to be at risk of only getting nasty flu symptoms, that is not always true. For instance, the CFO of Jefferies, in good general health, died of coronavirus complications at age 56.

But these are all facets of the huge shock to how we once lived. Most people idled at home, some working remotely but most not. Parents having to entertain and educate school-aged children now at home. College students at loose ends, with graduates looking at un or very serious under-employment. Those that are “essential” are burdened by having to do their jobs while minimizing disease risk to themselves and others, with many like doctors and nurses enduring extreme hours, hazardous conditions, and emotional distress. And the backdrop is that many businesses won’t make it or will survive only as shrunken versions of their former selves, due not just to the immediate impact of the crisis shutdowns but also to long-terms changes in habits, such as diminished tourism and business travel. And that charitably assumes we don’t have additional dislocations, like meaningful drug shortages.

So many are experiencing personal crises, or are worried that one is just around the corner. And even those who aren’t in distress can’t help but feel weight of needing to take new precautions (and doubts as to whether they are sufficient), the sense of dread about the new emerging order, which is shaping up to be even more hostile to ordinary workers, and a sense of powerlessness.

In most respects, I am vastly better situated than most people. I work at home. I reduced my fixed costs by moving to Alabama. NC revenues will take a hit and I don’t seem to be eligible for the Payroll Protection bailout.1 However, the state is project to have the fourth worse death rate, so it is not as if I escaped being in a hot spot.

As readers have no doubt inferred, I am not exactly the most emotionally well-regulated person even in the best of circumstances. I have lost my stress outlet of going to the gym regularly. Having my nose in the news all day isn’t exactly conducive to staying calm and cheery, particularly now.

However, what is really upsetting what little equipoise I have is keeping people from killing my 92 year old mother, who also has COPD. When I did go to the gym, long before anyone here was taking coronavirus seriously, I was Miss Alcohol Spray Bottle, letting the spritz sit for at least ten seconds on everything I would touch, on top of washing my hands multiple times during a workout.

But it has been a real struggle to get people who consider themselves to be medical professionals to take adequate precautions. But I should have seen this coming since my gym has a high level of MDs in its membership, yet even after the state closed all schools, only a very few were taking additional precautions, and no one was remotely as stringent as I was.

For instance, my mother’s home health care aide agency has mainly nurses as managers. I had to put a sign on the entry door regarding +20 second handwashing and send the WHO video a month ago. I got a patronizing response although they do seem to (finally) be doing it, I suspect due to all the MSM messaging.

I sent articles and instructions about cleaning cell phones early on. I am pretty sure that is not happening.

The aides are supposed to clean countertops and sinks as part of their daily duties. They don’t in the bathrooms. A hospital journal says all frequently touched surfaces (like handles and switches) need to be wiped down 2x a day. I do it myself in the evening but they need to do it during the day. I’ve pressed the agency on that and they don’t appear to have told the aides even though they said this was “good information.” Help me.

I then sent on the video from the Michigan doctor on cleaning groceries before bringing them into the house. The agency said they’d send it around but I didn’t have the sense they’d make this protocol a requirement, even though most aides now are shopping only once a week for their clients.

Oh, and the aides are not wearing masks even though I put them out with another note on the outer door in super big font about them. I have been providing masks made along the lines of ones used in Venezuela, which by virtue of being under US sanctions, cannot obtain surgical masks. I have been wearing them every time I go out, for the safety of others as well as to prevent me from touching my face between hand washings. You can see a short video on how to make them:

They are made from disposable washcloths, which are adequate to impede droplets and hence spread.2

I have not been able to find large enough scent-free washcloths locally. The smell is obnoxious but not harmful (unlike alcohol, which as Miss Alcohol Spray Bottle I can attest to personally, or bleach fumes). I have ordered scent free ones and they were supposed to arrive earlier this week but are late. Most of the aides are refusing to wear theses masks.

Thank God, since the CDC is now recommending masks for community use, I will finally be able to insist that the agency provide them if the aides won’t use ours.

But this is the sort of thing I am dealing with, people coming in every day who simply don’t take good enough care. One regular is actually good about cleaning (but hasn’t implemented the grocery protocol, grr) and we just got rid of another who wasn’t (I was going to send in a note about her failure to do clearly mandated cleaning but she snapped at my mother, my mother told her to leave, and she didn’t want to come back, which was fine with us).

And before you say we are asking for too much, these aides sit next to my mother watching TV or their phones for more than six of the seven hours they are here, maybe only 5 1/2 hours if they pick up groceries.3 It’s not as if doing the cleaning, some of which is listed as job requirements but is not getting done, is a huge ask. And my mother feeds them lunch which she is not required to do and she does not ask them to cook, which they would be obligated to do if she asked.

But what frosts me isn’t the aides per se, since I understand in a business like this, it is hard to get good people. What bothers me is the agency’s apparent indifference to the issues I am raising. Don’t they recognize that they have liability? Don’t they recognize that they have reputation risk? Don’t they recognize they have a moral obligation to at least try to get the aides to protect their clients?

And it isn’t just the agency. Worse, it’s also my mother’s doctor.

Without belaboring details, twice in the last month we called his nurse with two minor issues. My New York MD would have handled one and likely both over the phone. Remember my mother has mobility issues, so even under normal circumstances it is hard for her to go in and this is now a new normal. Oh, and my New York MD has her own practice, while my mother’s MD works at the Kirklin Clinic, a ginormous outpatient clinic affiliated with the University of Alabama’s medical school, meaning he is salaried and thus should not have financial incentives at work.

He insisted she come in both times. The most recent time was late last week, after Birmingham proper had been put on shelter in place.

Mind you, Kirklin Clinic is a massive disease vector. It’s a huge facility where you line up to check in for tests (no social distancing!), have to talk to an intake clerk for a few minutes, sit in a waiting area downstairs (lots of people nearby, chairs not cleaned during day), go into a test room for a blood draw (room not cleaned between patients), take an elevator upstairs (!!!), use a touch screen to check in (!!!!), sit in another waiting area with people all around on who-knows-when-if-ever cleaned chairs, into yet another exam room where nurses take additional readings (room again not cleaned between patients) and then into the MD exam room.

I tried to get a private duty nurse to come out to do a blood draw but the MD insisted on inserting himself and then being dilatory about it. 4 I got the message the MD didn’t think this was urgent, and I didn’t like the idea of anyone new coming in the house any later than this week (our infection rate is doubling about every four days) so I told them if we couldn’t get the nurse out on the 2nd, to forget it.

No one got back to me.

In the meantime, I came up with a treatment which is working and a friend with an elderly mother has a similar condition and gave further clues. I have a good guess as to what happened and what to do to prevent recurrence.

But this is a short way of illustrating that I am dealing all the time with people who seem cavalier about coronavirus risks, which is simply stunning among supposed medical professionals. Then I have to waste more time and energy containing my choler in my communications with them so as not to blow up the relationship.

Nevertheless, given my comparatively privileged position, I feel guilty about up my degree of upset and my inability to contain it.

For instance, due to yet another screw-up, I had to go to the grocery store yesterday (we are trying with limited success to reduce how often we go). The store was quiet and one of the employees was in the entry. I pulled out my magic Alcohol Spray Bottle to treat the handle and the parts of the cart near me and dug into my bag to appear to be doing something while waiting for at least ten seconds to pass.

The store employee seemed upset that I was cleaning the cart and told me, with a bit too much energy in his voice, that it had been sanitized.

Unfortunately, in a sister store, I had seen what this sanitation amounts to. They use a bottle of something which I could tell from the smell was not very strong, certainly not 60-70% alcohol, which is the fastest pathogen killer. And they were wiping down the carts again and again with the same dirty rag.

So instead of being a mature adult as I should have been when everyone is under stress and just given a genteel blow off, like “I feel better by doing this,” I instead had to say, “I’m sorry, I’ve read hospital journals and I’ve seen your sanitation and it isn’t adequate. I know you are trying to do your best.”

I felt like an utter jerk. I walked into the store, with paper towels between my hands and the handle. I then grabbed plastic veggie bags, put one on each hand, and did my shopping.

I was disconcerted to see none of the checkout clerks wearing masks when I had read this chain was putting up barrier between the cashiers and patrons for their mutual protection. But this time, I kept my thoughts to myself and exchanged pleasantries.


1 The attractive feature of the PPP is that loans are supposedly forgiven if you maintain your payroll level. However, I only take a teeny payroll and on top of that, just once a year, in the fourth quarter, which I gather is not all that uncommon. But not having paid payroll in the spring of 2019 appears to make me ineligible.

2 We don’t have old clothes we could cut up for masks because we’ve given them to a local charity.

3 The pay is almost certainly lousy, but this agency provides health insurance, and some of the aides work enough hours to get it; one early on was shocked at the idea that another agency in town does not provide coverage. I am pretty sure our aide who likes to clean is booked enough to qualify.

4 Even though my mother had already spoken to the MD about her issue, and he said he wanted a blood test without stating, he then wanted to have a phone talk late next week as a precondition of having the nurse come out. Mind you, my mother was prepared to pay the private duty nurse personally, and there is a Labcorp less than a mile from here, so all we needed from his was an Rx for the tests and a way to get vials to Labcorp. But no, we had to do it his way, apparently through his clinic’s lab.

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