Notes From a COVID-19 Epicenter: Our Quarantine Begins

COVID-19; image courtesy of

This wasn’t the post I’d originally planned to publish. That one can wait for another time. This post is more timely. And since my story may become your story—if it hasn’t already—I thought I should tell it to you now.

I live in a medium-sized community in the eastern US. Yesterday, our mayor requested that we move beyond this new status we’ve just learned about: social distancing.

We’ve now been asked to self-quarantine, voluntarily at this point. We should stay at home, going out only to buy food or medications. We are suddenly activists in the effort to flatten the curve and slow the exponential increase in disease incidence. 

The community officials have been acting very responsibly—closing the municipal buildings and library and encouraging people to conduct their business online. (Woe to anyone without functioning computer and Internet connection, but that’s a story for another day.)

They’ve even stated the number of people who will be permitted to enter the food markets at one time: 50 for the largest; 25 for each of the smaller stores, with only one family member permitted per visit. I’m all for these restrictions, which seem well thought out to me.

As my husband and I are past 60, we are considered part of the vulnerable population. We don’t have the other conditions that would increase our odds of becoming severely ill—such as heart or lung disorders or diabetes—but our well-worn immune systems are better off not being called into combat against this particularly nasty bug.

I’ll note that we’re careful about our health and diet, don’t smoke, and are both gym rats. One of the hardest things about this quarantine is that even though we’d decided it was probably not a good idea to continue going to our gym, the gym announced today that it’s closed until further notice.

That deprives us of the most important man in my life: the personal trainer we work out with together once a week. (I’ve told the trainer that in my husband’s presence.) He has really strengthened us and made us feel we’re up to all sorts of challenges.

I had assumed that under the circumstances, even if I got the damn virus, I would be sick for a week or so and then recover. But I’ve since learned that it’s quite tricky, and even when people seem to be recovering, it can do a sneak attack that brings them to an ICU needing a ventilator.

My purpose in telling you this is not to create panic; I feel amazingly calm myself considering my basic catastrophizing nature. Mindfulness meditation works wonders for me: I don’t dwell on what may happen.

Similarly, I see no point in checking the balances on our rapidly crumbling retirement accounts—or spending more than a fleeting moment pondering potential breakdowns in our food supply chains and the availability of medicines I must take. 

But there are plenty of people who either aren’t getting or aren’t hearing the facts about COVID-19. The messages from the White House and the CDC are conflicting and confusing. Putting out a blanket limit on 50 people congregating in a single spot does not take into account the size of the spot (unlike my local regulations) and how much “social distancing” is possible therein. 

Such ambiguity may lead people to continue taking advantage of not having to be at work to meet with their friends in a bar; that’s definitely not smart. This is not your grandmother’s flu. It’s spreading more quickly than other viruses in the past. It’s also more lethal.

On March 14, our local hospital had 11 cases, and 6 of them (all younger than 60) were in the ICU. Another 40 patients were under observation. Those numbers are increasing rapidly, and they somehow haven’t made it into the state’s official count.

You know those N95 masks many people are talking about, which can be used only once and are essential to protect health care workers as they tend to infected patients? The hospital’s CEO said in an interview that those masks are running low statewide. His hospital had gone through 795 of them by 7 pm in a single day.

He described the past week as something he’d never before seen, even though he’d fought cholera in Haiti after the earthquake, when there were no medical supplies, and “even when we ramped up for Ebola.” He called this crisis “unprecedented.”

The CEO said a number of things that were quite concerning. One that disturbed me the most was that he’s given up on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which had yet to confirm his hospital’s first case.

In his view—and this is something he wants people to know—testing is problematic. It’s more complicated than it’s been described. To be effective, it must be done under strict conditions with a sample taker appropriately outfitted with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and differing RNA assays make test sensitivity questionable. 

So at best, the tests are 90% accurate, whereas flu tests are 99.999% positive. He fears drive-through testing that shows someone is negative will give that person “a false sense of security.” He said he told the Governor his concerns. 

There are many experts with differing views; I’m noting his because he’s a highly regarded individual who’s working with labs—not to suggest that his opinions necessarily be used as guidance in individual decision-making. 

Testing in the US has certainly been botched, by nearly all accounts, but many point out, as this Atlantic article states, that knowing how many people have been tested would give us some sense of how far the disease has spread and “how forceful a response to it the United States is mustering.” Hmmmm….

Though our hospital CEO doesn’t want to incite panic, he does want people to take this disease seriously because in infected patients

“things can turn around very rapidly. We had a patient that we were thinking about releasing—he seemingly was recovering—and then, two days later, he was put in the ICU. The flu isn’t like that. People need to know this.” 

He encourages people to be responsible: stay home, avoid malls and theater and group activities for now.

“We need to sort of hunker down at home. Go outside if the weather’s nice in your backyard. That’s healthy and good. But we shouldn’t be out and about.”

That’s what we’re doing. Going into stores for food only when they’re not crowded. Avoiding situations where we’ll have to stand on line. Bringing our rapidly disappearing hand sanitizer with us when we’re out of the house, and swabbing our door knobs on the outside and inside with Lysol when we return.

(We’ve also made some hand sanitizer by mixing alcohol with aloe vera, but both ingredients are no longer available.) 

I heard one virologist say COVID-19 is most likely to linger for up to 9 days on metal and hard smooth surfaces. Clothing and porous surfaces seem not to be a concern. I haven’t found confirmation of this statement, however.

What else are we doing? Agonizing over whether to buy two or three small packages of tissues (8 each pack): they were going fast, and we felt we could use them to open doors once our hand sanitizer was gone. But was buying three packages selfish? 

We’re wiping down our cell phones (Apple said Chlorox wipes are OK) and other surfaces. Lifting weights and exercising at home, and taking walks in the late afternoon when few people are around. And yesterday we toured our small garden, buoyed by the sight of the first crocuses pushing their way through the mesh we’d placed over the hard soil to allow them to get a head start before the feeding faunas’ visits. So those back-aching hours planting bulbs last fall paid off! The appearance of those young green shoots couldn’t have come at a better time.

And we’re washing, washing, washing our hands. I find it so interesting that this devastating organism can be vanquished by plain old soap and water.

Finally, we’re still remembering to laugh. (See my previous post.)

My sister-in-law sent this cartoon today.


My response was: “Gee, do you know where he got it? I could use some.” 

Do you have stories to tell about how you’re coping? I’d love to hear them. I hope you all stay safe.


38 thoughts on “Notes From a COVID-19 Epicenter: Our Quarantine Begins

  1. I agree with everything you’ve put out there, Annie, I’ve known you since high school. You are always very level-headed and you laid out the info very succinctly. I had my head buried in the sand about it until yesterday when I realized that you really cannot compare it to the flu because of the way it affects older adults. That said, it doesn’t really affect my lifestyle so much since I stay in the house with my cats, except for the occasional outside walk and Zumba at the gym. But I do work at the mall and that is now problematic. I don’t plan to quit my job and fortunately the store has limited its hours and most people are not shopping. So we all hope for the best, hope this too shall pass and fairly quickly!!! The good news is that if you get it you are then immune, or so they say. Washing hands and phones is key!!! Hands off the face and carry on.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interestingly, I just heard that there are more reports of younger adults being stricken—maybe because they’re not being so careful.
      Yes, we must be both careful and hopeful. We’ve got a bumpy ride ahead of us, but eventually this too shall pass.


  2. I am also super concerned about the conflicting messages and unreliable information. There is a vacuum of leadership in our country right now and that’s super concerning for those of us who are immunocompromised. I’ve also heard quite a few men and women in my support groups concerned that if the supplies run low, we will be the first not to get treated. I’m working hard on not catastrophizing the situation and there’s plenty to distract me now that I’m unexpectedly homeschooling my pre-K and first grader! They are having a great time and my cat is absolutely overjoyed that everyone is home. Silver linings abounds, as always. ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re so great at the silver linings, Abigail! Sounds like a happy 3-ring circus.
      I have been thinking of you and other friends who require hospital treatments. Some governors have taken on the planning responsibilities in the absence of national leadership—and the President essentially said “You’re on your own, folks” in a phone call to governors asking for help locating life-saving supplies. I don’t know how Scott has been on such matters, but I hope he rises to the occasion.
      On a separate note, I hope you got my response(s) to your email. I asked for a bit more information. Looking forward to hearing from you!💕

      Liked by 1 person

      1. My cancer center is doing a great job of making sure their patient’s are getting the treatment we need and avoiding visits we don’t need. I’m in the middle of adding a new treatment, so there is a lot of visits and new things going on. Pretty much the worst time to be doing this. I don’t see any emails from you. Sorry! Please resend!! ❤️

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post.

    My other-half and I are well-past retirement age so we’re being extra careful in ALL ways. We’ve been pretty much staying close to home … although he did make a trip to Costco yesterday to pick up a couple of items and said the lines were clear into the parking lot and there was a sign posted that indicated all the items that were depleted. He returned home.

    Fortunately, we’re well-stocked on canned and paper goods since he already tends to be a “survivalist.” I have been know to give him a hard time on this, but under the current circumstances …

    As with all my blogging friends, I hope you stay well … physically AND mentally. I think we’re in for quite a long haul and being home-bound for lengthy periods definitely has its drawbacks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Nan. I’ve heard other reports about Costco runs that ended with little satisfaction. But apparently they deliver food—I just heard from a friend. She’ll have to wait a while, but they promised…
      So now you’re being saved by the survivalist tendencies you scorned; life does create odd twists and turns, doesn’t it?
      Thanks for your good wishes—and the same to you. I’m hoping this self-quarantine will lead to some self-discipline vis-a-vis tackling my mounds of paper. That would be good exercise mentally, for sure.
      Have you noticed the green box is gone? I had to remove a submenu that couldn’t handle my insistence on listing all my posts. So thank you for bringing the matter to my attention.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I hadn’t noticed … I guess because your blog now looks “normal.” 🙂

        Let’s hope we all stay well and come out better on the “other side.” 💖

        Liked by 1 person

  4. We’re in a somewhat similar situation to you, Annie. We live in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC, and our area has had enough coronavirus cases that all the schools and colleges are shut down. As of today, after Governor Hogan’s order, restaurants and bars are only open for carry-out business, if at all, gyms are closed, and most people are staying mostly at home. My wife and I both qualify as more “at risk” due to our age, and I have some “underlying conditions”, though well-controlled. So, we’re staying mostly at home, though going out for walks on mostly empty streets. We usually eat out often, but it’s been at home, lately. We are going out to see our nearby grandsons, and my wife still has at least her smaller quilting group going.
    I’m happy to have my Word Press blog to try to keep up, and I do have a fairly large pile of yet-unread books to attack.
    Hope you and your family stay well!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, sounds very similar to our situation. We had the dreadful experience of seeing a TV interview with the owner of our favorite bagel store, who was lamenting that he fears he’ll have to close. So my husband’s early morning walk tomorrow (in place of his early morning gym workout now that the gym is closed) will be to buy 1 dozen (plus two free) bagels. We’re doing our part, though it probably won’t save the day. Alas!
      I, too, find my blog a source of great pleasure.
      And I wish you and your family the same: stay well!


  5. Schools closed for 3 weeks now, March break plus 2 more to ensure quarantine as many people had already left for southern vacations before they issued the don’t fly warning. Today they closed all libraries, museums and theatres, and I suspect restaurants will be next. I’m happy that I have those 18 books I ordered from bookoutlet at Christmas and have not read yet. That plus blogging, should keep me entertained, and hopefully soon we can do yard work and sit out on the porch in the sun and read. Trying to think positive, but it’s scary to listen to the news.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Annie, this another well written and thoughtful piece relating directly to our times and circumstances.

    We are away in Portugal. We will be returning home very soon and willing to face whatever this situation gives us.

    Below is the experience we are having where we are staying.

    As our Friday arrival turned to weekend and as the news of the day closed the world down city by city, region by region and finally country to country. As the news of the dire results from Italy expanded the headlines and roadblocks in air travel closed all off from all else, cars left each morning from our hotels guest parking lot and finally only held 2 and then just 1. Ours. Was there life outside our room?

    We were the only guests in a hotel set up to serve 100’s at the breakfast and in the 2 story dining room. We, on the last full day, had the entire staff and building to ourselves. We were served as if nothing had changed and all that was transpiring outside the gates of the property were issues for others and could not distract from our newly royal status.
    Our friends back home send us updates as well as those we read in the news of the day of our home town city and country shutting all of its entry and exit doors figuratively and literally. No more comings or goings unless required or necessary. No more congregating around dinner or drinks. Time to shutter in place and watch the news about shuttering in place by those and others that now shutter their days and nights that contain their lives.
    I am not apocryphal. I always see a way out because, all of my life has been a way out and mostly forward. However, today in view of the deterioration around us, I see how wars effect people. As in wars, this microscope bug, insidious and prevailing, isolates us just the same or more than anything. They isolate us in place and in the longer experience permanently from those that do not make it safely through. Apocryphal or just stating history? Not a question really. More a statement of presence of facts that are surfacing in our global world. We have as much resilience as people always have. Far more access to news and facts. An abundance of medical help at our fingertips and surrounding us. I would never state hopeless in anyway, but this news is new. An enemy to us all physically, economically and socially. We are becoming at least for now and hopefully only temporarily, a closed society across the world engaged in war to save us all.
    I was researching the great plagues of the Middle Ages and the last great crisis from the 1918 worldwide flu epidemic. The plagues of the Middle Ages once they were established by the invaders outside Europe from the far east, was then mostly spread by those fleeing the cities from the plague to a escape from the mass deaths that followed. 800 years ago there were only cities and not countries, No central authority and if there were, no one of knowledge of what would be best. In these refugees needs to distance themselves from the plagued area, they in-turn brought the plague to a new place and it started all over again. Cities with ports suffered the greatest as ships moved freely across great expanses in the search for safety only to bring that which they feared most with them and infected still more. In the end, Europe lost almost 50% of its population. It is not known how many died, as recorded history was on hold due to the deaths of wealthy, poor, old, young, healthy or ill. Within a few days whole neighborhoods died by the hundreds with no one to bury them. It took over 500 years for Europe to rebuild its population back to pre-plague levels. It took Italy up until 1900 to do as well. If there was a unified authority in place, yes there still would had been deaths, but they would not had spread.
    In 1918 to 1920 the strain of flu killed more in 2 years than WWI did in its 5. Somewhere between 25-50 mil from the flu world wide

    In its first year it took the young and old and left the healthy who were off fighting. However, as in the saying, ‘that which doesn’t kill you, makes ………….’. In this case with troop movements across the European stage and once the US entered the war, the flu that went dormant came back but the virus was now changed and those that were healthy and not immune by being initially exposed, had no resistance and the healthy died in higher numbers than those that were young or old.
    In this later case, war and epidemic created a worst case scenario. A stronger virus taking those that fought back their battlefield enemies only to be victims to one unseen.
    We enter into this present world wide pandemic with a fuller knowledge of what will most likely be the outcome. Higher death rates than a flu due to there is no vaccine to guard against the oncoming infection. A knowledge that those most vulnerable most be protected by those in the best position to make changes and even sacrifice for the larger population. It is all for the greater good. Our hard decisions today and what will most likely be temporary measures however, with longer lasting social and economic impact are the way forward to a stronger populace.

    Moreover, if we sacrifice now, we do this with far less chance of recrimination to the question of what did we know and when did we know it and ultimately why didn’t we do something when we could. 

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Charles. This is an extraordinary enrichment of our discussion. The part about those who initially survived being stricken by the reemerged, altered virus struck me personally—as we have a planned trip to Alaska, involving flight to Seattle and then small cruise ship, in September. I heard a virologist say this bug could die down in summer and come “roaring back” in the fall.
      I hope you’re able to enjoy the rest of your royal vacation. Please consider flying home at the most inconvenient time, as the airports are packed. Perhaps, though, that was frenzy caused by the president’s sudden proclamation, and the atmosphere will be less chaotic when you return.


  7. Annie,
    Great piece. You’re all over it.
    Many people will be affected, in varying degrees, now and in at least the immediate future.
    Maybe as we look back at this, in that future, there will be some indication that we as a nation(society) learned how to join together to work on serious problems. Realizing we’re all in this together- not Repubs vs Dems.
    For now I’d like to hear some calmness and reassurance vs all the catastrophizing. There’s got to be a voice of reason that’s not coming thru over the networks.
    Whatever happened to the old fireside chats? I’m sure we’d all like to hear the mellifluous tones of our President giving his wisdom on the situation- um.. maybe not.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for this thoughtful response. It certainly would be wonderful if this crisis became the “inflection point” (such an overused phrase!) where we realize our commonality and interdependence, as well as our need for a much stronger safety net to protect the most vulnerable among us and our society as a whole.
      A calming fireside chat? Ah, there’s a lovely idea—one that I hope everyone will take to the voting booths both now and in November. For the time being, I’m gratified when Anthony Fauci is the speaker. His messages aren’t always calming, but at least they’re consistent and science-based.


  8. These are all good questions — where is the boundary between reasonable and selfish behavior? I have a couple of sons living at a distance who call daily to urge the shelter in place routine. The Californian scientist just fell under a state-wide mandate. He and his friends have been meeting virtually for dinner, everyone on their device set up on the dining room table. The Washingtonian reports a government struggling on how to set policy. It’s ridiculous to think that the Trump administration closed down the department of pandemic preparedness and put his energy into building a wall that few seem to care about today. Where is our leadership?! My scientist son has refrained from sending along the virus spread modeling estimates that fill his in-box from researchers across the globe, but I found them anyway. Goodness, buckle your seatbelt — this is going to be a long haul. Thanks, Annie. Keep on, and stay well. PS As to that most important man in your life . . . had to laugh.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love the virtual dinner gatherings. As for leadership, trump is a slow learner: having just absorbed the fact that this is a real pandemic, he can’t seem to grasp his role in preventing it from getting totally out of control. Yes, the statistics are mind boggling—and it’s maddening to think that our “wartime president” is wasting time blaming others when he should be helping factories gear up for the vital equipment that’s going fast.
      Glad I gave you a laugh; I’m trying to insert a little levity wherever I can.


  9. Oh dear, we’ve had that sort of uncertainty with conflicting information from our prime minister and other government officials, too. It’s not helpful when people want, need, clarity and confidence. Technically I/we (I live with my elderly parents, and it’s for them that I’m so worried) should be self-isolating but I’ve been out more this week than I have the last 6 months in a desperate attempt to run errands and pick up essentials among all the empty shelves. It’s exhausting and so precarious when trying to stay safe but never really knowing if what you’re doing will be enough. A very worrying time across the world. Stay safe and as well as possible, Annie.  ♥
    Caz xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My dear friend—you’ve spoken about how important it is for you to regain your strength. I’m concerned about your doing all those errands. Can you get any help-deliveries? Friends? Nice former boyfriend?
      I sure hope so. And when you’re home, remember to breathe as deeply as you can (I know there’s a lung issue) to try to destress. We do what we can, and then we must think about more pleasant things.
      Hope you don’t mind this response, which is prompted, as I trust you realize, only by caring.
      Annie xx💕

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m sorry, I was having a little whinge there, wasn’t I? I’m very fortune, very lucky because my situation is still better than money in this time of crisis. But even I’ve found the current level of things right now unsustainable, something has to give. Thank you for your care and compassion, Annie, it means a lot. I really hope you can take your own advice to breathe deeply, relax the tension and calm your mind a little over the weekend. We will weather these storms and, hopefully, not lose sight of the moments of joy/hope/positivity along the way to keep us going.
        Caz xx

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thank you. I do take my own advice; I’m amazed how calm I am—despite my rage at this president’s ineptitude, which has definitely made things worse.
        And we absolutely must remain positive and scoop up those joyous moments. All good wishes, Caz!

        Liked by 1 person

  10. I am just now getting to this, and perhaps the delay was good for me as we have been hunkering down in the midwest too. By midweek my office was hard into getting everyone set up to work from home. Getting my home office set up in the final year of my self-employment is paying dividends now (with my own personal copy machine, thank you very much.)

    We tend to overstock here, so there are no immediate worries about food. Restaurants are only open for take-out and my county is urged to not go out unless for necessary shopping or to an essential job. We scored a container of Lysol wipes this past week (only took one) and nabbed the last loaf of bread. It is toilet tissue that seems to be the envy of our area – we are moderately well fixed but will buy some next time we see it. If only we were driving anywhere – gas at Costco is $1.68/gallon right now!

    I am fortunate, being in a field that is relatively immune from variations in retail traffic. Insurance claims and the lawsuits that come from them are fairly steady business, neither booming in booms nor crashing in crashes. Two of my kids are also pretty well set, but a third works in the advertising field and I don’t imagine his small firm will keep going forever with a full payroll if business falls off. This is becoming my biggest worry – that our hard stop in almost everything could go cascading into an economic disaster not seen in many decades, with the great personal toll in job losses and bankruptcies. Hopefully we will hit this hard for a couple of weeks and will then be able to ease back into some kind of (cautious) regularity.

    I guess there is not much to do/say but keep calm and carry on.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think that’s a general worry—the hard stop—but based on what’s happened in other countries, I think there was no choice. Good luck with your son—good luck to us all. I just hope that the government’s help gets to the people and places that truly need it. Keep calm and carry on sounds right to me!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. There is indeed a world wide shortage of sanitisers! Even at the moment, I’m scouring all online marts for a single bottle! I’m reading this post 5 days after you posted it. Things in India still seems to be under control but all of us practice social distancing. The government has asked all of us to stay home this Sunday. All transportation services will be suspended and we are supposed to remain in the confines of our home. Guess the situation is rapidly escalating in this part of the world too.

    Liked by 1 person

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