Monday, May 18 – 我爱你, A Wide Net and The Lonely Road
By Jorah Kai CHONGQING, CHINA
Day 116. I began this blog on a lonely road, racing down a misty mountain, digitally traversing thousands of miles to share what I saw coming from my solitary perch. There was no mistaking the roiling, nasty, virulent global pandemic with an ability to kill hundreds of millions and shut down the global economy. From my lockdown, I saw it spread to the world. Some listened, some argued, some laughed, some even bullied me for causing alarm and harassing their chill. For a while, we walked together, sharing in the latter days of my lockdown as it became clear to many that my journey would soon be their own, and there were many touching moments that made me feel like I had a higher purpose than a simple survivor; Mavor called me the canary in the coal mine, Ryan called me the Harbinger, but it gave me the strength to light signal fires. The agency, helping others prepare for what came upon me suddenly and with no warning kept me busy and kept the anxiety and panic from festering. Now the way feels quiet and dark again. At least for now, I walk alone.
This week has affected many of us differently. In some places, like Italy, there is a joyous festivity as they prepare to open up to Europe in time for some great tourist opportunities. Siciliy even offered to pay you to visit to get things rolling again. Things, you know, not COVID. At least no ones admitting that they’re “planning for a second wave,” as in, hoping their reopening will cause one, nor are they mostly planning to deal with one; as for example, a lengthy CDC guideline for reopening the USA involving testing and contact tracing was shelved as “impractical,” and the WH asked them to write a soft one, that would be easier to manage, or mismanage.
The kind of contact tracing, testing, isolation and verification and clearance apps that China, South Korea, and other technologically advanced nations have used seem to be mired in the same privacy concerns and debate that people use to avoid mask use and promise to dredge up again when a vaccine becomes available.
I don’t understand it.
In my opinion, you do not have the right to infect other people around you and me; you simply don’t have that right and quit pretending you do. If you go outside, you have an obligation to cover your damn face, install the app, get cleared, and be part of the solution; otherwise, you’re literally fighting on team virus.
Local (CQ)TV did a big in-depth special on me, my writing, and my book. Xiaolin said it was nice. I didn’t watch it. My school offered me a new contract, and while I’m overworked and miss my 100 days of writing and personal time, I shouldn’t be ungrateful for the work at this time. I know I’m lucky. I appreciate everything the universe gives me.
Some people dance in the streets, as the worst seems to be over. Others are returning to work and school. Others still are in enforced lockdowns, and with a lack of food, the very real threat of starvation competes with the theoretical threat of death from the pandemic. Some areas such as India and developing nations in Africa are facing imminent starvation that is more serious (at the moment) than the threat of a virus: 1 million children could starve to death by UNICEF’s estimate, another estimate was that 250 million people could die globally of starvation by summer if nothing is done to alleviate hunger and poverty. But on the flip side, a pandemic with a CFC of 1-3% in developed nations might reach 10-15% in countries with very limited hospitals, no ECMOs, ventilation, medication, or proper quarantine and hospital facilities. So how does anyone weigh these two awful things against each other? The leaders of this age sure are earning their salaries by trying. These are not easy times.
In Chongqing, we’re blazing ahead. The last COVID-19 case in my city was released from the hospital two months ago. We’ve had a few imported cases, eight asymptomatic cases from Hubei, and one from France. All were caught in our quarantine net and stopped before they could create new outbreaks.
Three weeks ago, I started teaching at my high school and tutoring real live students at our home. Last week, the ones in the classroom removed their masks, although I continue to drag along a duffel bag with a HEPA air filter inside to every class and use my masks for the most part. I’ve instructed all my students to cough into their elbows and don’t sneeze at all, but if they have to, the elbow as well. Sometimes, when the HEPA filter air bubble is strong around me, and the students are a few meters away, I will remove my mask for a few minutes of precious, clear speaking and comfortable oration, but it always comes back on before the class is over or if anyone starts coughing or I just feel a bit uncomfortable. There are moments when I’m the weird alien in the room again, an astronaut amongst civilians, but other moments where I’m just a teacher and it’s ok to wear a mask or not wear a mask and whatever’s clever.
Sometimes the kids wear a mask in the larger classes, and I like that, I feel safer. I think one of their teachers told them I’m having a harder time adjusting than some other teachers. I’m like an old army vet that still jumps at loud bangs, but I’m on guard for what we all expect to return. We’ll see. In other classes, they are already forgotten. Life is back to normal, and not soon enough for them. I hope they don’t get any ugly surprises or cause any, but I envy them their carefree laissez-faire attitude.
As I teach, some times a headteacher will walk around and take temperature tests of students, pointing a small gun to their head and pulling the trigger. This is just part of our new vigilance.
Meanwhile, we had a class on Sunday with no power, as our neighborhood went brown for two hours for some repairs, and all we could do was run a battery fan on the kids and let them take their masks off. I stood 2-3 meters away and wore mine, but it was another risk, another opening up, but the numbers here suggest we are smart to remain vigilant, but we’ve decided the whole school can be a bubble.
I teach about 1500 students a week, many in classes of 60, a few smaller classes of 20-30. About 1500 students, let’s say an average of 5 people per household is about 7500 vectors multiplied by everyone they contact with, old people in their clubs, parents at their officers, let’s say ten average per person (some would be 100x that), we’re looking at a minimum of 75,000 weekly vectors that are scouring the corners of Chongqing for cases of COVID, to bring right back into my class and to me. This is a large, deep net to trawl the corners of Chongqing, the offices, the games rooms, restaurants, and the parks, looking for a bite. COVID and I, dancing in the dark.
Despite all that, it really is quite safe here, because of our early vigilance. Yet I stand on guard, alert, waiting for the scent of it to return, ready to sound the alarm. So far, it’s been quiet.
My friends are quiet too, many are busy getting back to work, or stressed as they are pulled out of their homes and asked to smile and get on with life. I’ve heard and seen stories of packed parks, busy Kensington market, crowded beaches. People are just so excited about good weather and the end of this huge bummer. Already, Texas has reported thousands of new cases only a week after reopening, a huge upsurge.
This lockdown is the pause, the break, and what follows will not be what we had before. Before we borrowed from the future, hoping one day we would be able to pay back what we took, be it money, energy, or creating pollution. Now we will have to learn to live within our means: budgeting money, power, and ecologically sustainable behavior. If we have to live with the virus for some time as well, we will have to develop more nuanced systems to protect ourselves and each other.
I ordered some mozzarella cheese, refried beans, and have been enjoying them with baguettes and nachos. I made my first salsa. It was nice.
Face masks, social distancing, and individual responsibility will require us to control the pandemic and stop future waves.
The stock market is artificially euphoric, but seems primed for a serotonin crash. I know the signs, it can’t keep grinding its teeth and blissfully grinning while the world and the real companies and people are on the brink of bankruptcy forever. If you have your fortune in stocks this might. be your last chance to divest. That means dump them before they crash and buy some land and grow a garden, if you need me to spell it out.
How can we brace for a second wave when they’re still fighting their first wave? And with numbers still growing, they’re throwing their non-pharmaceutical interventions, their NPIs, social distancing, masks (if they were ever used in their regions) to the curb, to enjoy the sunny days. I expect the end of May and June will be dark months for many. But I’ve been wrong before, and hope to be wrong about this.
I made a new playlist full of corona raps and silly left turns for my friends at the Freakeasy in Chicago. I channeled my 20-year-old self, and it was fun to borrow a bit of him at this time, to cheer up my friends here and now. We have to remember to laugh and smile and sing. Always look on the bright side of life and all that.
Tomorrow is 520, Chinese Valentine’s Day because it sounds like “Wo Ai Ni (我爱你), I love you, so Shaolin and I will cruise a shopping mall for snacks and a souvenir. Another favorite thing, thrust into our astronaut protocols and bizarre new normal. And just like that, I get an email from Alessia. Italy is back with a new blog, and then an update from Dara in PEI. After a stressful week holding my own torch high, I’m not alone anymore.
This diary entry is part of Kai’s collection, from an upcoming book titled The Lighthouse, his second collection of COVID-19 diary entries, this one is a collaboration of voices from around the globe. He shares with them iChongqing, and at www.theinvisiblewar.co.
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