Archive for March, 2020

Plague diaries, Day 18

Tuesday night. We’re officially virus refugees now: we went to a whole different province, Quebec, to escape large cities in Toronto.

Spent the whole day unpacking and exploring the new condo – soooo tired. More tomorrow.

The situation in the US is what is colloquially known as a dumpster fire. Over 1,000 dead today. Trump went from his first proclamation that only 15 people were sick and they’ll recover quickly to stating that likely 100,000 will die. The death toll as I type this is 4,085 in the US and only 102 in Canada. Some of my friends in the US are still in denial… I’m so glad I moved to Canada when I did. I hadn’t expected a pandemic per se, but I knew enough to know that the government wouldn’t be able to handle a sizable calamity. Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico was a perfect example of their ineptitude, yet everyone mostly shrugged and moved on. People’s capacity to ignore what’s right in front of them… Well, I suppose that’s just a particularly unfortunate coping mechanism for them. I hope it won’t be that bad.

Plague diaries, Day 17

Monday night. This is our last night in Deep River, in the cozy little AirBnB cottage. We’ll set off for Quebec tomorrow. Two days ago, Quebec set up movement restrictions in 8 distant towns to keep the virus from spreading. Here is hoping nothing will change within 24 hours and we’ll be able to drive on in. I can’t imagine what the world will look like 28 days later when we drive back to Ontario – maybe back to Toronto, likely to another rental.

Quebec has more cases than Ontario, but it also has more AirBnB rentals outside major cities. Everything is a tradeoff.

These last two weeks have been almost embarrassingly good to us. Hidden indoors, learning to cook and bake, having deep conversations and playing video games and binge-watching TV while the rest of the world got stranger and stranger. This is a very middle class privilege, I know. This required savings, no kids, no pets, the ability to work from home… Few could have the same opportunity, and we’re well aware of that.

Meanwhile, in the US, covid-19 has killed more Americans than 9/11 did, and the death toll will just keep on growing. A lot of people don’t understand how exponential growth works, and this will be a rude awakening. There’s a disturbing viral video taken by a driver in New York: hospital personnel used a forklift to load bodies into a refrigerated truck. So banal and horrifying.

Russia has declared total lockdown. In addition to banning international flights, they also locked down Moscow on four-hour notice. Something is rotten, but we’re unlikely to ever find out how bad it really is there. For that matter, some folks in China are claiming the true death toll in Wuhan was over 30,000. That does sound more realistic than the death toll they provided – but once again, we’ll likely never know.

A megachurch pastor in Florida had over 1,000 people for a Sunday service. The local sheriff wants to arrest him, which is an interesting change of pace: a lot of religious folks, both in the US and worldwide, have been defiant – and accelerating the spread of the virus by doing so. Some of the clergy claim that no one ever got sick in a church; others say that the communal wine doesn’t transmit disease. So far, they’ve been doing that without any consequences – it’ll be interesting to see if that sheriff is an exception or the first of many quarantine enforcers.

Goodbye, Deep River.

Plague diaries, Day 16

Sunday night. If the numbers I’m looking at are correct, Spain has overtaken Italy with the highest daily death toll for yesterday: 838 vs 756. It’s troubling to watch the US numbers refresh on the site I use. I check the numbers, refresh the site in a few hours, and the death toll goes from 2,096 to 2,493. The fact that 397 more Americans (and many, many more Italians and Spaniards) died while I was hiding in a cottage… That really is surreal.

I don’t watch Trump’s press conferences because they contain zero actual information and far too much rah-rah nonsense. Even so, it sounds like today’s presser was more ridiculous than most – the twitter folks are up in arms about it. Evidently, Agent Orange got mad at a reporter who asked which medical professional claimed that the death toll from the economic damage will be greater than the death toll from the virus. Also, someone finally convinced Trump that maybe quarantining the entire state of New York isn’t such a great idea. Rhode Island also seems to be backing off, at least for now.

On the off chance you’re reading this far in the future, please note that all the stories about the White House incompetence, no matter how ridiculous and far-fetched they may sound to you in whatever year that is, are true. Every last one of them. Trump really did outsource the covid19 management to his not-so-bright son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Kushner really did outsource the research to his relative’s facebook group. Trump really did eliminate the pandemic prevention funding. Trump really did care only about the impact on the stock market when he paraded one CEO after another. I know this sounds as ridiculous as some of the stories shortly before the fall of Rome, and it’ll be easy to dismiss them all as partisan exaggerations, but they were all true. Digital decay being what it is, I don’t know how many primary sources will survive decades from now – I doubt this blog will be one of them, but who the hell knows. (And hey, I hope you’ve finally got household hologram projectors and a Mars colony in whatever decade you’re from.)

Gf and I are making the most of our self-imposed isolation. So far today, we took a short walk through the forest, watched part of the Matrix (for which there were no sequels, as we all know), played “Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel” for four hours straight, and baked muffins with almost every single ingredient we have. (Gf’s leftover keto food like artificial sweeteners, nuts, some old bananas, coconut oil, chocolate, etc.) They turned out delicious. 🙂

Being so far away from the usual hobbies, the mind starts to wander. I’ve never been part of the kombucha tribe (those floating things mildly freak me out), but lately, all my online acquaintances have been on the dough starter train. So many giant threads on that topic all over Twitter… This is a very “bored white yuppie” thing to do, but I think I’ll give it a shot. Gf seems excited about learning to bake – but far less excited about the world outside. Either the virus has mutated to take out children (which it hadn’t before) or there were some strange back-to-back outliers. An infant in Chicago, a 17-year-old in California… Gf is spending time on the subreddit for folks diagnosed with covid19, and it’s giving her anxiety attacks. Combined with the keto withdrawal transition, she’s not feeling so good. Here is hoping tomorrow will be better.

Forgot to mention: during a grocery store run for Lysol disinfectant 3 days ago, I noticed that the local store has really ramped up their safety measures. In addition to free hand-sanitizing station at the entrance and plenty of warnings they had before, they’ve also added plexiglass all around the cashiers. (As well as announcements discouraging people from paying with cash.) A guy at the checkout line next to me got very vocally upset about the mild inconvenience of dealing with the plexiglass while paying for his groceries. Well, at least someone is taking this seriously.

And now it’s time to do impromptu body weight exercises with the aquarium channel on satellite TV in the background. Aspiring yuppie baker, over and out.

Plague diaries, Day 15

Saturday night. I can’t believe I missed my own anniversary: one year and two days ago, on March 26, 2019, I crossed the border into Canada. I’d spent three days driving from Seattle on the mighty I-90 – 2,600 miles till the Michigan crossing, through the flooded plains of the northern states. Aside from a couple of week-long business trips back, I’ve spent all that time here in Ontario. It’s been a very strange year… I never would’ve guessed that I’d celebrate the anniversary in self-imposed isolation from a pandemic in a tiny town, holed up with my awesome Canadian girlfriend. Can’t even imagine where I’ll be in March 2021, or what the world will be like then.

As of right now, there are 2,196 officially counted covid-19 deaths in the US, and only 61 in Canada. That’s curious, considering we didn’t impose restrictions on international flights. Here is hoping there aren’t any hidden clusters ready to explode. The US situation is rapidly de-evolving… New York is the new designated scapegoat. Rhode Island police will start hunting down New Yorkers and encouraging them to get out. Governors of southern states who previously disregarded the pandemic are starting to blame New Yorkers as well. Meanwhile, Los Angeles authorities are saying they’ll likely hit New York’s levels in five days. Italy had another bad day, though still below 1,000. Spain is catching up. A minor royal somewhere died of the virus, while Trudeau’s wife supposedly recovered. There are videos of people washing all of their groceries in a sink filled with soapy water. Gf’s favourite youtuber, a makeup specialist from Guelph, has released a video showing how to make your own hand sanitizer.

My favourite blog had a very wholesome discussion on eating well while self-isolating, and quite a few folks mentioned their dough starters. They make it sound fun: a pet that you don’t need to watch over 24/7 and that can give you yummy food if you just give it some flour. Might give this a try if I get sufficiently bored.

Gf and I are catching up on our sleep, reading the pandemic news together, and watching Netflix. (Baby Driver is a strange, strange movie.) Three days from now, we’ll be in Quebec, assuming the movement between provinces isn’t blocked by then.


Apocalypse shopping list:

  1. Tortillas (not whole wheat)
  2. Pasta
  3. Vitamin C pills (not buffered with calcium)
  4. Purple grapes
  5. Art supplies

Plague diaries, Day 14

Friday night. We’re still indoors – this time watching movies and playing Monopoly Deal, my gf’s favourite game. (She beat me so easily!) It’ll get warmer this weekend – looking forward to finally walking around the local forest and along the riverbank together. Gf officially gave up the keto diet yesterday: now her body is readjusting to the regular food sources, so she’s not at the top of her game just yet.

Yesterday, 969 people died of covid19 in Italy. 769 in Spain. Over 100 in New York. The temporary dip in numbers in Italy didn’t hold. Either today or within a week at the latest, some country will have over 1,000 deaths in one day. That’ll be a psychological barrier that might finally wake some people up. Here and now, US politicians try to downplay the damage, claiming that ~7,000 Americans die every day anyway (how odd that Rudy Giuliani didn’t dismiss 9/11 the same way), or that diarrhea kills ~2 million people per year. This isn’t just being bad at math – this is deliberate malice and misinformation…

Forgot to mention yesterday: the EPA has relaxed their regulations to the point where none of the usual polluters have to report the damage. Combined with the de facto abortion bans in the south, this is an ugly power grab. If and when this all ends, the world will be different: more hoarding, much more working from home, hopefully some version of universal basic income, and a lot more dictatorial shenanigans than people would normally be comfortable with.

Ain’t nothing we can do but hide and wait…

Plague diaries, Day 13

Thursday night. The end of our second week at the Deep River cottage. It’s fascinating how quickly we rebuild our routines in new environments. The first few days here took a bit to get used to, but now I’m back in the usual workweek cadence, and it’s almost weekend.

We took advantage of the nice sunny weather to venture outside for a walk through a forest. It’s still snowy here, and unless someone cleared a path with their truck, you can’t exactly carve your own path. I’ve never been a fan of winters, but it was moderately pretty, the company was great, and the air was much clearer than in Toronto. It must be gorgeous here when all this white crap melts.

Things aren’t going well in the outside world… Exponential growth is kicking in. A nurse died in New York. Boston has over 100 infected hospital workers. The US now has the most diagnosed infections in the world, and that’s with the test kits being almost impossible to find. A German company claims to have developed a 2-hour test that’s 95% accurate, but meanwhile, someone in China scammed Spain and sold them 340,000 fake test kits. Hundreds of thousands of masks are going missing in shipments around the world. The black market must be having a blast. A few days back, Costco refused to accept returns on the most hoarded items like toilet paper. There’ll be an awful lot of cheap TP and rice on craigslist, if there isn’t already. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Just like we thought, we’re seeing the first limits on movement within countries. Costa Rica set a 10pm curfew for driving. Russia cancelled all the international flights, be they in or out. A county in North Carolina is trying to keep outsiders away. Texas is trying to turn New Yorkers back – or force them into quarantine. Things will get worse soon…

On the personal front, I’ve received an email from an airline company confirming that my flight is cancelled. A few months ago, I’d booked a 3-week vacation – the first real vacation in over 3 years. I was supposed to fly to Tunisia, with layovers in Italy and France. Tunisia cut off international flights a week ago, and I can’t say I blame them. I still have my 3 weeks off, but now they’re a staycation, and will be spent with my gf in that tiny Quebec town. We’ll be there in just 4 days. Let’s hope they don’t shut down the travel between provinces before then.

Plague diaries, Day 12

Wednesday. Things are getting gloomier on the news. Prince Charles got diagnosed with coronavirus. If the queen gets it and dies… Her death, regardless of a cause, would’ve been a national tragedy, but if the cause is the virus, all hell will break loose. Mexico’s president flashed some religious talismans when asked what precautions he’s taking. Texas and other states are suspending abortion rights, claiming it’s not medically necessary. Officially, the space in the clinics will go to those who need urgent medical help. Unofficially, this is a power grab, with no end date in sight. I suspect this may be just the beginning.

In order to apply for permanent residency in Canada, you need to get the education credential assessment. The University of Toronto has emailed me to say they’re shutting down their offices until further notice, and my application won’t get processed anytime soon. The timeline to become a real Canadian has grown even longer.

Spent most of the day at work (WFH, as always) doing cosmetic changes to an important Excel spreadsheet that goes out to our VIPs. That produced absolutely nothing of value and got me mildly annoyed, until I realized how good I have it. Folks are going broke, losing their jobs, getting sick, dying because they can’t even breathe on their own any longer – and my biggest concern, while I’m staying in a neat little college with my gf, is my work not being sufficiently fulfilling. When I looked at things this way, my so-called problems suddenly got a lot smaller by comparison.

The US death toll is now 1,045. It’ll get Italy-level bad quite soon… (Just 35 deaths in Canada, though.) Spain had 738 deaths in one day. The worst part is that some deaths might not get counted. We might never know the true numbers, much like we’ll never know about the true death toll of hurricane Katrina, or what went on in the abandoned city.

I remember going on a business trip to the US in mid-January. One of my Canadian coworkers was worried about the virus (the news from China had already made headlines), but no one else seemed to. In mid-February, people around me laughed when I suggested we take the virus seriously. By mid-March, folks started to make WFH arrangements when possible. What will the world look like in April? In mid-May? A year from now?

Plague diaries, Day 11

Tuesday night. Having deep and thoughtful conversations with gf – the kind you rarely ever get a chance to enjoy. Life is good.

The biggest item on the news is India going into the lockdown mode for 3 weeks. How do you lock down 1.3 billion people?.. This will be fascinating to watch.

Since we can’t stay at this AirBnb in Deep River past 3/31, we’ve continued searching on AirBnb. It’s interesting: there are some (but not many) people like ourselves. All the relatively cheap cottages we saw last night got booked. (We’d hesitated because it was unclear if the best match had wifi.) Not everyone is doing this, of course: you need to have savings, the ability to work from home, the ability to move quickly – so most likely no kids and no pets. Chances are, it’s other borderline-yuppie couples.

We downgraded our options from cottages to isolated apartments, and found something interesting: a snazzy-looking condo with a fireplace and a balcony with a great view in Mont-Tremblant, Quebec. It’s right next to a ski resort, which will remain closed for quite a while. (And all the restaurants, tourist traps, etc.) Living in a condo in a shared building is less ideal than living in a standalone cabin, since there’ll be some risk of virus exposure, but it’s still infinitely better than gf’s house with its 10 roommates.

Update on the roommate situation: gf’s roommates claim they got fed up with people not taking the virus seriously, so they’ll go out and write angry/educational (angrucational?) messages in chalk. Breaking the self-isolation for the greater good – yeah, that’ll work just fine, I’m sure. (I’m also not sure if they understand how chalk works: it still snows in Toronto.) In other words, we’re both quite glad we got her out of there, and not very hopeful by humanity’s prospects if those are baseline 25-year-olds. I wonder how many people will get infected just through that house’s stupidity…

Plague Diaries, Day 10

Monday. We’re falling into a routine: I roll out of bed at 7am (with a kick of encouragement), grab a shower, eat breakfast (usually black coffee with dry cereal) spend some time online, and open my work laptop to clickity-clack on it till 5pm, with a small break for lunch. Gf wakes up, does yoga, spends time online. We do indoorsy things in the evening. (The gf has a name, but it’s very distinct and easy to identify, ergo the “gf” shorthand.)

Strange news… National Guard is being deployed in the US. Senator Klobuchar’s husband tested positive. An elderly couple tried taking chloroquine by themselves: he died, she’s in the ICU. Today was the first day with over 100 American deaths. (And who knows how many just don’t get tested.) Nothing but gloom and despair online and on social media. Took a short drive to the local grocery store today: this time, they were out of chicken and frozen blueberries. Ran into the local LCBO just as they closed and grabbed a six-pack of cider. This is probably the longest I’ve gone without beer in 5 years. Heh. (For non-Canadians, LCBO is a government-run monopoly, a store designated for liquor sales.) During the 2-minute drive to the grocery store, the new radio talked about tactical approaches to catching those who break quarantine. On the drive back, the radio talked about possibly restricting movement between provinces: on the border of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, travelers are being told to self-isolate for 2 weeks. This feels like an omen of things to come. Will we institute a national lockdown?

I was surprised to see that the US/CAD exchange rate has shifted from 1.33 to 1.45 right after the stock market collapse 2 weeks ago. This means my Canadian savings are suddenly less valuable in the US. Conversely, this means my US savings and stocks can buy 9% more land in Canada…

I work at Amazon. I’m a financial analyst in the FC Finance org. (FC = fulfillment centre = warehouse.) Been here more than 10 years, but only 1 year in Canada. FC Finance means you’re generally supposed to be present at the FC. Earlier today, we got new guidance: now, just like the rest of our Finance brethren and sistren (mostly brethren), FC Finance folks can work from home. I had a 3-week vacation to Tunisia booked for April 5th-26th… Not going anymore, obviously, but this is good to know: gf and I were worried about the gap between 3/31-4/05, when I might have had to drive back to work and expose myself to potentially infected folks.

New plan: since we can’t renew this sweet little AirBnB cottage after 3/31, we’ll rent a place for a month and score a nice discount. The most likely candidate right now is a place in rural Quebec…

All is well on the personal front. All the gyms are closed – and even if they stayed open, that’d be too risky. Gf and I are trying out bodyweight exercises. She’s lifting cans of creamed corn. I’m doing bicep reps with bags of sugar and/or an old-timey wooden chair. Life goes on. Just not everywhere. And not for everyone.

Plague Diaries, Day 9

Apocalypse shopping list:

  1. Keto blood test monitor (with strips) – not found at the local Walmart.
  2. PS4 controller – cost twice as much as it would’ve on Amazon
  3. 1/16 tablespoon measuring spoon thingy – also not found
  4. a tub of creatine – found it exactly where I thought it’d be
  5. malaria meds that may work on covid-19 – nope, only by prescription
  6. grapefruit juice – this was weird: the fine people of Pembroke love it, apparently. There was none left.


The trip to Walmart was mostly uneventful: a 30-minute drive from our cottage across a very quiet town of Pembroke, with shuttered businesses and empty parking lots. Gf decided to stay in the car: I put a balaclava over my nose and mouth to keep from touching it. Ended up scaring a few folks at Walmart.

The store was strangely devoid of activity. Things that were sold out: beef, grapefruit juice, Angry Orchard cider. A few people were out shopping, acting normally, not wearing PPE, not following the social distancing guidelines. The cashier said they’d be cutting their hours and would close at 8pm instead of 10pm going forward. The first hour would be only for the elderly; the last hour would be for the employees themselves to stock up on supplies.

There were a few signs posted around the store: they limited eggs to 2 cartons per person, toiler paper to 1 package per person, and were completely sold out of alcohol-based first aid products, hand sanitizers, surgical masks, and aloe vera. Hell if I know why someone would need aloe vera…

Gf and I spent a few days cataloging, reorganizing, and repacking my hoard of emergency supplies, med kits, and tools I bought back in the King County Search & Rescue, as well as along the way. I’m fairly certain the 70L backpack and the suitcase full of goodies could be sold for $10K CAD on Kijiji. Most of the equipment is first aid-oriented (so very, very much first aid), but there’s also enough gear to help survive in the wilderness for a fair bit. Nice bonding activity, in any case.

Slow day today… Sunday. We lounged in bed while reading the news together. The first day-over-day death reduction in Italy. At least two infected congresscritters. Senator Rand just got diagnosed positive after being exposed a week ago – he took zero precautions, didn’t self-isolate, and may well have infected half the senate by now. Someone in Mike Pence’s office tested positive as well.

…my degree is in political science, and I’m a virology fanboy. Given how contagious this virus is, how disproportionately it affects the elderly, and the median age of congresscritters and Supreme Court justices, I wouldn’t be surprised if quite a few major politicians (and likely more than just a few) end up dying from it. When the first major US public figure dies, things will get even hairier.

On the personal front, things are going well. Gf and I are having interesting conversations, playing Borderlands with our newly acquired second controller, trying (and mostly failing) to bake cookies. Her house back in Toronto has ~8 people living in the same three-story house. All of her roommates have lost their jobs or quit because they didn’t want to be dealing with close-contact retail customers during the pandemic. The only exception so far is the graphic designer roommate, but his job isn’t secure either. They’re all even more broke and depressed than before, and planning to start teaching classes (yoga, painting, etc) from their house. I’m positive that’ll be the new trend elsewhere, rendering the quarantine efforts counterproductive, generating strange new clusters of disease. I wish them well.