Category: plague diaries


Tuesday evening. Good news: my face shield has finally arrived. Bad news: according to the context-free label on the mask, it may cause cancer. FML. I guess it really was too good to be true: time to return it to Amazon.

No word yet on my permanent residence application, but I feel like it’ll be finalized within a week – and after that, there’s just a bit more waiting, for a few more months, and I’ll be a real Canadian. (And then a citizen a couple of years later.) My timing is perfect because Americans are no longer welcome in some parts of the world. The European Union will start opening up on July 1st, but a leaked draft suggests that US tourists wouldn’t be allowed to fly in. That’s a pretty huge development… The US wasn’t going to sustain its superpower/world leader status in the 21st century, but still… Damn.

Trump is holding another rally, this time in a megachurch in Arizona. The true faithful claim that they’ve invented an air filtration system that’ll kill covid and keep everyone safe. This world is getting too weird to even make fun of.

Twelve days ago, I mentioned that Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighbourhood has declared independence and adopted the name CHAZ. Well, they have a shooting a day now, and since they won’t let the police enter, that means paramedics can’t go to an unsecured scene, and it takes 45 minutes for victims to get to the hospital. So much for that experiment, it seems. (If you’ve ever watched The Wire, this is an awful lot like Hamsterdam, a designated neighbourhood where everything goes and no one gets prosecuted.

Hard to believe that the year isn’t even halfway through yet. Folks on Twitter are posting things like, “I wish I’d done more before the world ended.” Heh. It seems to me that the second half of 2020 will be even stranger and more outlandish than what we’ve seen so far.

Monday evening. Another day just like any other. Over 100 days now since I’ve actually gone to work. That place must be so different now, with all the precautions they take…

I’m trying to concentrate on the advice I read the other day, that life should be about living, not waiting for some other, better part of life – but there just aren’t that many fulfilling and fascinating things to do right now, when every stranger’s every cough could hypothetically change your entire life. I’ve finished binge-watching The Walking Dead series, though the last episode of season 10 hasn’t been released due to covid. (Somewhat ironic that a show about the zombie plague got stopped in its tracks by the real plague.) Time to tackle another piece of entertainment: there’s enough out there to fill a lifetime…

One of my landlords is looking forward to the US-Canadian border reopening. (I can’t entirely understand what his employer does, but it has something to do with tourism.) The current reopening date is July 21st, but that’s been pushed back a few times now, and it likely will again. I tried explaining that things will like stay close till at least August, but I’m not sure he believed that.

There’s civil unrest, even in the allegedly civil EU. An apartment building in Germany got quarantined after two covid cases turned into 120. There are 700 people, and they’re rather unhappy… They clashed with the police enforcing the quarantine. Cases are spiking in rural India, after all the migrant workers got home from major cities. (I’m positive I’d predicted this earlier, but I can’t find that blog entry for the life of me.) Brazil crossed 50,000 deaths – and that’s just the official count. The excess mortality analysis showed that the true worldwide death most likely stands at 600,000 – not 450,000. 25% of the total isn’t being accounted for… And last but not least, they’ve discovered the D614G strain with more “spike” proteins: it came to the east coast of the US by way of Italy, and it appears to be much more dangerous than the west coast strain that came from China. It’ll be hard to determine just how much impact different state reactions had when they weren’t quite dealing with the same virus. Small wins, I suppose.

…I wonder how many people these days read as much covid-related news as I do. 50%? 10%? I have this sneaking suspicion that if more people had read about the long-term risks, the worldwide reopening wouldn’t be greeted with quite as much enthusiasm. And if I were the kind of person to disregard the news… Would I be happier? Likely. Would I be more at risk? Certainly. And as a side effect, then y’all wouldn’t have this blog to keep you company. Heh.

We’re one step closer to the weekend now, for what it’s worth.

It’s Sunday night, the 100-day plaguaversary of my personal pandemic experience. One-hundred days ago today, xgf (or just gf back then…) and I had that fateful phone call when we agreed things were getting too dangerous to be around other people. The following day, we began our AirBnB odyssey across Ontario and Quebec, a journey that lasted 72 days. Today is four weeks since we returned and parted ways. It’s also ninety-seven days since Trudeau declared the state of emergency and declared that the US-Canadian border would get closed. It’s also one day since the summer solstice, which I’ve completely missed. The year is past the halfway point. I wish I could say the same about the pandemic.

The first mention of the US death toll I found on my own blog was 1,045 – way back on day 12. The current official estimate (which doesn’t include the excess mortality above the baseline) is 122,000 Americans, or at least 1,375 people per day since I posted that first number way back on March 25th.

The world has changed so much… If you went back in time even 100 days ago and described what has happened, no one would’ve believed you. At best, you’d have been accused of being a fear-mongerer. I wonder what strange tales a time traveler from 100 days in the future might tell us. Guess I’ll look back at this in late September and find out.

There was a miniature alarm on the personal front today: I woke up to the sound of my landlords’ son coughing. Didn’t get a chance to talk to him, so I just called xgf and said it might not be a good idea to meet today. We compromised and sat very far apart in a sunny park while we had a picnic, and cut the day short after an hour. The whole time, we were talking about whether it’d be better for me to get a month-long AirBnB or just build my own mini-kitchenette in my room so I wouldn’t have to go downstairs at all. When I got back home, the kid said he always coughs when he wakes up because his throat is dry… False alarm, then. I’m not a fan of having to be so hyper-attentive and far more anxious than I’d been before the pandemic. Then again, can’t be too careful, right?

Not much is new in the world covid news. At last night’s rally, Trump openly admitted that he ordered less covid testing because he wanted to bring the numbers down. There’s no way to estimate how many people died because of that alone. There’s some fist-shaking over this, but it got relatively little media coverage. It may get used in a campaign ad or two, but even in the best-case scenario (barring unexpected covid casualties), he’ll still be in power for another seven months. I left the US partly because other horrific things had gotten normalized: things like concentration camps for children whose families tried crossing the southern border. And now it’s just a fact of life, like so many others… I’m glad I got out. I’m sad none of my friends or relatives followed.

I’ll keep this blog going daily until a) there’s a working vaccine, and b) I get vaccinated. Something tells me it’s still far away. I fully expect there to be a “Day 200” post, and maybe one for “Day 300” and beyond. Whatever else happens, this should never get normalized or forgotten. I’m just one guy writing random stuff on an outdated, unfashionable medium, but hey – it’s better than nothing. Happy plaguaversary, y’all.

Plague diaries, Day 99

Saturday night. I’ve made peace with the fact that we all live in a satirical article (likely written by The Onion staff binge-drinking after the 2016 election), and yet the news never fails to surprise me.

The big rally scheduled in Tulsa ended up half-empty, and the overflow stage didn’t get any action. The interesting part is that six of Trump’s staffers helping out with the event tested positive for covid. Fortunately, since he claims the virus isn’t a big deal, he should be safe.

Meanwhile, Florida is setting a new daily record with every passing day… One of my sisters lives in New York and has a condo in Miami. She didn’t get out of New York in time when the pandemic spread there, but her family has been lucky so far. It really is a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” thing in her case, given the virus’s spread in those two cities.

An old friend of mine reconnected with me recently. He moved back to Reno after having his own share of adventures… Among other things, we talked about DuoLingo: he sent me a friend request through the app, and I got blown away when I saw his progress. He hasn’t skipped a day in two years, and covered an impressive amount of Spanish and – for some reason – German, while also flirting with Norwegian. It’s a fun app, and now I have a mild competitive/envious urge. Did you now that the French word for “yuck” is “beurk”? Heh.

Xgf’s neighbours were having a barbecue earlier today, so we moved our weekly hanging out day to tomorrow. (My landlords also brought four friends and relatives to celebrate the fact that they didn’t catch any fish earlier today.) There wasn’t a lot of social distancing going on at either gathering, so we each stayed inside. Here’s hoping a) nobody was sick, b) nobody will cough at us tomorrow as we go hiking, and c) there are no more shootings next to xgf’s house. Modern life is weird, eh.

Plague diaries, Day 98

Friday evening. There was a fatal shooting on xgf’s street, just two blocks away from her home. The shooter had been waiting for his victim, shot him, and jumped into a getaway vehicle. This is far, far different from the mass shootings that plague the US (and which were part of the reason I left that country), but that’s still mighty unsettling. Xgf is feeling fine – 2020 has greatly reduced her capacity to feel anxious.

The world is… not well, to put it mildly. There are reports of hospitals in the hotspot states (Florida, Arizona, Texas) running out of ICU beds. They’re all going through what New York had experienced back in April, and it’ll get very ugly before it gets better. Meanwhile, Florida’s governor decided to blame migrant farm workers for the spread of covid in his state. (Without taking any responsibility himself, of course.) Marginalizing a powerless minority group and blaming them for the world’s problems… There are some ugly historical precedents here.

Meanwhile, in Colombia, President Iván Duque Márquez decided to jumpstart the economy by eliminating the 19% sales tax for three days, essentially creating a Black Friday sale in June. The first day was today. Everyone who cares about public health is sounding the alarm, but they’re being ignored. I don’t think this impulse to put economy over people’s lives is deliberately malicious: I think there’s a distinct lack of understanding of basic science.

I’m just a 30-something guy, but I’ve had plenty of experience in running away from malicious governments, toxic managers, cities that didn’t feel welcoming… (One of my personal heroes is Rincewind from Terry Pratchett’s novels.) Part of me feels sorry for the people stuck under those petty imbecilic tyrants who don’t give a damn about the raging pandemic. Part of me is just glad that I’m very far away.

Today is the Juneteenth. Credit where credit is due: at work, all the meetings and calls got cancelled, and the entire company was encouraged to watch multiple roundtable discussions and speakers who described the systemic racism issues in the United States and beyond. It was educational and eye-opening. Let’s see if those words are followed by actions… Tomorrow, Trump will have his first rally in months – in Tulsa, the site of the infamous Tulsa massacre that happened 99 years ago. There’ll be room for 19,000 people: they all have to sign a waiver stating they accept the risk of catching covid at the rally. Tulsa’s government, as well as Trump’s own people, haven’t encouraged the attendees to wear a mask. That may end up being a super-cluster.

…time for more TV show binge-watching to keep my mind off this insanity.

Plague diaries, Day 97

Thursday night. The downright depressing covid news keeps on coming, but the sheer mass of it has made banality out of what would’ve been horrifying before the pandemic.

Media outlets no longer post how many people die each day, though there sporadic reports of some states, some cities getting more cases, more deaths. A few days ago, even the bare-minimum official death count managed to exceed the US death toll in World War I, but that was also mostly ignored. What’s really strange is that masks themselves have become a political issue. The fundamental scientific knowledge of airborne disease is being dismissed as some liberal conspiracy, a sign of cowardice, and so on.

The divide is particularly interesting on the state level. California governor Gavin Newsom has issued an order calling for mandatory mask use. There are, of course, lots of exceptions – if you’re walking, running, dining 6′ away from the staff, etc. (I would love to see servers toss plates and coffee at their shitty patrons.) On the other hand, Nebraska governor Pete Ricketts said that counties that require masks in government offices will not receive federal covid relief funds.

If this were a work of fiction, no self-respecting editor would allow such blatant partisan prose to be published. It’s too much on the nose, too ridiculous to be believed in. I heard that some of the contemporary accounts from the last days of the Roman Empire are so bizarre and outlandish that historians think they were just exaggerations – fables designed to make a point about the political decay. Some think that all of those stories, weird though they may be, are true. I think our own age will be remembered the same way: just far too many random happenstances, all unbelievable and stranger than fiction. Heh… There’s a chance that if someone reads this blog far enough in the future, they’ll think this was an exercise in creative writing, embellished here and there with my own imagination. It’ll definitely be easier to accept than the fact the world has turned into one giant satire, if only for a while.

If Kurt Vonnegut were still around, he’d have a blast.

Plague diaries, Day 96

It’s Wednesday evening, and I’m a bit of a prophet. There was a rather big reorg at work a few weeks ago. I’d immediately predicted that there would be many departures on our team. The newbies I spoke with were aghast, but they had to admit I was right when the fourth person announced their departure earlier today. (Well, technically, the third and the fourth announced that simultaneously.) Now, in addition to being the oldest Amazon employee in Canada (I joined before Canada was even launched), I’m also the fourth-most-senior person in Canada Finance. Heh… That’s somewhat amazing, considering I transferred in only 14 months ago. This world – it’s very strange. Of course, every crisis is an opportunity, and being at the top (even if it’s for all the wrong reasons) will definitely have its benefits.

The lawyer ferrets at work are still working hard on my application for permanent residence. HR friends at work came through with yet another final piece of paperwork, sooooo – any day now, maybe? With my luck, my PR application will take either a couple of weeks or the entire six months to get processed. We’ll see.

I chanced a trip Walmart today, face shield be damned. It was peculiar to see most people wearing masks. (~70%, I’d say.) Granted, some of them wore their masks incorrectly, without covering their noses, but hey – an attempt was made. I see no rhyme or reason for the different mask adoption rates on my admittedly infrequent visits. My best bad guess is that everyone is alarmed by the covid-related news coming out of the US. There were no coughers this time around.

The supply chain breakdown is making itself known. Ground beef is still roughly the same price, but regular AAA beef is far more expensive than I’ve ever seen it. I snagged some for $31 CAD/kg, or $10.35 USD/lb, which is rather excessive. (If you’re reading this in the future, it probably costs even more. Sorry for destroying the world for y’all, eh.) This is probably not related to shoddy manufacturing practices, but one of the cans of cider I bought sprang a leak (that never happened before), and now I have a blueberry cider-flavoured trunk. Heh. (Note to self: my half of the freezer can fit exactly seven pizzas.)

In covid news… Today, social media had a genuine damn glee party over the reports of a Florida woman who went to a bar with her friends (the number varies between 10-15), after which they got covid. Apparently, she works in healthcare, though it’s unclear what she does. Many blame and laugh at her, yet she was merely following the government’s instructions: when the US reopened, everyone got the cheery all-clear signal, as if the virus had gone away. Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, is refusing to shut down the state, even as covid cases keep climbing. It’s the government who is to blame, not its people. (As someone originally from Russia, I say that a lot…) In broader world news – the president of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernández, and his wife, Ana García Carías, both got diagnosed with covid. I wish them well. Trump’s Tulsa rally is still scheduled for Saturday, June 20th, and that alone is likely to become a super-cluster.

If you’re reading this in the future and can’t figure out what the hell we were thinking… If it’s any consolation, I have no idea either.

Plague diaries, Day 95

Tuesday evening. Earlier today, I had a rare moment of genuine self-reflection. I own an elaborate book of cocktail recipes. It occurred to me that maybe, if I were to buy the ingredients for one particular type of cocktail, I could perfect it by the time I went grocery-shopping again in 10 days or so. The prospect of this new hobby was made ever more tantalizing by the fact that there are some shiny bartender kits on Amazon. (Shakers, jaggers, strainers, oh my!)

I came pretty close to buying one before it occurred to me that I have a) a rather addictive personality, and b) no other external stimuli to amuse me, keep me accountable, or even get me out of the house. I nixed the home bartending idea. There are safer, cheaper, and better ways to perfect a cool and useful skill. Perhaps I’ll dust off the cobwebs from my “Cooking for Dummies” and learn something other than my basic bachelor cuisine.

My face shield shipment grew legs and walked away. It was supposed to get here today, but now the arrival date can be as late as June 20th. I’m safe enough with a mask and goggles, but I’d rather have all the PPE on the next grocery run. The pandemic life is full of bizarre juxtapositions: thousands may be dying, yet the most exciting development in one person’s life is whether their Amazon package will arrive. Heh. (And yes, I did check my privilege.)

The US-Canadian border closure has been extended yet again. Now the tentative reopening date is July 21st, but it’ll almost certainly get moved back again. There was a new cluster in Beijing: likely just a few dozen people, with the virus having been brought by a traveler from another province. This pandemic is giving China a very strange opportunity to show off the extent of its control over its people: locking down cities with millions of people, strictly enforcing the isolation rules, etc. I’m curious if they can keep going like this. There are 22 million people in Beijing. How do you lock down something like this? What do you do if case appear in every major city?

Such strange and troubled times…

Plague diaries, Day 94

Monday night. I’m trying to make the most of the three hours of sun after I’m done with work: if my neighbours (and/or spy satellites) cared to look in the backyard, they’d see me doing squats while chugging a protein smoothie out of a blender, trying to get all the vitamin Ds with my unbuttoned shirt, and doing French DuoLingo exercises on my phone. At the same time. Ahh, lockdown… I will not miss you.

Things are getting even worse in the States. Over the past week, five black men were hanged from trees. The local police said they were all suicides. The local police were not asked about their alibi…

Arizona is the new covid hotspot. Given the weather in Arizona in June, I guess we can finally put to rest the idea that covid thrives only when it’s cold. There are some interesting reports stating smokers are less likely to catch covid, but their condition deteriorates fast once they’re in a hospital – presumably due to their nicotine withdrawal. Some doctors suggest using nicotine patches on everyone diagnosed with covid, just in case nicotine helps in some way that’s not yet understood. This is getting into the cargo cult science territory, but we don’t have a lot more than guesses and correlations at this point. (Why do some families have five fatalities? Why do others survive unscathed?)

My face shield should arrive tomorrow – I’m curious how locals will react when they see me wearing my face shield and a face mask and glasses. Heh. Reminds me of the summer of 2018, when Seattle had the worst air quality in the world due to forest fires, and I was the only person wearing a respirator. (Others either tried to tough it out or used some mixture of bandanas and hope.) Things never really change, do they?

Plague diaries, Day 93

It’s Sunday evening, and I’m trying to be cognizant of changes.

I’ve always been a bit of a hermit and a workaholic. The current lockdown is unique in that my social life is effectively zero, not counting sporadic short conversations with my landlords or hanging out with xgf on Saturdays. At the same time, work has blended with my home life: working from home, from my laptop, means I don’t commute to the office – it’s already here. Without going out, the main ways to pass time are video games and binge-watching TV shows.

This is certainly a defense mechanism: deliberate depersonalization to pass the time faster. Even so, this is a bizarre combination, with my life limited almost solely to work and solitary activities. Xgf says that after we parted ways, I immediately snapped into the “fingerguns Grigory” – a corporate caricature filled with artificial cheer, buzzwords and, well, fingerguns. That too is a defense mechanism.

Today, my Apocalypse Beard turned three weeks old. It’s rather sad-looking (my facial hair has always been very patchy) but I plan to make up for that in volume. My landlords as well as xgf both say that I’m skinnier than ever before. (Note to self: buy new batteries for the bathroom scale – the old ones died.) I know for a fact I’m low on protein: I try to keep my trips to the grocery store as far apart as possible, and that means having meat for just a few days and then going without much longer. (It doesn’t stay fresh all that long.) That’s certainly something to look into, but meh – as long as I stay covid-free, I’ll take the mildly unhealthy weight loss. (Before the pandemic, I was 6’2″ and 165 lbs.)

Lately, I’ve been reading about the difference between waiting and living, and I realized I’d spent many years simply waiting for one thing or another instead of enjoying life. How ironic that I realize this now, the one time during my lifetime when going out is a spectacularly bad idea. Oh well, at least I’m making some slow progress learning French. C’est la vie, eh?

…I wonder just how different I’ll be once the pandemic ends. I aim to keep this blog running and updated daily until they find a viable vaccine and I get my shot(s). Or maybe a little longer than that. Something tells me that’s not going to happen anytime soon, though.