Normal Is So Done

Life. Interrupted.

I remember how I used to drive to work, 5 days a week. I’d get up from bed, write my stories, one for me, one for you, and then I’d pack my lunch. I’d get dressed for work. And I’d leave for work, all without waking anyone up. Most times, I could do that. I used to worry that they could hear the garage door opening, but those days are gone. My kids sleep through it all unless I wake them.

Then I began to notice that my kids were no longer toddlers. I noticed that they were more independent. So I figured I could start working from home. I bought a couple of monitors. I got a docking station from work. I had a very good internet connection that makes work from home a breeze. And late last year I started working from home one day a week since the company policy allowed for 4 work from home days per month.

Then I noticed that my manager relaxed the standard to allow some to work from home 5 days a week already. I asked for and got two days a week to work from home. Some of my team members had issues that prevented them from going to the office at all. One guy had chronic car trouble. Another had suffered injuries from an accident and he had a young kid. There were a few others but I don’t remember the details. The main reason I was working at the office was that I didn't want my kids to think I was ignoring them while I was working. They were too young to know what I was doing and that I needed time and space to get my work done.

In February, we had a “Clear The Air” month. That meant we could cut the pollution in the air by working from home, and we were encouraged to do so. In the winter months, we have a wicked inversion that keeps the pollution trapped in the valley. During an inversion, the air in the bottom of the valley is colder than on the benches. By not driving our cars, we could clear the air. So for the month of February, I went to work maybe two days and I worked for the rest of the month from home.

I also got really sick around the last week of February. Whatever I had, it kicked my ass all over the house, night and day for a week. And by the time I got well enough to work at the office, the coronavirus had already become news and stay at home was highly recommended for people with pre-existing conditions. That meant me.

Soon thereafter, though, the epidemic became a pandemic. Then stay at home wasn’t optional anymore. It became a requirement. I became consumed with it, reading every article I could find on it to understand what was happening. By March 11th, no one needed to tell me to stay home. My wife eventually quit the salon she was working at, too. But I could work from home and keep the lights on.

I can’t remember the last time I drove my car. But my timeline in Google Maps tells me that the last trip I had outside was April 4th. I went to Target to get a pair of scooters for my girls. I wore a mask. I washed my hands. I followed the protocols. I’m fine today. So weird to think a benign trip to Target could be dangerous. Other than two other trips in the last month, I’ve been home all this time. Well, I checked the mail a couple of times. I took out the trash. I went for a walk by myself. But whatever was normal in January is gone. All gone.

No longer do I fret over the commute. My commute is down the stairs, into my office, and over the internet. I have a softphone for work. It works a lot like a normal landline, but its an app on my computer that works from anywhere in the world so long as there is a network connection to the servers that manage the phone service.

I don’t even use remote desktop to connect to a computer at my office. My laptop contains all the client software I need to get my work done. And work I do. From home.

Now that my kids are older, they can understand that I have to set some boundaries for work. They understand that sometimes I’m speaking to customers over the phone. They understand that sometimes I can’t be interrupted, or at least, it’s best not to interrupt me when I’m working with customers. I’ve patiently explained all of this as much as I can to them. But they don’t seem aware that normal is done. It’s so done.

They are aware of something called the coronavirus. But they cannot comprehend the untold grief and carnage it has wreaked on the world. They cannot see that what my wife and I are doing now, staying at home, is protecting us from the risk of being infected by the virus. My kids are schooling from home 3 days for preschool and 5 days a week for elementary school. They accept that as normal now, but they really miss being at school to play with their friends.

I see now that we’ve reached an apex. The number of new deaths each day is no longer climbing. The number of new cases reported each day has reached a plateau and is starting to decline. Multiple sources have confirmed that we’ve reached the apex and things are starting to turn around. The shelter in place and isolation protocols are starting to work.

The biggest problem with the coronavirus is that asymptomatic people can infect others for up to ten days. The more infected people interact with other people, the more people they can infect. Sheltering in place brings that process to a halt. And by one estimate, we’re 100 times safer now than we were in March. Over the next few months, much of the pandemic will fizzle out as long as people who were infected can weather the infection without contact with other people. With care, the virus will run its course into oblivion.

Here in this April 11th article from Yahoo! News, is where I find hope:

That’s because yesterday more than 2000 Americans lost their lives to COVID-19. The good news is that our death toll isn’t doubling every three days anymore. The death toll on April 10th was only 45% higher than the death toll on April 7th. One day ago that figure was 52%. This means we are only 3–5 days away from a peak in daily death toll.

That article was written by Inan Dogan, Ph.D. He has done the math to show that we’ve hit our peak. 31 states are now in lockdown or stay at home orders. The protocols are working. The chart below from Worldometer shows that daily new deaths have peaked.

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But we’re not done yet. According to the same article by Dr. Dogan, we can roughly calculate total deaths from the date of peak deaths. In the chart above, that date is April 10th, and on that date, the death toll was about 18,747 people. By Dogan’s rule of thumb, the total death toll will be around 38,000 people by the end of May.

By the end of May, we might be able to begin opening up America again. But instead of letting Trump insist on cutting the ribbon, we should let the doctors and the scientists make the call. I trust them more than I trust Trump. Trump is thinking about getting re-elected, a frightening prospect for many people around the country. The scientists and doctors are concerned with saving lives. Which party has a conflict of interest?

When we do finally open America for business again, it will be slow going. Many people like myself will be wary. We will want to work from home for a few months more to be sure that the scourge of the century has passed us by. I’m planning on getting tested for antibodies myself just to see. I would not be surprised if I already had it because whatever I had in February didn’t feel like the normal flu.

There will be a new normal. We’re not going back to the way things were. I saved a nice bundle on gas and wear and tear on my car. I have demonstrated to my employer that I can get the job done working from home. I have happy customers to prove the quality of my work. And I won’t be the only one.

Millions of Americans who still have jobs now will have proven their mettle working from home. Millions of us will have seen the environmental and economical benefits of working from home. Sure, it’s not ideal, but as we get used to working from home, we will sort out the problems and fix the holes in productivity that will appear. With a few tweaks, everyone who can work from home, will.

I know that a work from home trend will have enormous impacts on the restaurants in town. They will see a near-permanent and steep decline in revenue and patronage. But there are health benefits yet to be seen. When people work from home, they have better food choices available to them. They will be less inclined to eat out, and they will save money. They might save $5 a day they were spending on Starbucks. And that all adds up. You can’t buy a home eating out every day. I know that I would not be in the home I am in now if I ate out every day.

As our economy adapts, new jobs will emerge. New occupations will emerge. There is no going back once a large fraction of people realizes the benefits of working from home, employers included. New metrics will be fashioned to measure productivity. We will find new ways of enjoying ourselves at work. And yes, I know that work from home can be lonely. I know that some people will miss the office.

But if you have no health, you have no wealth. We will come through this pandemic, healthier and wealthier, maybe even a little wiser. We will be stronger as a nation. Our experience of the pandemic will give rise to a new way of life for many, new jobs for many, and a new outlook on the future. I see a better way of life ahead, for the alternative is grim.

Be safe.

Write on.

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