Viewing the virus

You get such a different sense of just what the virus means when you look at it generally than when you look at it locally,  And, of course, you get a different sense entirely when you focus on what it feels like than you do when you pay attention to what it looks like.

I’d like to reflect today on what the pandemic looks like as if I were looking at it from different heights. [1]  The numbers are not entirely random because I want to end at six feet (my current height, alas; I have lost an entire inch), so I am just choosing 600 feet, 6000 feet, and 60,000 feet as approximations.

You see something like this at 60,000 feet.  Regardless of where it started or why, it is virus 1going to spread most rapidly to the places who do not have the resources to defend their populations against it and to the places who do have the resources but are slow in deploying them.

On the first measure, you could superimpose a map of the COVID-19 infections on a map of extreme global poverty and see what you expect to see. [2]  On the second measure, you could look at the deaths in Italy, a very slow responder, and in Germany, a very fast responder.

At 6,000 feet you see a lot of Portland.  Governor Brown was quick to put all of Oregon on lockdown.  She very likely saved a lot of lives by doing that, but she eviscerated the local economy and that is what is easiest to see as you walk around.  Portland is a ghost town in many ways.  On the other hand, the homeless camps look pretty busy and the number of homeless who ride the light rail cars in order to get warm are still high.  I judge that from the outside of the cars because I can afford to be prudent and not ride the light rail.  Real poverty seems to diminish “prudence.”

virus 5On the other hand, you still see people out walking, most with face masks on and there in an undeniable camaraderie that reminds me of World War II.  None of the people in my little town in Ohio chose to go to war, but the war was the context of our lives then.  There was no denying that “there was a war on,” as it was said, and everyone was expected to make some sacrifices.

At 600 feet I can see Holladay Park Plaza (HPP) , where I live.  We are one of fourteen Continuing Care Retirement Centers (CCRCs) administered by Pacific Retirement Services (PRS) and the whole “family” of PRS centers went on lockdown early.  Our Executive Director at HPP has been marvelous in directing a lot of unpopular actions and showing at the same time a clear compassion for the residents who are caught up it all this.   It isn’t convenient, I can tell you, but there have been no positive tests for the virus at all among the 280+ residents and that is something to say for a place full of compromised immune systems.

Here at HPP we are doing without most of the social contact for which we are justly virus 6famous.  We are using the elevators one at a time.  Face masks are everywhere, as are the seamsters and seamstresses who provide them. [3]  We are having a lot of “meetings” by using social conferencing apps no one had heard of a month ago. [4]  I will begin a Bible study on Genesis 1—3 today, working from the dining room table and seeing the faces of my fellow residents on the screen.  On Monday, a group which has been working on revising the HPP Bylaws, will “meet” virtually to continue our work.

I would expect that tempers will begin to fray as the weather gets good and the stresses of confinement grow, but in the absence of anyone to blame, I think patience and good manners will carry us through.

The six foot view is about managing my own life under the circumstances.  Beyond being diligent about getting my exercise, I am trying to stay attached to things to do—“projects” is the name I use for such things [5]—and to the people I do them with.  I am being pretty aggressive (for me) in participating in Zoom-mediated meetings and I have the sense of really being “with” people that way.  My Starbucks group has been meeting virtually for weeks now and, although no one would think it as good as the original, it is vastly better than not seeing these good friends at all.

Finally, I do hope that I will remember some of the things we were forced to invent.  I love my routines.  They keep my mind free to think about other things.  But it would be ridiculous to think that the routines I happened on or chose without much thought are the best ones I could have.  The virus has forced me into new routines and some of them are going to be better than the old ones.  I hope I will have the wit to notice them and the good judgment to keep them even when I am no longer forced to do so.

The virus is a stressor.  It is too much in some places and too little in others.  Responding well to the stress level we experience (the 60,000, 6000, 600, and 6 foot levels) will serve us all in the long run.

[1]I owe the metaphor to David Christian’s lectures on “Big History.”He uses an ant exploring one of the creases in the ear of an elephant.Eventually the ant goes up in a helicopter and gets an entirely unexpected view of the elephant and possibly…maybe…a look at the crease where he and all his forebears has spent their whole lives.

[2]  It doesn’t always show what you expect because rich countries have so much more travel than poor ones and living is sparsely populated lands minimizes the spread of the disease.

[3]  Just having fun with seamsters.  It’s an era of gender equality, after all.

[4]  Zoom has been the most common one here.

[5]I “throw myself forward” (pro = forward, attached to jacere, “to throw”) into these “things to do” and it keeps me conscious that being “diverted” or “entertained” is not the way I want to life my life.

About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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