COVID-19: Not a “new normal”

There’s one expression we despise more than most. That’s right, you guessed it: it’s “the new normal.” We despised the expression even before people started referring to the current situation as a “new normal”.

As a realistic optimist, I refuse to accept this as a “new normal”. This will pass. There has been and will continue to be death, economic hardship and pain but it will pass. Most will rebound. It will take time and it won’t be over by Easter, but we shall overcome. The world shall overcome.

As we sit in our first week of state-imposed quarantine (our third of self-imposed quarantine, based on our recent time in the Vail Valley) and we watch the death toll and illness count rise and the stock market fall we take stock in what we do have. We are well stocked, but not obnoxiously so. We have, for the time being anyway and hopefully for the foreseeable future, our health. We have each other. We have family and friends. We’ve taken this opportunity of slower paces (for many, though not for our colleagues in healthcare) to reconnect with friends and family we’ve not spoken with for some time and those we have, albeit virtually via Facetime, WhatsApp, phone, text etc. We set aside at least an hour per day to exercise. We have used the heck out of amazon.com and grocery delivery. We try not to obsess over the news while we wait for the spread to crest and the healthcare system and pharmaceutical companies to catch up. We’ve been sharing a YouTube performance we find and like with family and Facebook friends (not sure if they like it or not, but its something) each day. We read and practice our Portuguese for our eventual return to Europe.

We wish we could do more. Our parents and/or grandparents served time in world wars. They rationed, scrimped, sacrificed and went overseas to fight. We are being asked to stay home and stop hoarding. It seems reasonable and not too difficult. We are heartened by the fact that while there are those who whine about their personal inconveniences or acted selfishly on the beaches of the Florida coast, the vast and overwhelming majority of people are staying put, staying safe and keeping the needs and health of those who are at higher risk than themselves and the healthcare workers who will pull us out of this crisis with heart, soul, blood, sweat and tears above their own personal needs by doing so.

These are scary times but things will return to a normal. Treatments will be found. Vaccines will be made available. The healthcare system will catch up and the economy will recover. Maybe the normal we’ll find at the end of this terrible ordeal will not be identical to the one a short few months ago, but it will be a semblance of normality. A new normal this current time is not.

Be safe, be well, stay home.

Unprecedented times

We are in unprecedented territory.

Stores closed, concerts canceled, Broadway and Disney World closed, museums closed, schools closed, people shifting to working at home. Basketball and hockey season suspended, March Madness canceled, major league baseball season postponed, the Master’s Golf Tournament and Boston Marathon delayed until fall.

Sure there’s some irrational panic like the run on toilet paper and hand sanitizer (soap and water works just as well for the latter, unless you’ve got a bidet I’ve got no solution for the former). I feel for the hourly employees at restaurants, bars, stores etc. but hopefully the unusual (in this current era) bipartisan partnership in Washington on unemployment insurance and sick leave, etc. will help with this.

What’s most unprecedented, though, are the things we are seeing individuals, corporations, local governments doing to do the right thing. Its heartwarming. These people are patriots and you know what, I guess its not that unprecedented. People step up. It might take a crisis to see it, but they do. From Mark Cuban pledging to cover the pay for all of his hourly employees for the Dallas Mavericks (inspiring others to do the same, including New Orleans Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson followed by other NBA players) to the Rebeca Mehra in Bend Oregon who bought groceries for an elderly couple too scared to go into the Safeway, we are stepping up.

Sure, there are still examples of people who aren’t taking responsibility to keep others safe like the idiot who got on a Jet Blue plane this week after getting tested and before his test result was in or the bonehead in St. Louis who took his daughter to a father-daughter dance last weekend after being told to remain in self-quarantine. Or the scammers trying to profit from the hysteria or fake cures. Lock ’em all up with Harvey Weinstein.

Despite these rare stories making headlines and in these difficult times on the psyche and the 401K, people across the globe are stepping up, doing the right thing and being good corporate and global citizens. Let’s keep this ball rolling, at least until we can all feel safe about drinking corona beer again :-).

Live Your Life (and sanitize)

In a week where the US government’s continued botching of and mis-messaging of the coronavirus outbreaks, we’ve been comforted by a few things.

1. We’ve each had visits with our doctor, who was quite reassuring.

2. We watched interviews on CBS News with several patients who have had the virus to varying degrees of severity.

3. Life is continuing to go on, and we are most likely at low risk of contracting a serious case of this virus, if we do contract it at all.

Are we taking precautions? Yes. We canceled a trip to California to see family as it was “non-essential”. Are our hands dry enough to substitute for a nice piece of fine sandpaper? Also yes. Did we stock up on supplies, “just in case”. A third yes. But, we did go to a concert. We have been out to eat many times and we continue to get together with friends and go out in public, at least until one of us gets sick.

While we are of the opinion that more should be done to prevent community spread in the US, we also are doing what we can individually, which is all the CDC is really telling people to do, disappointingly. So, take it from these world travelers, we can really get behind some of these little recommended individual responsibilities:

1. Wash your hands. Not just now. Always. You will help out your fellow man or woman to wash them frequently, with soap and warm water and for 20 seconds. Let’s keep this ball rolling even after this outbreak of the new coronavirus is in the rear view and there are treatments and vaccines for it.

2. Is handshaking really necessary? Probably not. A fist or elbow bump or a quick fluidswappingless hug could probably suffice. Undoubtedly, the handshake will be back and when it does return, repeat #1.

3. If you’re sick, stay home. You’re not that important. You don’t need to be on that flight. You don’t need to be in that meeting. While I feel for those who work jobs which aren’t salaried putting others – particularly those at high risk – at risk is just plain selfish. Call in. You’re not a hero if you give the flu or noro virus or corona virus or the next thing to half of the office, half of the class, half of your fellow passengers on the plane or half of the fill-in-the-blank group. And if you’re that important, which quite possibly some of you really are, phone in instead.

4. Bathroom etiquette. As a 30 year business traveler, I’m about to get on a soapbox which is only mildly related to the current issue. That is, you don’t need to be on, answer or dial the phone while you’re in the john. No-one in that airport, auditorium or restaurant bathroom wants to hear you talking while they’re doing their business and the person on the other end of the line absolutely doesn’t want to hear the flushing which outs you as the disgusting pig you are. Save it for the second you leave the can. Everyone will be thankful.

5. Wash your hands. When you leave the aforementioned bathroom, wash your hands. A quick rinse under cold water without soap doesn’t count. Use soap and warm or hot water and really scrub ’em. The door handle and person who turns it after you will thank you.

As we prepare to keep our spring and summer travel plans in tact, barring any really scary developments or travel restrictions, all of the above should help us all keep things from getting there. You owe it to your fellow citizens who are seriously at risk: the elderly, those with compromised immunities or chronic conditions. You also owe it to your healthy neighbors to prevent the spread. No-one wants this thing, no matter how mild the symptoms. Do your part.

Off soapbox, for now.

Irrational Fear?

As a career-long project manager, my motto always was control what you can and mitigate the risk of what you can’t. After planning our long and winding road trip for the past seven or so years and after booking much of our planned summer travel already, risk and uncertainty and yes, fear, seems to be prevailing.

Sure, more than 80% of cases are mild. Sure, the fatality rate is only 2% (4 times that of the flu). Our government is not putting any restrictions on travel and are telling us all to go on and live our lives like normal but to prepare for “extreme disruption” to our daily lives.

Ok, we don’t want to be alarmist, but “extreme disruption to daily life”? Isn’t there something we should systematically be doing besides washing our hands, stocking up on hand sanitizer and wet wipes. Concern (for us anyway) is prevailing because of the seemingly complete unpreparedness of and mixed messages from the authorities (the WHO, HHS, CDC, FDA, TSA, Homeland Security, the President himself) is not even whatsoever reassuring (a media hoax? seriously?). I mean, leave people on a cruise ship for weeks? Everyone who has been on a cruise knows that they are Petri dishes for disease under normal situations. People coming back from so called “hot zones” like South Korea and Venice, Italy aren’t even being screened or quarantined and just returning back into society? Create a bottleneck where the CDC has to approve every test, why not deploy the functioning test kits to labs (who test for every other virus) weeks ago? These are common sense things. And let’s be honest, our people generally aren’t very good at putting the welfare of others before themselves. Having spent our careers in healthcare, we’ve spoken with actual doctors about our plans and they are discouraging travel in the near future and the spread seems nearly certain based on the complete lack of competence or coordination and proactiveness in containing this virus.

With any luck this tide will start to turn soon and hopefully this concern is all misplaced. I’d love it to be just a “hoax”. In the meantime, we hunker down (albeit in the Colorado mountains, so it could be worse) and wash our hands. What else can we do?

Politicians and world governments, please get your act together and work together. Your countries, people and world are relying upon you.

There’s No Place Like Home

Yes, Dorothy, you were right. After two months away, as we touched down at Denver International Airport and watched the sun recede behind the rocky mountains we had that same feeling we’ve always had when Colorado embraced us after a trip for business or pleasure elsewhere. While we totally love Portugal, adore our Portuguese experiences and are excited to return later this year, there truly is no place like home.

We returned to Colorado a little more than a week ago to do some work, reconnect with friends and enjoy a little bit of winter. A little bit of winter, for sure. Denver wrapped us up in its unseasonably warm temperatures and dry climate in our first week back. We took long walks and enjoyed the late fall/early spring-like weather to its fullest.

After acclimating to mile high altitude for several days we sought out true winter weather and escaped the city to the mountains for some skiing, snowshoeing, apre-ski hot tubbing and snow. Colorado’s amazing variant weather provides for warm weather in the city and winter in the mountains at the same time and its one of the many reasons we love it so much.

But mostly, we love our people here. We are reconnecting, catching up and enjoying every minute of our time back home before we return across the pond to our newly adopted home in Portugal.

A Night Fit for Schroeder

What do you get when you cross the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, a 240 year old library, 3 strings and 1 mid-winter night in Lisbon? An hour-long, three-string concert lit by candlelight of Beethoven classics fit for Peanuts’ Schroeder. This is where we found ourselves, mid January, in Lisbon.

We’d read about candlelight concerts in the churches at Christmastime but alas, didn’t make it. However, Google at the ready, we discovered candlelit classical concerts promoted by Fever, an organization that puts on events around Europe and the US.

We scouted out the location in the afternoon and were glad we did. The Academia da Ciencia is a prestigious society “for the advancement of science and learning” (source Wikipedia) with a library with documents and books dating back to the fourteenth century including works from Sir Isaac Newton (source: Academy of Science website) and others from the fraternity of scientists. Despite good marketing on the internet, when we arrived in the mid afternoon to make sure we knew where the place was there was no evidence that any event would be taking place within five hours, not even on the “calendar of events” bulletin board. The security guard inside seemed to know nothing about the concert which we think we managed to say relatively accurately in broken Portuguese. Hark, an informed and English-speaking student or staffer emerges from within and confirms we’ve found the location of our quest.

At the appointed time, we queue up, the only americanos in sight. Shortly thereafter, the doors are opened and we ascend the stairs to have our tickets checked and an usher assigned. Newcomers and return patrons alike are enchanted by the library itself. The books themselves, clearly well cared for, stacked on beautiful old wooden shelves from floor to ceiling. The ceiling is exquisitely painted with murals of both religious and academic significance. Then the lights go down and only the candlelight remains (albeit fire-hazard proof candlelight).

Fastidious footsteps sound through the silence as the man in charge approaches the stage for a final check and then the musicians appear. The music of sonatas, minuetos, sinfonias and Fur Elise fill the night air. Like a soloist, the violin drives the lead while the viola and violoncelo shoulder the harmony. Rondo follows Marcha which follows Alegria after Allegretto. Other than the applause during the breaks, the crowd observes and listens in silence as if each person were there alone. Lost in thought, the final piece is played and the lights come up awakening the audience back to their own personal realities. Out of the library, they spill into the street changed, if even slightly, by the music of the night.