Live Blogging the Coronavirus Outbreak from Ashland, Oregon: The First Days
posted 15 Mar 2020 by Krister Axel
There are still huge parts of society in the US that are taking this upheaval of ordinary life as an opportunity for celebration, and for travelers, students, and members of the gig economy, the opportunity for self-quarantine and so-called 'social distancing' has been limited, to put it mildly.

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France just closed their bars and restaurants. All of Italy is on lockdown since March 9th. The CDC here in the US suggests that groups limit their gatherings to no more than 50 people for the next 8 weeks. A few more data points: In Oregon, Kate Brown shut down group events of more than 250 people late last week, and just a day later, schools were also shut down across the board. New York plans to shut down bars and restaurants on Tuesday morning. By all accounts, South Boston saw some huge crowds today for St. Patty's, which is not a good sign for early containment of the virus. Since the Trump administration's hasty travel ban that went into effect on Friday, the impact on wait-times at places like O'Hare and JFK have been disastrous. There are still huge parts of society in the US that are taking this upheaval of ordinary life as an opportunity for celebration, and for travelers, students, and members of the gig economy, the opportunity for self-quarantine and so-called 'social distancing' has been limited, to put it mildly.

This seems like an important moment for clarity, and for keeping a record of how things are developing here in Ashland, a small community of roughly 20k people. I think today, finally, the message for self-isolation and limited social contact is starting to take hold. I can say that hearing from friends, the last week has seen some major stress being put on local retailers in larger cities and bigger communities - on Twitter, people are posting photos of empty supermarket shelves, and mobbed parking lots at Costco. In Ashland, as of right now, the bars are still open, while the local Safeway is feeling a bit bare but still within relatively normal stocking levels; in the more rural communities, the panic seems to spread quite a bit more slowly than in denser population centers. I heard from a friend on the board at the local food coop they are looking into the logistics of a food delivery service; I myself just used Instacart to receive a delivery from Safeway yesterday. Here in Ashland, this does not feel like a crisis yet. My sister-in-law in Los Angeles will still be going to work tomorrow as a hygienist - wearing a mask and gloves - not for the money, exactly, because my mother-in-law offered to send money, but because she fears retaliation from management. Welcome to the American way.

We, as a family, have made many incremental trips already to places like Costco and Safeway to stock up on important items. I would say that we are reasonably well-prepared, certainly for a few weeks, but by the end of the month things will be getting difficult. Keeping fresh vegetables in supply is, of course, hard to manage. So far the kids - we have a 6 year old and a 4 year old - have been enjoying the change of pace. I hope to keep this whole experience as a vague non-event for them: they love the added time with their parents, and we can still go outside for walks, and some playtime in our small yard. We are very lucky to work from home, my wife and I, so the impact has been very manageable. We decided to self-quarantine for two weeks, starting March 11th, just in case we have already been exposed to the virus, to keep my 77-year old mother-in-law safe from infection via our two little ones. That means in another 10 days, she will start coming by to help with the kids again - for the moment, it has been just my wife and me trading shifts. I still have a cold that I caught from my son weeks ago - but no fever, no cough, and a runny nose, all of which suggests that it is not dangerous.

It feels very important to get the message out: start taking steps, right now, so that you are prepared to isolate yourself for 4-8 weeks. This will get a lot worse before it gets better.

No national lockdown yet.

Confirmed cases of coronavirus in the US: more than 3,000.

A little comic relief.
This is real.

Finally, I want to give credit to Twitter user Jason Yanowitz for this breakdown of how quickly a situation like this can escalate. I reposted it below.

As I think everybody knows, Italy is on quarantine because of the coronavirus outbreak. This situation is bad, but what's worse is seeing the rest of the world behaving as if it isn't going to happen to them. We know what you're thinking because we were in your place too.

STAGE 1: You know that coronavirus exists, and the first cases begin to appear in your country. Well, nothing to worry about, it's just a bad flu! I'm not 75+yo so what could possibly happen to me? I'm safe, everybody is overreacting, what's the need to go out with masks and stock toilet paper? I'm going to live my life as usual, there's no need to freak out.

STAGE 2. The number of cases begins to be significant. There are some deaths but they're all old people so the media is just creating panic for views, how shameful. People lead their life as usual. I'm not going to stop going out and meeting my friends am I? It's not going to get me. Everybody's fine here.

STAGE 3: The number of cases is rapidly going up. They almost doubled in one day. There's more deaths. They declare red zones and quarantine the 4 regions where the majority of cases are registered (March 7). In Italy 25% of the county is under quarantine. Schools and universities are closed in these areas but bars, work places, restaurants and so on are still open. The decree gets released by some newspaper before it should, so around 10k people from the red zone escape from the area that same night to return to their homes in the rest of Italy (this will be important later). Most of the population of the remaining 75% of Italy still does what it always does. They still don't realize the seriousness of the situation. Everywhere you turn people advise to wash your hands and limit going out, large groups are forbidden, every 5 minutes on TV they remind you of these rules. But it still hasn't settled in people's minds.

STAGE 4: The number of cases is heavily increasing. Schools and universities are closed everywhere for at least a month. It's a national health emergency. Hospitals are at capacity, entire units are cleared to make space for coronavirus patients. There aren't enough doctors and nurses. They're calling retired ones and those in their last 2 years of university. There's no shifts any more, just work as much as you can. Of course doctors and nurses are getting infected, spreading it to their families. There's too many cases of pneumonia, too many people who need ICU and not enough places for everyone. At this point it is like being at war: doctors have to choose who to treat based on their survival chance. That means that the elderly and trauma/stroke patients can't get treated because corona cases have priority. There's not enough resources for everybody so they have to be distributed for best outcome. I wish I was joking but it's literally what has happened. People have died because there wasn't any more space. I have a doctor friend who called me devastated because he had to let 3 people die that day. Nurses crying because they see people dying and can't do anything aside from offering some oxygen. A friend's relative died yesterday of corona because they couldn't treat him. It's chaos, the system is collapsing. Coronavirus and the crisis it's provoking is all you hear about everywhere.

STAGE 5: Remember the 10k idiots who ran from the red zone to the rest of Italy? Well, the entire country has to be declared under quarantine (March 9). The goal is to delay the spreading of the virus as much as possible. People can go to work, do grocery shopping, go to the pharmacy, and all businesses are still open because otherwise the economy would collapse (it already is), but you can't move from your commune unless you have a valid reason. Now there's fear, you see a lot of people with masks and gloves around but there are still are people who think that they're invincible, who go to restaurants in large groups, hang out with friends to drink and so on. Next step.

STAGE 6: 2 days later, it's announced that all (most) businesses are closed: Bars, restaurants, shopping centers, all kinds of shops etc. Everything except supermarkets and pharmacies. You can move around only if you have certification with you. The certification is an official document where you declare your name, where you're coming from, where you're going and what for. There are a lot of police check points. If you're found outside without a valid reason you risk a fine up to €206. If you're a known positive patient you risk from 1 to 12 years of jail for homicide.

FINAL THOUGHTS: That's what the situation is like now today as of the March 12th. Keep in mind that it all happened in around 2 weeks... 5 DAYS FROM STAGE 3 TO TODAY. The rest of the world apart from Italy, China and Korea is just now beginning to reach other stages, so let me tell you this: You have no idea what's coming to get you. I know because 2 weeks ago I was the one who had no idea and though it wasn't bad.

The original is here.

In the USA, we are somewhere between stage 3 and stage 4. This week is going to be very interesting. Be well.

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About the Author


Krister Bjornson Axel

Ogdensburg, New York

Paris, France. Madison, Wisconsin. Los Angeles. Ashland, Oregon. Ottawa. I write music, I write about music, and I write code. See also: photography, prose, podcasting. I have 1 gorgeous wife, 2 amazing kids, and many interests.

Recent Awards: 2020 ND (Photo) Honorable Mention, 2020 Accenti Writing Contest Finalist