News: US Passes 20 million COVID-19 cases

This is not the start to 2021 that any of us wanted, but the awkward combination of federal indifference, essential worker obligation, and individually inaccurate personal risk assessments led predictably to this.

US surpasses landmark of 20m coronavirus cases on New Year’s Day

The US marked the first day of 2021 by surpassing the dismal landmark of 20 million coronavirus cases, as hospitals, undertakers, vaccine administrators and ordinary families struggled across the nation.

The data is wild – cases going up 237,000 cases a day in this country alone – and is what was predicted.

I went past a shopping mall yesterday, and the parking lot was nearly full. As if none of this is happening. It’s difficult to reconcile.

Life: Homebound Pandemic Holiday Break

I enjoy the solstice season and taking a little time off at the end of the year! Every plan I would ordinarily make with friends and family this week is unsafe and/or not possible, and so I’m ‘making do.’ Rather than hosting feasts, treating myself to spa- or museum- days, or dining with friends in a favorite vegan restaurant, I am: contemplating fiction (after a non-fiction-dominated year); reading an amazing Alice Munro short story collection (which I love from the first page); talking rare walks that are long enough to make me ache; experimenting with another spicy peanut sauce recipe; adjusting my news consumption; re-evaluating my exercise habits; enjoying a lovely channa/palak/fresh tomato dish with fire in it; adjusting my hair color intensity; waiting for my first sweet potato pie to cool off; prioritizing my creative projects; rationalizing my sudden obsession Rumiko Takahashi’s story, InuYasha; meditating slightly more often; and wishing that so many things were different.

The weight of the year is catching up with me, and while I’ve ‘talked a good game’ to encourage others, I’m really FEELING it now.

~~~

I have a heavy-texting friend who hasn’t replied to texts all week. I’m certain it means she has boarded a plane and is socializing in some COVID-hotspot OTHER THAN the one she lives in. I’m not going to ask about it. Or comment if she tells me.

My list of first and second-degree acquaintances with COVID has been growing slowly, but not slowly enough!

There are four people I know personally who have had it. (1 in the US, 3 in Sweden), and eight second-degree “friends-of-friends” (6 US, 2 Netherlands), but from the third-degree outward the numbers get crazy.

For example: one of the second-degree contacts took on a mask-free pandemic remodeling project at her house, and after interacting in close quarters indoors repeatedly, many of those who worked on it got COVID – the architect, the general contractor, some of his team, and several of the subcontractors, in addition to my second-degree relation. And I don’t know how many people THEY infected subsequently. I don’t even want to think about it.

~~~

I was chatting yesterday with a friend who recovered from COVID, and we agreed that it’s difficult to be comfortable outside of home with the current conditions. We can’t trust others to keep us safe: some people we know take risks we find absurd, and the news has already shown us that some people with COVID symptoms and even positive tests lie about their condition in order to travel, exposing others. I’m trying to warm up to the idea of being indoors with other masked people, behaving semi-normally, but that isn’t an option on offer now, and will still require trust. (I wasn’t ready for the unmasked outdoor dining across households, and seeing that in action didn’t help! They were SO CLOSE! Yikes!)

If we were living in a more developed country, where both small businesses and individuals were being subsidized during this crisis, it wouldn’t be so painful, as we’d know that we were all moving toward the same goals with basic security in place. If only.

~~~

I’m wishing you safety and health as we wind up this difficult year. As I work up the energy, I’ll wish you (and all other living beings) even more good things!

Life: NOT Talking About COVID-19, and other topics

Some of my friends in other countries talk about things other than the COVID-19 pandemic, and that’s a bit disorienting. I realize that their regions are only applying quarantine-type precautions NOW, and so their experience of 2020 was different, and still is different.

I’m sincerely happy for them, that life has proceeded almost normally for them. (It bothers me, to the extent that “normal life” got people killed, but these attitudes are so regionalized that it’s hard to even know what information they have.) I can remember what that WAS like, in the Before Times, and I can ask them questions about it, and cheer them on.

I can’t reciprocate conversationally with news of my own, because it’s like I’m reporting from a well-appointed cave. Yes, I’m still in the cave! It’s still very cave-like! My food delivery to the cave was botched today! Cave living involves too much planning! Blah blah blah, cave cave cave! (Yes, I’m TOTALLY pretending I wasn’t this boring before the pandemic! 😀 I mean, I work in law (on the systems, processes, people management, and project management sides), so draw your own conclusions there.)

Nothing is “normal.” Nothing has been normal for a while. There is almost nothing in my life that hasn’t been affected in some way by the pandemic. What I eat, what I wear, how I spend my free time, how I exercise, who I interact with, how I spend money, how I look, how healthy I am, when I can see my doctors, what I read, how I sleep, what I daydream about, what news I seek out, which charities I support, how often I see my own parents, how often my parents see each other…

~ on coping and consolation activities while sheltering in place ~

I’m a largely self-entertaining person, and I’m “holding up” well. I’m reading great books; I’m writing to great friends; I’m having audio and video calls with family and other dear people; I’ve been out on masked outdoor walks with my gal pod; I’m fearlessly experimenting with recipe modifications; I’m studying Spanish; I’m watching sci-fi films and even some television… but it’s all “making do.” It’s all a series of compromises. It sounds nice because of how I am describing it, but it’s not what I want – I want to VISIT my family, I want to TRAVEL to and with far away friends, I want to DINE OUT with my local social groups, I want to COOK for my pals, I want to see movies on HUGE SCREENS in proper theaters while eating overpriced popcorn after a day of chatting IN CAFES, buying books IN BOOKSTORES, viewing art up close IN MUSEUMS, and chattering away with pals in LIVELY NEIGHBORHOODS with cheerful ‘street life’ all around.

I know there are better versions of the activities I’m doing now. I remember them. I want them back, but won’t resume ANY of them until it truly appears to be safe to do so. (And I won’t be an early adapter to return.)

So I’m glad I’m doing so much with my small amounts of non-working time, but I am not satisfied.

~ on fictionalizing not discussing disasters ~

Although NaNoWriMo is over for 2020, I’m considering writing a science fiction novella about life during a vivid, gaudy space invasion, while people are trying to pretend that it isn’t happening. There are aliens marching down the street; there is a vast spaceship hovering over the grocery store; the skies light up with strange lights every evening… Yet people are looking down at their cars and making small talk about a new Marvel movie, a new bakery that they haven’t tried yet, or the school they hope their child will apply for in three years. My character is standing there, agreeing, brushing small drones out of her hair when they get tangled. She’s thinking: “Damned drones: I’ll need to get a repellant,” but won’t say that aloud, because that would be rude. Acknowledging the drones would be talking about the invasion. She can’t talk about the invasion. No one talks about the invasion. Except children, who have no manners and need to be shushed.

~ on metaphors for losing touch with prior ways of living ~

I have more empathy for people working in space, and especially for the people who will go on long interplanetary missions in the near-ish future. Their loved ones at home will send them emotional video messages about broadcasted sporting events, new television shows they are engrossed in, and how they had trouble parking; their children will show them their algebra homework and complain about their soccer coach; and the astronauts will smile, nod, and not entirely be able to relate in that moment because of the distance between the life they used to live, and the life they are living now. “It’s really great to hear from you! How are things here? Well, I eat lunch that I can squeeze out of plastic bags, if anything goes wrong we will decompress and die, if my mission goes well I will never see the earth in person again, I’m working on some science projects that should earn me several more Ph.D.s, and the results may allow us to survive in a space colony. Yes, sure, tell me more about parking problems you had near your favorite restaurant!”

I’m hoping there are space therapists. Lots of space therapists. And that they have a really nice mission patch.

News: COVID-19 Zoonosis summary from WHO

While I’m relieved this is being studied and taken seriously, I remain uncomfortable with the idea that our COVID-19 vaccination programs could be undermined when humans infect industrially farmed animals, who then return the favor with new variants.

If you’re interested in an overview of the animal-to-human-transmission – zoonosis – situation with COVID-19, you should read the WHO summary that focuses on mink farms and related infections, below. (When last I visited, it was updated in early November 2020; additional cases have occurred since that time: you can see more recent case counts just by running a search for COVID mink. Ick.)

SARS-CoV-2 mink-associated variant strain – Denmark

Since June 2020, 214 human cases of COVID-19 have been identified in Denmark with SARS-CoV-2 variants associated with farmed minks, including 12 cases with a unique variant, reported on 5 November. All 12 cases were identified in September 2020 in North Jutland, Denmark.

STOP WEARING ANIMALS, HUMANS! (Yes, I’d be supportive of humans discontinuing all industrial farming of animals. It will be great when swine flu, bird flu, etc., aren’t human pandemics brought about by these crowded and unsanitary industrial practices.)

News: More contagious COVID-19 Strain

This is not the news I wanted or needed, but it jumped out this morning.

Johnson U-turn leaves nation’s plans for Christmas in tatters

The nation’s Christmas plans were plunged into chaos last night after Boris Johnson dramatically abandoned his attempts to avoid tighter Covid restrictions, and instead placed millions of people under new lockdown measures to try to curb a highly infectious new strain of the virus.

(Yes, I did opt for the photo of Sturgeon over Johnson in that card, because OF COURSE I did.)

The key quote is:

In a major U-turn that prompted an immediate backlash from his party, the prime minister placed a third of England’s population under new tier 4 restrictions to counter a Covid strain believed to be up to 70% more transmissible than previous variants.

from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/dec/19/johnson-u-turn-leaves-nations-plans-for-christmas-in-tatters

SEVENTY PERCENT?!?!? Yikes. Just when vaccines were starting to tilt the news in a more hopeful direction…

News: COVID Alert

This is a level above being merely COVID-AWARE, I guess. This isn’t how I expected the emergency alert system to be used, but things are pretty rough right now in the U.S.

Today’s LOUD smartphone alert.

So, the good news is that the FDA granted emergency authorization for the Moderna vaccine, so now we’ll have two we can use in the U.S., once we work out the logistics of distributing and administering them.

The bad news is that Los Angeles County already has a COVID fatality rate that that can now be characterized in deaths per hour.

It’s… as bad as was predicted by people who are good at predicting epidemics. Who knew?

This is still a really difficult time, and even with the vaccines being authorized, it feels like relief for most people from all of the dread and risk management and logistics and economic despair is still a long way off.

We all need to find some sparks of joy to keep us going, but it’s tough knowing how hard it is for everyone right now. Even if my phone hadn’t blared this loud reminder.

News: US Pandemic Deaths cross 300,000

I don’t really know what to do with this information. It’s… difficult to process 190,000+ new COVID-19 cases daily, or over 1,000 deaths daily just in this one country. It feels important; I hope to survive to look back on this time and recognize how remarkable it was; it is the context that affects every day of my life currently; but it is also terrible and haunting and difficult and sad.

Life: Food supplies during the Pandemic

Clockwise from upper left: red lentil flour penne with eggplant sauce; edemame linguini with green olive & walnut pesto; moong dal; green lentil flour elbow noodles with black olive pesto & fresh tomatoes; steamed golden beets; salad of cucumber, avocado, and tomato.

One of the seemingly-minor-but-requires-too-much-logistical-planning adjustments in my cautiously restricted, sheltering-in-place-from-COVID19 daily life is managing food. How to get it safely; who/where to get it from; whether any one supplier meets my needs; whether suppliers or delivery services are socially benevolent or exploitative toward their workers; when to get deliveries, and how often; how much to pay for them…

I’m a “foodie,” and food is a daily joy. Food plays a central role in my health, and enjoying food is central to my positive outlook and self-care. My food choices align with my Buddhist philosophical beliefs, my environmental concerns, and unexpected medical restrictions. (A gastroenterologist (!) helped me learn that wheat and other high fructan foods don’t work for me now.) As a native San Franciscan, I’ve enjoyed the City’s amazing restaurant and cafe culture, which has emphasized fresh, California-grown produce being cooked by chefs/cooks from cultures around the world. As a cooking enthusiast and the primary cook in my household/relationships, I’ve developed a range of expertise, favorite dishes, recipes, and even used to food blog about seasonal local produce, farmer’s markets, AND the pleasures of eating.

In normal times, I would buy groceries in person twice a week on foot, plus pick up specialty items around town while out and about. I would make special trips monthly-ish to a glorious, worker-owned, fully vegetarian cooperative supermarket (yes, of course it’s Rainbow Grocery) to obtain specialty items I couldn’t find easily elsewhere – vegetarian (gelatin-free) vitamins, vegan cosmetics, hippie soaps, spicy veggie spreads from Calabria, local pomegranate juice, Ethiopian specialties, local gluten free sourdough breads, dry-farmed tomatoes, and organic ANYTHING. Farmer’s markets are a special pleasure, and local produce is always abundant (hello, California!). I would dine out with friends in restaurants and cafes at least twice weekly. If I ran out of anything that wasn’t on my usual shopping list, I would normally pop into a store on the walk home for it.

But we are not living in normal times.

The current pandemic impacte my food access and habits. Even someone as lucky as I am – I can work from home and remain employed – must make an extra effort to get food that meets my needs.

If you had told me that a pandemic would cause the U.S. to suffer from a shortage of TOFU (no, really, TOFU), a core protein source in my diet, I would not have believed you. And yet:

Tofu sales skyrocket during the pandemic, as consumers search for affordable meat alternatives

Since U.S. coronavirus shutdowns began in mid-March, tofu shortages have been reported from Seattle to Washington, D.C., with manufacturers struggling to keep up with demand even as grocery stores rationed sales to customers. Nielsen data shows tofu sales 40 percent higher in the first half of 2020 as compared to last year, while Pulmuone Brands — owner of Nasoya, the nation’s No. 1 tofu brand — was forced to ship an additional 1 million packs from South Korea, the world’s biggest consumer of tofu, to the United States this summer while their American plants caught up with demand.

The panic-buying that emptied shelves early on in the COVID-19 pandemic first wave shocked me. The first wave of hoarders-to-be skipped over my staples: they emptied the shelves of wheat pasta, but skipped the gluten-free pastas that first time; they bought all the eggs, but bypassed the vegan scramble I purchase… Eventually, they returned and cleared out my dried and shelf-stable staples for a time.

In spring and early summer I had to radically change my meal plans, because I couldn’t get my usual ingredients. I could always get fresh produce at my nearest market, thankfully, but that still required standing in line to get into the store and the complex personal-spacing dance that never entirely works, because anywhere you stand is close to something someone else needs.

SF streetcar service is SUSPENDED, including the line which would (without transferring) take me a short walk from Rainbow. My rare trips to a Japanese specialty grocery in Japantown are obviously ruled out, even if the reduced core bus service (which we are discouraged from using) could get me there. Car-free living has been so easy, until this!

Left: assembly of a flavorful, vegan lasagne that uses zucchini ribbons (sliced with a hand-held vegetable peeler) in place of pasta; right: Justegg scramble (microwaved) with chipotle-habañero sauce and a side of potatoes and bell peppers (microwave-steamed) with a touch of olive oil infused with roasted garlic.

Due to exploitative restaurant delivery platform pricing, several restaurants I support changed to more sensible platforms which imposed smaller delivery areas, ruling out delivery to my home. (I don’t drive, so I can’t just switch to picking orders up.)

Fast forward to now, many months into the pandemic and related precautions. I’m working very long hours at my job. All while the food supply chain struggles to keep up with irregular demand; it takes longer to grocery shop in person; my options are limited by transit suspensions; and restaurant delivery is restricted.

I expect that each of these challenges will remain in place through most of 2021. (It will take a long time for the first approved COVID vaccines to roll out, and even then, we’ll be operating under precautions indefinitely.)

I’ve made some (likely) permanent changes to my food supply management. After being turned down by other local services that were ramping up to meet demand, I now subscribe to an anti-waste produce subscription service called Imperfect Foods, which supplies me with a crate of surplus or oddly sized/shaped produce (carrots that are too big, potatoes that are too spotty, peppers that fold in on themselves) and off-spec dried goods (such as tri-color quinoa what has too much white quinoa, or brown basmati rice with too many broken grains) each week. I can opt in/out of certain items in advance each week on their website, and can add things like off-spec chocolate covered nuts (yum!) or California almond milk from a reputable maker.

Grocery Delivery for Organic Food, Fresh Produce & More

Imperfect Foods delivers groceries on a mission. Shop produce, groceries, and snacks up to 30% less than grocery store prices. We deliver to the Bay Area, Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle, Midwest, East Coast, and South. Coming soon to the Southwest and Southeast.

The crate is delivered to my front steps, and the contents are the core of my meals. Yes, this has meant more zucchini in my diet than I would have chosen otherwise; yes, I make more kinds of lasagna as a result, plus a wider range of curries. I started making celery soup because of their blog (and abundant celery deliveries), and now have a customized recipe that really works for me. I enjoy carrot juice from their odd-looking carrots with limes blended in every week now.

There have been unexpected shortages of staple items I order through their effort to cover non-surplus household needs, or occasional, awkward substitutions that I can’t eat (I can only express ONE dietary preference, so I can’t tell them I need vegetarian AND wheat-free products, and so sometimes receive an unordered wheat-thing), but their customer service is polite and responsive, and they are under strain like all the rest of us. Also: having heavy groceries delivered by wheeled vehicle rather than carrying them up the hill on my back makes sense. I have justified it for exercise, but there are limits to that justification! If the produce quality remains high, I’ll continue using this service.

They don’t supply tender leafy greens like spinach, fresh herbs, or enough fruit to get me through the week: they stick to sturdier items that can sit in a crate. Now that my wonderful grocery coop tolerates third party shoppers, I order nearly all other items I want from them every 2 – 3 weeks. I’m okay with their delivery menu markup – I am willing to pay extra to support my favorite local co-op. (Their prices are comparable to other, non-coop grocery stores in my area.) I’m also keen on properly tipping my shoppers who need to cross town to get these items to me ($20-30/trip).

The few things I can’t get through those two methods, such as my favorite locally-roasted coffee, gluten- and fish-free gojuchang from Korea, or bulk volumes of specialty tea, I order on-line, and do my best to keep my spending local whenever that makes sense.

Summary to a long post: the COVID-19 pandemic has inspired hoarding, supply chain disruptions, store access restrictions, and delivery restrictions, making a regular chore much more of a chore! After struggling with whatever I could get and feeling increasingly uncomfortable shopping in person, I’m lucky enough to be able to pay for a cost-efficient, eco-friendly core food subscription (60% of my needs), supplement that with delivery from a worker-owned co-op (30% of my needs), and pick up the stray items from primarily local businesses on-line (10%).

The cookbook that this may or may not be resulting from all of this is coming along very slowly, however! 🙂

News: New San Francisco / California COVID Precautions

San Francisco & California Regional Precautions & Restrictions

Here is how we here in San Francisco will be using California’s strictest regional approach through early January, in an attempt to hold down the ICU capacity numbers before the multi-week delay makes that impossible:

San Francisco to Join Bay Area Counties to Preemptively Adopt California’s Regional Stay at Home Order in an Effort to Contain COVID-19 Surge

San Francisco, CA – Mayor London N. Breed and Director of Health Dr. Grant Colfax today announced San Francisco will join counties across the Bay Area to impose significant restrictions across the region in an effort to mitigate the current surge in COVID-19 cases.

The regional stay-at-home order from the California Department of Public Health is here:

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What is especially discouraging for San Franciscans, who had kept the numbers so low until recently, is that we had some incremental service / business expansions which required extensive planning and infrastructure investment. There has been so much effort on the part of locals, businesses, and the City to allow those to succeed. But the infection rate has climbed dramatically, and so we can’t continue as if it hasn’t.

The big question as we challenge restrictions on things like outdoor dining or museums at 25% capacity is: which activities are causing the spike? Indoor dining DEFINITELY contributes to infections, based on reports from other regions, and we can follow that science. Meanwhile, the data on unenclosed (truly outdoor) dining, outdoor playgrounds with managed capacity, outdoor retail, and similar approaches is lacking. That lack of data is frustrating! We want to adapt, and we need that data.