News: 500,000 OFFICIAL COVID-19 Deaths Reached Globally

News I was not looking forward to. (Illustration on the phone screen by me. Yes, I DO love Swiss watercolor pencils, and thanks for trying to give me something more pleasant to write about.)

The Johns Hopkins COVID-19 Mortality Dashboard shows we hit 500,306 a short while ago. Today. This very afternoon. Unfortunately. And this is still an undercount, because it is just the official toll.

Was this preventable? Yes, but: HUMANS. Humans chose to prevent it in some places (I’m STILL looking at you, fantastic and careful South Korea and Taiwan!) yet chose to pretend it would disappear, “like a miracle,” in others, because key leaders haven’t watched enough horror movies about pandemics, in which terrible things happen because no one listens to the scientists who were right all along. (Truth is stupider than fiction.)

It’s strange to live in a country that regionally chose to let a global pandemic run wild. The US is still leading in the sheer volume of cases and deaths (2,510,151 confirmed cases, 125,539 deaths, and a 5% fatality rate at this moment according to the Johns Hopkins Mortality Analysis page).

I may be living in a region that set the first quarantines in the country, and benefit from excellent regional coordination of precautions, but that hasn’t spared my large state from being one of many places where videos of white women ranting about being forced to wear a mask as part of a political conspiracy keep cropping up. (Link provided to ABC7, so you won’t have to log into Twitter, where I saw that.) And our excellent regional approach won’t spare us if and when people from lax, conspiratorial areas come to visit. Which we are already dreading.

One awkward thing to note about the JH Mortality page is that it is sortable, and you can sort by which countries have the worst outcomes by population size (measured as deaths per 100,000 people). And what is terrifying is that, while the US is a big and CARELESS country without a functional leader, there are other countries that are somehow doing WORSE.

I just can’t find a polite way to discuss this with friends in other poorly-performing countries, though I’ve tried things along the lines of, ‘so sorry that our countries suck at preventing death’ and ‘I’m sorry to report we have surpassed your bad track record in the death percentage reports.’ It isn’t great to discussed shared incompetence in the absence of someone agreeing there is a problem, however, so it feels like a sensitive subject; it also feels like looking at the scaled rate it is a distraction from the US’ position as the worst-hit place, math aside.

I’ll go back to dreading ‘breaking news’ again…

News: 10 Million Coronavirus Cases Worldwide

It’s a very unhappy milestone, but we should mark it.

Global report: Covid-19 cases exceed 10m as anxieties rise over US

Global coronavirus cases have passed the 10 million mark as concerns mount over dangerous resurgences of the disease in several countries, most prominent among them the US, where infections are rising in 29 of 50 states. The pandemic has claimed almost 500,000 lives worldwide in seven months.

We are also approaching 500,000 deaths globally.

It didn’t have to be this way. But… [passive voice] “mistakes were made.”

On 15 weeks of pandemic prevention

Image shot with my phone on March 10, 2020 , during the first week of then-voluntary coronavirus precautions

Just a couple years ago, I was always on a plane, heading east to a meeting on an overnight flight, living out of a suitcase, meeting colleagues for breakfast in airports, and now… my life is completely different . That way of life is no longer possible – and may not be again for YEARS.

HOW IT WAS: After five years of frequent business travel, I joined a company headquartered just six miles from my house (NOT in Switzerland!), with ZERO offices in Europe (though of course, they have one NOW, and I was volun-told to go…), so I could have some semblance of a local life again. Although my two most socially adventurous pals moved full time to SoCal (booooo!), my local habits rebounded: I resumed taking local photographs, eating in local vegan restaurants, visiting the many museums I have memberships at, enjoying strong coffee in pleasant cafes around my hometown, buying books from local bookshops, meeting friends for brunches and hikes, taking long walks to watch the city grow… 11,000 steps per day during my routine errands inserted stealth exercise into my car-free lifestyle, along with the intimacy that walking daily in a place provides.

The way sound travels through fog, the scent of blooming flowers in their peak seasons, the aromas from restaurants, the many languages of conversation – it infuses everything when you are out IN it. My hometown seeped back into me, and kept me delighted to be lucky enough to be here.

THE END OF THE OLD WORLD: My ordinary habits continued until the end of that first week in March, when my employer announced (over a weekend, no less) that we should not go back to the office for at least two weeks, but work remotely and try to stay put to avoid the highly contagious coronavirus. The timing was amusing: my company had held a big party to celebrate a company milestone just DAYS before the precautions began, and so it was almost comical to go from everyone clinking beer steins in one room to being banned from the office in the span of a weekend.

I enjoyed a (fantastic) museum show that final weekend, my last big public event for… well, maybe a long time.

I read news voraciously, and had been following the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. I was expecting it to arrive, and the quarantines in Asia were underway long before we started ours. When a colleague suggested postponing a meeting until after the two week initial precaution period, I told them not to count on returning anytime soon: by then, real restrictions were cropping up elsewhere, and UK reports had been leaked suggesting months of precautions were likely.

PANDEMIC DECLARED: If you had told me that there would be panic buying of toilet paper, I would not have believed you.

Nor the pasta panic buying. WHO DOES THAT?

Between the toilet paper and the pasta + sauce panic buying, I began to envision my neighbors as devoting 100% of their time to eating spaghetti and sitting on the toilet.

-me, then and again right now

I was able to get most of my gluten-free, vegan stuff for a while, before the panic buying by others expanded to ‘whatever is there.’

My friend K and I joked that people who had never cooked in their lives were now sitting on sacks of flour and lentils that would emerge, unopened, months from now, and that it would be our duty to our friends to mock them savagely. Meanwhile, I could have all the fresh greens and fruit I wanted, because the survivalist manuals people were suddenly relying on didn’t involve banana hoarding. (Though banana hoarding would have made for some very funny Instagram stories.)

Beyond inconvenience, there was the horror movie quality to the empty streets, the abrupt end of streetcar service, the sudden absence of voices, the eerie sound of a city of 800,000+ people sheltering inside simultaneously. The weird feeling that you could stop looking before you crossed a street, because THERE WERE NO CARS MOVING IN EITHER DIRECTION AS FAR AS YOU COULD SEE.

THE NEW WORLD: This is early in my sixteenth week of working remotely, avoiding other humans, and changing so many of my habits. I am tired from managing the logistical burdens of closures, limited hours, crowd control, overpriced delivery options, random shortages, and physical distance minimums, but I keep at it.

I am one of the lucky people who CAN work at home, and who still has a job.

I am extra lucky, because I have a room that was already set up as my home office, so I have a space to work in.

I am lucky even beyond that, because I’m an introverted writer-artist, and I do my best work when I have some time alone.

Not that I get time alone – my job entails about 4.5 hours of Zoom meetings daily – but when I am uninterrupted, I GET THINGS DONE. I don’t have small children demanding to be home-schooled; I don’t have a partner shouting into another Zoom meeting a few feet away from where I am working; dogs do not bark every time I try to present a slide; only deliveries interrupt my meetings (despite the odds).

Yes, it took me a few months to see real toilet paper again. Yes, buying groceries went from something I did a few times a week for freshness to something I dread. Yes, the logistics of getting supplies and keeping things in order has become onerous since the use of public transit was restricted to essential workers, and we were asked to stay within walking distance of our homes (my favorite grocer is just a tunnel away on a streetcar I can’t use…).

OH YES, I WORRY ABOUT THE DISPOSABLE, BLEACH-FILLED NEW WORLD in which driving a private vehicle and spraying disinfectants on things that should not have poisons sprayed on them (like FOOD) while throwing out everything that has ever been touched has suddenly become normal.

I like the birdsong, though. And having breakfast every morning during the time I used to spend commuting. The way the light shines into my bedroom in the morning, and into my office in the afternoon. Making myself a hot lunch in my own kitchen. Being home for dinner at a reasonable hour (because I’m always home). The relative quiet when I sleep. Living in a region where people care about each others’ safety, where the counties coordinate to align on precautions, and where people generally are looking after each other with noticeable courtesy and respect.

Yes, I am TOTALLY looking for SOMETHING to like during this global tragedy, because I have accepted that the world will be this way until we can interact safely, which may take a while. Hopefully not too long, but… a while.

Design: Pandemic-themed Design By Distance at SFMCD

Speaking of the San Francisco Museum of Craft and Design (, they have a virtual exhibit on the theme of designs to create distance or separation to prevent the spread of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Yes, creative people are already trying to work out how to make the world work during a time of highly contagious ailments, and they are raising interesting questions and proposing some pretty (and wild, and uncomfortable, and practical, and edgy) solutions. Some of these are intended as humor or commentary more than as design, but they round out the range of speculative thinking nicely.

Design by Distance

June 2-December 31, 2020 Design by Distance showcases how designers from around the world are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic through the development of objects, garments, accessories, and space planning. Curated by Ginger Gregg Duggan and Judith Hoos Fox of c2-curatorsquared, Design by Distance highlights

There is a lot to think about here.

I like these cone-of-silence-like barriers for dining in groups:

Gernigon – Curatorsquared Virtual Views

Christophe Gernigon plex’eat, 2020 Stating that all the solutions he’d seen to date to insure safe dining had looked to him like prisons, French designer Christophe Gernigon created what he thinks of as a kind of a bell, an elegant form made from bent plexi, sized and configured to prevent claustrophobia, and to avoid interfering with pendant lamps, ubiquitous in dining spaces.

As an introvert, I also like these beach cubicles. While my enjoyment of them conceptually feels anti-social (which is supposed to be a bad thing in ordinary times), these DO appeal. I want to be outside! I want other people to keep their distance! These cubicles could help achieve this in crowded / popular locations, to a point.

Menasci – Curatorsquared Virtual Views

Umberto Menasci SafeBeach, 2020 Lexan Perhaps his early legal training instigated Umberto Menasci’s current project, SafeBeach, enabling sun worshipers to enjoy beaches while respecting the new practices regarding social distancing. A grid of outdoor rooms, open to the sky, made of Lexan, allows for two lounge chairs, and one large umbrella, and a small table in each unit.

Afterward: We are in the adaptive phase of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, now that we have realized there is no immediate solution and we will need to change how we live. I’ll be remarking on other things like this, but at some point, once we HAVE adaptated, these environments will seem normal, and future people will look back on this and wonder why I made a fuss over THESE, rather than all of the shared/high-contact/crowded places of the past…

Design: Face Mask Design Competition

Why just wear a paper mask or bandana to protect your community from the spread of COVID-19 when you can get creative? The San Francisco Museum of Craft and Design sponsored a protective face mask competition: the winners are at the top, but the gallery with all of the entries is FUN, so I recommend that.

Let’s Face It: Community Gallery | MCD

On May 11, the Museum of Craft and Design launched Let’s Face It, an international mask design competition. We received 363 entries from 17 countries, with participants ranging from 4 years old and up. Thank you to everyone who participated.

News: Culinary Kindness in the Age of Pandemic

At a New York relief kitchen, urgency meets empathy as immigrants create thousands of meals a day

At 5:30 a.m. in the kind of godforsaken industrial crevice of Queens where mob bodies are probably buried, Daniel Dorado recently waited in a line of mostly undocumented restaurant workers before the opening of Restaurant Depot, a wholesaler like Costco on steroids available only to the industry.

Feeding people who need food is meaningful social work, and the Migrant Kitchen NYC is doing it in a socially responsible way: producing thousands of meals daily for healthcare workers and people who are ‘food insecure,’ while paying the workers properly (“They pay wages of $20 to $25 an hour in their kitchen, Jaber said, and with the four other kitchens pooled 40 largely undocumented workers from Make The Road, a civil rights group…”), AND ensuring that any gig workers delivering to homebound folks are also fairly compensated (“Migrant Kitchen’s attention to empathy and generosity operates even at the courier level: Its DoorDash deliveries are filed so that the couriers get $35 per trip.”). It’s meaningful work being done in a meaningful way.

They are cooking serious dishes with foodie love:

The containers would soon be packed with sumptuous entrees: citrus garlic salmon with Cuban black beans and coconut herb rice, or moussaka-stuffed zucchini with dirty rice and beans, or mojo chicken with chimichurri and roasted potatoes with grilled shishito peppers.

And the kitchen is nut-free and halal, to look after a wide range of clients with care.

Dorado put it succinctly: “It’s pure New York. Every kitchen I’ve ever worked in this city has been a mini U.N.”

News: Historic Kindness in the Time of Pandemics

This article got me misty this morning: it describes a wave of Irish donations to help Native Americans currently suffering in the pandemic in remembrance & thanks for a generous donation made by the Choctaw during the famine in Ireland in the 1840s:

“Ireland has never forgotten the Choctaws’ generosity. The tribe had endured a forced 600-mile trek that left thousands dead from hunger, cold and disease, and then impoverishment in Oklahoma, yet somehow rustled up $170 – which today translates to $5,350 – to help the Irish.”

Irish support for Native American Covid-19 relief highlights historic bond

The list of recent donors reads like an Irish phone book. Aisling Ní Chuimín, Shane Ó Leary, Sean Gibbons, Kevin Boyle, Kevin Keane, Clare Quinn, Eamonn McDonald, on and on down a GoFundMe page that by Friday had raised $3.15m of a $5m goal.

I support several charities that feed people already, and so this theme – EVERYONE SHOULD HAVE ENOUGH FOOD – is close to my heart.

Depending on when you read this, the campaign may be over, but I already had donated (thanks to a great local journalist I follow on Twitter, who has a great heart), and want to post the link so you can also, if it’s still timely. The official non-profit sponsor is the Rural Utah Project Education Fund.

Navajo & Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Fund organized by Ethel Branch

The Navajo Nation and Hopi Reservation are extreme food deserts with only 13 grocery stores on Navajo to serve some 180,000 people and only 3 small grocery marts on Hopi to serve some 3,000 people. These communities also have high numbers of elderly, diabetic, asthmatic, and cancer-afflicted (i.e., high risk) individuals.

News: Economy vs. Living

“And what I said when I was with you that night, there are more important things than living. And that’s saving this country for my children and my grandchildren and saving this country for all of us,” Patrick said Monday night.

-Texas Lt. Gov. D. Partick, quoted by NBC news, April 21, 2020

This quote would sound fitting during a movie involving an alien and/or military invasion by a murderous, long-time foe to get people to fight a defensive war; it sounds ill-fitting as a rallying cry to go out to sell things and shop.

Yes, I do write dystopian fiction now and then, but our current timeline is giving me a real run for my money. What will qualify as dystopian after this?

News: University/Hospital Healthcare Worker Goodness in the Time of Pandemics

The University of California’s San Francisco hospital and university (UCSF) are sending a team to help out the Navajo Nation. UCSF is a top-ranked hospital, and where I go for care – I’m so proud of them for going to provide their expertise.

UCSF Health Care Workers to Serve in Navajo Nation

A team of UC San Francisco health care workers – seven physicians and 14 nurses – is traveling to Arizona and New Mexico on Wednesday, April 22, 2020, to begin a one month voluntary assignment providing urgently needed health care support for patients in the Navajo Nation, at the request of UCSF’s colleagues in the Navajo Nation.

This trip isn’t a one-off: UCSF has a program offering two-year fellowships to provide medical care in underserved communities. The program is diverse enough that it has alumni who can help in their own communities as well!

Forty-nine health care workers in Navajo Nation are current fellows or alumni of the fellowship. Twenty-five of them are Navajo themselves.  

How cool is that?

So yes, UCSF sent a volunteer team to NYC also, which gives me the warm fuzzies, but THIS fills my eyes with hearts and stars.

News: State Kindness in the time of Pandemics

I haven’t mentioned it before, but my home state has also participated in supporting not only New York, but other states that need ventilators by loaning out 500 to those states that need them.

Early last month, the San Francisco Chronicle’s article, California lending 500 ventilators to distribute to hardest-hit states by Alexei Koseff (April 6, 2020), had some good quotes about states doing right by each other, including a report on Oregon’s loan of 140 ventilators to NYC, and Washington’s return of those it borrowed from the federal government.

The quotes I like are:

“I wish I could solve that for everybody, and to the extent we can, we will,” Newsom said. “This is the state of California. We have an abundant mind-set and we’re a well-resourced state.”

I like the implication that, because we do well, we SHOULD use our position to help others. (The article notes that our early prevention efforts have been successful enough for us to step in for the later-acting states.)


“We’re Americans, first and foremost,” he said. “As a nation-state, we can do certain things, where we can punch above our weight. We carry a big weight. But to the extent that other Americans need our support, our largesse, to the extent that we have the resources, we’re going to be there for as many people as we possibly can.”

This acknowledges our size and strengths – we are a state with a bigger economy than the UK, India, or France the last time I checked (2018 in Business Insider and currently in Wikipedia’s Economy of California article), and this gives us the opportunity to be a force for good.

The world needs more forces for good.