Spreading Like a Virus


Hello from Southern California, where overreaction and spreads like a virus.  Like much of the world, there is a fair bit of concern over the coronavirus (COVID-19) around the area.  It’s pretty easy to get caught up in it since you can’t clear your throat without someone thinking you are as deadly as the plague.  I’ve tried to keep a sense of humor about it, but like I said, it’s easy to get caught up in the panic.  The infection rate is going to be really high, and while the death rate is not going to ever be as high as it currently is, it’s still going to exceed the everyday flu.  In hopes to raise my spirits about this mess, and just for the interest of capturing a moment of in time, I thought I would describe some of what is going around me with this thing.

For starters, it wrecked some exciting plans.  I was supposed to be on an airplane tomorrow to Orland to spend a couple days at the NASA Quality Leadership Forum, a forum of NASA’s quality leadership, as you can probably guess.  I’ve attended it in the past and enjoyed it in the past, but this time I was slated to be a speaker.  Me, a hundred or so folks in ties, and a slide show.  It isn’t happening because of NASA Headquarters cautiousness.  Granted, it probably was the safe path to take, and it likely will still be held at a later date, but it still was a missed opportunity for me.

Instead, I am here this week.  Like I do every week, I went to buy my groceries on Sunday.  I tried to follow suggestions that I should keep my pantry stocked for 2 weeks worth of food, but that recommendation suggests I can plan that far in advance … and that my pantry can hold two weeks of food, heck my kitchen barely holds enough room for a sink.

Buying groceries was a goofy adventure, though.  You really know what people think are staples in a panic in these situations.  The bread shelves were fairly empty (though only the cheap brands).  Rice was generally sold out.  Chicken soup.  Eggs.  Pasta and Pasta sauce.  All of these were hard to come by.  Spam, in particular, was gone completely.  The spam shelf was like a black hole of nothing (surrounded by chili).

Of course, there are shortages of hand sanitizers and face masks.  The sanitizer makes sense.  The loud statements from people in the know, however, say that wearing masks don’t keep you from getting sick – just keep the masks from those who already are sick or those who really need masks.

The run-on toilet paper makes no sense.

At work, like I said before, they are being cautious.  There is a partial travel ban.  International travel requires a mission-critical reason, and only to locations that aren’t considered a significant threat.  Also, international travelers won’t be allowed back on JPL for 14 days.  Domestic travel is unrestricted but discouraged.  Many NASA centers held a telenetworking day (a day when everyone capable was encouraged to work from home) on Friday to test their ability to have people not come in.  JPL didn’t fully participate as we are going through some IT changes that aren’t ready for such a test.  Big flags went up when it was reported that someone at the NASA Ames center in Silicon Valley tested positive for COVID-19, and the whole of the facility went on mandatory telenetwork.  We are set to get a briefing tomorrow – ironically during a townhall (though one that is virtual only, but wouldn’t that have been funny).  The message here continues to be the usual message from everyone – wash your hands, stay home if you are sick, avoid large groups of people.

Like all situations like this, it’s easy to make jokes.  We try to think of different ways to greet people other than shaking hands — Nerds like the Spock ‘live long and prosper’ salute; I like jazz hands; others do fist bumps or foot taps.  I like sharing a meme where Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline is getting rejected by the Center for Disease Control (CDC):
Neil:  Hands
CDC: Yes, wash them for at least 20 seconds
Neil: touching hands
CDC:  No, please don’t touch hands
Neil: reaching out
CDC: avoiding that too
Neil: Touching Me
CDC: oh hell

Then, of course, it has to be said that this is still something to be taken seriously.  Just follow the simple rules.
Wash your hands, a lot, for at least 20 seconds.
Keep the areas that are common to other people clean, or clean things you come in contact with.
Cover your mouth with your arm when you cough or sneeze; and if you do it into your hands, wash them immediately.
Symptoms are coughing, fever, shortness of breath – if you get these, go see someone.

I think I failed at keeping things fun, but my fingers stay crossed I can still laugh about this later.  It’s been a rough last four months for a lot of loved ones, and all it takes is one loved one to be effected to make this not funny anymore.

Stay safe, stay healthy, and see you on the other side of this panic.


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