…I know that I really shouldn’t.

The last week or so, I’ve found myself escaping through watching various travel vlogs – Kara and Nate have been one of my favorites – and after watching their most recent videos about coming back to the States (after traveling abroad for four years!) and buying a van to tour the USA while this COVID-thing works out, there’s admittedly a part of me that would like to hit the road myself and take the family exploring…

…and at first glance, it doesn’t sound all that crazy. Traveling by road in our van, we could limit exposure and get take out just like we do here at home.

But then there’s hotel rooms … because there’s only so much cleaning a maid can really do!

And besides that, there’s what do you do when you get to wherever you’re going?!

Plus, I would argue that it’s a lot easier for a young couple to go off the cuff and just play things by ear in random road trip fashion, whereas kids will only stay buckled in their car seats for so long before they start making demands that their iPads and the TV in the van simply can’t handle!

At one point, I even looked into vacation homes just here in Florida because Sara had a friend who stayed at an awesome one over in Orlando with slides and ball pits and all sorts of cool themed rooms for the kids … yet she also mentioned spending five hours cleaning every surface imaginable on her own after the owner also had a professional cleaning crew do the place over themselves.

The fact of the matter is, even as I’m getting a little stir-crazy here, I know deep down that right now is a terrible time to travel, as depicted abruptly here in Exhibit A:

For those of you playing along at home…

  • In the last five days since my last post, Florida added 47,677 new cases, which is about 9,000 cases more than the previous 5-day period.
  • Yesterday Florida took the record for the most new cases reported by a state in one day at 11,458, beating out a previous day set by New York back in April (according to Johns Hopkins’ data, anyways).
  • Despite having one of the worst spikes, Florida is one of several states that still does not have a statewide mask restriction. (thankfully the counties around the Tampa Bay area have all passed their own local ordinances)

If anything, it’s kind of scary to realize that looking back to when I first started blogging about COVID-19, our national chart looked like this…

…and now we’re using that same scale, but at the state level for Florida instead of the national level!

For comparison’s sake when I look at this later, here’s that national chart three and a half months later…

Anyways, to wrap this up so I can get to bed, instead of traveling I’ve really been trying to focus on sprucing things up around the house to make our home a little more enjoyable while we wait out COVID as long as it takes. We recently got our pool cage rescreened after far too many years of having panels blown out by the wind, and the bamboo that always haunted me in our backyard has now nearly been removed, too.

As a result, I think I was in the pool with the kids every single day over the holiday weekend, which was nice, and it gave me some exercise, and most of all, it does wonders for wearing them out at the end of the day!

Next on the list is getting someone out to service the heater for our hot tub that has also been broken for over a year, and I’ve also been playing with some fun outdoor lighting options to add the pool area to bring my growing Hue obsession poolside!

Between all of that and the new patio furniture that we just splurged on, I’m pretty excited about it … or at least I’m trying to remind myself that I am whenever I daydream about driving the family cross country in search of something new and exciting that doesn’t also carry the inevitable threat of COVID. 🙁

 

In the last seven days, Florida has seen 48,931 new cases of COVID-19.

For comparison, this is more cases in the last week than we saw in the first two months of the pandemic, including what we thought was its peak with some days having more than a thousand new cases!

In other words, wear a damn mask already, you freaking maniacs…

It scares me to think about how bad this is really going to get because we’ve got the 4th of July at the end of this week and at least for now, Disney World is planning to open its parks again in another week and I believe their reservations are already completely booked.

On the plus side, deaths have been fairly stable (at least here in Florida) despite in the increase in new cases, and we starting to see a few counter measures like mandatory mask orders here throughout the Tampa Bay Area and last week most of the bars got shut back down.

I get that a lot of people want to just forget about it and move on with their lives. As far as I’m concerned, those people are crazy. Personally I’m most worried about two things – 1) will my employer continue to allow us to work from home, and 2) what’s going to happen in another month and a half when school is supposed to start back up again?

As far as working remotely is concerned, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see this chaos dominate the rest of the year, so I’m really hoping remote work remains a part of “the new norm” for as long as possible. Of course, I’m very biased because I spent four great years working from home when Christopher was first born so I have a fond appreciation for the extra freedom it gives me to navigate my day and better support my family. Everything is easier when I’m able to choose how and when I do my work, plus the lack of a commute and time saved not getting sucked into random meetings and discussions is an absolute godsend!

School is tricky because the kids both love and need it, and as great as virtual school was in the spring when this whole thing started, it doesn’t hold a candle to live instruction. That said, I think I worry most about the teachers who have to navigate with our walking petri dishes and stand a much greater risk than the kids do of catching COVID. Right at this moment, my wife and I have a plan for the three boys that we’re “ok” with … but that’s not to say perspectives won’t change if things get even worse over the next 6 – 8 weeks.

Right now, I feel like the best I can do is to stay informed and be concerned. I don’t avoid going places like the store when we need something, but I’m not going out of my way to wander around a mall or a theme park. I wear a mask whenever I’m around strangers and I’m doing what I can to teach the kids to wear theirs as well … in addition to why it’s important for them to do so.

I’m also trying to remain grateful that this hasn’t impacted our family like it has many others. We’re both still working, and we don’t have any immediate friends or family who have gotten sick, though we know of people who are either in critical condition or have already died of it.

Being inconvenienced by COVID-19 when other people are truly suffering and dying from this thing is the least we can do.

I think that’s important to remember when social media is filled with people complaining about having to wear masks and not being able to enjoy theme parks the way that they could six months ago.

Sometimes it’s hard to remember that we’re still in a global pandemic in the middle of everything else that’s going on.

I’ve mostly just been trying to lay low. I wear my mask whenever I have to go to the store or inside somewhere to pickup food. Admittedly we don’t really eat in restaurants much right now anyways because the kids won’t sit still for it, but we’re not going back to theme parks yet because we’re not quite ready.

Apparently the local playground in our subdivision reopens today, so we’ll probably do that at some point next week, but for now we’ve been passing the time with video games, the pool, and whatever else we can find to occupy these kids for 12 hours a day!

In the back of my mind, I’m also bracing for the next wave because I’m sure it’s coming … right now I’m just wondering if it will wait until flu season like some are suggesting or if it’ll hit sooner. The data I’ve been looking at doesn’t look great…

First – for the US in general…

These charts actually don’t look too bad. New cases have been running fairly stable for the last month – maybe a slight decrease – and deaths are steadily going down, which tells me that we’re getting better at treating infected people – and that’s good!

Still, our daily new cases are running right around our average for the pandemic – we’re about 30% down from our worst days back in March/April when we were averaging 30,000+ cases a day, and our worst day ever was a month and a half away … 38,958 on 4/24.

That said, looking at Florida’s numbers…

Florida had its worst day yesterday … 1,902 cases on 6/12 … and the next worst was the day before that, so that’s not good!

Deaths are following the national average and are down a bit, but I think we’re all really going to be watching those new cases over the next week to see if this is an early spike or what.

This thing is far from over, despite anyone who’s just tired of it and wants to move on. I’m encouraged by all of the people who I do see wearing masks out in public and trying to be considerate of the other people around them, but at the same time I still see an unsettling amount who don’t seem to care and I don’t know what else to do except to avoid those people. If 116,000 fellow Americans dying from this thing in the last three months isn’t enough to convince people to think of others, nothing probably will, so instead I’m just trying to focus my attention on the people who are trying … even if maybe they’re not wearing their mask over their nose or slip up from time to time.

My gut tells me that this could be a really ugly picture by the end of the summer, and I’m not sure if we’d even do another lockdown, so right now my strategy is simply to lay low this summer and hope for the best, but also brace for the worst.

Two thoughts that I’ve been mulling about recently that I wanted to share…

Assume Positive Intent – This is a perspective that I stumbled upon from Automattic’s CEO and it’s something that I think offers a lot of value for a reluctantly cynical person like myself. It’s so easy to expect the worst from people, and sure, sometimes it’s what you get, but sometimes it’s not and let’s be honest, which one is a happier state of mind to maintain?

Stop Looking at Things as Absolutes – This one is really an attempt to counter a lot of the hoax-based mentality that more and more people are grappling onto lately whenever they see the slightest thing that tilts COVID-19 arguments in their favor. For example:

  • “Hospitals are classifying any death as COVID-19, so all of the data is garbage!”
  • “The virus is smaller than the holes in your mask, so masks are useless!”

Of course, the reality for both of these arguments is that it simply doesn’t work like that.

The reporting data is going to have flaws, but it doesn’t mean we should throw the baby out with the bathwater and forgo any sort of measure of the virus’s progress whatsoever!

And sure, the microscopic virus particles themselves are super small, but the main way that we’re concerned about them spreading is through saliva, which is definitely big enough for a mask or even just a bandana to slow down!

From another angle, myself I’ve been kind of trying to combine both of these two ideas as I encounter others out and about who may not be taking the exact same precautions as I am…

For starters, tonight when I ran to the store, I had Christopher try wearing a mask, too, so that he could start to get used to it for when Sara finishes the ones that she’s making for our whole family. He didn’t wear it the whole time, and sometimes he wore it under his nose, and he touched his face a bit, but it’s something, and he’s a kid, and he’s learning.

Likewise, we encountered several people who either weren’t wearing masks or were walking the wrong way down the aisles. My first instinct was to get upset, but then I noticed that a family that had gone the wrong way down the aisle in front of me was in fact wearing masks … so at least they were trying. 

Even the ridiculous cashier I had a few days ago who wore her mask underneath her nose because otherwise it was hard for her to breathe … at least she was doing something, and sometimes I think we’re pushing so hard and we’re so stressed out that we don’t want to stop and give ourselves or others credit simply for trying.

Sure, those masks weren’t as effective as they could’ve been, but the people wearing them had positive intent and I think that should count for something.

I know that when I’m doing my best and still slipping up, I’d much rather people pay attention to the good rather than my mistakes… 😛

Admittedly I’ve just about stopped following a lot of the Disney blogs that I used to read because it’s becoming painfully clear that they’re very desperate for content right now.

Every random word from anyone near the industry is followed by pages of speculation on what the parks reopening might look like, which is then followed by pages of comments from fans saying how ridiculous ideas of masks and social distancing are in theme parks, and how they’d ruin the magic (OMG), and how even if Disney’s doing it over in China, Americans wouldn’t stand for it…

…and so on, and so forth.

Truth be told, at least as far as Disney is concerned, you couldn’t pay me to go back to one of their parks right now, so aside from that I find it interesting to hear their ideas for how to cope with this new reality that we face, I don’t really have a dog in this fight.

I still stand that Disney World has gotten too expensive for my family of five to enjoy and the idea of reduced entertainment and attractions doesn’t help with that much because let’s be honest, we could literally be facing the apocalypse and Disney wouldn’t even consider reducing its ticket prices on account of the end of the world and all! 😛

We do, however, have annual passes for Legoland Florida and Busch Gardens and our local zoo, and with my kids growing more stir crazy by the second, I can envision a time when we would go back to those places for a break from isolation and some family fun. But here’s what I need to see before that’s going to happen…

  • drastic reduction in new cases and deaths, both statewide and nationally. This is frankly my biggest issue with the businesses that are reopening right now is because I think you really have to turn your head sideways to find the “downward trajectory” that the White House identified, and then almost immediately ignored with its own Guidelines for Reopening America. Theme parks, and honestly a lot of other things, are luxuries at best, so I need to see more than just minimal progress before I’ll feel comfortable spending an extended afternoon with thousands of random strangers.
  • visible reduction in crowds, which is honestly going to look different for each park … and another reason why you couldn’t pay me to go to the Magic Kingdom at the first available rope drop because I can’t remember a time in the last couple of years when that place hasn’t been absolutely packed. And sure, in theory parks are going to limit attendance to maybe 25% or 50%, but with them also limiting attractions and probably closing off areas and walkways altogether, I want to see pictures that other people can take of just what these reduced crowds will look like before I can decide whether they’re thin enough for my family’s safety.
  • wide acceptance of PPE in use, both by other guests as well as employees. Actually, I’m not even sure if I’d go as long as we’re expected to wear masks, but right now when I can go to my doctor’s office and see half a dozen medical professionals all employed by the same company with their own interpretations on what’s appropriate??? No thanks – I want to see things like masks and hand sanitizer freely available and regularly being used, not just left up to each individual’s discretion.

To the extent that I’m in no hurry to go back to a theme park in these conditions, I can somewhat understand how people think that things like PPE and distancing will negatively impact their visits … but I don’t say that as a justification for simply not doing anything at all and just opening up the floodgates, consequences be damned.

I feel like after the world has seen such a brutal impact from COVID-19, it feels premature to be talking about how we can gather tens of thousands of people in close proximity when we’re still in the early stages of doing so with the much smaller businesses around our communities. And sure, I do get how theme parks are entertainment and offer a break from reality that is sorely needed right now, but we might still be at a point where there’s simply no amount of precautions we can take that make large gatherings a good idea.

I know that we’ll get back there eventually, but it’s nowhere near a priority at least in my life.

I know that this virus has been tough on people financially in a variety of ways, so I wanted to share a handful of discounts that we’ve stumbled upon recently to help put a little cash back in our pockets…

Verizon – Monthly Discount for Nurses
Their verification app was a little clunky, but after looking up and providing Sara’s state license #, the next day Verizon confirmed we’d be getting $25/month off of our cell phone bill … plus next month it’ll be $50 because they didn’t have time to do it for this bill cycle!

Progressive Auto Insurance – Free Meal +20% Off
A couple of weeks ago I was surprised to find an email in my inbox with a $50 Uber Eats coupon, also because my wife is a nurse. This one was triggered automatically, I assume because I listed our professions when I signed us up. They’re also supposed to be giving everyone 20% off their auto premiums for April and May, though I haven’t seen anything on this one for April yet…

(I believe Geico and USAA and some others are offering premium discounts, too…)

Electric Co-Op – Capital Credit Refund
Now this one may be unique to us but because our electric company is a co-op, they issue a refund each year for the excess profits that they collected. This normally comes around Christmastime, however they decided to do it early this year due to COVID and as a result, our next bill has a $60 credit on it!

Student Loans – Refinancing for Deferred Payments & Interest
This last one is a doozy, and it’s still up in the air because I won’t fully believe it until I see it, but long story short – Sara’s student loans didn’t qualify for the interest and payment waivers from the CARES Act because apparently her loans aren’t technically owned by the US Department of Education.

…even though they started out that way…

Regardless, a few weeks ago we started the process of consolidating them, which in theory should move them back under the Dept. of Education and basically put everything on hold until Sept. 30, That’s five months of no student loan payments or interest, so if it works, that’s definitely the biggest savings opportunity currently on our plate!

TALK TO YOUR BANKS
One other thing I’ll note that isn’t really a discount, but if you’re really struggling because maybe you’re out of work or have reduced hours or additional expenses, I’d strongly recommend getting a hold of your bank(s) … mortgage, credit cards, car loan … anyone who loans you money, and ask what options they have for forbearance.

We did this during a hurricane where we evacuated a few years ago. I made a list of everyone we made payments to and many of them had info right on their websites about what to expect. Because most of our banking is with one bank, with one somewhat long phone call, I think I temporarily eliminated over a grand out of our monthly budget by getting credit card payments and other loan payments waived.

You definitely need to read all of the terms to understand whether you’ll owe a lump sum at the end or if payments are just tacked onto the end of your loans (I think this was more common), but most businesses are willing to work with you if they’re aware that you’re struggling and otherwise just might not pay them!

I think today was the first day that I actually set foot inside of a restaurant for more than like 30 seconds, and it was very uncomfortable and weird.

I decided to grab lunch from Firehouse Subs, but their app wasn’t working so I had to go inside to place my order. The place looked as if they were getting ready to tear up the floors – all of the tables and chairs had been piled in the corners except for a single row of tiny two-seaters against the wall opposite the counter. A table with cups and lids was setup in front of the drink station so that no one would have to hand you your cup. And a stack of high chairs served as a barricade to provide extra distance between customers and the cashier.

There were a couple of X’s in tape on the floor to indicate where people were supposed to wait, but there was only one other guy sitting at a table by himself eating his lunch, so it didn’t really matter.

Surprisingly, there were like four or five employees on the other side of the counter, which seemed excessive, but I suppose it was later in the afternoon so maybe it was busier earlier.

For the last month and a half, I’ve pretty much exclusively gotten my food through drive-thrus and curbside service, and even Panera the other day brought my food out to me instead of me going in just to grab it off of their takeout shelf.

The other day I drove through the mall and admittedly it was very strange to drive past restaurants and see tables full of people, even spaced far apart.

I’d imagine it’s even more uncomfortable for the employees working at these places.

I’ll be honest – all of this talk about Reopening America™ makes me very uncomfortable.

It’s like everyone agreed that this phased approach with gradual openings based on a downward trajectory of cases made sense, and then a few days later they decided to just skip the data part and go right to putting things back the way that they were!

I mean, yesterday we just had our second-worst day of new cases ever at 36,007, so how are we even talking about this right now?!

I just look at places like Jacksonville where they reopened the beaches and people claimed that they were acting responsibly and social distancing, even though a lot of them weren’t. I’ll admit that even just walking around Walmart, it can be hard to do when there’s just a ton of people and you need to grab a box of Frosted Flakes that this lady has been standing in front of for the last five minutes.

I worry that things are going to go back to normal, and people will basically ignore that Coronavirus ever existed … and then cases and deaths will spike like we never could’ve imagined in the last month and a half that we tried to keep this under control.

Yes, I get that we can’t just live inside forever and that a lot of businesses are hurting from not being able to be opened right now, but this disease isn’t something that’s just going to go away because Americans got bored with it and Trump needed our economy to rebound for his reelection campaign.

One of the arguments I’ve heard is, “You can stay inside if you want, but let the rest of us do what we want…” and there’s a part of me that would be ok with that if there was any sense that the people saying it would still follow the guidelines and keep safe distances from each other and generally take COVID-19 seriously. Yet instead when they do go out, they gather in huge crowds and wave semi-automatic weapons on the capital lawn and rant about how awful vaccines are … and I just can’t.

Right now as I write this, we’re finally at the high-water mark of the 65,000 deaths caused by the last flu season … two months into COVID-19 … and with no actual sign of it slowing down anytime soon.

There’s a good chance that by the end of June, we’ll be over 100,000 deaths and 1.5M cases, and I fear that the more lax we get about reopening the country, the more we’re just going to blow right past those figures like the first couple of months were nothing.

It’s like we’re living the movie Jaws and I guess I just really don’t want anyone else to get eaten by this shark…

Last night the President of the United States hypothesized on live television to an audience of 10+ million people that the scientific community should explore injecting ultraviolet light into the body to combat Coronavirus. And also injecting disinfectant into the lungs.

Which … look … I don’t have a problem with the president spitballing random ideas that pop into his head for members of his cabinet to then research.

I mean, I’d rather he let the experts come to him with ideas that they’re researching using actual scientific methods and principals, but in the bigger scope of things, what bothers me when Trump goes off on his little brainstorming sessions like this is that believe it or not, lots of people in this country look up to him as a role model and actually follow through on the random things that come out of his mouth.

Like the elderly couple who poured themselves glasses of aquarium cleaner after hearing the President talk about how maybe hydroxychloroquine might be a wonder drug for COVID-19. One died and the other ended up in intensive care.

Note that a month later, one study of the drug was cut short after patients began exhibiting irregular heartbeats and nearly two dozen died.

Of course, in classic Trump form today he’s claiming that his off the cuff comments were made as a joke to dig at the liberal media in the room – because who doesn’t like a good joke when 50,000 Americans and counting have died from the disease that two months ago the leader of their country was denouncing as little more than a hoax and a political jab at his re-election.

So last night I rewatched Idiocracy – a movie that I honestly didn’t even really like when I first saw it – but I’ll be damned if it didn’t hit way too close to home! How did we get to this place where not only are people proud to deny science in favor of their own whims, but now they’re very much willing to risk their own lives by parading through the streets without masks in protest of their rights to act like the responsible adults that they’re not in the middle of a global pandemic?!

I read a few comments earlier in response to Michigan’s governor removing many restrictions as her citizens had demanded, but also in turn requiring people to wear masks when they’re out in public…

“They can’t make us wear them!” 

“As far as I know, this is still a free country!”

And my favorite – “My husband didn’t risk his life so that I could be told what to wear to the grocery store…”

I … don’t know how to talk to people with this kind of mentality anymore because if they’re this hellbent on doing things their way, they’re perpetually going to be a part of that percentage that’s part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Despite a public health risk not only to themselves, but more importantly to others in their community, these are the same people who refuse to get vaccinated, who go to work and send their kids to school even when they’re sick, and are basically just selfish assholes. And all we can do as their neighbors and friends is do our best to stay away from them in hopes that in the end they only hurt themselves and not the people around them.

It’s a sad perspective to have to take, but when the President tells somebody to jump off a bridge and they actually do it, what else is there for the rest of us to do except for to view that person at best as a cautionary tale?

Well, that and we also need to get ourselves a President who stops telling people to jump off of bridges.

I know that it all seems like kind of a blur…

  • 3/12 – 3/16 : Businesses across the country, including Florida’s entire tourism industry, ground to a halt. Public schools followed. My job announced remote work for employees in the USA. Toilet paper was surprisingly hard to find!
  • 3/27 : A $2.2 trillion dollar stimulus package – the largest in US history – was passed by Congress; US surpassed Italy with 100,000 cases of COVID-19; healthcare workers struggle for PPE to protect themselves against the virus.
  • 3/31 : Public schools began their crash course in virtual learning.
  • 4/3 : The CDC advised everyone to start wearing masks in public to help further slow the spread.
  • 4/6 : US total cases exceeded 350,000; death toll passed 10,000 people.
  • 4/14 : US total cases exceeded 600,000; US death toll passed 25,000 people.
  • 4/16 – 4/17 : Protests erupted in several states over social distancing measures. President Trump unveiled plans for reopening American economy, despite no discernible decline in in new cases or deaths.

In many ways, time feels like it’s standing still because it takes so much effort just to get from one day to the next, only to have it look pretty much like it did the day before.

Somebody should make a movie like that! Do you think that Bill Murray would be available???

It definitely concerns me to see so much restlessness in our country right now because looking at the numbers and the continuing struggles for medical supplies, I don’t really think we’re ready to be talking about starting up the country again already. I hope I’m wrong, but I feel like what’s going to happen is the most restless among us are going to force the issue until the segments impacting them re-open – like beaches, for example – which will result in a surge of new cases and deaths, but will be even more difficult to confront because people will be even less likely to accept social distancing measures again when they already balked at them once leading up to this.

And I know that we can’t just stay inside forever, but … there’s got to be a better answer because right now the talk makes it sound like “Back to business as usual!” is what the loudest protesters want, even if that’s admittedly not what’s even outlined in the plan of the guy who’s banner they were waiving on the capital steps!

It’s really amazing the impact that only a month can have on people’s heads.

I know that I’ve been really stressed, and admittedly in the grand scheme of things my own personal impact isn’t that bad.

Last week I saw a teenager complaining on Facebook about how this had been going on for months now, and regardless of your typical teenage melodrama, I can sort of appreciate the sentiment because I’m sure the folks who took to protesting last week felt the same way.

The idea that we’ll be extremely lucky if we have a vaccine in production this fall and can put it all behind us by Christmastime … which is still EIGHT MONTHS away … seems like too much for anyone to comprehend.

We all just want to go back to the way things used to be – kids in school where they belong while their parents begrudgingly go to work, nights out at restaurants and vacations at big, crowded theme parks and cruise ships, and not having the headlines every day dominated by this single issue from seeming every angle – political, scientific, and more unsubstantiated opinions than anyone should have to judge in their day.

But the thing is, we can’t just go back to the way things used to be.

We don’t have that luxury in the middle of a global pandemic.

To date 165,000 people around the world have died from this one communicable disease – a quarter of them Americans – and despite our best interests, we’ve yet to see any real evidence that we’re past the peak of it.

So if we want to start trying to grab back elements of normality in our otherwise chaotic lives, we have to be really smart about it. And that’s tough to do when we still have people walking among us, and some on television and in positions of power, who think the entire COVID-19 thing is some bizarre hoax.

I think that’s the most weary part of this for me because it’s really hard for me to try to balance everything all around me while I’m still encountering people who think that it’s all bullshit.

I mean, I don’t really care what they think, and I’m trying to get past the point where I care about trying to change their minds, but like most conspiracy theorists … sometimes it’s still scary just knowing they’re out there. People who think … like that.

All of that said, I do think that some pretty impressive things have also happened in the last month, which I think I’ll try to write about tomorrow because this blog post became longer than I was expecting as it is!

Stay safe, stay sane, and have hope for a brighter tomorrow. That’s really the best that we can do today.

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