There’s plenty around to drag a person down these days, so I thought I’d take the opposite spin and share a few of the things that have made me smile and given me a little bit of hope in the face of so much tragedy and turmoil lately…

Innovation in Food Service
Restaurants are getting hit pretty hard right now with most not able to actually serve in their dining rooms, yet it impresses me how many have done everything that they can to embrace the takeout and delivery models to keep their employees working and paid. I think it’s great to see the extra thought that many have put into “contactless delivery” to help dispel the fear of even that minimal contact with your delivery driver.

We’ve even got a local pizza place that has turned their dining room into a donation center where customers can pick up a couple of rolls of toilet paper or other essentials if they’re in need!

Creativity in Education
It’s hard enough to get adults to pay attention during conference calls, so the idea of teaching kids all the way down to kindergarten age online is a daunting one to say the least, but so far I’ve been really impressed with how my sons’ teachers are doing their very best to work with what they have and try to connect with their kids at whatever level they can.

And even after only a few days and lots of struggles, they’re starting to get more engaged – my oldest son would barely talk on his first Zoom call with his teacher and class, but now he’s laughing and enjoying sharing time with his friends, listening to his teacher read to them and answer questions about the work they’re doing online, and generally just trying to bridge the digital divide that has been thrust upon everyone.

I thought it was really cute on Friday when she announced to everyone that it was funny hat day and how all of the kids needed to run and find a silly hat so that she could take a group picture of everyone together on the screen! 😉

Heartfelt Gratitude for Medicine
If there’s one angle of this pandemic that most of us can relate to the least, it’s for those doctors and nurses on the front lines actually facing COVID-19 head-on and doing their best to care for the people who get it.

My wife told me recently about being brought to tears along with her coworkers upon learning that people had left chalk drawings and signs of support in their parking lot around the hospital where she works. Some even waited in the parking lot until change of shift so that they could thank them as they were coming and going from work, while others drove a parade of cars around the hospital honking and cheering for everything that they were doing to help fight this horrible virus.

It’s easy to get caught up in the dire negative and feel like there’s no end in sight, but there are good things happening out there, too. 

I’ve found it interesting to watch how businesses have adapted to this virus, particularly in the shipping industry.

One of the frustrations has definitely been delayed shipping times from Amazon, I think because they’ve just spoiled and conditioned us to expect anything and everything on our doorsteps in two days or less! In fact, it’s to the point that it bugs me to order from another retailer like Walmart or Best Buy that doesn’t have the shipping network that Amazon has built out – 7 days can feel like a lifetime, even when you’re waiting for something that’s very much not essential!

So yesterday we placed a couple of orders with Amazon and the delivery dates were cast out as far as April 24, I think.

It’s a far cry from two-day shipping, but in light of people needing actual supplies, it’s not the end of the world and I fully support deprioritizing less important orders over household goods that folks truly need.

But then I started getting delivery updates where items were expected early next week, and the ones scheduled for Monday are somehow coming TODAY?!

I just think it’s neat to see how dynamic their shipping network has grown that they can still turn regular orders around quickly once the high priority ones have gone out the door. I hope Amazon, along with other retailers, is taking care of its employees because those guys are certainly going above and beyond to deliver during this disaster and it’s a truly impressive feat.

I think it’s really easy to feel lost right now, particularly if you’re like myself and notice that you’re feeling stressed, but it’s hard to put a finger on what about…

Maybe you’re still working, so money isn’t really a concern.

And you’re healthy. And you don’t personally know anyone who’s gotten sick from COVID-19.

Your pantry is full, and sure, maybe the house is a little more stressful than usual because the kids are there all day, but let’s be honest … it could be so much worse!

I’ve found myself likening it to the solar eclipse that we experienced a couple of years ago because I remember driving around after I’d taken my obligatory pinhole view of it and thinking that it just felt sort of odd out. Personally I was unaffected, yet it was clear that something strange was going on and affecting all of us together nonetheless.

So I think it’s good for everyone to know what kinds of self-care work for them because there are so many ups and downs from this bizarre, global catastrophe, and it’s ok to still be stressed out even if your family is safe and there’s plenty of TP stocked in your bathroom!

Here are a few things that work for me – feel free to piggyback off of them if you’re struggling and just need something to help get you through the day…

  1. Write something. It honestly doesn’t even matter what.
  2. Find a pair of headphones and listen to my waves.
  3. Go for a walk.
  4. Try to meditate and tune out the world.
  5. Play a retro video game.
  6. Build a Lego set.
  7. Take a nap.
  8. Watch something mindlessly silly on YouTube.
  9. Go back and relive things I’ve already written.
  10. Grab a cherry coke slushy.

I’ve followed Siobhan on YouTube for a while because she’s known for very upbeat and informative videos about her life as a doctor. I watched this video late last night and even though it’s a week old at this point, I thought it did a great job of how we got to where we are today as well as dispelling many of the rumors that have circulated about the virus.

I think one of the biggest challenges that my house has faced through all of this has been not having good outlets to help us disperse the kids’ energy anymore.

A normal day would include plenty of time to run around with their friends at school followed by a good hour of playtime at the playground before coming home. Evenings are typically split between at least one kid working with an in-home therapist while the others do quiet work/play in between dinner and bedtime routines. Plus, swim class once a week is always a great way to wear them out!

And pretty much all of that is now out the window with schools closed and the playground closed and therapists either canceling or being quarantined!

I mean, it could be worse – I understand that, and I’m grateful that nobody’s actually sick – but it’s kind of chaos just the same!!!

It makes me really wish that we had a backyard the kids could run around on their own because our pool honestly takes up most of it and they definitely can’t play out there without adult supervision. Without even having theme parks or regular parks to slip away to on the weekend, everyone is very quickly developing their own flavors of cabin fever, which for the kids results in couch cushions thrown all over the room and toys even more thrown about than usual.

We’re hoping to establish some sort of routine as school kicks back up virtually next week, however there’s only so much that structure can do when all the kids really want to do is RUN! 😯

I had but a small taste of what it feels like to be cut off by hoarders today.

For the most part, we really haven’t struggled with groceries much since this thing started. Eggs always seem to be out, yet my wife found someone at work who has chickens and we were able to get a few that way that we honestly haven’t even used yet. Milk and bread looked tight, but before we’ve run out we seem to have been able to get some more.

Still haven’t managed to find toilet paper, and I think we’re down to maybe four rolls now, but I was able to pick up some extra baby wipes the other day so I’m not super concerned there.

Until today, what’s been the most challenging has surprisingly still been distilled water.

I need it for my CPAP machine. I honestly don’t usually even use the humidifier in it, but I started getting a sore throat from post-nasal drip right around when this all began and in that case the moisture is a lot better than forcing dry air down my throat for 7-8 hours every night!

So I don’t know if people bought it all out by mistake when they scooped up the drinking water or if people who specifically need it are hoarding it, but admittedly I felt kind of helpless watching my jug get closer and closer to empty while our shopping trips out kept coming up empty handed.

Between yesterday and today, it took me seven stores to end up finding some – Target, Walgreens, Winn-Dixie, CVS, Walgreens, Winn-Dixie, and then ironically that first Target again today suddenly had a couple dozen gallons on the shelf. Before that, I heard, “There wasn’t any on the truck we just got…” or “We only got 8 and they sold out immediately…”

One even told me when the next truck would come next Wednesday and suggested I wait in their parking lot like other customers have been doing!

And it was both frustrating and also humbling because sure, it was a giant pain in the ass and it felt a little dangerous to be running around everywhere while we’re supposed to be staying home, but also what if it was something like medication that I couldn’t find anywhere? Like that malaria drug that apparently is also used to treat lupus and has been flying off the shelves ever since Trump mentioned it in a briefing a few days ago?!

My result would be an extra sore throat, or worse side effects if I decided to just run regular water through my humidifier.

Someone else’s result for not getting their meds could be much worse!

I feel like that’s the big takeaway that I feel obligated to remind myself and other people about all of this is that if the worst I personally experience is some mild inconvenience, I’m getting off light as far as global pandemics are concerned.

Another 268 deaths here in the USA from this yesterday, and after playing with the numbers and reading some more articles about projections, I have a bad feeling that we’re nowhere near the worst of what this thing has to offer. I hope that everybody is wrong, but that’s not what we should be planning for…

Needless to say, these are not simple times in which we live…

The world is currently in chaos, and over the last 24 hours we’ve seen a lot of hesitation whereas up until now I’ve actually been kind of impressed how everyone had come to accept social distancing and remote work and even lockdowns as being what we had to do to help control the spread of this Coronavirus.

Just a quick glance at the data – showing that we added 11,000 new cases and are up to nearly 800 deaths – tells me that now might not be the best time for us, as a nation, to pivot.

And I get it. This is a complex problem and million of Americans are worried about an assortment of different things right now…

  • Some people are worried that they or their loved ones are going to get sick and die from COVID-19.
  • Some people are worried that they can’t pay their bills because they’re out of work.
  • Some people are frustrated because their kids are out of school and they’re not qualified to teach them.
  • Some people are worried that we’re doing permanent damage to the American economy.
  • And, let’s be honest – some people are just flat out bored.

All of these (except for that last one – grow up!) are valid concerns … to someone … and challenge lies in searching for solutions that do their best to appease as many of the people impacted as possible. We can’t crank the dial all the way in one direction because not only does it leave the other sides in the dark but that kind of jerkiness just isn’t good for the system as a whole.

I think part of the trouble with those in the camp of “We’ve sat around long enough – it’s time to get back to work…” is that they believe what they’re seeing right now is the worst it’s going to get.

They look at 19,000 people dead worldwide from COVID-19 and compare it to half a million flu deaths a year, and it seems like all of this is a lot of fuss for nothing.

In fact, one of the quotes that I liked when we first started talking about closing down schools and businesses was something like, “If this works like we want it to, it’s going to look like nothing happened at all. And we’re going to have to be ok with that.”

The thing is, we only have other countries to compare our progress to right now – which admittedly are confusing…

  • China has 1.3B people, 81,000 cases, and 3,281 deaths – that’s a 4% death rate for the Chinese.
    • Their trajectory spanned the end of January through February.
  • Italy has 60M people, 69,000 cases, and 6,820 deaths – that’s a 10% death rate for Italy.
    • Their trajectory started at the end of February and it looks like they might be hitting their halfway point.
  • The USA has 327M people, 55,000 cases, and 782 deaths – that’s a 1% death rate for us.
    • Our trajectory started at the beginning of March and we’re still on our way up.

I can see how that’s daunting for people who are either A) watching their bills pile up, B) watching their retirement accounts fizzle, or C) just pulling their hair out having the kids home all day.

I think the tricky thing here is that we need to evolve our response to Corona without just doing a 180 by saying, “Let’s have all the pews full in two weeks for Easter!”

I don’t think that’s very reasonable, and if we do as a nation decide to just slam on the brakes and try to go back to normal, I sincerely believe that it isn’t going to be the normal we remember for very long…

But there are things that we can do!

  • Congress needs to get their act together and work out a stimulus bill that helps businesses and individuals in need without just recklessly doling out cash to people and businesses that don’t really need it.
  • Schools can take more steps with virtual learning, which I know that they’re still trying to figure out, and that has to be ok, too. I know a lot of businesses that don’t get remote work, so we can’t expect an apples to apples result when asking kids and their over-worked parents to try and do the work of their teachers.
  • And as for the economy, I think this is where we need to separate the wants from the likes because it’s probably not going to return to the bull market of perpetually rising returns for a while. We need to somehow look at the difference between short and long term investments here because long term (e.g. my retirement, which is 20+ years off) has plenty of time to recover; short term is hopefully more isolated to folks on Wall Street who can afford to lose the money, although I’d wager there are probably also some boomers nearing retirement who have far more aggressive retirement funds than they should for their age … and they’re probably freaking out right about now.

And of course, we need to take into account what’s best to slow the spread of the virus – which medical professionals still maintain is social distancing.

Can we afford for businesses to be shut down for another month or two when people are feeling burnt out after barely 10 days of this???

Can we afford to see cases skyrocket if we just, as I saw one comment on Facebook put it, “Pretend this never happened…” and  it turns out that whatever social distancing we were doing was dramatically keeping the virus in check???

Or can we take a step back, and agree to not make any rash decisions, and do whatever we can to keep this thing at bay while businesses try to innovate by offering food delivery services and embracing their employees working from home and trying to find jobs for other displaced workers while shoring up unemployment and our other social safety nets to catch the rest?

Like I said, it’s a complex problem and there is no one solution that will magically make everything better.

So we need to be thoughtful. And graceful. And extra kind in everything that we do because the reality is that people are dying from this thing and that needs to remain in the forefront of everybody’s minds for whatever our next steps might be.

I know that a lot of people are really frustrated with the statistics that we’ve seen coming out of the COVID-19 crisis. Some people flat out think they’re bullshit and feel that they’re too flawed to be worth paying any attention to.

Being a guy whose career involves understanding data … I don’t agree.

I wish the data was better, but at least it’s something and when we’re trying to measure the impact of a worldwide phenomenon, something is better than nothing.

Sure, in a perfect world, testing would be readily available to anyone who showed the slightest symptoms, and hospitals would all follow the exact same procedures for dealing with the virus, and people would go to the doctor when they’re supposed to, and health departments wouldn’t sometimes fudge their numbers, and so on and so forth!

Of course, in a perfect world one might argue that we wouldn’t be dealing with a global pandemic in the first place, so there’s that…

So the data is what it is – we just have to quantify it and keep those exceptions in mind, which I get can be frustrating when we’re being told not to leave the house and we feel like we’re making all of these sacrifices by maintaining our distance and the total # of deaths seem small compared to things like the flu and other common causes.

Regardless, what I’ve found is most insightful for me over the last week is to really only focus on a couple of metrics:

  • Daily New Cases, specifically in the United States <— this is my main focus
  • Total # of Deaths, both in the US and here in Florida <— this is my reminder that we’re talking about human lives at stake

The data I look at each day is found here – https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/us/

In particular, I look at this chart to see how the rate of the spread is growing here in our country…

Now for clarity, yes – the numbers are growing because we’re testing more people than we were two weeks ago. That’s ok! What we’re really looking for is merely the curve to help judge when the spread has reached its maximum growth rate to ultimately help indicate when things might start getting back to normal.

Compare our graph above to China’s latest…

That’s what we’re waiting for ours to look like – the same gradual growth that we’re seeing now as the Chinese came to terms with the virus, a few anomalies along the way, followed by a gradual decrease to where they’re seeing a fraction of the new cases each day and it’s safe to assume that they’re volumes that their healthcare system can once again support.

I mean, I guess there are some people who are just never going to trust the data no matter what it says, and there’s so much commentary and anecdotal evidence and sheer panic going around that maybe it’s easy for some to cast doubt in what they’re seeing on the page.

I personally think it’s safe to look at these numbers as a barometer – we’re not solely relying on them to make major, guiding decisions in our lives during this crisis. They’re simply a guide to help us understand how things are going and if the shore is in sight on the other side of this thing yet.

Unfortunately, I think we’ve still got a ways to go, which is a whole nother ball of problems in the chaos that it creates as we push through this. I know that we’ll get there eventually, but there will definitely be casualties along the way – literally, economically, you name it.

Still, it doesn’t hurt to carry a light as we make our way through this.

That’s all the data serves as – no more, no less.

This seems like kind of a weird post to write as we see more and more people getting laid off or struggling for work as the virus spreads, so just bear with me…

I found myself buying some stock yesterday.

Not a lot, really. I think I spent about $150 between two different companies, and the only reason I did is because quite frankly, it was really, really cheap.

That’s kind of the unique perk of the markets tanking like they have over the last couple of weeks – while it’s painful to watch our retirement accounts fall something like 25%, it also presents the opportunity to buy at a discount for however long this market takes to recover.

This is intriguing to me because I don’t like to admit it, but I stopped contributing to my 401k a little over a year ago when our finances weren’t doing so hot. In fact, I doubled down by taking out a 401k loan and then stopping my regular contributions, too, which I’d been otherwise making religiously for a long time, so I’ve been disappointed in my retirement savings whereas it used to be something I felt pretty good about.

I’ve had the conversation with people a few different times now that despite uncertainty in the markets, now isn’t the time to pull your retirement funds. If anything, as long as you’re nowhere near ready for retirement, low points like this are when it’s smart to buy more! So far this year I’ve slowly started limping my 401k contributions back up from 0%, and though they’re nowhere near what I’d like them to be … it’s something.

Anyways, the other day at random I started thinking about some of the businesses currently on hold – namely theme parks and cruise ships – and it wasn’t much of a surprise to see that they’ve really gone south!

As of when I’m writing this (3/19, after market close), here’s what they looked like (compared to one month prior)…

  • Walt Disney Company (DIS) – $94.93, down 34% from $144.63
  • Universal Corporation (UVV) – $44.13, down 12% from $50
  • SeaWorld (SEAS) – $8.54, down 76% from $35.25
  • Six Flags (SIX) – $11.39, down 75% from $45.11
  • Royal Caribbean Cruises (RCL) – $22.41, down 83% from $133.51
  • Carnival Cruise Lines (CCL) – $10, down 80% from $50.83

Now I honestly don’t think much about individual companies for investments anymore – what little stock I did own, I sold off and traded for an S&P 500-based index fund instead. And of course, all of our retirement savings are in similar mutual funds.

Still, it’s kind of fun to own a small piece of a company – something I used to boast about Disney before I sold my shares because kids are even more expensive than their park tickets!

It’s also worth noting that A) I like all of these companies, and B) I don’t really have any doubts that they’re going to recover from all of this … eventually. It might take a while, namely because lord only knows how long these closures will need to drag on, but they’re all popular entertainment businesses with large assets, be it cruise ships or castles or even whales and dolphins… 😉

So for starters, I bought a handful of shares of both SeaWorld and Royal Caribbean. I’ll probably buy a few more tomorrow once we get paid, too, depending on how all of the dollars and cents wash out.

I’m not looking to get rich off of these investments, however I do believe in each of their brands and what they do, and 80% off seems like a pretty good deal when you’re buying companies that you enjoy and admire!

If they can help to bridge that gap left behind by not contributing to my retirement over the last couple of years, that would be nice because honestly it’s probably one of the few “risky investments” that I’d ever feel comfortable gambling my money on.

Do with these thoughts what you will, as I’m certainly not a financial professional. I’m just a guy who likes Florida’s tourism industry, and saw a fun opportunity to own a piece of some fun companies that my family enjoys. 😉

Coronavirus, Day 3 – Shopping Frenzy

March 18, 2020 1:14pm
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Yesterday was the first day I went to the grocery store since all of this started and it was like Target was liquidating their entire grocery section.

I kind of figured that water and toilet paper would be out, but this was entire aisles just empty.

At one point I watched a couple staring at one of the cooler cases that sit in the middle of the main aisles and I couldn’t help but imagine their dialogue, “Well, I guess we can eat these pre-made mashed potatoes for the next two weeks…”

My biggest concern at the moment is finding distilled water for my CPAP machine. I don’t have to have it, but I’ve had a sore throat and it helps at night. I was able to add a case of it for backup to our bottled water delivery, but that’s a few weeks away.

It’s all definitely surreal because I’ve never seen hurricane reactions this bad. And yet I get it – people are scared, and so they do whatever they think they can do to look out for their families.

I think it scares me more to read that gun sales are apparently through the roof, too. It makes me wonder if we’re going to fall to a place of robberies and looting if supplies aren’t readily available.

Yesterday I found a huge smear of dog shit on the back of my car parked in our driveway. No idea if it was just kids screwing around or if somebody has a beef with us.

The only one I would guess would be the HOA and I’m pretty sure they’re still just sending nasty letters!

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