I’ve tried to take in as many different perspectives on America’s COVID-19 experience as I can because I know that there are a lot of variations to how individuals are going through this.

For example, at 10:30pm last night one of the schools that my kids attend announced that they were switching to virtual school immediately because a staff member had tested positive for COVID. We’re still waiting for more information, but understandably a lot of parents are frustrated and upset because they have to work outside of the home during the day and can’t stay home to supervise kids in virtual school.

My wife and I are very lucky in this regard because I can work from home and she only works part-time on the weekends.

That said, when I look across the measures that we’re still taking to prevent the spread of the virus – everything from masks to some businesses being closed to quarantines – I can’t help but think that the reason why we’re still having to endure these invasive measures is because, quite frankly, we didn’t do a very good job of facing this virus as a whole from the very beginning.

  • Medical personnel spent the first month struggling to get their hands on basic safety equipment for their staff.
  • Political leaders shrugged off the seriousness of the pandemic and downplayed its potential instead of making critical early steps.
  • The financial support offered by Congress was rife with abuse and often went to people and corporations who didn’t need it, and archaic unemployment systems left even more Americans begging for relief.
  • Some Americans fought tooth and nail against restrictions aimed at keeping people safe, and even today chatter about the virus being a hoax is common.
  • Testing never really went mainstream by being too confusing, unreliable, and an undue burden to establish a regular testing cycle needed to truly monitor the population.
  • Speaking of monitoring, contact tracing never really took off here, either, because vocal Americans determined that privacy was more important than safety. Case in point – for my son’s school, we don’t know if the employee ever had contact with Christopher or not, which makes it difficult for us to manage his potential exposure here at home.
  • Despite the importance stressed on opening schools, many were never given safety equipment that they needed, with some schools here in the Tampa Bay Area giving each teacher only “a rag and a spray bottle” to keep their classrooms clean.

I know it feels like we’ve all been through a lot in the last six months, and we have, but it’s hard to not ask ourselves if we really did everything that we could when you look at other countries that experienced a curve back in the spring and basically have it more or less stabilized at this point.

If America is supposed to be the greatest country in the world, or the richest, or whatever, why are we struggling with this so much?

Tracking Me

August 27, 2020 9:28pm
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I just finished a really fantastic book called Atomic Habits by James Clear.

There were so many useful bits about productivity and behaviors and getting stuff done and creating better goals – too many to list, really – and I’m super excited about implementing many of the ideas he talked about in various places throughout my life, but right now I want to talk about tracking and statistics.

I’ve always been kind of fascinated with numbers. My personal word count for writing is something that’s very important to me, and yet aside from staring at the numbers and hoping they’ll go up (or down, in the case of weight loss), I’ve never really had a great approach for actually influencing those huge numbers in a consistently positive way.

If I look at my word count, for example, it’s clear to me that this massive number was built over time, but I wish I could say that I had a better system in place to ensure that it continued to grow on a regular basis. Case in point – with each post averaging barely 300 words, that’s really a minuscule amount of blogging each day. I could knock that out in 15 minutes a day. Yet in the twenty months since I hit that 1 million word milestone, I’ve only added another 34,000 words to my total.

Even if I only blogged 5 days a week, one post a day, at my given average I could’ve added another 120,000 words in the last year and a half!

So I’ve decided to do a little experiment to combine my love of stat tracking with my newfound I’m 40 and It’s Time to Improve My Life-mentality by taking the next four months to track a handful of “key stats” that I’ve identified for myself across three areas:

  • Creative Output – Number of Things Published
  • Health – Amount of Sleep Per Night
  • Health – Number of Days with Exercise
  • Family – Number of Family Photos Shared

1. Creative Output – Number of Things Published
I know I talked about word count above, but for this iteration I want to take a step back and basically just count any time that I hit a Publish button – be it for a blog post, a humor column, an ebook or some other written thing. Tracking should be pretty easy between WordPress stats and the other platforms that I regularly publish stuff through. My goal here is really just to improve my overall output – we’ll talk about bigger goals influenced by this task at a later date!

2. Health – Amount of Sleep Per Night
This has really been a horrible one for me, not just in the last week although school starting and having me up at 7:30am certainly ain’t helping! I know that good sleep is linked to so many other aspects of health, and I actually think I might like the routine that I started developing for my mornings this week, so I really want to try to use this stat to drive going to bed earlier and getting a more consistent amount of sleep. Tracking will be through my Fitbit, where I’m hoping to see some scores that are a little better than “poor”…

3. Health – Number of Days with Exercise
There were a few different parts of Atomic Habits that talked about making progress in tiny increments, whether it was improving a process merely by 1% or creating better habits by starting with just a minute or two at a time … Do two minutes of yoga/meditation/exercise/whatever per day, and as you build into your mind the drive to hit that simple task of only two minutes, naturally you’ll likely try to push yourself to do more because you’ve already started. Earlier this summer, I lugged our elliptical back into my office from the garage in hopes of actually starting to use it again, so I want to try employing this technique to start building it into a daily routine.

Tracking, again, will be via my Fitbit … which might I add I think that it’s really cool that this thing somehow is able to identify not only when I do exercise but also say, “Nice job with that 10 minutes on the elliptical!” without me ever telling it what I was doing?!

4. Family – Number of Family Photos Shared
Admittedly this is kind of a silly one – I wanted something around family to be my last stat, but it’s not like I can track days at an amusement park with COVID and all. Still, I thought this could be kind of fun because a couple years ago I started working on a family photo album website and I stopped due to some technical reasons, but we take so many great photos that I don’t always want to flood Instagram and Facebook with that I’d still really like to revisit the whole effort.

Plus, now that we’ve got several DAKboards displaying photos around the house, it’d be neat to tie them in somehow to pull photos from a more current source than just whenever I add a few to the OneDrive folder that DAKboard uses.

So the idea is pretty simple – revisit that idea, refresh it, and start adding in newer photos. I don’t expect to finish the whole thing in four months … I think that’s probably another thing that derailed the project in the past because I just got too far behind with pictures that it was just a ridiculous task to try and get caught up! But if I can spend an hour or two on it once a month, I can probably get to where at least 2020 will be represented, and that would be a nice start! Tracking here will also be via WordPress stats.

Anyways, I’m sure I’ll write more about this later, but the idea here is really to hone in on something very specific, but also very manageable that I can focus on day after day to collectively lead to bigger results. More creative output -> more pageviews, subscriptions, sales; more sleep and exercise -> more energy and lower weight; more family photos -> a more meaningful record of our growth together as a family.

Not sure if I’ll share results along the way or wait until January, but I definitely want to write about some more points from Atomic Habits that I fell in love with, so stay tuned for that! 🙂

So here we are, I guess.

Five months ago we were averaging 25% of the daily cases that we’re seeing today and in-person classes came to a halt, replaced by virtual learning for the rest of the school year.

On the upside, I’d like to think that we’ve learned a bit about COVID-19 since then … more people than not are wearing masks out in public and social distancing has become the norm, even though there are definitely still some among us – some in positions of power – who will fight tooth and nail for the right to ignore this global pandemic and pretend that it’s not the reality that we all live in today.

I know that our teachers will do the best they can because that’s what they always do, but I also feel like in critical times like these that that’s not good enough.

I’ve read posts over the weekend about teachers not being given enough supplies by their administrations to clean and even protect themselves, which isn’t surprising considering the laundry list of supplies that parents are asked to contribute to classrooms each year … but if reopening schools was really so damn important to kickstarting the economy, it sure would’ve been nice to actually see teachers getting the support that they need for a change.

As for our three kids, we’ve opted to send two of them to in-person classes and the third will do virtual school at home with the help of his in-home therapist who he’s been working with all summer.

I, for one, am incredibly nervous and we went back and forth all summer about whether we’re making the right decisions, but ultimately A) the two that are going in-person are much more likely to actually wear their masks than the third, and B) virtual school for Pre-K is kind of a throwaway anyways … so we decided to give these choices a shot and if we either see that things aren’t working or if new cases start absolutely skyrocketing, we’ll have to deal with that when/if it happens.

Obviously that’s my biggest fear because as much as everyone likes to tout that “Kids are basically immune to the virus!” and “Their risk of exposure is very, very low…”, I can’t help but think that it’s mostly due to how quickly we isolated the kids in school during the spring that has helped to keep their numbers so low compared to the rest.

I sincerely hope that I’m wrong, but if we’re being honest, kids are like walking petri dishes even without a global pandemic at hand, and as much as I’m sure everyone is going to try to keep them distanced and masked as much as possible … well, I guess I just hope that they do better than the worst of the adults right now who are getting in fights with store clerks over masks and acting like COVID-19 hasn’t already killed 180,000 Americans in the last five months.

We’ve spent the last five months trying to emphasize to the kids why they need to wash their hands thoroughly and how we can’t do certain things that they love right now because of all of the germs that are getting so many people sick.

I hope we’re not expecting too much of them by sending them back to school when the end of this thing still seems like it’s nowhere in sight.

Lullaby, and Goodnight…
Lately Matthew has had this thing where he likes to be rocked before taking a nap or going to bed, and since Sara worked all weekend that duty fell squarely on me. It’s kind of cute, though – he’s got a big, stuffed Mario that he sleeps with and he likes us both to go under his blanket like a tent. Recently Sara started playing lullabies on her phone and he seemed to enjoy it, so I tried doing it, too.

The only down side I’ve found is that in addition to being effective at helping him fall asleep, the combination of it all also seems to be great at making me fall asleep! That said, I keep meaning to set some time aside for meditation and it’s incredibly relaxing, so why not just kill two birds with one stone?!

Video Games FTW
I’m planning on writing a Scott’s Guide to Life article about it, but video games seem to have surged in popularity in our home this summer … and I love it. On top of continuing to work from home due to COVID-19, I’ve spent some great times racing Christopher and even David in Mario Kart, and because his Switch Online membership comes with a bunch of retro NES and SNES games, I’ve even been showing them some of my old favorites which has been super fun.

For example, one of Christopher’s favorite tracks in Mario Kart 8 is Excitebike Arena, so he was very curious to see the actual game that it was based on! He’s even been trying to play some of the original Mario games, some of which are a little less forgiving than the newer ones, but it’s just awesome to get to share that with really all three of them. 🙂

Ugh, Garage…
And last night I reluctantly did some more cleaning out in my garage in order to be able to fit one of the cars inside. The whole ordeal was anything but voluntary – we’ve gotten a couple of letters from our HOA complaining about our kids’ therapist parking in our driveway because there’s only room for two cars before someone is then parking over the sidewalk … which I think is an absolutely stupid rule, but after paying them a few hundred bucks in legal fees last year after they got trigger happy about weeding our garden … I just don’t have it in me to argue with them right now.

The last time I tried cleaning, I still was about a foot short of actually closing the door, so last night I rearranged a bunch of stuff and found some more things I could throw away, and now the car just barely fits … which is good enough for me.

Note to self – Next house needs to have so much more room for storage!

Bonus Positive Thing – Swim Time!
I think we went swimming every single day for the last four days, and even though I’m exhausted … like, seriously! … the kids really loved it.

Our pool this summer has kind of been my secret weapon when I’ve got the kids by myself because although it can sometimes be a little stressful keeping track of all three of them at the same time, particularly when Matthew wants to dive in without waiting for me, however we do also have a lot of fun and as an added bonus – it really wears them out and makes the rest of our time until bedtime a lot easier to pass!

I don’t know what we’re going to do in another month when it starts getting too cold to swim.

Regularly scheduled family Mario Kart tournaments???

Veneer

August 4, 2020 3:16pm
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I’ve been listening to this song in the car a lot lately. It’s a nice, peaceful song – written about a highway in Northern Michigan that I used to drive quite a bit. In fact, I actually saw The Verve Pipe live back when I was in college … they were playing at a school that a friend went to and we played one of their albums on repeat the entire ride back, ironically, as we drove down US-131 to take another friend back to his own school.

They were a great live band and admittedly I’ve been enjoying a bit of nostalgia in listening to them during my quick, 10-15 minute drives around town. A great mix of both hard rock and melodious music, here’s a selection of my all-time favorites of theirs…

  • Hero (from The Verve Pipe – 1990)
  • Headlines (from The Verve Pipe – 1990)
  • Half a Mind (from The Verve Pipe – 1990)
  • Ominous Man (from Villains – 1996)
  • Villains (from Villains – 1996)
  • Cup of Tea (from Villains – 1996)
  • Colorful (from Underneath – 2001)
  • Veneer (from Villains – 1996)

Alien Bugs? In Washington???

August 1, 2020 10:48pm
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Last night I started watching the CBS show BrainDead from a few years ago out of curiosity, and today I finished up its mere 13-episode run as the first show that I’ve truly binge-watched in a long time!

I stumbled across it purely by accident. Earlier in the week I found myself watching this hilariously fun table read of the Scott Pilgrim movie with the cast via Zoom and I realized that as great as she was in that movie, I didn’t really know much of anything else that Mary Elizabeth Winstead has starred in. Somehow I stumbled upon this weird sci-fi comedy about bugs taking over the brains of Congressmen, and what can I say?

OMG – It was soooooo addictive!!!

I think a big part of the appeal of this story is that it’s told from the perspective of someone who doesn’t like politics, so it’s not so much one party looking better than the other as it is both parties filled with stupid bickering and fighting for their own self-preservation instead of actually doing what’s best for the people.

Of course, it gets way worse as the bugs continue their infestation and more and more of Congress gets infected…

I literally ended up watching the first 6 or 7 episodes of this series last night after the kids went to bed, and if I didn’t have to worry about watching the kids the next morning because Sara worked overnight, I would’ve loved to just blow through the entire thing because they did an outstanding job with their cliffhangers and leaving you desperate to see what was going to unfold next.

It actually left me wondering how the series would’ve moved forward if it hadn’t seen its untimely demise and gotten cancelled after just the first season because I honestly felt like the ending was a little rushed. I think I read something on Wikipedia that the next seasons were going to follow the infection spreading to other sectors – Wall Street, Silicon Valley, and Hollywood – so that could’ve been interesting, particularly if the Washington cast was still involved and they could’ve played with how the different systems intertwined.

But alas, it wasn’t meant to be, so instead we’re left with this fun, little 10-hour sprint of alien infestation that could’ve been more, but admittedly was still a whole lot of fun to watch for what it was. If you have any interest in the more satirical side of politics, and you can handle watching bugs crawl into people’s ears, I highly recommend it!

So right now, and in fact for most of the summer, one of the biggest COVID-19 debates is whether it’s safe enough for kids to go back to school. Cases have surged to the point where 10,000+ new cases a day is the new norm here in Florida, and last week one of the teachers unions sued our governor for mandating that the school year resumes next month with in-classroom instruction.

Many counties, including ours, have already pushed their start dates back two weeks, but the looming question is really whether that’s enough to give time for schools to create a safe learning environment for both students and staff.

This, of course, is happening after President Trump just pressured the CDC to revise their guidelines for schools reopening because he thought that the existing rules were too hard or too expensive to support … which of course, resulted in new guidelines last week basically supporting reopening schools with pages of text about the importance of schools and very little on how to keep them actually safe.

Personally, I’m still very torn about the issue. A few weeks ago, we made the decision for Christopher and David to do in-classroom instruction, and Matthew do virtual school with help from his in-home therapist during the day. We were most confident about Christopher because he’s starting at a new charter school that really seems to have its ducks in order about how they’re going to operate; David’s public school … less so, but we don’t think it will be productive to have multiple kids at home doing virtual school during the day.

And even since then, our schools have come back and said that masks will now be mandatory for students and teachers are being very vocal at voicing their very valid concerns for their own safety.

I get that it’s a complicated issue because most parents can’t stay home with their kids all day in the event that classroom instruction gets cancelled again, and yet I also feel like it’s important to remember that the role of the school system is not to serve as babysitters so that parents can go to work!

The reason why I really wanted to write this post is because there seems to be this weird perspective across the Trump administration and the Republican party that kids need to go back to school so that the economy can recover … which I don’t understand because it’s not like people are staying home from work just because they have to watch their kids.

I mean, we’ve been on summer break for two months, which happens every single year…

The sad reality is that a lot of jobs have basically evaporated due to COVID because the world had to change – people aren’t out shopping and eating in restaurants and going on vacations because they don’t feel safe. Businesses have cut back on buying things from each other due to economic uncertainty, and teams aren’t traveling to conferences and customer sites for safety reasons, and a lot of these problems just aren’t going to resolve themselves in September because suddenly the kids are back in school again.

I’ve heard financial analysts say that it could take 3 – 5 years for places like Disney World to get back to the record attendance and revenue levels that they were enjoying just six months ago, and there’s no doubt that a lot of businesses across the board simply aren’t going to be able to stick around long enough to see that level of consumer confidence actually return.

In a perfect world, the worst-affected businesses could just hit pause and wait this thing out for a year, but with everybody having bills to pay, that doesn’t seem to be possible for most industries.

I don’t claim to have all of the answers for how to “fix the economy,” but I think it’s going to take a while and I don’t think it’s fair to couple this problem with the separate issue of ensuring a safe environment in which to teach our kids. I want my kids to get back to learning, but it’s not fair to all of the teachers and staff who support their education to force the issue if they don’t believe that it can be done safely right now.

…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.

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