Social Distancing Day 7

I’m starting to get into something of a routine. I’m still waking up later than I would like, but early enough that I can spend the morning meditating, exercising, and generally getting ready for the rest of the day. Afternoons are for working, evenings are for dinner and hanging out with the roommates, or video conferencing friends. I usually spend another hour or so working or writing these posts before calling it a night.

The last couple of days I’ve been working on reviews. I’m on the Artifact Evaluation Committee for the PLDI 2020 conference, and reviews are due at the end of the week. That means that I get to look at a number of pieces of research software, and verify that the software operates as described in the corresponding research paper. It’s been good to have something concrete and relatively well-defined to focus on. Otherwise, it’s far too easy to stay glued to Twitter all day.

Today is St. Patrick’s Day, and the roommates’ put together some thematically appropriate fare for dinner: corned beef, cabbage, green beans, and bread, paired with some Guinness. Things can seem pretty bad at the moment, and in a lot of ways they are, but it’s important to celebrate when possible.

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Social Distancing Day 6

Today has been pretty quiet. Mostly just working from home. Went to bed late last night, and woke up at a reasonable time, so I was a little exhausted by late afternoon. I made the most of my work-from-home situation by taking a long nap. It was wonderful, but hopefully won’t interfere with going to bed early tonight.

Like many of you, I have been keeping an eye on scientific news and results surrounding the Coronavirus. So what follows are some things I’ve learned recently and might be of interest to you. Please note that for all of these, I am not a doctor, and this does not constitute medical advice. I have linked references wherever I could.

You’ve probably heard the advice to wash your hands for 20 seconds, with soap and hot water. According to the CDC, the temperature of the water does not matter as much as does using soap. The soap dissolves the virus’ lipid bilayer, causing it to fall apart. Soaps with “anti-bacterial” ingredients do not seem to add any benefit.

Something you may not have heard is that one of the commonalities among young people with COVID-19 who need to enter the hospital is that they were taking NSAIDs (like Advil, Motrin, Aleve and Aspirin). It seems like they might actually make it easier for the virus to enter your cells, and also does a number on your kidneys.

In addition to current research, I’ve also been looking at some articles that talk about the 1918 Spanish Flu, and other viral infections. For starters, there’s an article on the relationship between sleep and susceptibility to the common cold. From the response to Spanish Flu (in Boston in particular) we learn that open air and sunlight seems to have a significant positive effect on patient mortality. This is likely related to vitamin D, which our bodies produce with sunlight exposure.

The plural of anecdote is not data, but when I moved to Boston, I got mildly sick almost every other week my first winter. My nutritionist encouraged me to take regular vitamin D supplements, and I’ve barely been sick since then. Alas, sunlight is not always easy to come by in this part of the world.

In line with all of that, I made sure to open my windows, and spend a couple hours sitting in the sun today. I’m very grateful to have large windows with a view in my bedroom, and a balcony that gets a lot of sun in the afternoon.

Some breaking research out of Iceland seems to reinforce what we’ve learned: most people are asymptomatic, or have mild symptoms, but that those without symptoms are certainly spreading it. That means that it’s not sufficient to stay home until you get sick. Unless you live in a country with sufficient testing capacity, you need to stay home right now. And while you’re doing that, please try to stay safe, stay sane and take care of each other.

Social Distancing Day 5

As I write this, cities and states across America are implementing more stringent social distancing measures, because some people just won’t listen. Here in Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker imposed a sweeping shutdown: restricting restaurants to takeout and delivery only, and banning gatherings of more than 25 people (except for grocery stores and pharmacies). That means you will probably have to cancel your St. Patrick’s Day plans (as you should have already). So most of us are pretty much stuck at home now.

But life goes on, for sanity’s sake at least. Over the last few days I’ve been coming to realize that “social distancing”, because I have been quite social, just not in person. We talked with two friends over video yesterday, and I talked on the phone with two more today. My roommates have been playing World of Warcraft with some of their friends. I’ve been playing Age of Empires 2 (if you’d like to play, let me know).

For the past year or so, I’ve been attending the Millennial Zen group at the Cambridge Zen Center on Sundays. Today we had our meeting online. It’s not the same, certainly, but it’s not nothing. I think it’s important to not think of these sorts of meetings as lesser versions of physical socializing, but really just as something different (in the same way that vegan ice cream is a perfectly good dessert, as long as you’re not comparing it to dairy ice cream).

As someone on Twitter mentioned, it might be better to think of these measures as physical distancing, not social distancing. We can be as social as we like, just not in person. Personally, I find that heartening.

Tomorrow is Monday, and I would normally be going in to campus for a full day’s work. I will not be going in to work, but I will be working. I managed to do a good job of staying off social media today and avoiding too much doom and gloom. I’m hoping to do the same tomorrow, and of course y’all will be along for the ride. I’m also going to try to write these posts a little earlier each day so that those of you in the US can read them before going to bed.

Till tomorrow, stay safe, stay sane, and take care of each other. (And please don’t go outside.)

Social Distancing Day 4

Today has been a relatively normal day, Saturdays are usually my day off, and today has felt more or less like a normal Saturday. Woke up late, had some coffee and breakfast. The weather was actually good today, clear blue skies, lots of sun, a bit of a breeze, but not much wind. I decided to bundle up and go for a long walk. I’m lucky that I live right next to some state-protected natural lands, so I had quite an enjoyable walk half- hour walk. It was good to get some fresh air, and a little dose of endorphins. I am considering taking a calculated risk on the apartment gym. They seem to be keeping it very clean, and it seems to be under-utilized. I’ll wipe down equipment before and after, and jump right in the shower right after. It’s still a risk, but I’m going to need endorphins and physical activity even more than usual.

I played some Age of Empires today, and watched some of Season 3 of Castlevania. Had some afternoon tea with a girl scout cookie. I’m currently talking to a friend on the west coast over Hangouts. I will have to think about how to maintain some kind of a social life over the next few weeks. As someone on Twitter pointed out, this is really much more physical distancing than it is social distancing.

I’m not sure what tomorrow holds, but Sundays are normally plan for the week ahead, so that’s what I’ll do tomorrow. Happy Pi Day everyday, stay safe, stay sane, and take care of each other.

Social Distancing Day 3

The theme for today has been establishing some sense of normalcy. Personally, it has been easy to swing between two extremes: we are all going to die, and wheee! it’s stay-cation time. Of course, neither of these are true. 80% of COVID-19 cases seem to be “mild”, where “mild” means symptoms of a bad flu for 1-2 weeks. The world is not going to end as a result of the coronavirus (one hopes, though perhaps it will spur some much needed socio-economic reform). If it were, I would be encouraging everyone to go out with a bang, and lots of raucous partying accompanied by good food and better drink.

On the other hand, this isn’t vacation time for me. I’m lucky enough to have a job that is largely unaffected by having to stay at home for weeks (or even months). That means that I can expect to have a steady paycheck coming in each month, and also that I have to keep on working, as normally as I can manage.

So today has been an attempt to split the difference between the extremes, trying to settle down for a less-than-ideal, but not-terrible few weeks, and trying to make the most of the situation. After another late start (which needs to stop happening), a large part of the day went into cleaning the apartment, both shared spaces and my own room. Yes, it took a global pandemic to get us to deep clean the apartment, insert lazy millennial joke here.

We celebrated a clean apartment with gin and tonics on the balcony. It had been a day of depressing drizzle with a few minutes of sun in the late afternoon, so we wanted to make use of the lack of rain, even though the sky was packed with ominous clouds. Of course, it started raining again before we were even a third of the way done with our drinks. But by sunset the clouds had miraculously disappeared and we had some clear blue skies by the time it was dark. This all seems like an extended metaphor for our current situation and a portent of things to come. It feels like we are in the calm before the storm. Everything seems quiet, especially for those of us already stocked up and staying home, but in a few weeks healthcare systems in the United States are likely to overwhelmed the way Italy is now. There will be a lot of deaths, and yet, most of us will survive and live to tell the tale. This is a crisis, but not yet a catastrophe.

But as I said, today was an attempt at something akin to normalcy. We made dinner (and by we, I mean one of my roommates, she would like you to know that her cooking is excellent and that she is a paragon of style), made and drank cocktails, I contributed my Netflix account to watch an episode of The Witcher. The cats are very happy to have extra attention all the time, though my vacuuming in the afternoon was a little unsettling. I’ve decided that I will be having afternoon tea, with yes, actual tea and a cookie (biscuit for you Brits) while our stock of girl scout cookies last.

Not much work and no exercise today. I think it’s best to avoid our apartment gym for the time being, even though it seems to be both cleaned regularly and barely used at the moment. But with the weather getting warmer and me living next to state-protected natural lands, I’m hoping to sprinkle in long walks with body weight exercises at home. Who knows, this might be the push to actually take up running.

Tomorrow is a Saturday, but honestly, the weekend has little meaning when you’ve spent half the week at home, and the other half preparing to be at home. But I do have a stack of comics to work through, not too quickly. There may be an attempt to replenish groceries at some point. We’re stocked up on toilet paper, no it’s not an excessive amount. But I am glad to be going to bed tonight feeling calmer and clearer than I have in a few days, I hope you will too. And as always, stay safe, stay sane, and take care of each other.