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Life in the Time of Quarantine

“Social distancing,” heh. It’s basicallly what Carol and I consider ordinary life. We’re retired, we’re home a lot, and don’t have the energy to cope with huge events like concerts, parades, political rallies, and so on. We don’t go to bars. Ok, my writers’ group used to meet in a sports bar, but then they repurposed their party room and we had to move to a sandwich shop across the street. (Yelp now reports that the sports bar has closed.) But that weekly writers’ group–with at most ten or eleven other people, usually fewer–is most of the social anything that I do these days.

So we’re doing our part by basically keeping on keeping on. I’m working on different techniques to avoid using my hands as much in public places. If I’m going through a door that simply pushes open, I push with my shoulder. When I take a drink from a water fountain, I press the bar with my elbow. (This is easier than it might seem, if you’ve never tried it.) After I wash my hands in a men’s room, I dry my hands on a paper towel and then grip the door handle through the towel. If my nose itches, I scratch it against my upper arm. I’m going to use Michael Covington’s technique to keep rubbing alcohol with me while I’m out in public: Fill one of those little eyeglass-cleaner solution push-spray bottles with ordinary drugstore isopropyl alcohol. Squirt a little on your palm, rub it around for a few seconds, and it dries without stickyness. You can buy little belt-holsters for pepper-spray cans, and I suspect an alcohol spray bottle might behave a little better if it’s alone in a holster than in my pocket wrestling with my car keys and pocket change.

Although the locusts are still out there, the stores are starting to get wise by placing limits on purchases of certain popular items, like toilet paper, paper towels, eggs, bread, milk, etc. Fry’s set this up over the weekend. We went to Safeway yesterday and whereas there are still a lot of empty shelves, there weren’t as many locusts and their carts weren’t especially full. (We haven’t braved Costco yet.) My guess is that everybody who intended to fill their chest freezers has already filled them. We bought two packages of boneless pork chops, some dental floss and a tube of Pepsodent. The supply chain is still out there, and once people realize that civil order isn’t going to collapse, they may return to their accustomed shopping habits.

Then again, there’s another possible explanation for hoarding, which occurred to me once I began hearing about municipalities shutting down restaurants, bars, libraries, concert halls, movie theaters, and so on. People may be afraid of government-enforced quarantine. This is happening in other countries, especially Italy. How far the feds could take it here is an interesting question. I don’t see federal involvement as a likely option, especially now that the decisions are being made at the local level. Rumors have it that Phoenix will shut down restaurants here in a day or two. If it happens, it happens. We go out to eat on average once a month anyway.

Nobody’s suggesting that we shut down grocery stores, nor prevent people from shopping for groceries and prescriptions.

The real issue with shutting down “non-essential” businesses, of course, is that businesses without customers will go under. I don’t know what the solution to that is. Restaurants that do drive-through and carry-out will get a lot better at it, and restaurants that don’t do it will learn how in a big hurry. Government isn’t always behind such things; just yesterday McDonald’s announced that it would close seating areas in all company-owned restaurants. What bars are going to do is far less clear. I’m all for flattening the pandemic curve. What I don’t think is a good idea is flattening the economy.

Another question occurred to me last night: To what extent can a CPAP machine sub for a medical ventilator? The adaptive kind (like mine) may be less useful than the ones where you dial in the inches of pressure you want, and that’s how much the machine pumps. (There may be a setting on APAP machines for fixed pressure, and I’ll investigate that later today.)

So we’re kicking the beachball around in the backyard for the dogs to chase, reading, writing, working on the garden, pulling weeds, and so on. Life continues. I’m less worried about the virus itself than about government screwups that make things worse. Government is incompetent because there are no penalties for incompetence. If the penalty for screwing things up were a jail term or a $100,000 fine, I’ll bet that government would work a lot better.

It is to dream, alas.


  1. APAP machines do indeed have the capability of functioning as CPAP machines. Just set the minimum pressure to your prescribed pressure. Whether you could use them as ventilators, I have no idea. I know when they’re talking about ventilators they’re also talking oxygen, so this would likely have to be in a clinical setting. Although if you happened to own an oxygen generator…

    1. My ResMed S10 has the ability to squirt oxygen into the air stream. Oxygen may or may not be in short supply. My apnea is quite mild (especially since I lost weight in my face and neck) so I’ve never looked into it. It’s another issue on my to-be-researched list.

  2. TRX says:

    Back in ancient times you had little welding bottles of compressed oxygen. Now they have home-grade “oxygen concentrators”.

    The concentrators use a fairly nifty technology; it’s essentially an osmotic membrane that separates nitrogen on one side and oxygen on the other. It was originally developed by Caterpillar for over-the-road trucks as a sort of passive supercharger. I don’t know if they ever went live with it, but the next place I heard of them was as add-ons for air compressors. The fancy tire shops that charge extra for “nitrogen fill” in your tires (usually with a snazzy green valve stem cap) separated nitrogen from ambient air instead of buying it in pressure bottles. Then they started showing up in “home health equipment.”

  3. Dave Morgereth says:

    You found rubbing alcohol? 🙂

    1. Yup. In our medicine cabinet. We always have some handy for sanitizing fever thermometers. The bottle is about 3/4 full. That’ll have to do until I find a store that has some.

      1. Dave Morgereth says:

        I’m an old Boy Scout, so we have it as well, but ours is only half-full. The stores here (San Diego) are pretty much barren of anything that kills viruses, but we’ve got the rubbing alcohol and a full bottle of Chlorox, so I think we’ll be ok.

  4. Jason Kaczor says:

    Hi Jeff…

    So – I have been wondering the same thing about my BIPAP machine.

    Last week, we started watching a Netflix documentary series, which was released in January, helpfully titled: Pandemic …

    One thing I noticed, was that in some of the sections, showing people being treated in other countries (I think it was India), I noticed that the facemask they had the patient using was hooked-up to a… Resmed machine.

    So… better than nothing, I guess.

    Fingers-crossed, I have weak lungs because of a condition I had as a child (only 6 known cases in Canada at the time, 5 of them died…) – if I get a regular cold, it lasts for 6-8 weeks, so I am not looking forward to getting this one…

  5. Tom says:

    Isolating only those with positive COVID-19 tests makes sense. However, there are simply not enough tests.

    Why weren’t more tests manufactured and stockpiled earlier?

    If only…

  6. Vince says:

    Jeff, just a thought. I’ve been a semi constant reader of yours since maybe 2003. It occurred to me that most readers have heard a fair bit about Carol but haven’t heard from her. I’m curious whether it might be an interesting idea to have a blog post written by her?

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