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Pandemic Life by Robert Greenberg

Photographer Robert Greenberg, who lives outside Washington, D.C., has captured some haunting black and white shots of life during the Covid-19 pandemic.  We all seen the masks, the covered faces, the looks of resignation and wariness in the eyes, the slumped shoulders, and safe distance between people.  Bob’s photographs put a partially concealed human face on the tragedy, as well as the despair of shuttered stores and lives and the emptiness of streets in a time when we dread continued isolation and pray for a return to normalcy.  I am offering these photos without comment.  They speak for themselves.



















Photographs courtesy of Robert Greenberg.  Copyright 2020.  All rights reserved.


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April 13, 2020. Covid-19 continues to ravage our country

April 13, 2020.  During the past month, Covid-19 has galloped along, infecting more than 1.9 million people globally and killing 118,623.  The United States has 572,587 cases that have been counted, but because testing has been so inadequate (and remains inadequate), the exact number of infected people in America is unknown.  Likewise, more than 23,000 Americans have been declared dead because of the novel coronavirus, but that number is also suspect because it doesn’t not include people who may have died at home of the disease.  The economy is in free fall because so many businesses have been shut down.  Virtually all restaurants are take-out only, and all gatherings of people over a very small number have been banned.  None of the major league sport are playing, schools have been shuttered, retail stores are empty, and the disease is spreading rapidly among the military, firefighters, and police.  Most distressing is the situation at hospitals.  In areas hardest hit, hospitals are operating like third-world countries–with ragged staff, too few supplies, and precious few ventilators for the most seriously ill.  Trump and his allies continue to blame everyone but themselves for their slow response to the crisis and their inept handling of it since it began, but it’s clear to anyone who’s conscious that Trump has mismanaged this crisis from the start.  Initially, he dismissed the threat, saying that only a few Americans would become infected and claiming that a “miracle” would occur to wipe out the virus.  In his ignorance and arrogance, he has continually deflected criticism, given ventilators as political favors to Republicans like Cory Gardner of Colorado, and claimed that while he saw himself as a wartime president, he and the Federal government were “backups” to the states.  His horrendous misjudgments have cost lives, yet his staunchest supporters continue to think he walks on water.  His administration is a colossal farce amidst one of the greater natural disasters of the modern era.

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Nationalism and Its Malcontents

The cold wind of intolerance, authoritarianism, and nationalism is blowing across America and Europe. The unexpected rise of Trump as the presumptive Republican nominee in the United States and the recent political stirrings in Europe are oddly built of the same cloth. Intolerance of non-citizens, the belief that present governments have subordinated their countries best interests for outsiders, and the need for new leaders, whose view of their countries best interests seems to call for an upending of the joint efforts to build a collective defense system like NATO and an economic union like the EU. They are united in their belief that each individual country should do what’s best for their sovereignty, rather than build co-operative relations between countries.

—HuffPost, December 6, 2017


When Donald Trump vowed to “Make America Great Again!” he was echoing the campaign of Ronald Reagan in 1980. Back then voters sought renewal after the failures of the Carter presidency. This month they elected Mr. Trump because he, too, promised them a “historic once-in-a-lifetime” change.

But there is a difference. On the eve of the vote, Reagan described America as a shining “city on a hill.” Listing all that America could contribute to keep the world safe, he dreamed of a country that “is not turned inward, but outward—toward others.”  Mr. Trump, by contrast, has sworn to put America First. Demanding respect from a freeloading world that takes leaders in Washington for fools, he says he will “no longer surrender this country or its people to the false song of globalism.”  Reagan’s America was optimistic:  Mr. Trump’s is angry.

—The Economist, November 19, 2016


Nationalism is on the rise across the world.  From Trump’s victory in 2016 to Brexit to Neo-Nazi resurgence in Germany to anti-immigrant politicians gaining power in Italy, Turkey, Greece and other nations, we are seeing a new wave of nationalism, the strongest since Hitler rose to power in Germany in the 1920s.  In a rally in Houston in 2018, Trump said, “You know what I am? I’m a nationalist, O.K.? I’m a nationalist. Nationalist! Use that word! Use that word!”  At the same rally, he denounced those who disagree with him. “Radical Democrats want to turn back the clock” to restore the “rule of corrupt, power-hungry globalists.  You know what a globalist is, right? You know what a globalist is? A globalist is a person that wants the globe to do well, frankly, not caring about our country so much. And you know what? We can’t have that.”

Trump at a political rally
Donald Trump leads his malcontents at a political rally

As many pundits and presidential historians have noted, Donald Trump is the most divisive president in recent memory.  He rose to power and maintains it by railing against those he sees as “evil others”:  immigrants, liberals, Democrats, members of the so-called “deep state.”  Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines nationalism as “loyalty and devotion to a nation, especially a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups.”  Although Trump equates his brand of nationalism with patriotism, and he often wraps himself in the American flag and clothes his rallies in the stars and stripes, the dictionary says that patriotism, while emphasizing strong feelings for one’s country, “does not necessarily imply an attitude of superiority.”

The Evil Others

There is nothing wrong with having pride in one’s country, of course, but nationalism, unlike patriotism, veers toward an identity of exclusivity that leads nationalists to invent “evil others.”  For there to be an “us,” which nationalists value above all, there must be a “them,” others who are “not us,” who are different because they don’t share the nationalists’ heritage, birthrights, ethnicity, norms, values, or other aspects of their national identity.  When the people who share this national identity feel threatened or disenfranchised, it is easy to blame the “evil others” for their woes, and those others become excluded, feared, hated, and possibly repressed, outlawed, and exterminated.

Following a humiliating defeat in World War I, Germany faced burdensome war reparation payments and rampant inflation, which left ordinary Germans scrambling to survive.  The German government was inept, and communists were agitating for a socialist revolution.  Those circumstances opened the door for nationalist agitator Dietrich Eckart, his acolyte and successor Adolf Hitler, and their National Socialist Workers Party.  Hitler understood the mood of the nation and stepped in promising to “make Germany great again.”  He appealed to national pride and blamed Germany’s woes on its traditional enemies (Britain and France), on the communists, and, increasingly, on the Jews.  He found populist footing with his master race identity card and gained power by promising to restore Germany to its former glory.

As Hitler’s power grew, German politicians who might have opposed him were silenced by the fervor of his supporters, particularly those in the SA, the Nazi paramilitary arm, and an improving economy.  As the world emerged from a general depression in the early 1930s, the German economy improved.  Ordinary Germans were able to find jobs and feed their families, and they felt renewed pride in their German identity.  The foundation of Hitler’s rise to power was his ability to capitalize on the grievances of common people during a period of social stress and to blame Germany’s problems on enemies outside Aryan racial identity.  When he’d gained enough power to subvert Germany’s legal systems and not be challenged by the populace, he was able to take the next logical step—to purge the German nation (and then other nations) of undesirables (Jews, gypsies, communists, the mentally ill or infirm, and others he and his regime considered subhuman).

Nationalism is not inherently extremist, but when it is leavened by fear, resentment, and hate, it can twist violently to the right.  Movements to the left can be equally dangerous—witness the

Illustration of an elephant (Republication) punching a donkey (Democrat)
Nationalism requires enemies–an “us” versus “them,” an evil other to blame for all woes

purges by Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot.  Radical political swings to either extreme can yield polarization, hatred of the other, and societal acquiescence toward or participation in the elimination of perceived threats to the prevailing body politic.  When the dominant ideology in a state supplants the state, and when opposition to extremist rhetoric is silenced or suppressed, then the unthinkable can become thinkable as the norms that have governed moral and political right and wrong are perverted, and the new normal permits action against minorities or others who oppose the leader.

To be sure, every society includes a full spectrum of people who support the nationalist leader, on the one hand, or oppose that leader on the other.  Most people fall in the vast middle of the bell curve.  They are just trying to live their lives, go to work, raise their children, and pursue their version of happiness.  They have no strong political leanings or they don’t care enough, in normal circumstances, to become involved.  Given the opportunity, they will remain apolitical so long as their lives are essentially okay.  But nationalist drum banging and patriotic rhetoric (“Make American Great Again!”) can bleed the vast center and enjoin those middle-of-the-roaders, primarily the working class, in a movement to the right if the nationalist leader can persuade them that the threats he rails against are real (immigrants will take your jobs, liberals will allow criminals to roam the streets, other nations will cheat us or not pay their fair share for the common defense, climate change zealots will destroy industries like coal, Democrats will weaken our national defense, and so on).

Trumpian Conservatism

The danger of Trumpian conservatism comes not from the arch conservatives who support him because he will help them achieve their goals, no matter how repugnant they find the man personally.  The danger comes from the right-leaning middle who are inclined to believe the propaganda Trump spouts because they are concerned about their jobs, don’t perceive a brighter future for their children, or fear that immigrants and ethnic minorities will pervert their national identity.  White nationalists are especially fearful that immigrants and minorities will gain political clout as their numbers grow and will fundamentally change the way the nation looks, feels, and votes.  The malcontents of nationalism are the people from the vast middle who’ve taken MAGA to heart and support Trump despite his lies, boorish behavior, brazen attacks on opponents, and conspicuous displays of wealth and privilege, even as he proclaims himself the friend of working Americans.

Photo of a small Latino boy behind a metal fence
One of Trump’s Evil Others: an immigrant boy grasping a metal fence

Trump has steered these malcontents to the right by polarizing the country, wrapping his racism and nationalism is the flag of patriotism, and demonizing everyone who disagrees with him or points out his lies (hence, his relentless attacks on mainstream media, whom he calls “the enemy of the people”).  Trump’s brand of nationalism doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, but he understands that those who’ve bought his nationalist rhetoric aren’t up to scrutinizing him.  He has them in his pocket, just as Hitler had a growing percentage of average Germans in his pocket as he fervently spoke about the “evil others” who were keeping Germany down.

German nationalism in the 1920s and 30s should not be seen as an aberration but as a warning.  Don’t imagine that it couldn’t happen in America.  Already, the vast majority of hate-driven crimes since Trump’s election has been right-wing violence.  Anti-Semitic and racial animus are on the rise.  Hate speech is growing.  Increasingly, there is a divide between “us” and “them,” driven largely by Trump’ divisive rhetoric.  Trump is stirring the pot of malcontent, and he’s doing it for the basest of reasons:  to stay in power.  Trump has not been able to organize violence against his enemies, but he’s attempted it, notably in his rallies when he’ encouraged supporters to beat up protestors.  Robert Reich, former labor secretary under Bill Clinton, wrote, “The President of the United States openly identifies himself as a nationalist, calls for the jailing of his political opponents, attacks the press & cozies up to dictators, while Republicans in Congress stand idly by.”

Trump’s brand of nationalism, aided and abetted by his malcontents and Congressional Republicans who appease them, has not yet become full-scale demagogy and violent nationalism, but it has that potential.

Nationalism in the Age of Covid-19

On March 23, 2020, in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Trump tweeted:  “THIS IS WHY WE NEED BORDERS!”  As the Covid-19 pandemic is accelerating in our country, his instinct is to protect America by keeping the Evil Others outside.  Secure our borders!  Build walls!  Allow no intruders to get in!  Isolate the country from the rest of the world!

Except this intruder, a virus so small it can’t even be seen in detail under a microscope, is incredibly infectious and would have gotten into our country no matter how strong our borders were or how high the walls.  To have prevented Covid-19 from reaching us, Trump would have had to seal the borders the moment the virus emerged, not months later.  He would have had to stop all travel into and out of the country and suspend all trade—an obviously impossible feat even for a president as grandiose in his puffery as Donald Trump.

The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted the march of Trumpian nationalism by exposing the folly of Fortress America.  The virus respects no boundaries or walls and is an insidious, unseen enemy.  Trump has been trying to label it the “Chinese virus” and thus blame an “other” for a national crisis that is exposing his failings as a leader, but as the numbers of infected and dead rise, it’s clear to everyone, even FOX News, that the “Us versus Them” strategy Trump relies on to rally his base is ringing hollow in the face of a global disease.

World map showing coronavirus spread
Covid-19 respects no boundaries, walls, borders, or political barriers. Its insidious spread shows the folly of Trump’s Fortress America

In the fight against this pandemic, battle lines can’t be drawn between liberals and conservatives, or Democrats and Republicans, or immigrants and America-born citizens.  We are all in this together.  To win the fight, people from every part of the human and political spectrum must cooperate, share resources, and sacrifice across the board.  So, for the moment, Trump’s polarization has been swept away by the rising tide of the infection and its impacts on the healthcare system, food and medical supply chains, and the stock market.  When we emerge from this crisis, we will likely see a very different country, and Trump’s nationalism will only triumph if he can convince the survivors that to prevent further pandemics we need to build higher walls, keep more people out of the country, and treat immigrants, particularly illegals, as mortal enemies.

It’s difficult to imagine at this point how Trump will later try to spin the Covid-19 pandemic so that it’s the Democrats’ fault or a failing of Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.  Trump is at the helm of the federal government, and his ship has been foundering as the crisis deepens.  He is trying now to re-write history and present himself as fully in command of this crisis, but his earlier dismissals of Covid-19 and its seriousness are on tape and will no doubt be replayed—as they should be—when the election nears.  No nationalist, no matter how grand his boasts or how loudly he tries to reshape history, can outrun a silent, unseen menace that has no regard for politics or respect for politicians.

To promote his brand of nationalism, Trump needs enemies, and with the presidential election coming in November, he will surely try to lay the blame on the Democrats.  To win, Donald Trump needs his loyal base, his mass of malcontents, his true believers, who numbly agree when a FOX spokesman declares that the coronavirus epidemic is “a Democratic hoax,” as Sean Hannity did just a few weeks ago.  Trump needs his malcontents to believe in the dream and the lie of Fortress America and to believe that all their grievances lie at the hands of Evil Others whom, they claim, are less patriotic and less righteous than they.  Trump thrives on division, not unity, and that will not serve him well as Covid-19 continues its unbiased devastation of people, our medical system, and the economy.

Nationalists like Hitler and Trump don’t need truth on their side as long as they have supporters whose grievances make them gullible.    They just need a well-oiled propaganda machine, which Trump has, and media outlets like FOX and Twitter available to trumpet their messages.  And they need a mass of malcontents who are willing to believe that the world really is an “Us versus Them” struggle and that the people the leader identifies as enemies—Jews, communists, Democrats, liberals, the Deep State, the mainstream press, immigrants—are to blame for all of their woes and are mortal threats to their national identity.


Photo credits:  Nazi flagbearers:  Everett Historical; Trump rally:  Shot Stalker @; elephant punching donkey:  Susilo Hidayatk @; boy behind metal fence:  tcareob72 @; Coronavirus:  ID 174295771 © Buddhilakshan4 |


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Covid-19 Bulletin #5


By now, the coronavirus pandemic is firmly embedded in our national consciousness.  The pandemic has infected well over 150,000 people globally, including–at last count–3,000 Americans and around 60 deaths.  The numbers keep climbing dramatically, and no one knows how many people are actually infected because our country lacks adequate testing.  Trump and his administration have tried to blame the lack of testing on Obama, but we all know this is not true.  Trump’s failure as a leader is entirely to blame.  Nonetheless, here we are with a dramatically changed life.  Most sporting events have been cancelled, along with concerts, museums, Broadway, cinemas, conferences, Disneyland, and other large gatherings of any kind.  Schools have been closed in many states, including NYC, the country’s largest school system.  Universities and colleges are moving from classrooms to online education.  France has closed restaurants, bars, cafes, and clubs across the entire country.  Italy is on lock down, and Spain has ordered its citizens to stay home.  Many companies in the U.S. have told their employees to work virtually.  Most cruise lines have shut down, and airlines have cancelled flights or restricted them to certain locations.  The lines at Costco and WalMart stretch around the block, and many store shelves are empty.  It’s nearly impossible to find hand sanitizer, toilet paper, paper towels, and cleaning products like Lysol and Clorox.  In one of the grocery stores in my hometown, men were seen stuffing grocery carts with nothing but bags of potato chips.  It seems the world has gone mad–and we aren’t anywhere near the peak of this pandemic yet.  


This is Covid 19 Bulletin #5 from Dr. Sheila Sund.  The news about Covid-19 has been so ubiquitous that the content of Dr. Sund’s bulletins has now become glaringly familiar to anyone who is paying attention.  However, it is to her credit that Dr. Sund began sounding the alarm weeks before the general public became aware of the potential severity of this outbreak.

Dr. Sheila Sund is a retired hospice and palliative care physician in Oregon.  She became involved with disaster medicine following the H1N1 influenza outbreak in 2009. As part of a statewide workgroup, she helped developed Oregon’s Crisis Care Guidance—guidelines to direct healthcare response during a public health crisis such as pandemic or mass trauma. She served as Director of the Marion County Medical Reserve Corps and physician representative on Oregon’s Region 2 Coalition for Healthcare Preparedness. She has given over one hundred presentations to community, healthcare, and business groups throughout the Pacific Northwest on topics ranging from earthquake preparedness to pandemic response.


Chinook CERT Plus – COVID-19 Bulletin #5, March 9, 2020


Don’t focus on numbers

“Marion County confirms first case of COVID-19.” “Cases in Oregon double in one day.” When we see this, it triggers an acute feeling of alarm. But these numbers tell us nothing new—they reflect increased testing, not increased disease spread. That doesn’t mean the risk isn’t real. It’s just confirmation of what we should have already known—COVID-19 is “here.”

So far, we have no way of knowing where we are on the growth curve – day 5, 15 or 30. Our best clue will be increasing cases identified in Marion County hospitals. In the meantime, your best action remains hand washing, disinfecting, and minimizing time spent in large groups, particularly if you are older or have underlying medical problems.

Most importantly, if you feel sick, STAY HOME, even if you suspect it’s just a cold or the flu! If possible, isolate yourself even from family members until symptom free for 24 hours.


We’re all going to get it, so let’s just get it over with. FALSE!

I’m hearing this sentiment more and more, but it is incorrect. It’s true that most people will get through this pandemic with just a week or two of illness. But in the meantime, COVID-19 could decimate the population over age 70.

Age US population Fatality rate Potential deaths
70-79 23 million 8% 1.8 million
80 and above 13 million 15% 1.9 million

(Based on current COVID-19 estimates)

For comparison, annual seasonal flu deaths in the US 2010-2019 ranged from 12,000 – 61,000.

Most deaths occur after 1 or more weeks in the hospital. So even if you feel callous about this specific demographic group, their use of medical resources will affect everyone. The more we can slow the spread of coronavirus, the better off everyone will be.


Mitigation Instead of Containment

The goal of mitigation is to decrease the expected number of new cases infected by one current case (the reproductive number). If it drops to less than one, the pandemic fades away. In practical terms, mitigation is anything that decreases interpersonal contact in the community, including cancellation of group gatherings, work and school closures, isolation of known cases, and even limitation of travel or quarantine of entire communities.

Yet we can’t really enforce mitigation in this country. Ultimately, it comes down to individuals choosing to put the good of the community over their personal interests, despite economic or social hardship.

If someone is exposed to a confirmed case, they may be instructed to implement one of the following measures immediately. Prepare yourself and your family now!

Exposed, but no “close contact” AND no symptoms:

  • Social isolation – no group gatherings, maintain 6 feet boundary from others. Shopping allowed.
  • Self-monitoring – watch for any signs of illness, possible required temperature checks
  • Active monitoring – public health assumes responsibility for conditions of your isolation and monitoring

Exposed with close contact, but no symptoms:

  • Quarantine, usually at home, for 14 days. No contact with family members or pets. Use separate bedroom and bathroom. Wear mask whenever other people are present. If symptoms develop, 14-day clock resets.

Close contact: being within 6 feet of an identified case for “prolonged” time OR having direct exposure to their respiratory secretions (e.g. coughed or sneezed on).

Exposed and symptomatic, or become symptomatic during self-isolation or quarantine:

  • Isolation, usually at home, for 14 days minimum, under same criteria as quarantine.


Other Preparedness Tips

There is no need for a run on the grocery stores or Costco, but if there are things you need or chores you should be doing, it’s time to stop procrastinating. Do them now. The more “caught up” on life you are, the better prepared you will be for any sudden changes.

Manage COVID-19 anxiety!

  • Limit time spent reading about and planning for COVID -19
  • Use reliable sources and avoid social media discussions
  • Continue to follow normal routines as much as possible
  • Take time for reality checks:  What is happening in your life now, not what may happen in the future
  • Do deep breathing or meditation

Perform meaningful actions:

  • Prepare guest bedrooms
  • Organize emergency supplies
  • Think of enjoyable things to do even if social isolation imposed
    • Catch up on book reading
    • Time for home projects, crafts, or gardening
    • Family time
    • Time in nature
  • Address COVID-19 anxiety in kids and teens -what are they reading or hearing in school?
  • Share NPR’s “Just For Kids: A Comic Exploring The New Coronavirus


Photo credit:  ID 175225651 © Photovs |

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March 12, 2020. Seismic shifts in American life as Covid-19 spreads

March 12, 2020.  The stock market plummeted more than 2,000 points today, after a plunge of 1,400 points yesterday.  We are now officially in a Bear market, stocks having lost nearly all their increased value since Trump took office.  There are now more than 1,500 cases nationwide, with 40 deaths, and the numbers are growing significantly each day.  The truth is that no one knows how widespread the virus is because of inadequate testing, which Trump blames–once again–on the Obama administration.  Yesterday, Trump suspended all travel to the U.S. from every European country except the U.K., which, ironically, has more Covid-19 cases than most other countries in Europe.  Meanwhile:

  • The World Health Organization officially declared Covid-19 to be a pandemic.
  • Italy is on a total lock down.
  • France closed all schools today until further notice.
  • The states of Ohio and Maryland have closed all schools.
  • Broadway has closed all shows.
  • The NBA has suspended its season, as has Major League Soccer and the National Hockey League.
  • Disneyland is closed indefinitely.
  • Princess and Carnival cruise lines have suspended all cruises
  • More than 250 colleges and universities–including Durango’s Fort Lewis College–are suspending onsite classes.  Henceforth until further notice, all classes will be held virtually.
  • The NCAA cancelled March Madness.
  • The PGA tour is proceeding without fans.
  • The NFL is cancelling is annual meeting.
  • Museums around the country are closing, and several movie premiers have been delayed.
  • NASCAR will hold races without fans.

These cancellations are just as of today.  More are expected as the nation braces for more Covid-19 impacts.


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March 9, 2020. Tumultuous day due to Covid-19: stock market plunge and Italy and Israel impose radical sanctions

March 9, 2020.  Today, the stock market plunged 2,000 points in one of its worst days in two decades.  Investors are fearful that Covid-19 will cause a global recession.  Meanwhile, the Saudis sparked an oil trade war with Russia, and the global oil market crashed.  Meanwhile, Israel has imposed a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine on anyone entering Israel, and CNN reports that Italy has now imposed a lock down on the entire country.  As Covid-19 continues to spread, the reactions from around the world are troubling, and the endgame on this situation is impossible to predict.

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March 8, 2020. U.S. Covid-19 cases pass 500

March 8, 2020.  As of today, there are 521 confirmed Covid-19 cases in the United States.  Twenty-one people have died, and the virus has now spread to 33 states and the District of Columbia.  The death toll is more than 3,500 people globally, with over 105,000 infections.  The Grand Princess cruise ship, with more than 3,500 guests on board has been isolated at sea but is now scheduled to dock at the Port of Oakland.  President Trump had not wanted the Grand Princess to dock, although it carried thousands of U.S. citizens, because allowing them back on U.S. soil would raise the number of infected Americans, and the optics for the president would look bad.

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Covid-19 Bulletin #4

This is Covid-19 Bulletin #4 from Dr. Sheila Sund.  Covid-19, which is the proper name for the coronavirus that is currently spreading around the world, is a far more dangerous virus than the flu (twenty times more lethal than the flu), and it is likely that the rate of infection is much greater than what is known and being reported by the media–because no one knows how widespread the infection actually is.  As of today (March 3, 2020), more than 130 Americans have been diagnosed with Covid-19, and ten have died.  The numbers are growing daily.

Dr. Sheila Sund is a retired hospice and palliative care physician in Oregon.  She became involved with disaster medicine following the H1N1 influenza outbreak in 2009. As part of a statewide workgroup, she helped developed Oregon’s Crisis Care Guidance—guidelines to direct healthcare response during a public health crisis such as pandemic or mass trauma. She served as Director of the Marion County Medical Reserve Corps and physician representative on Oregon’s Region 2 Coalition for Healthcare Preparedness. She has given over one hundred presentations to community, healthcare, and business groups throughout the Pacific Northwest on topics ranging from earthquake preparedness to pandemic response.


Chinook CERT Plus – COVID-19 Bulletin #4, March 6, 2020

COVID-19 vs Seasonal Flu

Without a doubt, seasonal flu is a huge health problem. United States experts estimate 32 million cases and 18 thousand deaths from flu – just this year!

But as a virus, flu is “nicer” than COVID-19. A flu patient on average infects only 1.3 other people vs COVID-19’s 2.3 people. Functional time lost from flu averages about 3.5 days, whereas patients with COVID-19 may be sick for 7-14 days. The hospitalization rate for flu in the United States sits around 1% and the death rate rarely exceeds 0.1 %, whereas worldwide estimates for COVID-19 currently stand at 15% hospitalized and 3.4% dying.

Although these numbers are definitely overestimated because of testing patterns, they are still much higher than flu. And while both illnesses are disproportionately bad for older, sicker people, COVID-19 also seems to sicken and kill younger people at higher rates than seasonal flu.

Most importantly, as a society, we’re “used” to flu. Healthcare systems are prepared for it and there’s a reasonably effective vaccine. >55% of the population is fully immune in any given year. Ultimately, most healthy people consider flu an annoyance, not a problem. But we are not used to COVID-19, it is spreading rapidly, and we are definitely not prepared.

Medical Surge from COVID-19

Many parts of the United States healthcare system are overburdened at baseline. They are not capable of handling a rapid increase in very sick patients from COVID-19.

Using Marion County, Oregon, as an example:

  • Licensed hospital beds:  ~550  (~500 at Salem Hospital, one of the four largest hospitals in Oregon).
  • Average occupancy Salem Hospital (2018):   80%  (During flu season, this number can reach 100%).
  • Average “available extra beds” for COVID-19:  ~110.

If we assume 10% of patients require hospitalization, our “extra” beds could be filled by the time we have 1000 local cases (the current estimated number in Seattle).  Although that’s about 45 days from the first local infection, it’s potentially only 10-15 days from the time a local outbreak is first recognized. Care may also be limited by limited critical care beds, ventilators, sick hospital staff, and shortages of supplies and medications.

Meanwhile, at the clinic level, staffing drops from illness, quarantine—and parents staying home with kids when schools closed. At some point, healthcare for all patients could deteriorate, even if they don’t have COVID-19. And that’s one big reason why I personally am far more concerned about COVID-19 than seasonal flu!

Community Spread of COVID-19 – What should you do?

We will not know when COVID-19 arrives here. In fact, it might be here already, given the major outbreak a few hours north. Once in the community, it will spread. Most of the time, you will not know who is sick. It just becomes a game of odds—and your personal approach to risk!

Example: Marion County, Oregon – population ~ 350,000


Days into cluster

~Number of cases

~% of county infected

Day 0 (1st patient)


Day 30



Day 45



Day 60



Day 75 65000



No hospitalized patients have been identified in Marion County yet, so we are probably earlier than day 30 which means your odds of picking it up in the community are extremely low. Once it is identified, there may be another 30 days before community risk starts to climb significantly.

Risk will always be higher from what you’ve touched than who you are with—an object carries the risk of everyone who touched it since the last time it was disinfected.


COVID-19 Caution Spectrum – it’s your choice where you fall on it

  • Gambler:  Go about your business normally. The odds are in your favor.
  • A Little Cautious:  Follow recommended hand washing and avoid hand contact with others.
  • More Cautious:  Add cleaning and disinfecting routines.  (Particularly objects and settings where things are touched by many people.)
  • Getting Anxious:  Add avoidance of settings with multiple people within 6 feet for >15 minutes.  The greater the number of people together, the greater the risk
  • Quite Anxious:  Add gloves in stores, no group gatherings, work from home
  • Paranoid:  Minimize contact with people

For significant underlying medical conditions or over age 80, move up the caution spectrum!


            Do not work. Do not go to school. Minimize contact with family members.

            Wear a mask around others if available (keeps you from spewing germs).

Many cases of COVID-19 will be mild and symptomatically similar to flu and other viral illnesses, yet much more contagious. You can’t tell if you have COVID-19 or a different infection, but you could be spreading it if you go out in public.

If everyone with mild symptoms stays home until better, community spread will slow.


Photo credit:  ID 174295771 © Buddhilakshan4 |

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March 7, 2020. Covid-19 cases rose to 377 in the U.S.

March 7, 2020.  The incidence of Covid-19 infections keeps rising steadily.  Today, it reached 377.  The travel industry is being hit hard, especially cruise lines, but all major airlines are cutting back on flights.  Major events involving large crowds are being cancelled globally, and small businesses in the U.S. are being affected by supply chain problems (especially where they obtain raw materials and products from China) and declining customers in their local markets.  It is likely that layoffs in many industries are forthcoming (e.g., hotels, restaurants, theatres, airports, sporting events, clubs–any service businesses that rely on customers coming into their location).

Meanwhile, Trump and his aides (like Kellyanne Conway) keep reassuring the public that the situation is contained.  Clearly, it is not.

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March 6, 2020. Global Covid-19 infections now surpass 100,000 globally

March 6, 2020.  Globally, more than 100,000 people have now been reported with Covid-19, and more than 3,000 people have died.  In the U.S., there are more than 200 cases in 20 states.  Meanwhile, the Trump administration is trying to downplay the situation, saying that it’s well under control.  Although globally, the death rate from the virus is somewhere between 2-3%, Trump said his “hunch” is that it’s actually less than 1%.  In a recent rally, Trump claimed that coronavirus is a Democratic hoax, and one of his supporters said yesterday that she doesn’t believe coronavirus exists.  Unfortunately, viruses don’t listen to political propaganda and don’t care about lies and misdirection.  This virus will continue to spread and may or may not result in a global pandemic, no matter what Trump and his cronies assert.

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Covid-19 Bulletin #3

This is Covid-19 Bulletin #3 from Dr. Sheila Sund.  Covid-19, which is the proper name for the coronavirus that is currently spreading around the world, is a far more dangerous virus than the flu (twenty times more lethal than the flu), and it is likely that the rate of infection is much greater than what is known and being reported by the media–because no one knows how widespread the infection actually is.  As of today (March 3, 2020), more than 130 Americans have been diagnosed with Covid-19, and ten have died.  The numbers are growing daily.

Dr. Sheila Sund is a retired hospice and palliative care physician in Oregon.  She became involved with disaster medicine following the H1N1 influenza outbreak in 2009. As part of a statewide workgroup, she helped developed Oregon’s Crisis Care Guidance—guidelines to direct healthcare response during a public health crisis such as pandemic or mass trauma. She served as Director of the Marion County Medical Reserve Corps and physician representative on Oregon’s Region 2 Coalition for Healthcare Preparedness. She has given over one hundred presentations to community, healthcare, and business groups throughout the Pacific Northwest on topics ranging from earthquake preparedness to pandemic response.


Chinook CERT Plus – COVID-19 Bulletin #3, March 3, 2020

COVID-19 in Oregon and Washington and my concerns about testing

As of today, Oregon has identified three cases of COVID-19, with twenty-seven in Washington. Many are thought to be community acquired. But if you look closer, descriptions of the identified cases are all either:

1) hospitalized with severe illness (including death) or

2) known contacts of other cases.

Despite the risk of community spread, the actual number of tests for coronavirus is quite low—only 25 in Oregon since the first community case was identified on February 28. It is not a problem with testing availability. Oregon can now run 80 tests a day and Washington up to 500.

Instead, state health officials are still following CDC criteria for testing:

    1.  known contacts with fever and signs of lower respiratory illness
    2.  travel from affected areas plus fever, signs of lower respiratory illness, and hospital
    3.  no known contact but fever and severe lower respiratory illness (ie critical care)


My opinion:

When testing is limited to these criteria, it is impossible to determine if COVID-19 is spreading in the community:

1) If each patient only infects two others (current estimates), the likelihood of finding both those “two cases” by testing a limited number of contacts is low.

2) Limiting testing to critically ill patients will miss 95% of cases who never get that sick.

Even worse is the danger of “losing” healthcare workers with this approach to testing.

Critically ill patients average 3-7 days in the hospital before testing is performed—yet are infectious the entire time! Dozens of hospital staff from Kaiser Westside in Hillsboro are now quarantined at home after the initial Oregon case was identified in their facility. Similar quarantines are being implemented at other hospitals around the country.

An additional 10% of infections will be hospitalized but never tested by current criteria—thus never identified as contagious.

Besides being unfair, the loss of healthcare workers can seriously impede our ability to respond to outbreaks of COVID-19. In turn, this could lead to a higher overall fatality rate from COVID-19, as well as affecting availability of healthcare for everyone, infected or not.

(Sorry for the rant, but this has caused me more alarm than anything else about COVID-19 so far!)


Preparations for community spread of COVID-19

At work:

  • Desktops, tabletops, and counter tops.  Clean and disinfectant (wipes or spray) daily when sitting down
  • Repeat daily – more often if used by more than one person.  Disinfectant should stay wet for several minutes
  • Door handles, phones, keyboards, other objects used jointly:  disinfect daily
  • Avoid handshakes, hugs, and other physical contact with coworkers
  • In meetings, position yourself at least 6 feet away from others when possible.  If not possible, orient yourself away from other people’s faces.   Corner or wall locations can decrease shared “face space.”
  • Go to restroom every hour and wash hands – set an alarm!
  • Also wash hands immediately before eating.




At home:

  • Consider establishing a “dirty area” at the entrance of your house.  Anything from outside the house stops here!
  • Shoes, purses, backpacks, grocery bags (unpack bags from dirty area)
  • Avoid setting anything from outside on counter tops.
  • Groceries and supplies go immediately into cupboards.
  • Thorough hand washing:

As soon as you enter and set down “dirty” things

After putting away purchases

After cooking (and touching “dirty” things) and before you ea’

  • Clean and disinfect tables and counters once or twice a day.  Only if they come in contact with dirty hands or dirty things
  • House door handles, car door handles, steering wheel, other “touchable” car areas:  disinfect once a day (or after outings)


If your coworker, friend, schoolmate, or housemate gets coronavirus, congratulations! You may win an immediate fourteen day (or more) forced home vacation, possibly with your family!

You’ll be expected to phone in your temperature and symptoms twice daily. Other than that, don’t expect much help. Better make that grocery run now for fourteen days of supplies. Quarantine could happen tomorrow!


Photo credit:  ID 173074233 © Akesin |

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Covid-19 Bulletin #2

This is Covid-19 Bulletin #2 from Dr. Sheila Sund.  Covid-19, which is the proper name for the coronavirus that is currently spreading around the world, is a far more dangerous virus than the flu (twenty times more lethal than the flu), and it is likely that the rate of infection is much greater than what is known and being reported by the media–because no one knows how widespread the infection actually is.

Dr. Sheila Sund is a retired hospice and palliative care physician in Oregon.  She became involved with disaster medicine following the H1N1 influenza outbreak in 2009. As part of a statewide workgroup, she helped developed Oregon’s Crisis Care Guidance—guidelines to direct healthcare response during a public health crisis such as pandemic or mass trauma. She served as Director of the Marion County Medical Reserve Corps and physician representative on Oregon’s Region 2 Coalition for Healthcare Preparedness. She has given over one hundred presentations to community, healthcare, and business groups throughout the Pacific Northwest on topics ranging from earthquake preparedness to pandemic response.


Chinook CERT Plus – COVID-19 Bulletin #2, March 1, 2020


Community Spread

Once a case of coronavirus is identified, it often appears that the infection rate starts climbing rapidly within a few days. But it’s important to realize these numbers don’t mean rapid spread of infection. The infection was already there. It’s only the testing that has rapidly increased—and therefore your awareness

Based on current data, a reasonable guess is that each infected person infects two others, and it takes about 5 days for each “generation” of the illness. With that, you can estimate local spread.

Day 0               1 person infected

Day 5               3 people infected

Day 10             7 people infected

Day 30             127 people infected

Day 60             8190 people infected

(Day 90 would be 524,160 cases—but the model breaks down before then!)

Unfortunately, it may take 60-120 infected patients in an area before one is sick enough to trigger suspicion and testing (hospitalized with serious illness). Once confirmed, public health starts testing all contacts (and eventually contacts of contacts) with even low-grade symptoms—and the positives roll in. Throughout this time, cases continue to double roughly every five days

My note: I find it comforting that Seattle has reported only one death so far. Given the likelihood that Covid-19 has been spreading there for weeks, this seems remarkably low. If real, perhaps the serious illness and death rate will be much lower in the United States than reported elsewhere.


Social distancing

“Social distancing” is the main way pandemics are controlled. If human contact decreases enough to allow less than one new infection for each current case, the pandemic will gradually fade away.

Local and state governments choose which social distancing requirements to implement (which means it could vary a lot from community to community).  The first step is usually quarantine of groups with known exposure to the virus. Closure of schools and cancellation of events and gatherings are common next steps. The level of quarantine seen in China would be unusual in the United States, but this is uncharted territory and it’s hard to predict how people will respond.


My Pandemic Preparedness Supplies

  • Liquid hand soap – lots of it.  Does not need to be “antibacterial.”  Bar soap not recommended – “germs” live on bar surfaces and cracks.
  • Paper towels.  For hand drying and for surface cleaning/disinfection.  Single sheets work better than rolls, but are not essential
  • Bottle of bleach

            Unopened bleach bottles should be used within the year, or they lose potency

            Freshly mixed bleach solutions must be used within 24 hours

            Good ventilation decreases chlorine smell

  • Good surface cleanser with detergent.  Doesn’t really matter what you use as long as it cleans both grease and dirt.
  • Oral digital thermometer.  Forehead and ear are not as accurate
  • Hand lotion – your hands will thank you!
  • Facial tissues for coughs, sneezes, and anytime you need to touch your face.
  • Spray bottles for bleach solution

Nice, but not essential

  • Disinfectant spray and wipes.  Sprays work best, but not practical for objects like phones, door handles, etc.  Ethanol or bleach based are most effective..  Homemade bleach solutions actually work better. They’re just inconvenient.
  • No touch trash cans
  • Hand sanitizer.  Not needed if washing hands frequently.
  • Ibuprofen for fever and symptom control
  • Cough drops
  • Disposable gloves for cleaning.  Can also wear in high-contamination environments like grocery stores

Disinfecting instructions

  1. WASH SURFACE FIRST. Disinfection does not work on dirty surfaces!
  2. Spray disinfectant enough to visibly wet all surfaces. Let air dry.

The longer the surface remains wet, the better!  Up to four minutes

Homemade bleach or commercial spray

  1. If spray disinfectant cannot be used, use a fresh wet disinfectant wipe.  Let air dry.

            Do not reuse disinfectant wipes

            Use new wipe if current one no longer thoroughly wets surface.

            Homemade bleach solution – use within 24 hours.  Common household bleach is 5-6% – mix 2 tablespoons with 2 cups water


Thanks to Dr. Sheila Sund for permission to reprint her work.

Photo credit:  ID 174166208 © |

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Covid 19 (Coronoavirus) Bulletin #1

Photo of a coronavirus

This is Covid 19 Bulletin #1 from Dr. Sheila Sund.  Covid 19, which is the proper name for the coronavirus that is currently spreading around the world, is a far more dangerous virus than the flu.  Despite what Donald Trump said on television several days ago, Covid 19 is twenty times more lethal than the flu, and it is likely that the rate of infection is much greater than what is known and being reported by the media–because no one knows how widespread the infection actually is.

Dr. Sheila Sund is a retired hospice and palliative care physician in Oregon.  She became involved with disaster medicine following the H1N1 influenza outbreak in 2009. As part of a statewide workgroup, she helped developed Oregon’s Crisis Care Guidance—guidelines to direct healthcare response during a public health crisis such as pandemic or mass trauma. She served as Director of the Marion County Medical Reserve Corps and physician representative on Oregon’s Region 2 Coalition for Healthcare Preparedness. She has given over one hundred presentations to community, healthcare, and business groups throughout the Pacific Northwest on topics ranging from earthquake preparedness to pandemic response.

On February 28, Dr. Sund published the following bulletin on Covid 19, and she has graciously allowed me to reprint it on this blog.  As she publishes future bulletins on Covid 19, I will reprint them here as well.  Stay tuned.


Chinook CERT Plus – COVID-19 Bulletin #1, February 28, 2020

How bad is Covid-19?

Based on evaluation of 72,000 cases in China:

“Mild” symptoms (not hospitalized): ~81%.   Mild cases can still be sick for up to 14 days

Serious illness (hospitalization): ~14%

Critically ill (intensive care): ~5%

Fatality rate ~2% overall.   < 1% if young and healthy, 14.8% if age 80 or above

My note: serious illness does not usually occur until the second week of the illness

Covid-19 is already a pandemic by the traditional epidemiology definition:

Uncontrolled spread of an infectious agent on at least two continents

My note: there are strong social/political/economic reasons why official organizations and governments avoid labeling something as a pandemic – even when it is!

Official case counts are misleading, both in the United States and internationally.  Patients are counted only if they have a positive test, yet:

  1. The availability of testing is limited in many places
  2. Testing is limited to the sickest patients or those with known case contact

Before Feb 27, a sick patient could only be tested in the United States if they had visited China or had contact with a known case.  On Feb 27, criteria were expanded to travel from six countries, but otherwise, patients without known exposure can still only be tested if they are not just hospitalized, but critically ill.

My note: Given the rapid spread of cases around the world, it seems highly likely there are already clusters of infection with community spread within the United States. However, with current testing limits, these will not be identified until someone within the cluster becomes critically ill (such a patient was identified just today in Lake Oswego). Given the typical time course of the illness, these patients will already have been infectious for at least seven days.


Personally, I am taking this illness very seriously. I implemented my family’s infection control plan this week, which affects four households (including one in Lake Oswego!). I’m working on putting it all in writing, and then will share with you. But in the meantime, here is the most important tip of all – WASH YOUR HANDS! (Read on.)





Hand washing instructions (yes, there is a correct way!)

1) Wet hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off tap, and apply soap.

2) Lather hands and rub front and back to wrists, between fingers, and under nails

3) Scrub hands for at least 20 second (hum “Happy Birthday” twice)

4) Turn faucet back on and rinse your hands well under clean, running water.

  5) Dry hands using a paper towel


Hand washing at home

Pump liquid soap at every sink

Does not need to be antibacterial

Use paper towels even at home during times of increased infection risk

Damp hand towels can harbor germs

Dispose of paper towels in non-touch trash can – foot pedal, magic hand wave.  Not inside cabinet

Use hand cream frequently


Hand washing in public

Gather paper towels before washing hands

Use one paper towel as barrier from counter – set other towels on it

          Wash hands as above, drying completely with paper towels

Avoid touching public surfaces after hand washing

Use paper towels to turn off sink, open trash cans, and open doors

Option: Ziplock bag with hand soap, paper towels, and hand sanitizer for public use.  Keep plastic bag “clean” – store inside purse/bag

No touch public surfaces – set on paper towel


When to wash hands in pandemic

Every 1-2 hours when out of home in public

Before leaving public location – avoid contaminating your car

          As soon as you enter house (touch as few things as possible first)

Before touching any food, including packaged snacks or restaurant food

After contact with potentially contaminated things in home (groceries and supplies, outside door knobs, shoes, backpacks/purses)

Toilet, etc – just like always


Hand sanitizer

Use only if you can’t wash your hands!  Why? You can’t disinfect something that is dirty!

Germs hide in oils and grime…and hands get dirty very quickly.

Sanitizers work best if hands are clean

Sanitizers must be at least 60% alcohol

          Rub gel over all surfaces of hands and fingers until dry (~20 seconds)


Photo credit:  Coronavirus (ID 171082256 © Dgmate |

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Our Man in Hong Kong-the Coronavirus Threat

Workers encased in plastic

Our Man in Hong Kong is Tim Wiseman, an American, a professional man who works for a multinational company.  Two years ago, after happily living and working in Colorado Springs for years, he accepted an overseas assignment with his firm in Asia.  A self-described Bumpkin, he began writing an email journal of his experiences, exploits, trials, and triumphs (surely there were some) as a stranger in a strange land.  In this series of posts, he describes what it’s like to be living in Hong Kong while the Coronavirus is spreading throughout Asia and parts of the rest of the world.  His accounts are humorous, as well as sobering, and he ends with an important message.

The Bumpkin Report — Living with a Potential Pandemic

January 28, 2020

When I moved to HK, one of my goals was to embrace more of an adventure lifestyle. To learn, travel, bumble (bumpkin-style) and generally explore and embrace this big ol’ world.  WOW.  I could not have predicted this type of adventure!!  First, I got to experience a full-on political revolution (Vive la revolution!!!) of the HK protests. Now, I get to experience living next to ground zero of a potential pandemic.

Zombie Apocalypse
First of all, I am extremely knowledgeable about infectious disease scenarios because I have seen every zombie movie, read every zombie book, and watched every episode of The Walking Dead.  All those exhaustive hours have not gone to waste.  Anyone who follows zombie scenarios knows THE most important consideration is…..are they SLOW zombies or FAST zombies? Can I get an AMEN!?  (Geoff, Caleb, Sam, Mikey – back me up here!)

Fortunately, Hong Kong has slow Coronavirus zombies. Slow zombies mean armor up (masks and hand sanitizer) and wait it out (stay in your apartment).

For those that don’t follow zombie movie . . . here is the situation on the ground.

In 2003, the SARS outbreak infected thousands and thousands and killed almost 300 hundred in Hong Kong, SARS is STILL spoken with a bit of fear and respect, therefore people here take the current situation very seriously.

Chinese New Year – Jan 24 to 29
Nearly 2 billion individual trips will be made during this 7-day Chinese New Year (CNY) holiday. It is THE holiday for China.  Think Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year rolled into one. This is terrible timing for a virus outbreak. Hundreds of thousands of Hong Kongers go back to mainland China to visit family. Then they will pour back over the border. This has everyone on high alert.

An interesting aside – there is a strict “family visiting formula” for CNY.  Day one of the holiday is designated to visit the husband’s family.  Day 2 is set aside to visit the wife’s family.  Day 3+ is reserved for extended family and then friends.

I was in the airport this weekend and 99% of people were wearing masks.  Hand sanitizer stations were set up everywhere and the temperature check station was in full operation. This is a good thing.

You’ve probably heard about the special masks that one should wear and that the global stocks are sold out. Fortunately, I had a nearly full box of masks left over from my cold last year so I didn’t have to do battle in the stores to get my supply.

However, get this! We are being told that when we throw away our disposable face masks in public that we need to tear or shred them because people will dig them out of the public trash cans, fold them, iron them and then repackage them to resell on the street.  I have no idea if this is a real thing or more of an urban myth.  Either way…ewww, gross!

Nearly empty shelves in stores
No hand sanitizer or face masks here–and sadly no limes for Gin and Tonic

Hand Sanitizer
I’ve been a one-man lecture series telling everyone that clean hands and antibacterial wipes are more important than the face masks. You rarely will be next to someone who coughs or sneezes on you, but you will definitely touch the train/bus/trolly/escalator/stair rail/elevator button that has been touched by 1,000 other people every hour.  This clean hand concept isn’t quite as well adopted as the masks, nonetheless all the hand sanitizer is sold out in stores as well. Fortunately, I had some prior stock from my cold last year and I did pick up some extra before the rush on the stores so I feel pretty well supplied. I also stocked up on bleach and cleaning supplies.

Empty Streets but not empty stores
Between the CNY holiday (everyone traveling) and the virus, the streets of Hong Kong are very quiet.  Even the traffic is diminished.  This is a good thing to prevent virus spreading. Walking around, you see 80%-90% of people are wearing masks.

I’ve also seen pictures of empty grocery stores making their way around social media.  This is 100% not true.  Masks and hand sanitizer, yes, but everything else is fine. Okay, my local store was out of limes for my gin and tonic and that was pretty tragic.

Work from home policy
The partners have been emailing back and forth the past few days and we decided on a work from home policy the rest of this week. This will give us a few more days to determine if things are going to get more serious or not. We are also documenting any travel (business or professional) for everyone as well as any visiting clients.

The button panels in every elevator that I’ve seen have been covered with sheets of plastic with a little sign.

Men playing poker using face masks as chips
Playing poker with masks as the chips

Many of the universities and schools have decided to keep closed until February 17.  As is well known, schools are giant germ factories. So this is a good thing as well.

And yet life goes on:
I’m still going out to dinner with friends, enjoying the city, and even went bowling with a bunch of friends the other day…and one of them was pregnant and she wasn’t too worried.  I’m even still hosting my poker night this weekend – but I will require mandatory hand washing!

In general, everyone is being diligent about prevention, but nobody I’ve come across is scared or panicked. I feel the same way- I’m paying close attention, but still living life (semi) normally.



February 24, 2020

Hello Bumpkin readers. I’m still alive and kicking!

But wow, I have dropped into the most amazing social experiment about human behavior!

Overall, things are moving along as normal as possible here.  We all wear our masks and carry hand sanitizer. I really appreciate how diligent the city has been and how serious everyone is taking it.  While the actual number of people infected is quite small, the transmission rate can be very high in such a densely populated place like HK.

As things have stabilized, life is sloooowly coming back into the city. The past month has been quite boring.  Most all social and public gathering have been cancelled. However, I was out every night last week with colleagues or friends and you could tell that places are getting busier.

Here is a random list of observations.

If you are interested in the local and global infection rate is…here are the nerdy data dashboards that we are all watching and have become the topic of conversation at every business and social gathering.

Schools Still Closed:
All schools, including University level, are still closed until mid-March.  I would not be surprised if that gets extended another few weeks just out of extra caution.  All schools are using virtual teaching techniques.  My friends with kids say that they meet with the teacher online, then do some homework and then connect again to discuss.  My friend who has a 6-year-old daughter said it’s not easy to get a bunch of 6-year-old’s to stay focused online for very long!

Business is Suffering:
Business overall is slowing down.  Many companies are reducing spending and cutting costs, and most all are impacted in some way from the virus.  Hotels, airlines, and restaurants are suffering the most.  Hong Kong restaurants are ALWAYS packed during lunch and dinner.  But today you may be one of only 3 or 4 tables and the rest are empty. In some ways it’s quite nice to just walk into any restaurant and get an open table without a reservation. But the food and beverage industry is taking a beating and places are cutting staff and even shutting down.  Airlines have cancelled dozens of flights every day.  The airport is very quiet.

Movie Theaters:
They were closed for a couple of weeks, but now you can go if you get your temperature checked and you wear your mask.  The theaters will seat every other row to keep space between patrons.

Workers encased in plastic
Workers encased in plastic (this is a joke but it’s not far from the truth)

Claustrophobic at work:
Our office has a MANDATORY policy of wearing a mask all day long at the office.  It’s quite claustrophobic.  You can’t breathe like normal.  Your glasses keep getting fogged up. Then when you put on your phone headset for calls and it can make you feel a bit smothered.  Gaaahhhh – can’t breathe!  Photo of office under plastic – this isn’t a real office – it was just for fun.

Panic Buying:
YES.  There is panic buying of toilet paper!  Can we be pragmatic for a moment?  One can technically get by without toilet paper.  That’s like number 74 on the list of survival supplies.  And for some reason it’s these little old Hong Kong ladies that are leading the panic buying charge.  They are slightly hunched over dragging 4-5 bags of toilet paper (each bag here is always 10-12 rolls). When the shipment comes in, they all race down to the store and clean it out.  So bizarre.  As for me, I accidentally walked into my local store the other day just as they stocked up and I now have enough TP to last a month!  I feel so wealthy! ?

Toilet Paper Theft:
Not kidding.  Here is an article from the Post about a knife point robbery of toilet paper.  Here is the extra funny part.  Halfway down the article there is a photo of someone’s apartment window stacked full of toilet paper.  I texted my neighbor to confirm my suspicions….and yes it’s MY BUILDING!  I have a genuine Toilet Paper crime syndicate in my building.  So many jokes in my mind that I can’t even process them!  See the photo below of window stacked with TP at my apartment building.


Other Bizarre Panic Buys:
Yes masks and hand sanitizer and even pump soap are impossible to find.  Rice and noodles get bought out regularly, but there have been some weird panic buys

  • Vinegar – based on the theory that it is a natural disinfectant
  • Spices – NO idea why

    Hoarding of toilet paper in apartments in Hong Kong
    Many people in Hong Kong are hoarding toilet paper in their apartments

I’ve stocked up on oatmeal, rice and quinoa.  And my freezer is stuffed with pizza rolls. Not really, but it’s full of food.  And, of course, Gin and Tonic for medicinal reasons!

Masks – Part I
If you don’t have a “connection” or source, and IF you can find them, the current street price is between $2US and $5US PER paper mask.  And even that will lead to a line out the door.  I was in Japan two weeks ago and every drug store I went to was sold out as well.  They said the Chinese are coming over and buying everything.

Masks – Part II – Resupply Shipments
I, along with all my local friends, are requesting shipments of masks and hand sanitizer from contacts all over the world.  And they are sold out EVERYWHERE. Africa, South America, Europe.  Everywhere. Special thank you to Steve, Carol, Ash, Winnie, and Bruce that were able to track down some supplies and send them my way.  If I get enough, I might open up my own black-market operation and make a little extra money on the side! ?

Masks – Part III – Gweilo’s think they are invincible:
This is an interesting cultural observation.  In general, when you see someone NOT wearing a mask, it’s a bit alarming and everyone stares.  However, when people are outside walking around for recreation on trails or at the beach, more often than not, it’s a Gweilo / western person.  Not always, but more than 50%.   I’ve discussed this with several locals to get their perspective.  The reactions are somewhere between “Gweilo’s just don’t understand how serious this is.” And “Those Gweilo are so #!$!$ arrogant.”  Overall, the local’s are a slightly resentful of the Gweilo attitude.

Masks Part IV – Volume buying on the grey market
One of my friends here is the general manager of a gold processing facility.  They refine gold for jewelers, technology companies, investors, etc.  He said that his workers will not come to work unless he provides the masks.  He needs 200 masks every day.  He told me he is part of a “grey market” network that buys and sells large volume masks.  He just made a purchase of 9000 paper masks for….get ready…$36,000.  He had to get special permission from his headquarters for the unusual type of expenditure.

Temperature Checks:
They are everywhere.  My office building.  My office at the reception desk.  Some residence buildings. Some shopping malls. Movie theatres. Even some banks.  But the most humorous experience was from this weekend.  I went with a friend to a beach on an island located only 100 yards from shore. But you must take a very small 6-person boat for the 90 second trip.  Yes, you guessed it, we had our temperature checked on the little boat.


Man in Hong Kong selling masks on the street
A street vendor selling face masks in Hong Kong–just the right gift for Valentine’s Day in a pandemic zone.

If you want to nerd-out, there is a lot of global chatter about how completely useless temperature checks are, especially at airports.  The benefit is mostly psychological.

In summary:
All irony and amusement aside, this has been fascinating to watch unfold and it confirms two long-held beliefs.  1) Individual people are rational – but when we get together in groups, we become idiots. 2) DO NOT rely on the government – self-reliance is still the only way to go.

Lastly – my advice in these circumstances is to pay attention and get your supplies early. It’s always a good idea to have some ‘emergency’ supplies on hand.  And if something does go wrong (hurricane, snow storm, lengthy power outage, Covid-19 virus) then GET your supplies FIRST.


All photos courtesy of Tim Wiseman.  Used with permission.