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From behind Medium.com's paywall: Casual Observations on Social Distancing from a Semi-Agoraphobe

I'm obsessed with numbers. I lived in New York for over thirty years and the situation is so drastic that the first thing I check every morning are its COVID-19 stats. A few hours ago, there were 68,363 confirmed cases in the state, and 1,342 deaths from the virus. Two days ago the death count was 965.


I'm rooting for the home team but I'm also fascinated in that car wreck on the side of the road kind of way.

Now I live in Montana where the virus was a late entry in the race to the Pearly Gates. On March 19, 12 days ago, this vast state with less than a million people had 12 cases of the virus. Today it's 184. The snowball is rolling down the hill.


I didn't make one of those successful moves back to my hometown (12 cases today, an unofficial increase of four from two days ago via a chat with my pharmacist through her protective glass and before she thanked me for not paying in cash). I came back to Missoula loaded with shame about my weight, tired of being on public display walking dogs, to friends who have tight, ritualized lives. It became increasingly hard to leave my apartment or to make or write personal outreaches. I have more work than I'm paid for and somehow or another I get through the days — although often I have to Google what day it actually is. I haven't made the effort I should but early in the month I was getting restive and was ready to take on drink and lunch dates (I had already had one lunch date. I liked it. I wanted more.)


Then everyone was sent home from their jobs and the isolation began to press against the walls as did, increasingly, that thing, that threat. It's easy to see why physicians believed in the miasma theory for so long. COVID-19 feels like that — almost solid, like a huge cloud of gnats bearing down on every standing thing.

"France, you're the only person I'd trust to come over," one of my nieces giggled. "You're the safest person I know." But day-by-day I haven't gone to see my family, scattered around town. I've been in touch, though, which is unusual for me. I talked another niece off the ledge when she was sure she had the virus, my brother and I are in a weird circular email argument about when the country should go back to work and the fact that the mortality rates for normal influenzas are much higher than for coronavirus. I've tried to calm nerves and been successful so far, although I've been mandated to call a grand-niece who hasn't called her mother in a couple of days.


I talk to myself a lot more than I have in the past, mostly lecturing a non-existent audience on the 1918 Influenza Pandemic, why the death rates for coronavirus and the flu is comparing apples and salaks, or being defensive about a snitty (and wrong) email exchange.


And I've had to go to the grocery store a couple of times, each an adventure into popular culture. My first trip was to Costco, where I was not only handed a sanitary wipe but was clicked because they're letting a certain number of people into the store at the same time. Then I was confronted with a white board announcing they were out of baby wipes, frozen chicken and a few other items. I was delighted that toilet paper wasn't on the list but when I asked later if they had any, the clerk told me they had expected a truckload the night before but it never arrived.


This is Gun Country. My first image was of some butt-crack stepping onto I-90 with a semi-automatic and highjacking the truck. It's not that ridiculous when you think about Montana and its neighbors.


It was one to a customer in Costco's dairy section, which wasn't tragic since I was on a butter quest and it comes in four-pound packs. (Eggs come in two-dozen packs, I think, and milk in two-gallon packs. We're good on the scrambled eggs front.)

Recently I read an unusually amusing essay by Ted Kyle about the mass hysteria of buying. We all know it began with hand sanitizer and toilet paper, and, as I suspected, guns and ammunition. Next came comfort food and the ice cream aisles were wiped out. Then Google recorded a huge bump in bread recipes and stores sold out of flour and yeast — and there isn't a bag of flour to be found in Missoula, which is bad news for me.


Now it's seeds and starter kits as the country gets ready to dig victory gardens. Not here yet, where it's still snowing in the mountains. Montanans are still baking bread.


I NEED me some flour! You all can buy bread easily but I depend of flour as part of my livelihood. I want to make a COVID-19 cookie: oats, avocado oil, honey, wild blueberries, turmeric, and dark chocolate, stuff that supports immunity.

At the regular grocery store customers are allowed to buy two of each thing, except for flour, toilet paper, yeast, isopropyl alcohol, and paper towels, which are things that do not exist. They're low on soups, too.


'm speculating on what the next herd-buy will be. Yesterday I got a survey question in one of my science emails. What movies, television shows, or streaming am I binging on? I'm sure all of us are sucking up something from Netflix but it was interesting to be asked what (A Discovery of Witches, if you must know. W-a-a-y too much making out and a far cry from the novels.)


Books, I hope; adult coloring books and colored pencils, maybe. Whipping cream and puff pastry for ornate desserts. I wouldn't have expected bread baking so really, it could be anything. "Of shoes — and ships — and sealing-wax — Of cabbages — and kings."

Lewis Carroll should have been in coronavirus marketing.


Yesterday I called my veterinarian to make an appointment for my dog to get her bordetella updated, get her annual shots early, and discuss spaying her. No can do. We have to wait for the full year for her rabies and they're not doing any elective surgery at all. They're conserving supplies and medication for the Big Bang when it hits. As for bordetella, I'll pick up the vaccine today and get my brother to hold the beast still while I squirt it up her nose.


So yes, at last, I'm going to see people.


But only after I finish rearranging my car.


I was intent on taking a big box of things to my favorite charity store in town until it dawned on me that that would be the last place that would be open or restocking. So I've brought the box in with no place to put it, but I have recycling to drop off, as well as groceries "cooling off" in the back seat. I no longer trust who has touched the things I want from the grocery store so I take in what I need, sanitize it, and wash my hands like a heart surgeon. I'm about eight days away from bringing in the other roll of parchment paper and the hand sanitizer I don't need yet.


Sometimes it's more daunting to figure out the disinfecting of hands and products than it is to go to the grocery story and angst out over who's thinking the fatty doesn't deserve a respirator.


Do I? I'm 63, childless, exceedingly replaceable in my work, and not much of a friend.


I subscribe to too many email alerts. I know too much and I know doctors have to make decisions about who gets scarce treatments.


I can't escape COVID-19. The headlines are too dramatic to ignore: "Only One Protective Suit in Hospital," reads one that's hanging out as a possibility for my work today. "How Coronavirus Will


Change the World" is another. It's not just dark times but apocalyptic.


"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!

The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!

Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun

The frumious Bandersnatch!"


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