Personal Coronavirus Timeline

Dec. 31st (2019) – The CDC first learns of a cluster of odd respiratory cases in Wuhan, China

Dec. 31st (2019) – Diane and I attend a screening of Little Women at an AMC movie theater.

Jan. 3 – The Trump administration receives its first notification, directly from the Chinese government, about the emerging virus threat. CDC Director Robert Renfield receives the call, and relays the information to HHS Secretary Alex Azar.

Jan. 4 – I travel some five hours round trip to meet with fellow beer can collectors at a friend’s house. A crowd of at least eleven packs into the display room. Topics include where and when to host the chapter’s next event. Nobody mentions the coronavirus.

Jan. 6 – China rebuffs a U.S. offer of aid, which also prevents the U.S. from early access to any viral sample, without which work could not begin on a vaccine.

Jan. 8 – The CDC makes its first public announcement about the coronavirus.

Jan. 10 – My older son flies from Evansville to Rochester, NY, to begin his semester at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT).

Jan. 14 – Chinese officials continue to deny that they see any evidence of human-to-human transmission.

Jan. 18 – President Trump receives his first detailed briefing on the coronavirus.

Jan. 21 – A Seattle man in the U.S. tests positive for the coronavirus.

Jan. 22 – While in Davos, Switzerland, Trump receives his first question about the disease from an MSNBC reporter, who asked if the president was concerned. Trump responded, “No. Not at all. And we have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China… It’s going to be just fine.”

Jan. 29 – China locks down the entire Hubei province.

Jan. 31 – At Trump’s direction, Azar announces a ban on incoming non-U.S. citizens from China.

Feb. 5 – Azar requests $4 billion to fight the coronavirus and is turned down.

Feb. 5 – As a family, we attend a speech given by activist Angela Davis. The hall is packed, standing room only.

Feb. 6 – The CDC distributes a total of 90 test kits to labs around the nation. They provide untrustworthy results and are later withdrawn.

Feb. 15 – My younger son attends a high school basketball game. Big crowd!

Feb. 21 – The same son gets a haircut.

Feb. 25 – I engage in my first Facebook conversation about the coronavirus, with Dan S.W. Our amateur number-crunching using early CDC and WHO reporting suggests an even worse scenario than what we are currently experiencing as of April 20th. Small blessings?

Feb. 27-29 – I attend a beer can collectibles show in South Bend, Indiana. By and large, those in attendance avoid shaking hands, but no other visible precautions are taken. Coronavirus comes up several times. Most are not taking it seriously.

Feb. 29 – First U.S. death attributed to coronavirus (Washington state).

March 4 – I attend a performance of Murder on the Orient Express at Indiana Repertory Theatre. My first thoughts on entering the theater were, in order, “What a beautiful set and building,” and, “This place is a Petri dish.”

March 5 – Elizabeth Warren suspends her presidential campaign.

March 5-8 – I attend the Mid-America Theatre Conference in Chicago, IL. Elbow bumps or eye contact replace handshakes. No one mentions or practices social distancing, but O’Hare Airport feels quiet, and people are beginning to pay attention to potentially infectious surfaces. A good many attendees fail to show up to the conference, either out of fear or because they themselves are sick. While in Chicago, I visit with a friend, Polly H. She and I hug on arriving, and again on leaving. The only hugs I have received since are from those living under my roof.

March 6 – Congress’s requested $8 billion in coronavirus spending is signed into law by Trump. Same day: Trump tours a CDC facility and promises that “everyone who wants a test will get a test.”

March 8 – I take a photo of the grocery store T.P. shelves. Fully stocked.

March 9 – Trump tweets that the virus will just “go away. Just stay calm.”

March 11 – Evansville Day School cancels its “intersession week,” which would have involved caving, hiking, and rock climbing for my younger son.

March 11 – RIT extends its spring break by one week, impacting my older son.

March 12 – Evansville Day School announces “remote learning,” to commence on March 16.

March 12 – I take another photo of the grocery T.P. shelves. Half-stocked.

March 12 – I convene a group of collaborators to record new demos for a musical, an event that took months to plan. We rehearse three songs and record one. By late afternoon, our music director discovers that a choir member he recently worked with has now tested positive for the coronavirus. Our music director promptly self-isolates, and we cancel the next day’s scheduled rehearsal/recording session after letting each of our singers know that they, too, may have been exposed.

March 13 – Sen. Lindsay Graham states that we are “at war.”

March 13 – The Humana Festival of New American Plays, where Diane and I typically celebrate our anniversary, is officially “suspended.”

March 15 – The New York Times virus tracker confirms 3,453 cases of coronavirus in the U.S., and 62 deaths. Indiana reports 19 cases, none in the Evansville region.

March 15 – RIT announces that classes after spring break will be offered through “alternative modes,” which is to say, “remote learning.”

March 16 – Last day of swimming laps and playing organized tennis. The next day, Tri-State Athletic Club suspends operations indefinitely.

March 16 – I take another photo of the grocery T.P. shelves. Stripped bare.

March 17 – Evansville Day School extends “remote learning” through April 10.

March 17-19 – I begin a three-day road trip from Evansville to Rochester (and back) in order to retrieve my older son (and all his collegiate stuff). Along the way, I stop to visit my parents. I refuse to go inside their house. I insist that we not hug. We visit via a long walk, instead. The Hampton Inn I stay at that night, three stories high, has all of five cars in the parking lot. Overhead interstate signs read “Stop the Spread: Save Lives” and “Stop the Virus: Stay Home.”

March 18 – The University of Evansville begins “remote learning.” This particular Monday would have ended the university’s spring break; instead, students are ordered not to return to campus. All of Diane’s university classes move on-line.

March 19 – The first cases of coronavirus are reported in the Evansville region, three total. I assign the boys daily tasks of disinfecting commonly touched in-home surfaces (doorknobs, light switches, etc.) with vinegar.

March 20 – This household officially begins its policy of locked-down “social distancing.”

March 21 – I propose a system of “co-operative shopping” with two neighboring families, to limit unnecessary trips to the grocery store. This has been in place ever since.

March 21 – My older son asks to play a round of “Frisbee golf” with a friend. We approve, with restrictions: no hugs; stay apart; you must travel to the course in separate vehicles; you must never touch the other person’s golf disc; you must wash up with sanitizer in the car, and with soap and water immediately upon return.

March 22 – After further research and discussion with contacts online, I replace the vinegar with isopropyl alcohol.

March 22 – My younger son announces he is going to play soccer with friends later that day. I take no pleasure in telling him, “Absolutely not.”

March 23 – Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb announces a statewide shelter-in-place order. We begin a family policy where only I touch the mail, and we only bring it into the house at least one full day after delivery. The same goes for the Sunday paper, which now becomes (by default) the Monday paper. Groceries now receive a similar “staged” treatment.

March 24 – The New York Times virus tracker confirms 52,215 cases of coronavirus in the U.S., and 675 deaths. Indiana now has 300+ cases.

March 31 – On a “three household shopping trip,” I wind up at Meijer, where I watch the first of Meijer’s “sneeze shields” being installed. Two men have been assigned to what is clearly a frustrating, difficult task. They are not maintaining anything close to “social distance.”

April 1 – The City of Evansville padlocks the last of its outdoor tennis courts.

April 2 – Evansville Day School extends “remote learning” through the end of the semester, following Indiana governor Eric Holcomb’s announcement that the state’s schools would remain closed through the end of the school year.

April 2 – Jared Kushner states: “And the notion of the federal stockpile was it’s supposed to be our stockpile; it’s not supposed to be state stockpiles that they then use.”

April 3 – I was scheduled to drive to Columbus, Ohio, to visit my parents and purchase a beer can collection. Both events have long since been cancelled. This trip had been on the books since December. A summer trip to Mexico City is also scrapped.

April 4 – Trump states: “There will be a lot of death.” A friend of my father’s dies from the virus.

April 5 – The New York Times virus tracker confirms 328, 861 cases of coronavirus in the U.S. by mid-afternoon, and 9,300 deaths. Indiana now has 4,300+ cases. Vanderburgh County alone now has 37 cases of coronavirus confirmed. I have not seen toilet paper for sale since March 12th, and I now know at least two friends who have tested positive. One is recovering. The prognosis for the other is unknown. My younger son’s A.P. teacher just sent a long email explaining the new policies and schedule for A.P. testing. Seconds later, my parents email me updated contact numbers for their lawyer and a financial advisor, along with a fresh copy of their will.

April 6 – The exponential curve of the virus’s progression in the United States overall appears to reach an inflection point.

April 7 – I hold a new play reading via Zoom, which includes five long-distance participants hailing from Evansville, Missouri, Texas, and New York City. Readings are typically more intimate affairs, but intimacy is beyond Zoom’s capabilities. No matter. “The Polar Bear Gambit” is born. Later that evening, the coronavirus takes John Prine.

April 7 – The state of Wisconsin holds its primary despite an attempt by the governor to postpone, a decision that was over-ridden by the state supreme court when the GOP-controlled state legislature brought the case to their door. Stay-at-home orders remained in place state-wide.

April 8 – On a weekly three-family grocery shop, I head to Aldi. A mask-wearing Aldi employee disinfects each cart for each customer. She says, as a line forms behind me, “I’m sorry this is taking so long.” My response: “Please. Take all the time you need.” Inside, the supplies of T.P. are fully stocked. Outside, the season’s first butterfly poses for a picture.

April 9 – As the culmination of a project begun well before Indiana’s lockdown, Diane and I meet in a small conference room with the lawyer who is preparing an update of our will and advance directives. The lawyer has an assistant with him, and insists that this room and all its surfaces have been thoroughly disinfected. Nevertheless, it is jarring to be in a confined space with human beings who are not members of my immediate family. I have an urge to bolt for the door.

April 10 – While on a solo walk, I encounter four middle-school girls on bikes. They are clumped together, inspecting one of the bicycles. One of them says, “Sir, do you know how to fix the chain?” My response: “I can try, but you need to back up. You understand why, right?” They nod, and give me room. I reattach the chain, something I haven’t done in years. It goes more smoothly than I expected, but in doing so, I wind up making contact with the seat and one handlebar. When I’m done, I tell the girls, “Whichever one of you is the owner, when you get home, you need to wash your hands. I have no reason to assume I’m anything but healthy, but you need to assume the opposite.” They thank me and ride off, close together. Based on their faces, I don’t think any of the four are related.

April 12 – A mild Easter Sunday. All across the nation, the right to peaceably assemble and the right to worship freely are now in direct conflict with public health and a government tasked with upholding all three. Meanwhile, the Harper Elementary playground equipment, just across the street from us, has been cordoned off with yellow “caution tape.” (Go back inside, children, nothing to see here.) As of late afternoon, the New York Times virus tracker confirms 546,341 cases of coronavirus in the U.S., along with 21,698 deaths. Indiana now has 7,900+ cases. Vanderburgh County has a mere 56 cases of coronavirus confirmed, with only one local fatality. All the chatter is about how and when to reopen, despite the fact that we have limited testing, no meaningful serology, and no vaccine.

April 13 – In response to various governors setting their own timelines and criteria for “re-opening,” Trump insists that power rests with him and him alone. He states, “When someone is president of the United States, the authority is total.”

April 15 – At the grocery store, I ask the checker what’s the worst time of day to shop. She says, “They’re all bad. All anyone can do any more is eat.”

April 16 – In a Facebook post dated March 14, I wrote: “If this distancing concept works, it will leave the field open to the conspiracy junkies who will claim, loudly, that the novel virus was never a threat in the first place.” Sure enough, we now have armed protestors in Michigan and elsewhere, demanding (because everything bad about the virus has been exaggerated) that the world re-open immediately. I have friends posting memes about how the government and media worked together to blow up the economy, using the virus as an excuse.

April 18 – It’s family game night. I propose we play Pandemic. (Yes, it’s a real board game.) Nobody else wants to play.

April 19 – Spring in Evansville, with Azaleas and dogwoods in full bloom. The dogwood (genus Cornus, family Cornaceae) has been on earth since the Upper Cretaceous, its older relatives contemporaneous with Tyrannosaurus Rex. A novel coronavirus is no threat to a dogwood, but climate change is. If dogwoods worldwide are cheering for anyone in this fight, it’s the virus.

April 19 – As of late afternoon, the New York Times virus tracker confirms 746,332 cases of coronavirus in the U.S., along with 35,676 deaths. Indiana now has 10,700+ cases. Vanderburgh County has 80 cases of coronavirus confirmed, with only one local fatality plus five more across the border in neighboring Warrick County. In Vanderburgh, at least 61 of these cases have been “medically cleared” and are, presumably, recovering.

Multiple dates – During the first days of lockdown, younger son requested a regular treat of “Arnold Palmers,” half lemonade, half iced tea. He has since started hoarding the cans, using them like Robinson Crusoe notching a stick. For every day spent in lockdown, add an Arnold Palmer.

This is where we are.

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