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The Virus: Week Eighteen

Continued from The Virus: Week Seventeen

The day after that, my wife tells me about the coworker of hers who still likes to go to the casino, and the other coworker who just got back from a houseboat trip to Lake Havasu with his friends. She comes home every day with chronic headaches and fatigue and bodily pain and worry and stress from wearing a mask indoors all day every day for four months, as her coworkers go to casinos or live it up at houseboat parties on Lake Havasu. Their reluctantly masked customers scream at them all day; in the lobby of the bank, the customers sculpt ornate arias about their perceived oppression. The governor has just issued another order requiring the wearing of masks in public. The day after that a White House official offers their new message about the virus. “The virus is with us,” the person says, “but we need to live with it.” And then it was Independence Day, and the signs hanging over the freeways told us that all the California beaches are closed due to the virus, which people have now been forced to acknowledge is airborne. The day after that I find a tiny caterpillar inside the onions I’d planted in our quarantine garden. There are fewer birds around than there were last month, but for weeks I have been watching solitary monarch butterflies float around the yard. Often they will float up against the windows as if trying to get inside, but the butterflies and I each have our own respective spaces, and the indoors is only for me now, or for people like me. Outside of a tea place two teens are waiting for their boba teas. She asks him what he’s been doing and he tells her he’s been so bored out of his mind that sometimes he’ll go to the gym multiple times a day, just to fight the boredom. She asks him if he’s worried about the virus and he tells her he took an antibody test, and so now he’s immune. She doesn’t say anything, but just keeps studying her phone. And then he acknowledges that they’re not sure if the test is reliable, and then he looks off at nothing in particular, and you can see the boredom bubbling up inside him again. It was exactly four months ago today when that person was buying all the cases of water at the grocery store in preparation for apocalypse, and I wonder where this person is and how she is doing, and how much of that water is still gathering dust in some corner of her home. On the following day we hear that ICE is saying it won’t allow students here in the United States on visas to stay here if their classes are not conducted in-person in fall. The president and his minions have started to insist more and more loudly that schools must reopen in the fall, even as more and more schools announce that they will not be reopening in the fall. The New York Times reports that Black and Latino people in the United States are three times as likely to contract the virus than their white neighbors, according to new data that the Times had to sue the CDC to obtain. In this context, “neighbors” seems like exactly the wrong word to describe what’s at the root of this crisis. By the following day, we are hearing about the growing likelihood of mass evictions, as the months of unemployment and the months without aid or leadership collide to drive untold numbers into homelessness. In the county where I live, and where we are still (for the moment) housed and employed, they are now saying that the hospitalization and ICU rates have reached record levels; the case growth rate here is 3.9%, a doubling time of 18 days; the hospitals here are already stretched; and they are starting to put up more “field hospitals,” a colloquial term for tents with beds. The day after that I step back from all of it and realize that I am no longer nervous or afraid or confused about any of this. With respect to this crisis and our catastrophic mishandling of it, I discover that there is room in my heart for only one feeling anymore, and that feeling is rage.

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