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Eric

USA, Texas, San Antonio - Eric

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Eric

Change is very much in the air.

The Build-Up
There's been stirring over COVID-19 here for a while, ever since they had people coming in from cruise lines being quarantined at Lackland AFB a few weeks ago. There was the initial scare when a woman was released for a day from quarantine only to find out she tested positive. They had to do a thorough cleaning of a local mall (prompting a meme about the fact that the mall has probably needed a deep cleaning since the 90's anyway).

 

Despite this, our known infection count stayed relatively low and no deaths. There has been an increase in the closures and other distancing measures over the last week and a half. South by Southwest in Austin was one of the first nearby major events to get cancelled. Later, Fiesta San Antonio, our big spring event, was postponed to November (the last time it was cancelled outright was during WWII, 1942-1944; I think they're trying hard not to have to cancel). The Poteet Strawberry Festival nearby was also postponed to later in the year (which is odd considering it wouldn't line up with strawberry season, but whatever). Many businesses have been moving their workers toward working remotely or otherwise from home, while people who are able to have been putting themselves into voluntary quarantine. A lot of people I know are in quarantine or working remotely, such as my aunt, sisters, and brothers-in-law. Most schools were already on Spring Break either last week or this week and have extended the break for the next 2-3 weeks into April. If they reopen later or end up staying closed is yet to be determined, but it looks like extended closures may continue. College campuses have largely shut down as well.

The hard thing has been the disruption caused by the panic-buying. Grocery stores with largely bare shelves have become common. A guy my Dad knows who works for our big local grocer, HEB, said that they had supplies in warehouses to restock the stores one time over, but didn't have enough transport staff and vehicles to get it out that quickly. Refrigerated beer trucks were being used to transport eggs and the like and HEB has been hiring more temporary staff to meet the need. My family was able to order some things through a local co-op, but even they had to change their operation and I was in a line outside the storefront as they got everyone's order individually. My family is also lucky that we have connections in the country for various things and even ended up with a bunch of jalapenos that we pickled and canned. We've been filtering tap water and stocking that up too, and have some provisions in store, so we're not too worried yet about that. But we're having to keep an eye out and get creative at times and it's jarring not to be able to just grab something from the store when needed. More and more I'm starting to think having started my spring garden this year was a good idea.

Things Get More Real

The known infected rate in SA was at 11 on Tuesday. This more than doubled to 24 on Wednesday and finally prompted the mayor to declare a shut-down on "non-essential" businesses starting at midnight. Bars, restaurants, nightclubs and entertainment venues are among those closing, though drive through, curbside, or delivery options will still be going. The shut down is set for 7 days, though city council will likely extend that to a month. Service industry people are bracing for lean times or layoffs/closures. Local organizations and companies are looking at ways of trying to alleviate the strain, such as CPS energy and the SA Water system pausing disconnections on unpaid bills, as well as a countywide moratorium on evictions.

I personally experienced major irony today. I just got a job as a massage therapist at a local company right when all the coronavirus social distancing started happening here. I was supposed to start last week, but had some kind of bad allergy or minor cold and had to wait until this week to start. Today was my first day and had our location been within San Antonio proper, it might have been my last day for a while too. But, since we're further north in Spring Branch, we're still up and running for now and just having to stay on the ball with health and hygiene (including staying home if sick). We're still getting clients, though my bosses tell me that traffic has noticeably slowed. I'm personally having to take steps to make sure I don't bring anything home with me, as Mom's immune system is slightly more vulnerable than the rest of us. We'll see what the future holds. Luckily, if we close shop I still have online transcription to fall back on. The tough part for me has been ongoing dental problems, and I'm hoping to bring those to a satisfactory, or at least less uncomfortable point before those services become harder to come by.

Right now there's a sense of concern and change in the air and an uncertainty hanging in the background. People are definitely talking about it everywhere, and talk ranges from people thinking it's overblown to others fearing for the future. Still, people seem to be reaching out to each other however they can and at least on the individual/local level are thinking about how to help others, so at least for the most part people are still remembering to be kind. We'll see how that continues if/when shutdowns increase.

Update for 3/20/2020
The state government issued a state-wide closure of bars, gyms, restaurants, etc...basically a statewide version of the local closures. Unfortunately that means that the company I do massage therapy for closed down today as well, so I'm back to transcribing until we can reopen again, which is scheduled to be April. I know of at least one state park that has closed as well and the rest that remain open have severely limited their services. The flip side is that the nature in the parks will get a reprieve from humanity.

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Eric

Heard through the grapevine that we've had our first Covid-19 death in San Antonio at BAMC (Brooks Army Medical Center). Things continue to progress. As noted above and as Sam mentioned from Dallas, our governor finally put some statewide restrictions and social distancing rules in place last week. There as also a ban on elective/non-essential surgeries and relaxing of regulations so that hospitals can treat more people. The state government is still dragging its feet, though, and are dawdling with enacting a full shelter-in-place order, presumably leaving it up to local and municipal governments instead (ironic considering past instances where they were more than happy to override local decisions). I could think of a few choice words about our state politicians, but all I'll say is that this may bite us in the butt in the future.

 

San Antonio has a huge medical sector, so it'll be interesting to see how this effects that going forward. You'd think that would encourage the city toward more stringent measures, but thus far the city has acted fairly slowly.

That said, I did end up going out for food today (including a birthday pastry for mom) and there has been a very noticeable drop in the amount of traffic. Apart from that errand, it's been pretty much shelter in place here anyway. We've been Skyping my nieces in Houston since they didn't get to visit over Spring Break, and have been keeping in touch with my sister and friends in Dallas. I have my spring garden growing and we'll see if I get any beans, squash, or beets from it. Life is definitely slowing, though I'm thankful to be in a stable family unit that can weather this situation. I know there are others having a harder time with this.

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Bobby
1 hour ago, Eric said:

That said, I did end up going out for food today (including a birthday pastry for mom) and there has been a very noticeable drop in the amount of traffic. 

 

It's sort of eery in way.  It reminds me of going back in time and what it was like when the planet's population was 50% or even 75% less than what it is now.

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Sam K

The first local change I noticed, even before Abbott closed the restaurants and bars, was that when I went outside, the usually ever-present white noise of cars on the major roads was greatly diminished or absent.  There was still traffic, of course, but much less of it than usual.

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Eric

UPDATE:  San Antonio will officially begin shelter-in-place orders at 6pm. It's basically what we've been under already, but stricter. All non-essential workplaces are closed or working remotely. Gatherings (I believe of 10 or more people, but may be even less now) are prohibited. Everyone must remain at home unless working in essential jobs or running essential errands like the grocery store, gas station, or hospital/emergency room visits. People can still take walks or exercise outdoors as long as they keep the 6+ feet distance between them and any other people. Non-essential travel is prohibited. This will supposedly be in effect until April 9 or so. We're currently at 57 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and one death.

Dallas already issued their order, and Austin and Houston will also have similar stay-at-home directives in place by Wednesday. Other counties are also following suit. Since the state declined to issue such an order statewide, counties are basically enacting them individually.

Unfortunately, the state did use its restrictions on non-essential surgery as a basis to order a halt in abortion services "if the life of the mother is not in danger," or some such. Given that such services are major and time-sensitive, it's stupid to me to do that, but I guess I shouldn't be surprised that our politicians would use this crisis to play some ideology football. Same could be said for some of the stuff I hear happening on the federal level as well.

In the meantime, life goes on as friends and family figure out ways to work from home and keep each other entertained at a distance during lockdown. I've also noticed more people taking walks and families being out and about in the neighborhood to get some outdoor time.

 

 

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Eric

UPDATE 3/30/2020: We're about a week into city-wide shelter-in-place. Texas stands at 2552 confirmed cases and 34 deaths. San Antonio/Bexar county is at 140-152 confirmed cases and 5 deaths. Our death count seemed a bit high considering our confirmed cases were lower than other major Texas cities, but as I read, that's likely because there's been a lag in testing. Once more testing is done and results start to come in, the number is expected to increase rapidly as unknown cases come to light. At least 1/3 to 1/2 of the known cases are said to be travel-related, while another 1/3 is community transmission (the rest is supposedly still being investigated). The hospitals have been able to handle the current load, but are bracing for worse to come. Estimates are that we're 3-4 weeks behind Seattle or New York.

 

The state government has put further restrictions on out-of-state travelers and mobilized efforts to increase health care capacity for COVID-19 patients (such as creating alternative care locations if hospital capacity is exhausted). Three brigades of the Texas National Guard have been sent out to enforce local orders and help medical efforts such as facilitating testing and providing equipment. They are still looking at having school resume around April 26, but I doubt that'll be the case. The governor and state still haven't issued a statewide shelter-in-place order, though, and continue to leave it up to cities and counties. The state order that closed non-essential businesses ends this Friday on April 3rd, so we'll see if that holds. If it ends and if my massage job starts again, that'll have me in an odd position, given that I (and others) live in a city with shelter-in-place while our job is located outside of that. We'll see.

Meanwhile in San Antonio, while many have been abiding shelter-in-place, there are plenty of people who haven't. A number of non-essential businesses were reported early on, but presumably all agreed to comply when contacted. People were also apparently congregating in the city parks this weekend to the point where the mayor has threatened to shut them down all together. I went on my first supply run this week to a local CVS, complete with hand sanitizer and a face mask I had on hand, and though general traffic level was lower than usual, there were still a number of people at the store going about as if it were a normal day. I had a sense that things have been calm enough that some individuals have been lax or just not taking social distancing seriously.

As for my own circle, we've been adjusted to stay-at-home. My family had our first group Skype call this weekend and we've had fairly regular check-ins with friends and family. Interestingly, the neighborhood has been a lot more active this week than ever. I hear people doing yard work almost every day and there are many more people walking and bike riding the streets than ever. I even heard my neighbor playing his guitar from his porch the other day. In fact, while Dad and I were walking, we were commenting how it ironically took stay-at-home orders to get people to actually come outside. For the most part, people seemed to be keeping safe distances from each other.  Things are stable and the spring has been pretty nice so far, so it's easy to get lulled into complacency. We'll see what the future brings.
 

 

 

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Eric

Update 4/1/2020:  So, the Texas governor put out an "essential services" order, which is effectively a soft statewide shelter-in-place order that mirrors what many cities and counties have already done...restricting interactions to specific essential services, encouraging people to stay home, etc. This is to last through the end of April, and schools are now closed until May 4. On one hand, this finally gives a unifying baseline across the state. On the other, the vague wording and tentative action is less than heartening. The governor has been doing all sorts maneuvers to at first avoid issuing a statewide order and then to avoid calling any order "shelter in place" or "stay at home." He's apparently doing a dance between state health experts and colleagues who've been urging a statewide order for weeks and presumably conservative/Republican constituents who've been bristling against government actions. In fact, the new order exempts religious services "as long as they are consistant with social distancing guidelines," presumably throwing a bone to people like the ones who sued Harris county for restricting religious services to individual settings, video, or teleconference. The verbal and political acrobatics are both astounding and irritating; it's like a half-baked April Fool's joke. We'll find out in late April whether or not this political dancing just ends up kicking up a higher COVID-19 victim count. 😒

In the meantime, I found that the weather channel site has a handy page on their site where you can get COVID-19 stats for counties and states in the US.

 

 

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Eric

Update 4/19/2020: The confirmed COVID-19 cases in the city and state have continued a slow climb, with San Antonio just shy of 1,000 cases and 37 deaths, while Texas as a whole is in the 18,000s and 453 deaths. Virus spread rate is holding steady. The hospitals, at least around here, are still well within capacity for now, and the city put out a new order making face masks of some kind mandatory in public spaces and reducing store occupancy capacity to 25%.

Then there's our lovely state government. Texas was declared to be one of the first states that will try a phased re-opening. Starting April 27, non-essential retail businesses can re-open for to-go/curbside/delivery services only. State parks will re-open in a limited capacity with a restriction on groups over 5 people and presumably with social distancing guidelines in place. But hey, school's closed for the remainder of the year, as well as summer camps, so that's something right? I think it's ridiculous to eagerly attempt a phased re-opening this early given that A) the state's history of testing and tracking is abysmal...lots of talk with little result, B) we're still half a month away from our projected peak infection period, C) lack of a firm state-level response contributes to confusion and complacency.

It's a bit boggling how two mindsets have arisen along partisan lines...a vocal, largely conservative group that's more economy-focused, clamoring to go back to work and restart business as usual, and the largely more liberal group that's more public-health-focused and pushing for more, or at least continued, social distancing measures and adaptations.

My family has been sticking with staying home. There's actually been some benefit from it and we're luckily stable enough to be able to ride things out as they progress. I hardly go out these days except to walk the neighborhood and for the rare errand. There are more people with masks out there now, but I also still know of people disregarding guidelines, walking in public like it's any other day and having large gatherings. I think complacency is a real issue, especially when we're possibly in line to be the next hot spot. We'll see how that pans out.
 

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Maureen
9 hours ago, Eric said:

It's a bit boggling how two mindsets have arisen along partisan lines...a vocal, largely conservative group that's more economy-focused, clamoring to go back to work and restart business as usual, and the largely more liberal group that's more public-health-focused and pushing for more, or at least continued, social distancing measures and adaptations.

 

@Eric, happy to hear you and your family are doing well.  ♥

 

Yes... the Great Divide. I quoted this bit as it's been abundantly clear, since even before Trump took office, with the McConnell obstructionism of Obama, etc., that the conservative group, the Greedy Old Pricks, would continue to "do the wrong thing" over and over again for greed and power whenever they had the chance, whether given or taken. Trump has just made it all that much worse, much much worse. The conservative group is primarily  made up of Baby and Young Souls who do not want change, of any kind, and are hanging on for all they are worth -- no matter who has to die in the process. The liberal group is primarily made up of older Souls, Mature and Old, who take change seriously, recognizing it's damn hard on everyone, wanting the best for the human race, including the Right to Live as fundamental even as the economy is in great flux. The liberal group recognizes that science is valid and all life is sacred and that while money has it's place it's not the actual currency that keeps the world going round and round. Love is. Truth is. Energy is.... as even in the midst of chaos, Order will (eventually) prevail, pulling it all together, making it work, through Truth and Love. 恋 🕉恋

 

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Eric

Many businesses have reopened now, though under various social distancing guidelines still. As a massage therapist, my job is (understandably) still closed and one of the last ones to reopen. We'll see by May 18 how it goes. Mask wearing is more common now (in most public spaces and buildings at least), though you occasionally see some failing to do so. Most probably do so more because businesses have made it store policy rather than any governmental or healthcare suggestion.

 

The traffic and hum of public life has returned to near normal levels. I'm already starting to miss the unusual calm from the early quarantine, but will hope things go well from here on out.

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Eric

Update 5/21/2020: The next reopening phase was announced Monday of this week. With the exception of schools, summer camps, and communities like nursing homes, most businesses and areas are basically open again in some way.  While there are nominal guidelines or restrictions, such as partial capacities, distancing, cleaning, mask rules, etc, they're largely implemented and enforced in a rather patchwork manner. There's little real consistency, so while many places are adopting social distancing guidelines and many people are following them, some are not or have not and people have and are busting at the seams to get back out and about. Even if not "back to normal," I'd say the state is effectively "open" again.

 

Over time, I've heard more people around me subscribing to the ideas that the virus is not-that-bad/overblown, or that it's just a political ploy/propaganda, or that it'll die back in the summer months, etc.  I think it mostly stems from complacency (we've not had a locally impactful spike in cases yet) and/or confusion/frustrations from the closures and stay-at-home period. More than that, though, it's concerning how easily more conspiratorial ideas and misinformation have spread and I fear it'll make it harder to act and adapt to what is happening as a whole. It's just going to show that our society is better at reacting to acute disasters than more protracted crises. Maybe I'll be proven wrong, and that would be great, but right now it seems we're not really out of the woods, but rather in the calm eye of the storm.

 

In other news, massage therapy businesses have been cleared to open again as well, so I will be going back to work in that. We had mandatory training yesterday on increased cleaning and sanitation protocols and on the rules and changes that have been implemented to try to be as safely effective as possible. The team and owners at the franchise I work for have been super supportive, understanding, and flexible, even as they've been hustling to keep their heads above water economically, so I feel fairly good about working there again even in the face of flux and uncertainty. The therapists are being allowed to decide when they're comfortable to return, so I voluntarily picked up a few hours next week to get a feel for how things are going to work. Fingers crossed!

 

 

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Eric

Update 6/28/2020: Well, we're seeing the consequences of opening up early it seems. SA alone is nearing 9,000 confirmed cases and 105 deaths and has had the dubious distinction of being the city with the 3rd fastest-growing rate of infection in the nation. Texas in general has also had a very steep increase in cases. Hot spot status achieved.

 

When cases started to rise, the governor started to make weak appeals to the people to follow social distancing precautions and even put the blame on younger people for not doing so. While likely true that a lot of young people gathered and contributed to the spread, this was rich coming from the person who essentially encouraged business as usual, opening things up quickly and treating social distancing as more a personal option with little enforcement and still few resources to testing and tracing. Things finally got so bad last week that the governor reduced restaurants back to 50% and completely shut down bars and river tubing locations again, admitting that he regrets opening them back up so fast (though the rationale for singling out bars in particular is debated as opposed to, say, churches 🤨).

At the same time, cities themselves have been creating face covering mandates to try and curb the rise despite lack of much leadership support from the state. The mandates require face masks in businesses and indoor public facilities, and while meant to encourage people to wear masks in public, the onus is mostly put on businesses to enforce it. Businesses get in trouble if they allow people without masks to congregate (though the city is trying to be lenient with warnings before fines), but the individuals without masks don't face any real consequences other than being sent away or barred from entering places.
Still, this has created outrage among some people who find face masks uncomfortable, inconvenient, unnecessary, or a plot by government to control people. It's pretty staggering how much of a tempest in a teapot this has become.

In the meantime, hospitalization cases are rising quickly and while the state itself hasn't reached capacity, some cities have gotten very close. My brother-in-law's father works at a hospital. A few months ago, they were able to keep all the COVID patients at a different hospital and his hospital had none. Now he's mentioning that they're getting more COVID patients now as the numbers increase. We're still within capacity, but the fast rise is a problem. The city sent out an emergency Stay-At-Home alert on people's phones due to the rapid spread.

In short, looks like we're back to riding the first wave. I guess those first couple of months in quarantine amount to nothing as we're back to where we were even while other places in the world show improvement. I don't know if it'll peak the same way as in places like NY, given that people are are lot less densely packed here, but it's still not going to be good the way things are going. I'm still doing massage, but I'm keeping an eye/ear out as it may just be a matter of time before we're closed again too. These are indeed "interesting times."

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Eric

Update 7/3/2020:  Surprise of surprises, our governor actually issued a statewide order to wear masks in public. I honestly didn't think he had the political will to do so, but I guess there's finally enough crisis and pressure from cities for even him to respond. The order makes it mandatory to wear a mask in public in counties with 20 or more active COVID cases (which is most of the state). People without a mask will first be subject to verbal or written warning, then further infractions may result in a fine of up to $250. It's very late in the game, but at least it's something.

 

I met two coworkers at a continuing education class this week who are respiratory therapists at a local hospital. I got some of the scoop about what's happening on the inside, and it's not good. 90% of their ICU is taken up by COVID patients. They are pushing capacity and very understaffed. Employees are overworked during their shifts and hospitals are offering bonuses of various kinds to try and encourage them to pick up more shifts. One of my coworkers has a maximum work capacity of 4 patients at a time, but is having to manage 6. They are truly being overwhelmed and having to make those hard decisions on who gets what treatment when. It's already difficult whenever a patient dies, but now it's happening frequently enough to really take a toll, especially since patients have to pass away in isolation (the closest their families can come is via Facetime or some other remote means). One coworker mentioned a case where a patient passed away only for her husband to be admitted the next day. She mentioned how she's cried on the drive home from work from the emotional overload.
A different coworker asked the RTs how they were able to juggle their hospital shifts with massage therapy. They mentioned how coming out of the hospital makes them feel like they got their butt kicked hard, but doing massage makes them feel better. It was mentioned how, for a number of therapists, massage therapy is their happy place. Fingers crossed it helps everyone get through these crazy times.

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Johanne
6 hours ago, Eric said:

IThey are pushing capacity and very understaffed. Employees are overworked during their shifts and hospitals are offering bonuses of various kinds to try and encourage them to pick up more shifts. They are truly being overwhelmed and having to make those hard decisions on who gets what treatment when. It's already difficult whenever a patient dies, but now it's happening frequently enough to really take a toll, especially since patients have to pass away in isolation (the closest their families can come is via Facetime or some other remote means). 

@EricI am so touch by what those employees and patients are going through because in Quebec we went through that misery (mostly in long term care hospitals or residences for old people). Employees were even contaminating the patients, an hospital with only 2 employees left one night for taking care of everything, and those old people dying alone not even with a facetime last contact. And story about a couple separated in 2 different hospitals and each dying alone, drama above drama,. ETC. The government asked for volunteers, medical students and even specialist doctors to go and help to feed and care for the old patients. Now the situation is getting back to normal and many learned, hopefully enough that we won't go through that again. 

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