The governor ordered everyone to stay at home only a few days ago, and yet it seems like much longer. I started working from home three weeks ago, initially because my entire team were traveling, and then for safety. My company turned off all our badges yesterday so I couldn't go back even if I wanted to. And I find myself planning meals a week out because I find it nearly impossible to cook small amounts of food. (Sample entries: Monday dinner, shrimp in garlic, butter, and wine sauce with wild rice; Tuesday lunch, leftover grilled chicken with wild rice. The shrimp were delicious, by the way.)
It doesn't help that the President and Senate Republicans are trying to turn this whole thing into a corporate giveaway. Some other lowlights:
But in one bit of good news, China announced an end to the two-month lockdown of Hubei province a few hours from now. Could we also start getting back to normal mid-May?
And finally, enjoy some scampi:
Just a few minutes ago, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced sweeping restrictions on assembly and movement similar to those currently in effect in Illinois and some other parts of the US:
To put it simply, if too many people become seriously unwell at one time, the NHS will be unable to handle it – meaning more people are likely to die, not just from coronavirus but from other illnesses as well.
So it’s vital to slow the spread of the disease.
Because that is the way we reduce the number of people needing hospital treatment at any one time, so we can protect the NHS’s ability to cope – and save more lives.
From this evening I must give the British people a very simple instruction – you must stay at home.
Because the critical thing we must do is stop the disease spreading between households.
That is why people will only be allowed to leave their home for the following very limited purposes:
- shopping for basic necessities, as infrequently as possible
one form of exercise a day – for example a run, walk, or cycle – alone or with members of your household;
- any medical need, to provide care or to help a vulnerable person; and
- travelling to and from work, but only where this is absolutely necessary and cannot be done from home.
That’s all – these are the only reasons you should leave your home.
You should not be meeting friends. If your friends ask you to meet, you should say No.
You should not be meeting family members who do not live in your home.
You should not be going shopping except for essentials like food and medicine – and you should do this as little as you can. And use food delivery services where you can.
The key difference between Illinois and the UK: Johnson explicitly gave police the power to levy fines and disperse gatherings. Also, Johnson announced that people who can't work because of the restrictions will get government support, and 7,500 retired doctors and nurses have rejoined NHS to help.
Also today, author John Scalzi posted some advice to creatives on his blog.
The President's disdain for expertise and his malignant, narcissistic character cost us weeks—or months—when we could have prepared for the pandemic we now face. Michelle Goldberg summarizes the case for slapping his name on the resulting disaster:
[W]hile the calamity we are experiencing is not Trump’s doing, his dishonesty and incompetence have exacerbated it, and continue to do so. To point this out is not to dwell on the past but to confront the scale of our present crisis. Trump has been giving daily televised briefings in which he overpromises and spreads misinformation. He makes bad decisions and reverses himself only under the pressure of bad press. That makes frankness about his catastrophic ineptitude imperative.
It can become tedious to dwell on the fact that the president is a dangerous and ignorant narcissist who has utterly failed as an executive, leaving state governments on their own to confront a generational cataclysm. But no one should ever forget it.
Soon, even if the pandemic is still raging, there will be an election, and the public will be asked to render a verdict on Trump’s leadership. Being clear that people are suffering and dying needlessly because the president can’t do his job isn’t looking backward. It’s the only way to move forward.
Meanwhile, over at the Washington Post, Margaret Sullivan joins the chorus of journalists who say we should stop broadcasting the president's dangerously misinformative press conferences.
And because I did not wish to fight madding crowds for needed groceries yesterday, I shall now go to Whole Foods. And Mariano's. And Trader Joe's. And Jewel. And hope that between the four of them, I can scrape together enough perishables to make semi-nutritious meals for myself this week.
Starting tomorrow at 5pm, through April 7th, Illinois will be on a "stay-at-home" order:
Residents can still go to the grocery stores, put gas in their cars, take walks outside and make pharmacy runs, the governor said at a Friday afternoon news conference. All local roads, including the interstate highways and tollways, will remain open to traffic, as well.
“For the vast majority of you already taking precautions, your lives will not change very much,” Pritzker said.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot said “now is not the time for half measures" and urged people to follow the order to stay at home.
“You must stay home,” she said. “This is not a lockdown, or martial law.”
“This is clearly not a decision that was made lightly, nor by one person," she said. “These are choices that must be made for the good of all residents."
This won't change anything much for me, as I have worked from home almost every day this month. But my friend who owns a book shop, my friends who teach, my friends who make their living through music—they're hosed. I'm not even sure my dog walker can continue working, which doubly sucks for him because he's also a jazz musician.
Where is Federal leadership such as Boris Johnson (!) just displayed in the UK? Oh, right. We elected a clown in 2016 and they elected one last year, but theirs went to Oxford.
I'm trying to get my mind around a Conservative government announcing this a few minutes ago:
The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has announced the government will pay the wages of British workers to keep them in jobs as the coronavirus outbreak escalates.
In an unprecedented step, Sunak said the state would pay grants covering up to 80% of the salary of workers kept on by companies, up to a total of £2,500 per month, just above the median income.
“We are starting a great national effort to protect jobs,” he said. “It’s on all of us.”
Sunak said there would be no limit on the funding available to pay people’s wages.
The government is also deferring the next quarter of VAT payments, which is the equivalent of injecting another £30bn into the economy and is designed to help companies stay afloat.
(Another thing that I just learned: Sterling has dropped 12% against the dollar in the past week, hitting £1 = $1.1641 a few minutes ago.)
Closer to home:
And finally, Mother Jones asks "How do you know if you're living through the death of an empire?"
I have tons of experience working from home, but historically I've balanced that by going out in the evenings. The pandemic has obviously cut that practice down to zero. Moreover, the village of Oak Park will start shelter-in-place measures tomorrow, so I expect Chicago to do the same in the next couple of days. The Oak Park order seems reasonable: stay home except for essentials like food and medicine, stay two meters away from other people, it's OK to walk your dog, and so on. Since I'm already doing all of those things, a Chicago order would only affect my friends who, for example, own book shops and can't work remotely for other reasons.
In other pandemic news:
- As of yesterday a record 41,000 Illinois residents filed for unemployment benefits in a 48-hour period.
- Two luxury hotels have closed in Chicago with others expected to follow.
- Bruce Schneier calls attention to a work-from-home security awareness kit and worries about how the pandemic will increase overall infosec vulnerability because people don't actually know how to secure their home offices.
- Josh Marshall worries we're flying totally blind, because we haven't collected vital data about the pandemic's spread.
- The pub where citizens took refuge in the Zombie apocalypse comedy Sean of the Dead has shut because of the pandemic. “We stayed open during a zombie plague, ISIS attacks on London, an alien invasion and the news that Genesis were reforming, but we’ve had to take expert advice and close our doors this time”, said landlord Simon Williams.
- Republican US Senator Richard Burr briefed "a small group of well-connected constituents" about COVID-19 three weeks ago, according to a secret recording obtained by NPR. Another Republican asshat, US Representative Don Young (R-AK), joked about the "beer virus" and suggested people continue going out as normal. (Even if I hadn't specified the party affiliations of these tools, you'd know which party, wouldn't you?)
- Former US Senator Al Franken calls Trump's response "the last straw."
- Peter Nicholas writes in the Atlantic that "this is how Donald Trump will be remembered."
Also, today is the 92nd anniversary of the debut of "Amos 'n' Andy" on Chicago's WMAQ radio.
President Trump claims he knew COVID-19 was a pandemic all along, even though he had a strangely ineffective way of showing it.
Finally, and not related even a little to COVID-19, Olga Khazan writes in the Atlantic about "the perks of being a weirdo."
Actually, things seem to have quieted down. Bars and restaurants in Illinois closed last night at 9pm, and my company has moved to mandatory work-from-home, so things could not be quieter for me. I'm also an introvert with a dog and gigabit Internet, meaning I have a need to leave my house several times a day and something to do inside. (I'm also working, and in fact cracked a difficult nut yesterday that made today very productive.)
Outside of my house:
Finally, I was able to get everyone on board with a new date for Apollo After Hours. That only took five days...and 80 emails...
The Dow Industrial Average index of 30 blue-chip stocks dropped almost 3,000 points today, erasing almost all the gains the index made since President Trump's inauguration. This comes on the first business day after the Federal Reserve dropped interest rates to near zero, and the CDC issued new guidance on avoiding groups of 50 or more for the next 8 weeks.
Related stories, just from today:
I will now resume beating up a partner organization for deploying software on Friday night that broke literally everything on our side.
Those words appear on the cover of a 450-page CDC-written manual called "Crisis Risk Emergency Communications." Apparently, if anyone in the Trump Administration has read the book, they have chosen to do the opposite, instead of bungling everything accidentally:
Protecting vulnerable people from a virus that, according to some projections, could infect millions and kill hundreds of thousands, depends on U.S. leaders issuing clear public health instructions and the public’s trust to follow directions that could save their lives.
The fundamental principles behind good public health communication are almost stunningly simple: Be consistent. Be accurate. Don’t withhold vital information, the CDC manual says. And above all, don’t let anyone onto the podium without the preparation, knowledge and discipline to deliver vital health messages.
Nearly every day since the coronavirus landed in America, the White House has issued “mixed and conflicting messages from multiple sources,” the first guideline in the manual’s list of potentially harmful practices. “Overly reassuring and unrealistic communication” has come from the highest levels of government. The “perception that certain groups are gaining preferential treatment” has become a problem with health care workers complaining they can’t get tested while two asymptomatic Trump allies in Congress, Celine Dion and the members of the Utah Jazz basketball team were able to access tests.
The CDC manual devotes an entire chapter to “choosing the right spokesperson,” someone who gives the government and its message “a human form.” But the government’s leading health experts have had to repeatedly cede the microphone to politicians — with the nation’s top health officials repeatedly canceling news conferences to make room for Vice President Pence or Trump or to avoid upstaging other White House announcements.
And to my Republican acquaintances who say I'm criticizing the president because I just don't like him, you've got it backwards: I don't like him because of this kind of thing. His ineptitude has, and will continue, to cost lives.
As Aaron Sorkin once wrote, "We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. This a time for serious people, [Donald], and your fifteen minutes are up."