COVID-19

Returning to the world

It was quite a week: I went to church, and I went to work.

Margaret and I are both vaccinated, as is one of Margaret’s kids who lives with us. The other isn’t, despite our admonitions. But she works in retail, and with nobody masking anymore she’s far more likely to get sick at work than because Margaret or I brought COVID home. So Margaret and I are no longer restricting ourselves. We’re also not rushing to Do All the Things in the world, either. We’re taking measured and deliberate steps.

When I walked in at church, everyone about fell over. I didn’t tell anyone I was coming, I just showed up. We hadn’t seen each other in 15 months! I took my usual place in the back and enjoyed the service. I was almost overcome with happiness when communion was passed. In my faith tradition, we take communion every week. I really missed it.

Last month I said that when Margaret and I felt safe to return to worship, we’d find a new church together. That’s still our aim, but in the short term I will attend at my current church about every other Sunday. There needs to be someone from church leadership in attendance every week, and the fellow we’d been leaning on for that is going to be away most of the summer. So one of the other leaders and I are alternating weeks.

I won’t go every week because our granddaughter comes to visit on Sunday mornings. Without getting into all of the complications around this, I’ll just say that this is the time her mom can bring her, and that’s that.

I worked in the office on Tuesday. The company opened its office on Monday, allowing anyone vaccinated to work unmasked. I had to provide a scan of my vaccination card. I understand how some people might find this to be too invasive, but in this instance I didn’t at all mind sending in my scan.

This is a brand new office for my company. We were in the building next door until March, and then we were homeless for several weeks while finishing touches were placed on the new office, which is in a new building. The photo above is from the window near my desk, where I have a commanding view of the Eli Lilly & Co. building. The pharmaceutical giant is headquartered here.

My company is allowing us to work some days at home and some days in the office. My plan is to work in the office Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday for sure, and maybe on Monday. But I’ll work from home every Wednesday for sure.

I’m going to add in-office days slowly. I found it to be intensely stressful to suddenly work from home every day last year when all this began. I hope that by easing back into my in-office schedule, I can adapt more easily.

It’s as if I am given a limited number of “energy cards” every day, and when I’ve given all of those cards out in the course of a day’s events, I’m out of energy. Truly, when that happens, I’m fried. I make routines out of anything I can, because it reduces how much I have to think about them, which conserves energy. When the pandemic sent me home to work, every last one of my workday routines was upended. I had to figure out all new ones, and until I did I was exhausted at the end of each day.

Sure enough, working in the office on Tuesday left me spent. It had been a long time since I’d dealt with rush-hour traffic, and that spent a whole energy card by itself. It didn’t used to, probably by sheer daily repetition. But after a 15-month hiatus, I had lost my chops, I guess.

Of course, I did all the things you do when you work for the first time in a new office: set up my desk, figure out how to work the coffee machine, and find the restrooms. But I also took all of my meetings over Zoom just as I did the day before working at home, as nobody I met with was in the office that day. So I had Zoom fatigue on top of everything-is-new fatigue.

When I go back to the office this Tuesday, I won’t have so many new things to figure out. But I’m sure the commute will still be tiring, until I get used to it again.

Another reason I plan to add in-office days slowly is because when I work from home, I can ride my bike on my lunch hour. I’m reluctant to give that up, as this is the last summer I will get to do it. I’m even considering taking a long bike tour later this year, covering 150 miles or so over a few days. Riding most weekdays will help me prepare for that. I’ve wanted to do a tour for years, and if ever there’s a year to do it, this is it.

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COVID-19

Like sex without a condom

Indiana’s mask mandate ended in early April. While a few counties opted to continue it, the one I live in did not.

Even though Margaret and I are both vaccinated, we have continued to wear masks even where it isn’t required, and we have continued to stay out of indoor public places except when strictly necessary. Two of our adult children still live with us, and they are not yet vaccinated. One of them has a health condition that puts them at extra risk. We didn’t want to risk bringing it home to them. We know that our vaccinations make the likelihood low, but the impact sure could be high if it happened.

My chiropractor’s office was the first place in my world to shed their masks. The woman behind the desk directly encouraged me to leave my mask behind on my next visit. Then I started seeing a small number of people ignore various businesses’ mask requirements.

Meijer

Last Saturday, when I went to Meijer to do the week’s shopping, they no longer required masks. I’d say 70 percent of shoppers shopped bare faced.

Meijer was a bellwether for me. If they aren’t requiring masks, other businesses assuredly aren’t either — including the restaurant and retail store where our two adult children work. Shortly, none will.

Margaret said, “If the kids get it, it is going to be from where they work. We can’t protect them anymore.” She was right.

We’ve been strongly encouraging them both to get vaccinated, but neither has been interested. One was concerned about side effects. I told them both that my own reading says that they were far more likely to have a bad time with COVID than they were with any of the available vaccines, but it didn’t move them.

I’m the kind of dad who would say, “Look, my house, my rules. Get vaccinated. If you want to follow your own rules, get your own house.” But these are Margaret’s kids, and Margaret doesn’t parent in the same way I do. She continues to encourage them. One of them finally agreed to do it and has one Pfizer shot in him. The other remains disinterested.

BW3

I said to Margaret, “I don’t know what you think about it, but I think it’s okay for us to relax our vigilance.” She agreed. So we’re no longer masking up in places that don’t require it. And Sunday we took the plunge: we walked over to the Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant near our home, went inside, and ate cheeseburgers and drank beer. “It feels like sex without a condom,” Margaret said as we sat down.

I did feel slight anxiety as we entered, but it melted when our first round of beers arrived. (I had a Porter that tasted like coffee and chocolate. I love a good Porter!) It felt like it had been only a week since our last visit to a restaurant, not 15 months.

Meanwhile, my company has announced that they are opening the office June 7. They aren’t requiring anyone to return just yet, but working in the office will be available for those who want it. Anyone vaccinated will not have to wear a mask, but we have to place a copy of our vaccination cards on file with HR.

Switching suddenly to working from home last year was surprisingly stressful. I had to learn a lot of new habits and figure out how to cope with Zoom fatigue. (On a typical work day, I’m on Zoom six or seven hours.) I suspect that if I were to return full time to the office, I’d experience similar stress. To spread out that stress, I’ve decided to work one day a week in the office, and add days slowly.

Probably later this year, my company will end this flexibility and ask us to choose among working remotely full time, or working in the office full time, or working a hybrid schedule at home Monday and/or Wednesday but in the office the rest of the week.

I choose the hybrid schedule. There have been big benefits to working from home — shedding my hour round-trip commute, being able to walk and ride my bike more, slipping in a load of laundry here and there, even being able to cut the grass on my lunch hour. I’d like to keep some of that. Truly, these benefits are so strong that I considered never returning to the office.

But I miss the people. As a pegging-the-meter introvert, I don’t need much human contact. But I need some, and my needs have not been met during the pandemic. I didn’t realize until I didn’t have it anymore just how much of that need is met in the office. Also, when I’m back in the office I will have a much easier time building the relationships I need at work to influence things to go the way I want. Most of the company is choosing the hybrid schedule, so I’ll see most people there and be able to have the casual interactions with them that I’ve always used to build bonds.

I know the pandemic isn’t over. Not enough people are vaccinated to create herd immunity. We don’t know how long the vaccines last just yet, and we don’t know whether they protect against the variants yet to come. I’m moving forward on some faith, recognizing that we might have to isolate again. I’m sure I’ll experience that as a blow if it comes. But I can’t defend against every possible future event. I’m choosing to act on the current reality.

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COVID-19

Loosening the restrictions

Today is the first day pandemic restrictions are eased in Indiana (except in three counties where conditions don’t warrant it yet). Stage 1 was the full stay-at-home order. We’re now in Stage 2, which allows all retail stores to open at half capacity, allows social gatherings to resume at no more than 25 people (with distancing and face masks), and lifts travel restrictions. Religious services can resume this weekend, with distancing. Next Monday, hair and nail salons can reopen by appointment only and with staff wearing masks, and restaurants can open at half capacity. Distancing and masks remain encouraged. People aged 65 and over and anyone with a high-risk medical condition are encouraged to stay home.

West Park Christian Church (crop)
Empty pews at church

I find myself wanting to remain more conservative than the state is allowing. I don’t think the curve was flattened enough here. I worry that we are going to cause a spike in cases. I don’t envision eating in a restaurant or visiting my stylist (oh, how unwieldy my hair is becoming!). You won’t see me shopping except for food and necessities. I’m not going to church.

However, I’m finding it more and more difficult, emotionally, to not see family. Also, I think our children who still live with us are deeply craving contact with friends and family too. Yesterday we decided it was time to take some calculated risks. We had one of our sons over, one who lives alone and has deeply missed us. We allowed another son to have his girlfriend over. There has been some on-the-sly contact between them anyway, and we think that otherwise our family and theirs have honored the stay-at-home order. It was so nice to have everybody here. I think this is going to be our new normal for a while.

We aren’t alone, it seems. NPR reports that the number of Americans who stay home every day has declined steadily in the three weeks since Easter, based on mobile-phone location data. This suggests that social distancing may on the decline. It’s possible, I suppose, that people are practicing good social distancing wherever they’re going.

We’re eager to see Margaret’s dad and my mom, but they’ll have to wait a little longer. They’re both north of age 65 and one has a high-risk health condition. This is where we’re drawing the line for now.

Assuming the indicators state officials are watching stay within tolerances, we will move to Stage 3 on May 24. which loosens restrictions even further. There will be Stages 4 and 5 as well, currently timed for June 14 and July 4. Even at Stage 5, we will still need to socially distance in public.

We’re not going to return fully to normal for some time yet.

One additional pandemic report today, from Christopher May.

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COVID-19

Report from the pandemic

I’m going to blog from time to time about my family’s experience during the COVID-19 pandemic. I’d love to hear about your experiences, too. Blogging gives us all an opportunity to share this experience of isolation, so we can feel less isolated. If you have a blog, please consider doing this too. Or start a blog for it. If you do this, let me know and I’ll link to you in my future pandemic reports.

I’m in my second week of working from home now. It’s not too bad, I think because my wife, Margaret, and three of our (adult) kids are here and so it doesn’t get lonely. I remember about six years ago I was a snowstorm stranded me at home for a week, all alone, and I was stir crazy by the end of it. I’m mighty introverted and adore being alone, but I do need some human interaction. That week didn’t meet my minimum requirements.

Our kids all had lives that saw them seldom home. They’re all home a lot now, except for the oldest who’s an apprentice plumber and is still working during the day. The younger two worked in restaurants and are now unemployed. They’re fortunate as their lack of income isn’t a crisis for them thanks to our roof and our food. We have shared more family meals, and more time just hanging out together, and it’s been lovely.

Indiana issued a stay-at-home order this week, to run through at least April 6. Since Margaret’s workplace was considered nonessential, it closed. Generously, they’re paying her until that date, but there are no guarantees beyond that. She can do some of her job from here and will as needed, but mostly she’s going to work on personal projects. Good for her; she’s not had much time for them in many years.

Margaret and I reflected the other day on how privileged we are right now. Our lives are different but not actually worse. We both know people who are now out of work and are scrambling to pay the rent and feed their families.

Our situation will change if this time of isolation lasts more than a couple weeks. Because of the nature of what Margaret’s employer does, I feel sure they will have to start laying off or furloughing staff if the stay at home order continues. Like I said last week, we’ll tighten our belts and be okay.

Leadership at my company is thankfully being mostly transparent about our financial situation. We’re okay now and will be for “some time.” But we’re eliminating nonessential spending and cutting some budgets to give us a longer cash runway. It’s prudent, and I’m glad. We are also exploring what we can change about our service offering, and what we can build into our product, to meet changing demand and find opportunity in this adversity.

Tension is high at work. We all feel some level of worry and we all feel real urgency to deliver fast on our initiatives.

Even though they haven’t said it plainly, it’s clear from context that after some while of revenue not meeting projections, hard choices will have to be made.

It’s always there, in the back of my head: the worry about being unemployed for the third time in five years. I worry that if it happens, economic conditions will make it incredibly difficult to find another job at all, let alone near my current salary or in my field.

I try to deflect that worry, or if I can’t, leave it on low simmer on the very back burner. I can’t control whether it happens. The best I can do is focus on my work, which is aimed at bringing in additional and new revenue in these changed times, and deliver it as well and as fast as I can.

I do most of the family shopping. I’m a meal planner, and go to the store with a solid list, and make each day the dinner I planned for that day. That’s all changed: we go to the store and buy what is available and figure out what meals we will make out of it. For example, I’ve never prepared pork ribs in my life, but they were one of the few available meats when I last shopped and so I brought some home. I’m going to make them today. Thank heavens for the Internet, which has instructions for everything.

There may be a blessing hidden in this: that I might become more flexible and fluid. That’d be nice.

I’m trying to get out for a walk every day. I don’t always succeed — work has been unusually demanding and time consuming. But I try very hard to do it. I usually take a camera along. I’m also shooting stuff around the house more. It really does take the edge off my stress to fire a few frames. I’m still shooting film and I’m focusing on black-and-white so I can develop it myself and save a lot over sending it to a lab. Here’s a photo I made at home just the other day. Just my car in the driveway, but I like how the plane of my car intersects with the plane of the houses across the street.

My vee dub

Sort of speaking of which, for my fellow photographers, a fellow in the UK named Andrew Sanderson has started a blog called Stuck At Home Photography which you can see here. He wrote a lovely book many years ago called Home Photography that extolled the virtues of, and gave many practical tips for, finding great photo subjects all over your home and property.

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