COVID CHRONICLES Day 0
16 Days in March
The times seem so much simpler looking back only two months.
Our trip to New York had been months in the planning. Lisa had foundation meetings and was also set to perform as part of a benefit concert for a prominent youth music organization. I was consulting on messaging and the tribute video for the benefit. We flew to New York on March 5th.
Here are the top headlines from the San Francisco Chronicle and New York Times from that day.
- Coronavirus claims first victim in state — Placer County man, 71, fell ill on cruise to Mexico out of S.F.
- How worried should parents be?
- State slams S.F. police for lagging on reforms
- Bloomberg Endorses Biden as Sanders Laments Turnout of Younger Voters
- Coronavirus Testing Offered with Just a Doctor’s Approval, C.D.C. Says
- When Can We Go to School?’ Nearly 300 Million Children Are Missing Class
In retrospect it may seem questionable that the trip wasn’t canceled. But at that point, “social distancing” meant rubbing elbows instead of shaking hands and hugging without kissing. New York was open for business, and no one was saying it shouldn’t be.
Lisa held her meetings but stayed in at night as she usually does in the days before a performance. Others (including me) had a chance to take in the city. Saturday night was a high point for me when I and 3,800 other people were treated to Joyce DiDonato sing the lead role in Agrippina at The Met (one of the most enjoyable operatic experiences I’ve had, I hasten to add, but then again, I’m a DiDonato fan). Other nights people in our party returned to the Met, went to Carnegie Hall, or enjoyed dinner and a Broadway show.
After wrapping up two days of meetings, Lisa was in rehearsal over several days. Then the night of Tuesday, March 10, she joined 400 children on stage with two other guest performers, two dozen professional musicians in the pit and a sold-out audience of 1,100 at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater. The occasion? The Young People’s Chorus of New York City’s annual benefit gala and concert, led by founder and director Francisco J. Núñez. It was an incredible and inspirational night full of joy, love and unlimited potential. No hands were shaken, nor kisses given. But everyone was certainly within “spitting distance.” We were taking basic precautions. But few people other than those at very high risk stayed away.
Yes, you get to hear Lisa sing now.
Two days later New York Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a state of emergency and banned all public gatherings of more than 500 people.
We flew home on March 11. Here are the headlines for the same two papers on that day.
- Talks Begin on Stimulus Plan as Trump Plays Down Virus Threat
- Biden Takes Command of Race, Winning Four States Including Michigan
- ‘It’s Just Everywhere Already’: How Delays in Testing Set Back the U.S. Coronavirus Response
- As the virus spreads, local responses shift — Strategies vary by county — and one drops isolation orders
- RVs roll out for homeless needing quarantine in S.F.
- Sanders, Biden cancel scheduled rallies
Lisa started having a dry, hacking cough on the flight home. But we didn’t immediately connect it to the virus threat, because we didn’t yet understand this as a COVID-19 symptom. After visiting with family on our return, we went into self-quarantine the next day when she began spiking a fever.
Six days later Lisa was given an appointment for a COVID-19 test after a three-step screening process to triage those at highest risk. She was a prime candidate because of a number of factors:
- Her list of symptoms was consistent with the virus;
- Her medical history (asthma) put her at risk;
- We’d just traveled from NY, a key factor;
- Sharing a home with her 86-year-old father and eight others; and
- The number of potentially at-risk people with whom she’d come in contact.
We feel fortunate to be at Stanford. Others in our circle reporting symptoms almost identical to Lisa’s were unable to get tested.
Here are the headlines for the day of the test.
- STAY AT HOME — 6 Bay Area counties order nearly 7 million people to shelter in place (full banner headline)
- White House issues tougher guidelines
- Teachers, parents struggle to keep students learning
- Trump Urges Limits Amid Pandemic, but Stops Short of National Mandates (full banner headline)
o Crisis Shutting Down Commerce, Likely for Months
o Guidelines Fall Short of the Mandates in Other Countries
- Lonely Deaths and Funerals as the Bodies Pile Up in Italy
Lisa received confirmation of her positive on the night of March 20, and talked with medical staff the next day. Our final set of headlines for that day:
- Newsom to Californians: Don’t leave your home — Essential trips allowed, but no enforcement planned — yet (full banner headline)
- Bay Area businesses threatened by coronavirus
- Health care workers face critical shortage of protective masks
- DOCTORS SOUND ALARM AS A NATION STRUGGLES: Shortages of Gear Imperil Staffs at Hospitals (full banner headline)
- Warning of a Pandemic Last Year Was Unheeded: Simulation Showed the U.S. Was Unprepared for a Contagion
- Is Anyone Actually Sick? Yes, She Told Her Friends, My Husband
The path this virus takes, and why it infects some people but not others, remains largely a mystery. Out of our travel party and Lisa’s meeting group, around 20–25% came down with the virus. But the rest did not. There was no perceivable difference in how Lisa interacted with those who did or did not get sick.
YPC reported some staff illnesses. But nothing near what one would expect with everyone in such close quarters.
Lisa spent one night hanging with a close composer friend, who ended up getting very sick. At the benefit dinner, they sat together. The person to the left of them is currently hospitalized on a respirator from the virus. But neither I, who was sitting next to Lisa (and subsequently quarantined with her for weeks), nor anyone else at our table got sick.
Lisa shared hugs with several close friends who later tested positive. But others did not. Also interesting to note that some older folks in the prime risk demographic did not get sick, while some young, healthy ones got quite sick. In one case, someone who was involved throughout the event (rehearsals, concert, gala) did not get sick but their partner (who was not around these events) got quite sick.
Why? We will never know.
What is clear by looking back at the headlines as they evolved between when we left California for New York and Lisa received her positive test result, is that the country came to terms with the virus over the same 16 days as Lisa’s personal journey. A journey that continues for both.
COVID CHRONICLES Days 1–28 is daily account of our experience in quarantine from the day we formally entered imposed isolation to our first days after being released. The first few days are taken from short Facebook posts until I decided to more seriously document our experience. You now know the players and the background. I hope you find our story interesting, enjoyable and informative.
Is there one lesson to draw from all of it?