Coronovirus updates

March 17, 2020 • 7:30 am

Although I said I wouldn’t post much on the pandemic, I just received two items (and have an extra) which are worth some attention. The first comes from my friend Winnie, who just flew back to her home in Hong Kong after a few weeks in England. She sent two pictures and a caption, and I post all of this with her permission.

London to Hong Kong yesterday on Cathay Pacific Business and Economy. See the bag on head and kitchen gloves.

I asked for clarification. The response:

We got back on Saturday and all hell broke loose on Sunday when Hong Kong announced that all UK arrivals would be quarantined starting this Thursday. A lot of Hongkies, including students studying in the UK, are stranded and unable to get home; direct flights are sold out for the foreseeable future and the usual European and Asian transit countries have imposed flight bans so the only way is to fly private. My brother sent me these pics of a flight yesterday from London to Hong Kong. People wore plastic bags over their heads for the entire 11-hour flight!


Item #2.  My only thought on how to weather this isolation is to load up with books I want to read. I went to the library yesterday and took out three, but they were out of two I wanted, which had been loaned. (The policy at the U of C is that if faculty take out a book, it can’t be recalled: you have to request it by interlibrary loan.) So that’s what I did, and I got this notice a short time ago (my emphasis):

Dear Jerry Coyne:

A request you have placed:

Title: Bloodlands Europe between Hitler and Stalin
Author: Snyder, Timothy.
has been cancelled for the following reason:

Unable to borrow item

Due to library closures related to COVID-19, no library is able to supply this material. Please resubmit your requests when normal operations resume.

If you have a question about this cancelled item, please contact Interlibrary Loan Services NUMBERS REDACTED

If this material is not available via Interlibrary Loan, purchase requests can be placed at WEBSITE REDACTED

If the cancellation reason listed above is that the title is available in the University Library, and you are unable to locate the material in the bookstacks, please request a search before re-submitting an interlibrary loan request.

Interlibrary Loan Services

The local bookstore is closed, too, so I better haul my tuchas across the street and get some more books. If you can’t get books during the pandemic, and all the restaurants are closed, is life worth living?

Readers’ wildlife follows, after I go grocery shopping at 6:30 a.m. to avoid the crowds.

Addendum:  I just returned from shopping, and they were out of pork chops, so I bought beans and peanut butter. (Several people were buying big packs of bottled water.) Walking by the toilet paper aisle, I couldn’t help but notice this:

Nothing to buy here—move along.

73 thoughts on “Coronovirus updates

    1. I could be stuck in my flat for a decade & not run out of fresh reading…

      I suggest Matthew’s book for those who like a weighty tome 🙂

      dom the bibliomaniac!

      1. Yeah me too! I have both physical & electronic books galore plus there is also Amazon – your best friend during plague time….I’ve already ordered items to be delivered for work from home & I really enjoy listening to the audiobooks while a Kindle book highlights the text being read.

      2. I am a compulsive book buyer. I literally have thousands, mostly non-fiction. Between my Kindle and my library, the quarantine could go on for the rest of my life without running out of reading material.

        1. As I approach retirement, I’ve taken a sweep through my (once stupidly extensive) library of hard copy books. Mine too are dominated by NF: Probably 99-1.

          Every year I get rid of at least 4 packing boxes (donated to my local library).

          First time through, the books filled the back of my (full size) pickup truck. Hi, I’m James and I am a book addict.

          Now, I buy everything on Kindle unless: No Kindle version is available or the point of the book is the illustrations or photographs, for instance I buy (too many!) books of photographs. My photographer son is going inherit one heck of a library of photography.

        2. Now I’m remembering that scene from the Twilight Zone where the guy has all the books to read after a nuclear strike but his glasses break.

    2. Old ‘Pelican’ books are my favourite paperbacks for smelling, and generally cheap hard cover pre-1950. Modern books don’t seem to have any aroma at all.

      1. I am serious. I have a good copy of the book Dr. Coyne wants to read, yet I do not have a personalized copy of WEIT.

        1. I’ll trade you. Though if you live overseas the postage might be high.

          Email me if you want to swap. I have a slightly read copy with Ben Goren’s signature in it. But I can autograph it too.

          1. Hi Jerry, seems to me we haven’t heard from Ben in these comment threads in ages (maybe I’ve just missed his comments?). Do you know if he’s OK?

  1. I read on a Kindle too. I’ve actually go to where I like it as well as a paper book.

    I guess obvious suggested reading for the period would include Albert Camus’s “La peste” (“The plague”) and of course Bocaccio’s “Decameron”!

    Here in France, we now cannot go out at all without an attestation signed by … ourselves. Curiously, computer stores can remain open, but we are not allowed out to go to them.

  2. If you can’t get books during the pandemic, and all the restaurants are closed, is life worth living?

    We’re still better off than most of the world’s population pre-1900.

    I’m somewhat surprised at your depression, PCC. I guess I understand emotionally where it’s coming from, but the situation looks to be so temporary that I’ve never given it much thought. Too much work…via the internet…which is still an amazing thing. And now I get to go jogging during my lunch hour, which I couldn’t do at my current work location.

    This too, shall pass. In the meantime, dwell on the irony that this is all happening during Lent.

  3. Carl Zimmer’s book “A Planet of Viruses” might make for some timely reading…just a thought.

    It looks as though people in Chicago, with a greater number of known cases, are panicking far more than down here in Bumfuck, Missouri (not its real name but might as well be). I suppose the rednecks around here trust that our Dear Leader will save them somehow. Maybe his magical orange glow somehow kills the virus. At least our republican governor isn’t as stupid as Oklahoma’s is, or like that idiot DevinNunes, both telling people to go out to eat and never mind the crowds. Might as well lick doorknobs if you’re dumb enough to take their advice. On a related note, I haven’t heard much from the anti-vaxxers lately.

    Stay safe and sane everyone.

    1. I remember when we first started hearing of this virus, the anti-vaxxers were going on about how it was a conspiracy to force people to vaccinate & they said things like, “watch, a vaccine will magically appear in a few days”. Instead there were skyrocketing death tolls. Bloody anti-vaxxers.

        1. I’m sure as we see the cases & deaths climb over the coming weeks they’ll complain that it was all for nothing & then if it’s not as bad as they thought in the long run it will have been a big conspiracy. Just like Y2K. Because everyone took the appropriate measures, people assumed it was just overhyped when it was really just successfully mitigated.


            (‘ . . . University of Wyoming economist Linda Thunstrom asked what felt like a taboo question: “Are we overreacting?” . . . in her kitchen, drinking coffee with her husband . . . a fellow economist who studies how much Americans are willing to pay to reduce risk . . . .’

            ‘Calculating the economic costs of curtailing social interaction compared with the lives saved, he agreed, might yield a useful metric for policymakers . . . the “statistical value of life” currently pegged by one government agency [Filippo: economists, I gather] at about $9 million.’)

            Not a few Times readers’ comments in response to the above align with your sentiments.


            “Dr. Anthony Fauci already answered this question when he said that, when people accuse him of overreacting, he knows that he has it exactly right.”

            “Am I missing something? It is my understanding that in an outbreak of any pathogen, we should all be listening to EPIDEMIOLOGISTS, not social scientists, economists, or policy makers except where they are also listening to EPIDEMIOLOGISTS.”

            1. Epidemiologists do not consider trade-offs, like how much are we willing to damage the economy to achieve a bit more curve flattening. Damaging the economy can hurt and even kill people too. With something of this magnitude with wide-spread effects, you need varied expertise, not just epidemiology.

            2. My advice would be to consider the priorities of the person giving the advice.
              An economist might well be concerned with what is best for the economy.
              An epidemiologist is probably concerned with halting the spread of the outbreak.
              Neither of those goals necessarily overlap with your likely goal, which is to protect yourself and your family from disease.
              Of course an infectious disease specialist is likely going to offer the best advice.

              Random idiots on the internet are a terrible source of such advice, but I will give some anyway. If you can stay home and limit contact, you should probably do so. Places not yet infected have a rapidly closing window of opportunity to prepare. Once it is known in your area, it will likely have already been spreading there for a week or so.

  4. As to grocery store shelves: was at Trader Joe’s yesterday. There seemed to be a run on pasta sauce and breakfast cereal. Perhaps there is a new culinary trend in the offing that I’m missing out on. But I’ll pass for now as it might lead to my toilet paper supply being depleted.

    1. “Perhaps there is a new culinary trend in the offing that I’m missing out on”

      “Conservabilità”. A modern Italian trend.

      It translates as “Shelf-stable”

  5. If the pandemic goes for a few months, which seems almost certain, we will be in not a recession, but a worldwide depression. Both Trump and the Democrats are proposing stimulus packages in the range of $750 to $850 billion dollars. But, it is likely that these plans will differ greatly. Whether they can even agree on a plan and its potential effectiveness remains to be seen. The Trump administration is so inept that I trust nothing it does or proposes. The echoes of this pandemic will resound for decades even after a vaccine is presumably available. This is most consequential event for the world since World War II. The mantra that the world has never been better will have to be put on hold. But whether this “hold” is temporary or long-term remains to be seen.

    1. Governor Cuomo of New York has been talking on CNN and MSNBC for at least a half hour talking about what they are doing there. My only question is why is he not president of this country right now?

      1. Yeah, I happened to walk into the room where I’ve got the news playing in the background just in time to hear him paraphrase Rudyard Kipling’s “If — ” and to hear him pronounce “all” as “earl.” 🙂

        He looked to be in the middle of an extemporaneous mash-up of warnings, plans, pleas for help, reassurances, and reveries regarding his family. Seemed to be doing his damnedest to fill the leadership vacuum at the top.

  6. Despite its being an Amazon product, I love my Kindle. Whenever I get one of those old-fashioned books made of wood pulp I have to resist an urge to tap on a word in order to look it up in Wikipedia.

    The Metopera is streaming operas in HD free every evening.

  7. “If you can’t get books during the pandemic, and all the restaurants are closed, is life worth living?”

    Maybe some of us should have a go at writing one, on some topic that doesn’t depend too much on consultation with unavailable books. My interests and library make the latter a bit easier than for many.

    Keith may be interested to know that attractive to me is something which ‘puts so-called Free Logic out of its misery once and for all, including silly formalizations of Anselm’s ontological proof of god’s existence’. But surely that book would need very few pages underneath that lengthy title.

    I’ll put the most vituperative bit on my web page for him once it’s done.

    Another possibility is of course to go for very, very long walks.

    Not so long for me at first, because I’m recovering from having a hip replaced last month–good timing for sure! Kill two birds with one stone. Pardon the metaphor.

    1. Lucky you on that surgery timing! Ans it’s been long enough I assume no infection. Well done.

      (I had mine done in Q3 2018. Long recovery but great results. As I say, “I can forget about it most of the time.” And I am fitter and working out harder than I have in about 20 years. I was in serious pain before the surgery. Kept me awake at night with big painful twitches in my whole leg, in addition to the dull permanent ache and the sometimes burning pain. Such fun it was!)

      1. Thanks for the encouragement. I seem to have avoided all possible negatives over the 5 weeks since then, and can walk unaided now.

        It sounds like your hip arthritis was noticeably worse than mine, though my sleep had become a problem.

        Because of nordic ski stuff, I’d noticed there was something not so good down there a very long time ago. But it took forever before I had the sense to figure out what kind of deterioration. Now the physio says I should even go back to skate-ski racing. I’d written that off 3 years ago.

        A friend and really high level old fart athlete has been classic ski racing with one hip replaced since 1998. He holds swim age records for many ages and distances. He’s only 87 years old, maybe 88 now.

        So, with his example, I’d never written off the non-skate classic stuff. That’s less stress than even walking.

        1. Good for you! My advice: Do your physical therapy and never stop. I’m still doing -mine, and raising the level, 18 months post-op. And I’m doing my back, shoulder, tennis-elbow, and knee therapy from many years ago.

          I would be pretty sure you will be able to classic and skate ski again. Be sue your PT knows you want to get there and they can help with specific exercises of course. I found roller-blading (with knee pads, wrist braces, leather gloves, and helmet) to be great training for skiing. Might be worth a try.

          My hip was bone-on-bone; but being a Norwegian-heritage, ex-mountaineer, I was toughing it out. I could still at least bicycle hard. But the pain from walking and sleeping at night just got too bad.

          I felt immensely better as soon as I woke up after surgery. I had been doing the pre-op exercises diligently, though that probably had little to do with it. Mainly just getting rid of that terribly arthritic joint.

          Every person I spoke to who had had a joint replacement said, without exception: I waited too long, don’t wait. I went from little pain to extreme pain in about 2 months, brought on by too aggressive of stretching, of all things. From onset of bad pain to surgery was only about 4 months, so I didn’t wait too long to go for it. I’m glad I did.

          My great joy was: My leg and gait felt completely unchanged (totally normal) post-op. (My surgeon is young enough to be my kid (!! of course, almost everyone is these days!) and he’s good.)

          I started out on the extreme “good end” of the recovery curve. I am normally super-active and I was doing 4 1-mile walks per day within four days post-op. (They said: Walk as much as you can!) I was working from home at the same time (like right now), so getting those four miles in took some time out of my working day. The PT and doctor were saying, wow, great, keep it up.

          Then I got the hare-brained idea that I was well enough to carry some boxes into my basement. The next day, I started to hurt and it got worse and worse for two weeks as I was in denial that I needed to go back to my cane. Which I finally did and that (plus more PT sessions) set me back on the road to recovery. But that sequence of stupidity set me back 6 (very frustrating) months. Ugh.

          I would love to do Nordic skiing (I was a nut-job on it from high school (Minnesota) through my 20s and early 30s (Seattle, ski-mountaineering on 3-pin gear) until I tore my knee up. Now my knee is too unstable for skiing :(. I am probably a candidate for a full knee eventually (it’s hanging in there for now); and that may allow me to ski again.

          1. We seem similar in many ways.

            I’ve used roller skis for 37 years, roller blades only for awhile early on. (I think my old ones are 3 times heavier than modern ones.)
            I have no recent or known genealogical connection with Norway, but good friends there, and done that Birkebeiner race 4 or 5 times.
            “I felt immensely better as soon as I woke up after surgery.”
            Me too for similar reasons, but then it occurred to me in the recovery room that still ‘frozen’ (even as far up as the, ahem, dick); and also full of whatever stuff (opioids?) they’d used, I might not be so happy that night. But it’s been good; I only used the prescribed opioid for 5 days, then a bit of aceteminophen.

            I’d bought one of those ConceptII poling machines–very good simulation and can keep upper body half-decent when babying the legs.

            Anyway, I’m glad to hear more good news about hip replacements. I’ll probably need the right hip also done. If lucky, I can race next winter, get her to operate in April or June (2021) then race again the 2021/2022 winter.

            I’m glad I didn’t donate my very high end skate skiing stuff to some deserving youngster. I’ll do that before I’m 99, but not too much before I hope (if there’s still snow then!).

  8. If your library card is current, you should have access to your library’s ebook resources, such as Hoopla and Overdrive. Hoopla limits borrowings to 5 per month, but Overdrive (a much larger catalog) should allow you to read any and all you want as long as it’s available at Overdrive. Your library may use other resources than these, but they’ll have something similar. If you don’t have a library card or you’ve allowed it to expire, get to your library immediately; library systems are beginning to close down, not to re-open until at least mid April.

    Secondly, and this question is for the entire class, wtf are we supposed to do when there is no toilet paper to be had?

      1. Mark – very good solution to TP problem. It immediately lead me to having a flashback. There were only cloth diapers and wringer washers a lifetime ago when my boys were infants. It was a lot of work but doing buckets of diaper laundry was the norm. With automatic washers and dryers the problem would be very manageable. YES – and try not to think about it.

        1. I wonder what the current market for corn cobs is.

          My grandfather once posed to me the question, “If you had two cobs, one red and one white, which would you use first, and why?”

          Use the red first, and test with the white to see how good a job one did with the red. If good enough, save the white for another time.

      2. I recall my dad telling me that, when he was a kid growing up in a coal-mining company town, they’d keep a Sears & Roebuck catalog in the outhouse in lieu of toilet paper. Just rip out a page and … well, you can imagine.

        OF course, nowadays, Sears & Roebuck catalogs — or, hell, Sears & Roebucks stores themselves — are harder to come by than toilet paper in a pandemic-depleted Publix.

        1. Start checking out the older face cloths and ripping up old dust cloths for a whole new line of duty. Just in case…..

    1. My inlaws are from Thailand. Staying with them, I notice they use very little toilet paper. The water supply line for western style toilets had a T which fed a small spray wand as well as the flush tank. You wash first, then just a few wipes to finish off. So I guess it depends how close your shower is to your toilet and how low your supply of toilet paper is running.

    2. I just signed up for a library online service. Looks like tons of material for the fussiest bibliophile. Gardening will take much of my time for the next few weeks.

  9. Do Cathay Pacific and Aeroflot code-share some flights? Because that’s definitely an Aeroflot plane.

    I still have my Aeroflot frequent flyer card that I got for a single St Petersburg – Moscow flight in 2009. I like to pull it out when one of my friends is bragging about his Unobtanium Credit Card on some airline – ‘yeah, but you don’t have one of these!’.

    1. Went TorontoWarsaw on an Aeroflot back before 1990. It wasn’t spanking clean/modern. But my gosh it was about 10% faster than Western airlines had scheduled. Took it because it was non-stop, but the faster was real, not just saving the stop.

      1. Yes, there can easily be a difference of 100 nmph between various jet transport types (normal cruising speed). That can make a big difference in time on a long flight.

    2. “..I like to pull it out when one of my friends is bragging about his Unobtanium Credit Card..”

      I like pulling out a rather gorgeous Faroes Islands 10 Kroner note for a similar reason.

      1. Years ago, while working the desk at the family motel, my cousin always made sure to have at least one $50 bill in the cash draw so that, when a guest “puttin’ on airs” “plopped” down a $100 bill to make a payment and/or get change, he could in return “plop” down a $50 as part of the change.

        1. As a student I worked at the front gate of a park. People loved giving me a $100 bill first thing in the morning which would clear out my float.

          1. Oh I should mention, the entry fee was $5/car. I would just tell them I couldn’t change it.

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