Moving Outdoors for Social Distance

The Corvallis Indoor Farmer’s Market was mostly outdoors today. Why? Well, obviously, if you want to maintain social distance during the coronavirus epidemic, the outdoors is where all the distance is.

Of course, farmer’s market customers are used to having the market happen outdoors: we only have an indoor market at all because of all the pesky winter rain in Oregon. But the weather’s a lot better now.

Karen had me come in with more frozen chicken, since she sold out, so business was brisk. Not just with us, either. Lots of empty bins, baskets, and crates in the vendor booths.

Not everyone moved outdoors. There were a few booths inside, just around the perimeter of the space, widely separated. All the doors were propped open, too, for maximum ventilation and to keep people from having to touch door handles other people had touched. We’re getting the hang of this stuff.

Lots of emphasis on hygiene, of course, with plenty of hand sanitizer and spray bottles of 70% isopropyl alcohol in evidence, and people weren’t afraid to use them. Lots of signs saying, “You touch it, you buy it.” and fairly nice versions of, “If you’re sick, get outta here.” The crowd was cheerful enough, and why not? It’s been pretty cabin-feverish over the last few days.

Few masks were in evidence, but Karen wore one, from a stash of dust masks we found in the house.


I think the Powers That Be are being unnecessarily confusing about masks. Everyone should wear masks in public. Not the good n95 masks, which you should donate unless you’re at unusually serious risk yourself. Karen’s a Blodgett Volunteer Fire Department EMT, and they expect to have to reuse their n95 masks if they have to go on more than a tiny number of medical calls before the mask shortage eases.

The point of wearing ordinary masks (or bandannas over your face, for that matter), is partly that whether you get sick or not, and how sick you get, depends on how many viruses you’re slapped with at once. A big gob of someone else’s virus-loaded sputum hitting you in the face is a bioweapon that delivers a metric zillion viruses into your system. A few free-floating viruses wafting into your system won’t make you sick. Masks on both the infected person and their potential victims convert most of the weaponized droplets into something far less dangerous.

But the Powers That Be take the mask shortage for granted and have decided to say they aren’t necessary. The instant masks become available again, they’ll suddenly become mandatory: see if they don’t. This apparent contradiction will anger and confuse plenty of people.

Me, I’m digging out my bandannas. I kinda like the Old West bank robber look. Apparently there are a lot of patterns for homemade masks using materials you probably have lying around. I haven’t looked into that yet.

Free School Supplies

A consortium of local churches that distributes free school supplies every year was at it again today in downtown Philomath. I stopped to take a look. Note the use of plenty of outdoor space: wide distances between tubs of supplies. With the schools all closed, all the kids are unexpectedly home schooled, so what could be more timely and appropriate?

(I wish I’d waited a couple of minutes before taking the picture, because a bunch of parents with kids showed up just as I was leaving. Kids make every picture better, don’t you think?)

Ventilation: Contagion and the Great Outdoors

One of the books I’ve published under my Norton Creek Press label is Fresh-Air Poultry Houses, a book from 1924 that beats the drum for highly ventilated housing for chickens. Ventilation prevents a wide variety of ills, especially air-quality and airborne pathogen issues. Instead of being concentrated in a tightly shut house, the villainous airborne particles are wafted away, to be dispersed and diluted by pretty much the whole Earth’s atmosphere. And it’s important for people as much as for poultry, and probably more so.

I also read Betty MacDonald’s The Plague and I. She’s the author of the infinitely  more famous The Egg and I. Also the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books. Anyway, Betty came down with tuberculosis and spent a long time in a TB sanitorium, where she eventually recovered. Every window in the place was kept wide open year-round to minimize the danger to both the staff and the patients. This is standard stuff, but it’s largely forgotten these days.

The Miracle of the Lawn Chair

The volunteers were making good use of that unsung weapon in the war against COVID-19: the common lawn chair. They set up their chairs a respectable distance apart but still within easy conversational range. The lawn chairs do a lot to put the “social” into social distancing. And there’s something about lawn chairs: they seem to magically turn any situation into a tailgate party.

Karen and I learned this on Thursday, when we got a take-out lunch at Local Boyz Hawaiian Cafe and met some friends for a tailgate party in their half-empty parking lot, maintaining an appropriate distance and all that stuff. It was delightful; perhaps the most pleasant lunch I’ve had this year.

That’s how things look on a beautiful spring day. We’re gonna enjoy it while it lasts, since this is Oregon, not California, and the rain hasn’t finished with us yet.

Epic Epidemic Reading

While we’re practicing social isolation, it probably frees up some time for reading. Here’s my recommended book list:

Loserthink by Scott Adams. Kindle, paperback, hardcover, audiobook. How do people keep themselves stuck by putting themselves into mental cages? How can you escape? And how can you make your life more entertaining by noticing the loserthink of others, even many so-called experts, turning them into unintentional comedians? This book tells all.

The coronavirus epidemic has created a bumper crop of loserthink, including my favorite, “Why worry? 80% of cases are mild!” (83.33% of Russian Roulette cases are mild.) Entertaining and eye-opening.

Antifragile by Naseem Nicholas Taleb. Kindle, paperback, hardcover, audiobook. Taleb is the world’s foremost practical philosopher, especially when it comes to things that you have to prepare for without being able to predict with any accuracy, like stock market downturns and epidemics.

Taleb also has two very brief yet powerful papers about the Coronavirus, one published early on and one quite recent: Systemic Risk of Pandemic via Novel Pathogens – Coronavirus: A Note and Review of Ferguson et al “Impact of non-pharmaceutical interventions…”

Plagues and Peoples by William H. McNeill. Kindle, paperback, and hardcover. This is the book that taught me most of what I know about epidemics and their control, with lots of historical context.

I really need to sit down and read it again, because it’s been a while and it’s a great book…

Magic Shots by Allan Chase. Hardcover, out of print (buy it used). Before I first read this, I didn’t realize that most vaccinations were pretty much invented from scratch, using wildly different principles.

Like a lot of history-of-science books, it reads like a whodunit. Or, in this case, a series of whodunits.

Coronavirus Tips

Things I’ve Learned

Random things I’ve learned about living through the COVID-19 outbreak:

  • It’s hard to wash my hands for twenty seconds. I’m told that singing “Happy Birthday to You” twice is about 20 seconds, but I haven’t actually tested this. Anyway, I find it hard to make myself wash my hands for that long. It’s much easier to make myself wash my hands twice. It works out the same, but doesn’t go against any long-standing habits.
  • Also, the first two verses of the Brady Bunch theme song are around twenty seconds when I sing it.
  • Local supermarkets have online ordering with either “deliver to your door” or “deliver to your car” options. No one will actually deliver to our farm, but we tried a $100-ish order at the local Fred Meyer, and it worked out fine. With online ordering, you not only don’t have to enter the store, they don’t even get a chance to touch your credit card.
  • Similarly, McDonald’s has curbside service. Their app is really awful until you add the things you actually order to Favorites. Then it’s suddenly good. (Karl, my autistic son, still orders ten Chicken McNuggets, no sauce, a small fries, and a large Diet Coke, no ice, plus straw every single time—and at every opportunity.) Now it’s just a few clicks.
  • Lots of people, including most so-called leaders and experts, don’t understand the concept of exponential growth or any of the other basic mechanics of viral infections. Instead, they spin a spinner to decide which kind of bogus black-and-white thinking to apply, then believe it with all their heart. But reality does seep in through the various cracks in their noggins, and everyone seems to be getting clued in over time. A heartbreakingly long time for most of them, they they really are getting there.

Things We’ve Done

And here are some of the things we’ve done:

  • I’m taking more walks and otherwise taking health more seriously.
  • I put in-person sessions in my (very) part-time hypnosis practice on hold. Skype sessions are still hunky-dory. Not that my downtown office building is crowded, but I’d feel like a big silly if I got sick after not taking this precaution.
  • I work from home, but last month I avoided a chance to travel to a meeting at my employer’s headquarters, partly because of coronavirus concerns.
  • Karen’s self-employed (she sells used books on Amazon) and all the venues that would be kind of scary (library book sales and such) have all closed anyway, so it’s time to clear out our backlog. Not that we an actually ship anything to Amazon right now: they’ve turned off the spigot for the moment.
  • Karen and I canceled all sorts of commitments on our own initiative about 24 hours before they were canceled anyway by new restrictions. But we didn’t know that.
  • Hand-washing, using paper towels instead of shared towels to dry hands, wiping down surfaces more often, etc. Not everyone who comes into contact with a coronavirus patient becomes sick; not even close. But simple things to limit the spread within the family are good, especially since people tend to be infectious before they show any symptoms. Unless you have a time machine, it’s best to take steps before there’s any obvious need.
  • Taking the outbreak seriously without freaking out. Freaking out is exhausting: I can’t recommend it. Nor is imbecile denial gonna buy you anything but a thick ear.

Time to Panic?

Here’s something weird: people keep talking about “panic.” What panic? Try this scenario on for size: You realize that everyone’s going to be staying home for once instead of being out and about for most of their waking hours. Therefore, you need more food in the house and, after a brief delay, more toilet paper. So you go to the store and make purchases to match your changed circumstances. So does everyone else.

“Panic,” they call it. What a bunch of maroons.

Obviously, the supermarket situation will quickly return to normal. How quickly? Already happening. It’s a problem that solves itself. People concerned about infection aren’t going to make fifty store visits to get everything on their list. They’ll look at their fellow shoppers with a wild surmise and decide that, on second thought, that’s about enough shopping for now.