Socially Isolated Day 10

Today I made a pumpkin bread, a recipe from a dear Owego friend (Barb!).  “Bread” is a bit of a euphemism; it’s truly a cake.

It’s not the first time I’ve made it in NZ, but it’s the first time since I’ve had my bundt pan, one of the items we shipped from the states.

There’s something infinitely more satisfying when this bread is baked in a bundt pan. I checked it at about an hour and it was close, but the next time I checked it it had puffed up nice and round, with the oozy middle bit splitting open the already baked crust. Just delightful.

Socially Isolated: Day 9….what day is it anyway?

Good thing the day of the week is displayed on my watch, otherwise I wouldn’t know.  “Maybe this is what it’s like to be retired” I wondered as I jogged around the block.  “It doesn’t matter what day it is; tomorrow is going to be the same as today anyway.”

“Snow Day” was the SCWBI DrawThis prompt for February, and as I put the final snowflakes on my picture today I reflected, pessimistically, that the snowflakes could be virus particles and the picture could be titled “Isolation.”

I did, however, listen to an interesting podcast or two today while I was gluing my snowflakes.  NPR’s Planet Money had one titled “The Race to Make Ventilators,” featuring a small company that typically makes 200 ventilators/month, and how the whole game changes when a huge company like a car manufacturer gets their supply chains mobilized.  It seems like a wonderfully American response to a problem.  While we’re hiding in our homes to prevent infection, America is wallowing in infectious crowds, and gearing up to deal with the fall-out by mass producing ventilators.  I’ve also read little news blurps about Johns Hopkins reviving an old medical technique of sharing blood antibodies from recovered patients with the uninfected to temporarily boost their immunity, with the wry commentary that with this disease, there will at least be plenty of people with antibodies.  In America, we fix our problems with ingenuity, technology, and economies of scale!

On a more serious note, it’s like we’re inadvertently part of a huge global trial.  Which country’s strategy will end up better in the end?

Socially Isolated, Day 8

Milo was too young the first time I read him The Hobbit, so I’ve started again. He’s paying attention this time. The words are soothing to my ears, too. I can recite sections of that book verbatim, from an audio version we had on cassette tapes as kids.

It was a nice warm afternoon, not even windy, and the kids got started washing off the chalk they hand-printed on our house bricks a couple months ago. The game progressed from washing the bricks to throwing buckets of water at the wall to spraying the hose in the air to spraying the hose at each other and dumping water over their heads and down their undies. This is why we have two kids–this afternoon the comradery worked out well.  I even got an hour or so of Zealandia work in while they played.  

Post wash, Milo spent a good hour airing out his willy, lol.  That’s not Jenny he’s petting, it’s Duke, a friendly neighborhood cat.  

Socially isolated, Day 7

I woke up late this morning, but it was still dark out. With the autumn equinox past, we’re moving rapidly into the dark. I can see the kitchen window from my bedroom sliding door, and it was a cozy scene. We started some emerald blue sugar crystals growing yesterday, and the kids were having a sneak peak/lick.

I’ve started doing a little work from home, which would normally be a great thing, but I really haven’t figured out how to do that with the kids sharing the same space.  I can hear my mother’s voice, gently suggesting that the kids have an hour of quiet time in their rooms after lunch.  I’ll try that tomorrow, Mom.  But an hour doesn’t replace a 7 hour work day.

This is the problem with any non-screen activity where the kids are together.  This is how it ends.  Milo does something to accost Naomi, then there’s screeching, tears, injustice and offence, all at high volume.  They seem to have infinite energy for that dance.  On the good side, you notice that there’s blue sky here this afternoon.  After a couple days of rain it’s very welcome.  We sauntered over to the other end of the park and peaked through the gap in the fence at the bare soil beyond, the start of a new subdivision.  “That’s the way to a new dimension,” Milo announced.  I wish.

There was, however, a Delight today.  At 4:30 I told Jeremiah I needed a bike ride and I took off down the Old Tai Tapu Rd.  There was hardly a car in sight, side benefit to the stay-at-home mandate.  It’s a rural road, and with the late afternoon shining on the hedgerows, they perfumed the air, each with their particular bouquet.  Pinus ratiata……horse shit…….cedar………rotten ginko fruits…….fresh cut grass…….musty wet leaves.  Just think what a dog’s nose would experience on the same route.  Then on the way back I passed some familiar figures, screeched to a halt and circled back to have a 2-meter-distant chat with some kayak friends who have just returned to NZ.  They had to cut short their European travels and high tail it back to NZ, borders closing rapidly behind them.  They have been self-isolating for the last nearly 2 weeks, as is required of incoming travelers, and were as glad of a chat with a familiar face as I was.  Welcome home, Chris and Helen.

Social Isolation Day 6: Social Capital

Another successful day in isolation. Milo, despite the appearance, is actually quite happy. He’s practicing his touch typing….in front of the heat pump, and apparently he didn’t feel the need for clothes.

This pandemic sets in stark contrast the major cultural differences between Kiwis and Americans.  Jeremiah and I have joked that Kiwis are basically socialists, with the largely tax-payer funded medical system, more paid holiday time for all classes of workers, a much simpler tax system, and a more egalitarian society, to name just a few of the more tangible features.  And we have been impressed at how compliant the large majority of our neighbors are with the current stay-at-home rule.

A writer for The Herald, a NZ news source, commented “New Zealand does have a good shot at this [stemming the pandemic] because there is trust in government – unlike in America – and we’re a small, relatively cohesive society, with good social capital that the Government can make use of.”

Trust in Government?!  Right, THAT’s different than in America for sure.

Speaking of trusting the government, a friend living in Canada sent this today.  Jacinda Arden is the current prime minister of NZ, from the Labor party, and even the past prime minister (National party) is quoted speaking supportively of her leadership.  

But what’s this social capital?  

Wikipedia says “Social capital is the effective functioning of social groups through interpersonal relationships, a shared sense of identity, a shared understanding, shared norms, shared values, trust, cooperation, and reciprocity.”

It all sounds very nice, doesn’t it?  A shared sense of identity, shared values….yes, there’s definitely more of that in NZ than in the US. Not perfect by any means, not a utopia or anything close to it, still littered with ugly bits of human nature, but I’m often surprised at how much more shared values and trust there is than what I’d expect, from growing up in America.

We watched “Country Calendar” yesterday, a NZ institution that showcases rural farms weekly, and has since 1966.  All the commercial breaks had a government ad encouraging people to unite against Covid19 by staying at home to, and by doing so protecting the essential services workers that have to be out and about.  And I reckon most people are taking that to heart, at least at this stage.  

Social Isolation Day 5

Today was better than yesterday, in the world of social isolation.

I lingered in bed while Jeremiah made breakfast with the kids, trying to wait long enough that the kitchen would be cleaned up when I emerged.  Jeremiah even brought me a cup of tea.

It was cold and uninviting outside, but we still decided that a run would do us good, so we left the kids watching Sonic and went on a jaunt around the quarry.

The afternoon proceeded remarkably peacefully, with Milo practicing his touch-typing, Naomi doing “how to draw’s” on you-tube, Jeremiah working away at a savory stew which is now bubbling pleasantly on the stove, and me going deep into a collage to illustrate “snow day” while listening to podcasts.  It felt rather like a snow day, all in all.  


Social Isolation Day 4: Two years is a long time

“Suppression and Mitigation Strategies for Control of Covid19 in New Zealand”

It’s a paper linked to by a news source I’ve never read before, “The Spinoff,” but it caught my attention because I know one of the authors, Mike Plank, from the whitewater kayak club.  He’s a math professor at the University of Canterbury, and a member of the organization called “Centre for Complex Systems and Networks, which has been doing some epidemic modeling for the NZ government.

The math paper was my Delight of the Day…which might tell you something about how the rest of the day went.  But I was really quite impressed with the clarity of the “executive statements” (the main points) of the paper.  Mathematicians don’t sugar coat things.

Basically, without a vaccine, the way the epidemic ends is that enough of us get the infection (and the subsequent immunity to re-infection) that the transmission rate slows to less than new person getting sick from every infected person (because infected people are surrounded by mostly immune people), and the disease dies out.  An optimist might note that if the infection rate stays below 1 for any reason for long enough, the disease eventually dies out….doesn’t technically have to be herd immunity. Wash those hands!

Suppression” (meaning social distancing, quarantines, closed businesses….what we’re doing now) can only delay an epidemic, not prevent it.  When control measures are relaxed, the subsequent spike in infections is just as high and steep….just as overwhelming to the health care system.  

“Mitigation” means slowing down the epidemic so that at any given time there are enough hospital beds for all the people who need them.  It entails letting the control measures up just slightly so the infection progresses, then clamping down again, repeating that cycle again and again.  That graph, with numbers run for NZ (500 ICU beds in NZ, and a host of other assumptions around transmission rate and hospitalization rate), extended out to 2022.  Two and a half years.

There’s a gem of a quote near the end of the paper.  Paraphrased:  “The only other countries that have so far succeeded in getting transmission low enough for mitigation to work are China and South Korea, using extremely intensive measures, including electronic surveillance of their citizens.  No western democracy has yet succeeded in reducing their transmission low enough to slow down their epidemic.”

So, I’m not sure what the end game is with all our social distancing.  Two years is an awfully long time.