The Austin History Center is soliciting materials for their “The COVID-19 Files: Austin Responds to a Pandemic” archives. Their archivists encourage you to keep a journal, write poetry, pen a script, draw or paint, start a video or audio blog or take photographs and videos of community life, the environment or life in quarantine.
Mexican professional wrestlers (luchadors) had to stop working after social distancing rules were instituted. Face masks are now compulsory in Mexico City and other parts of Mexico. Coronavirus: Mexican wrestlers sew Lucha Libre face masks tells of their creative response to the shutdown. Most luchadors sew their own masks and costumes or have a family member do it. Many also have a cottage industry making masks and other souvenirs for fans. They’ve switched to making face masks to protect agains the coronavirus.
In a recent open mic, Geoffrey Hall, an Austin poet, proposed a new poetry form, C-19 pandeme: 100 words in 19 lines. He read two fine examples. C is the Roman numeral for 100. Pandeme is not an English word. Pandeme is Latin, vocative masculine singular of pand?mus, meaning “of or pertaining to all the people, public.”
One thing new I’ve learned from on-line Open Mics is visual rhyme, also called eye rhyme. During a recent on-line open mic, the poet shared the word processor screen as he read the poem. The first three lines all ended in ‘e’, though none rhymed is the usual (sound) sense. The critique group I’m in does work off of printed poems as well as hearing them read. No in-person open mic I’ve attended does this, so the notion escaped me.
Austin is largely contained in Travis County. The county publishes an update every evening of the COVID-29 cases. The questions are, “Have new cases peaked here?” and “When can we go back to work/normal?” The Travis COVID-19 Dashboard shows confirmed cases: 1108, deaths: 25, recovered: 267, hospitalization inpatients: 81, ICU: 29, and on ventilator: 19 as of April 19. Also a graph of cases over time and bar graphs of cases by age & sex, and by race & ethnicity. Judging the slope of the case over time can be a bit difficult, so I copied the numbers into a spreadsheet and graphed the number of new cases.
There have been two significant peaks so far. The first around April 3 is UT students returning from Spring Break in Mexico, 44 new cases. The second is mostly community spread cases. Texas is under Stay Home, Stay Safe executive orders (AKA lockdown or shelter in place). Austin is under slightly tighter rules, face masks are required when outdoors, a requirement that is widely ignored. HEB markets are requiring face masks to enter and will sell you a bandana for $2 if you don’t have a face mask. New cases have been declining over the last 5 days. Will this be the peak? Only time will tell.
Some caveats on these numbers. Several small studies (usually a small town) from other countries where they tested everyone (Vo, Italy; population 3300) or very widespread testing (South Korea) have found half of those testing positive are asymptomatic. So the number of infections is probably double the number of confirmed cases. Testing is limited by the number of test kits available. The City of Austin has 160-180 test kits per week. Private labs are doing additional testing. I’m not aware of anyone testing anyone who asks, at least not publically. Basically you have to show the right symptoms to be tested. And you have to be able to afford it. CommUnity Health did have a free test available without a doctor’s request. It was set up near the poorer east side of Austin. Testing by the City in East Austin was halted “to conserve resources.”
African Americans in Chicago make up 30% of the population and 70% of the deaths. In Austin, they are 7-8% of the population and 10% of the cases. This may be an artifact of the limited testing in East Austin where most of the African American people are.
Travis County also breaks down cases by ZIP code (click on Map tab in lower left window of Travis County COVID-19 Dashboard). Several weeks ago, the most cases were around UT Austin. Second was a well off neighborhood to the southwest with a large retirement community. Third was Rollingwood, a wealthy neighborhood with a lot of UT professors. Wealth to travel and privilege to be tested. The map above now shows the poorer sections of Austin are now harder hit.
So is it time to open up? Austin was the third big city in Texas to clamp down, the day after Dallas and Houston. Trump and the Texas Governor are saying 14 days of declining numbers before any loosening. We aren’t there yet.
Writing in the Time of Global Trauma looks like it might be a topical blog post about the COVID-19 pandemic. It is a timeless meditation on what to write, what calls to the writer, grounded in the author’s life and times. Writers want to make a difference. The world is too big to make a difference everywhere. You have to choose where. A good piece of advice is to pick where you have an advantage: language, skill, training, gift, passion. Writing in the Time of Global Trauma is about the last of these, passion. This is similar to Joseph Campbell’s advice, “Follow your bliss.” I think passion (suffering in Latin) is more helpful.
About once a week, usually Fridays, we get take out. Last Friday it was Reale’s, our favorite New York-style Italian Restaurant. It has a small stage for live music, room for just one musician and their equipment. Wednesday is usually a guy doing Frank Sinatra covers over pre-recorded accompaniment. When we pulled up to get our order, he was out front serenading those waiting for their orders. He had on his usual tuxedo plus a matching black face mask. Nice touch.
Early on the fight against the coronavirus in Italy, the University of Padua did a study in the small town of Vo. The lockdown was enforced and everyone in town was tested, all 3300 residents. They found over half of those who tested positive were asymptomatic or only mildly ill. All people testing positive were quarantined. Within two weeks, there were no new cases. All people infected recovered. The full article is Do try this at home: how one Italian town fought coronavirus on Al Jazeera. I’m impressed by their coverage. Solid news without bashing anyone or grinding axes.
The BBC has a news story on another small town in Italy, Nerola, a hilltop town near Rome. It also is locked down and being studied. It came to the authorities attention due to an usually high rate of infections. No conclusions yet.
On April 1, Governor Abbott issued an Executive Order “requiring all Texans to stay home unless they are participating in an essential service or activity.” Under pressure from some big church pastors, he declared places of worship an essential business, exempting them from earlier requirements for no large public gatherings. He received a lot of criticism for that. He tried to do some damage control, but there was no change in what was allowed.
Thousands of people (the three churches mentioned have over a thousand members each) can gather and then carry out what they received to the neighboring markets where they go after worship, putting at risk efforts to contain or slow the spread of COVID-19.
What kind of pastor would put their congregation at increased risk for COVID-19 infection? The logic escaped me. A day later, the answer came to me. This isn’t about the health of the congregation in any fashion. This is about the pastors. They can lead worship by any number of video conferencing or even phone conferencing. My church is doing this. The first Sunday it was a bit rough, but has improved to the point where it is satisfying. Their churches probably are already broadcasting to satellite churches. This is about the need of the pastor for attention, even worship.