Paul's Internet Landfill/ 2020/ COVID-19 Part 4: Six Weeks In

COVID-19 Part 4: Six Weeks In

These COVID-19 entries are utterly uninteresting to you, because you are living through these times in the same way I am. But maybe I will look back at these entries and remember something. This is probably the closest to a daily weblog I have come.


The Region of Waterloo is currently reporting 487 cases overall, with 22 cases currently hospitalized and 86 hospitalizations overall (26 ICU, 62 not). Canada has about 35 000 cases now, according to the CBC. The graphs published by John Burn-Murdoch each day on Twitter have been illuminating. They demonstrate that Canada is actually doing pretty poorly in containing the infections.


I wrote my first COVID-19-related entry on March 6. It is now April 19, which means we are about six weeks in. I am still not going to work, although for some reason I am still on payroll. Supposedly I am working from home, although I am still not getting much work done.

Over the past week the mood seems to have shifted. The acute anxiety has diminished somewhat. Staying at home no longer feels novel. I manage to go days without falling into the COVID-19 newshole, but it does not help much, because I find other ways to procrastinate/freak out instead.

I have fallen into a rhythm of my days. Unfortunately that rhythm has been deeply dysfunctional: I wake up between 1-3pm, spend a few hours communicating with others at work, take a huge productivity hit afterwards, then start cooking dinner (and doing no work), then feel sleepy, then finally start working again somewhere between midnight and 2am. Then I freak out until 6am or so, fall asleep and the entire cycle begins again. None of this is healthy. It is interfering with a lot of things I would like to do. I have not even read one book this month. I have not blogged or gotten any of my other pet projects underway. I thought that being at home would be a break, but instead the anxiety of work hangs over my head every waking hour. I hate this new routine and every day I vow to break the cycle, but every day I fail (and given that it is midnight now, I doubt I will).

I no longer have the excuse of anxiety to blame for my lack of productivity. It feels like this is the new normal, and if I want to have a job (at the Cult or elsewhere) I have to hunker down.

I am no longer getting outside every day, which is both good and bad, I guess. I want to go on walks but my waking schedule is bad. I need daily exercise to be healthy, but I am not getting it. I am exercising a few days a week.

It sucks that we are not permitted to sit outside and read books. If we are outside we are supposed to keep moving. I am pretty resentful of that.

I still have a scratchy throat many nights. I still go through bouts of convincing myself that I am sick, but it is happening less frequently now. I did realize that when/if anybody in my household gets sick then I am stuck in quarantine whether I am sick or not. So why am I isolating myself in this 10'x10' room?

Speaking of which, I have been making analogies between my room and a jail cell, in the sense that I am cooped up in here for 20-23 hours a day. But it is much nicer than a jail cell. It has a window. I do not have a cellmate. I have all the Internet access I want. But somehow this space still feels confining, and I don't stop with the prison analogies.

I have been attending some webconferences (for work and meetups) and having a few personal conversations with people. I am not finding webconferences fulfilling. I just want to fidget and do other things instead of paying attention. Talking 1-1 with people has been better, but even that has not been great. I have found that I get antsier on days when I have not been speaking with anybody else, so I guess I am a closet extrovert after all.

I don't think we will be attending any in-person meetups or gathering for months yet, even if other restrictions are lessened. Going to work is more important than learning about Drupal or cyber security. I do kind of wish that some industries such as construction would come back online. If it could be done safely, I think this is a great time for construction projects. But maybe that is not possible, because maintaining hygiene is too difficult.

COVID-19 is getting closer and more scary. Some people at work have contracted the virus. One person I know is going to Grand River Hospital this week for (non-elective) surgery, and will likely be spending time in the ICU. Other people I know seem to be vulnerable too.

People are now talking about the shutdown extending through June. People are speculating about what types of businesses will survive once we get back to normal. Will there be movie theatres? Restaurants? How much will be different after this? Meanwhile, I am still worrying that I will be trapped in this 10'x10' room for 17 more months.

I have adopted the term "The Before Times" to refer to the days before COVID-19.


I have been spending an inordinate amount of money on groceries. Partially this is because I fool myself into thinking I can shop once every two weeks, and thus can spend twice as much. Partially this is just stupidity. I bought a cheesecake. I bought maple syrup! I have never purchased maple syrup before in my life, and it cost almost a week's grocery money. I am in a lot of trouble for grocery money now. I do not want to go to the bank again until June, but I do not think I will have enough cash to get by.

Another factor in my overspending has been the sense that it is immoral to go into stores just to browse, and it is immoral to purchase just one or two items, so if I go to a store I am obligated to buy a lot of stuff. This is not a winning strategy. But when I am outside walking it sucks to just walk with no destination, and grocery stores are tempting targets.

One would think that having spent all this money I would have a more varied and enjoyable diet now. This is partially true, but only to the extent that instead of eating lentils every day I eat other beans instead, and I mix in awful carbs (rice, millet, bulgur wheat, even pasta). I am still not eating enough vegetables, although I am fortunate that I have found cheap cabbage and bags of seconds at B&T market. New City supermarket has reasonably-priced leafy greens. But FreshCo is pretty awful, and I bet most other grocery stores are not much better. This is ordinarily the time of year when local vegetables are scarce, but without the farmer's market it is tough to find the cheap foreign veggies either.

Because I have more variety in my diet I am eating two meals a day instead of one, which combined with my newfound sedentary nature has been bad for my weight and my waistline.

The past few summers I have frozen ice cube trays of basil and mint and coriander. I had not eaten them much before now, but now I am deeply grateful I have them. The frozen coriander in particular has been a godsend. But those frozen herbs are running out.


I feel so useless throughout all this. My lack of productivity at work is part of this, and my lack of productivity on personal projects is another part, but there is a third aspect as well. People around me are contributing to the cause. They are sewing masks and doing food delivery for vulnerable seniors. I stare at a screen all day, wasting my time playing Spider Solitaire, and if I do get outside it is just to go on an aimless walk or bike ride. I am not helping. I sincerely hope that I get to volunteer at a garden this year, so that I can at least feel I am contributing to something useful. But my optimism is fading on that front as well.


Oddly enough, I am not that anxious about money. I was not expecting to work at all in 2020 (or 2021, or 2022, or maybe ever), so being on payroll is bizarre. I have enough money for rent this year, and maybe soon I will be able to afford my other expenses other than dental.

The big risk is hyperinflation. I have my doubts that the government's UBI (oops. Sorry. CERB) is going to drive up rental prices the way I fear, but I could easily see inflation getting out of control over the next couple of years. Then I am in a lot of trouble, and my anxiety will increase dramatically.

I will admit that I am a bit grumpy that I am making $700 per month and if I got laid off I could get $2000. $2000 per month for four months is enough to pay my salary for a year. On the other hand, I would lose some fringe benefits (a desk, a phone number, maybe a computer) and I have not finished the work the Cult hired me to do. So I am feeling pretty stuck.

It also occurs to me that D2L is hiring like mad, and I am not taking advantage. Once again I am letting opportunities slip through my fingers.


This crisis has exposed some ugly truths.

Firstly, governments somehow have the money to support universal basic income when they are sufficiently motivated. They can house the homeless if they really want. But when we are not in a pandemic we determine these things are "too expensive." Aren't they too expensive now? (I feel they are.)

Secondly, the hoarders and panic buyers were right. Those people who bought sensible amounts of toilet paper are now running out, and now they have to deal with the anxiety of rationed resources. Meanwhile the hoarders are sitting pretty. I know this because I am one of those hoarders -- I purchased an extra package of toilet paper and I purchased an extra 5kg bag of lentils. Now I am not worried about running out of toilet paper or food at all, even if I go into quarantine.

Thirdly, as Laura Tribe of OpenMedia pointed out, the Internet companies have all relaxed their bandwidth caps at precisely the moment when we are all on the Internet all the time. So somehow they really did have the capacity to give us unlimited bandwidth without restrictions, and they just chose not to.

Fourthly, it is clear that many of the ideals of the New Urbanists -- public transit, tiny condos, densely-populated cities -- are all stupid ideas during a pandemic. Meanwhile all those people self-isolating in the sprawling suburbs have big houses and big yards to enjoy, not 10'x10' rooms. There is a reason London and New York have been so severely hit by this virus.

Fifthly, there is no way we are meeting our greenhouse gas emissions targets. The economy has ground to a halt and we are still nowhere near the reductions we need to avoid catastrophic warming. Do we really think people want to live like this indefinitely?

On the other hand, I am relieved that we are making more ventilators and masks. I am glad we are enlisting student nurses and giving them jobs. My hope is that we increase ICU capacity to the point where if we have to live with COVID-19 for a while, people can get the hospital care they need without triage.

Are we going to get out of this? We have not been so far. The curves are not flattening much. I feel there is still a lot we don't know (or are not being told) about this virus. How transmissible is it by air? What proportion of people are asymptomatic and get better without exhibiting symptoms? Are we confident that being infected confers immunity? Public health officials have some answers they are telling us, but these were the same people who were telling us not to bother wearing masks, and who were saying (early in the crisis) that community gatherings were okay. I am sure there are things now that people know but are not confirming with the general public.