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By Tim Hunt

The coronavirus becomes personal

Uploaded: Mar 19, 2020

The coronavirus and my view of how to deal with it continues to evolve as I appreciate more fully how challenging the situation is today.

Last Sunday, when Gov. Gavin Newsom issued “guidance” to people in my age-group (children of the 1950s), I blithely emailed my family that we should go ahead with a planned gathering to celebrate my big birthday this coming Saturday.

Monday, the shelter in place order was issued by the county health department and those plans went out the window with an indefinite postponement.

It got even closer on Tuesday when I received an email from a good friend who said he had tested positive for the virus. Ouch. Fortunately, the symptoms are pretty mild and he seems to be on the mend. He and his wife are confined to quarters and living apart by splitting the house in half as per health department recommendations. When he goes into the kitchen, he wears a mask.

His email related how he probably picked up the coronavirus on either March 5 or March 7 (10 to 12 days before the diagnosis). He rode BART to Oakland for jury duty on March 5, hung out most of day in the county courthouse jury room and then was released in mid-afternoon to ride BART home. The other possibility was at a charity dinner event two days later.

He started feeling bad last Sunday and called the doctor’s office that referred him to ValleyCare’s urgent care facility in Livermore. He did most of the check-in on his cell phone from the parking lot and then was taken through a backdoor into a makeshift isolation room with a heavy duty HEPA (high efficiency) filer unit running continuously.

The medical staff took the sample and noted that it would take them about three hours to decontaminate the room to prepare for the next patient. That’s means a tiny through-put of eight patients in a 24-hour period.

Unfortunately, it took two days to get complete results. Monday’s first test result showed he was fine, but Tuesday’s (a different test) showed he was carrying the virus.
His test situation demonstrates the need for an immediate expansion in the more efficient drive-through test stations. Incidentally, because her symptoms were not as pronounced, the medical personnel declined to test his wife.

Their situation also brought home the wisdom demonstrated by operators of assisted living, convalescent and other facilities serving the elderly. They banned all visits except in end-of-life situations earlier this month. My friend’s wife has an elderly mother who lives in an assisted living facility where every resident—by definition—is in the high-risk category.

That situation came home in a different way last Saturday when I spoke with Barry Schrader by phone. He was my first newspaper boss when I was a teen-ager. He and his wife, Kay, lived in Livermore for decades while he edited both the Herald & News (later Tri-Valley Herald) and the Valley Times (now both folded into the East Bay Times) and then worked in public information at both Sandia and Lawrence Livermore national labs. They moved back home to Illinois about 10 years ago and have been living in the Oak Crest retirement center.

Barry has been diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer and, given his age and the advanced stage of the cancer, has opted for no treatment. Kay suffered a stroke a few years ago and has regained some of her faculties so they could live in the same apartment. No more. She’s now in the nursing facility and Barry, as a family member, cannot visit. The best he can do is call a person in a nearby room so she can hold the phone for Kay and they can visit.

It’s a sad situation them as well as for many others who cannot visit loved ones, but necessary because there’s simply no telling who might be carrying the virus as my friend’s situation showed.

We’re three days into a 21-day order that may well be extended given that Gov. Newsom said Tuesday that schools may not resume before summer. I’m in golf withdrawal now that the PGA Tour, that was reluctant to cancel events last week, cancelled four more tournaments into late May Wednesday, while the PGA of America postponed its championships scheduled for May 14-17 at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco.

As we have learned over the last week, the situation is fluid—to say the least—and we need to be patient and calm as our society works through truly uncharted waters.

NOTE: I have intentionally not used my friend’s name to protect their privacy.