A Sense of Unreality

Sometime in the last week, the US appears to have slid into the twilight zone. It is apparently just fine to shut the country down over something that so far doesn’t seem worse than the annual flu issues, at least in terms of the death toll, even if it does seem to be rather more infectious, with the longish incubation period.

Of course, that incubation period means that pretty much all the efforts to contain the spread are a rather fancy way of shutting the gate after the horse has bolted. These days, by the time someone’s figured out that they had contact with someone who later showed symptoms they’ve already been in contact – or at the very minimum in a hermetically sealed air-conditioned building – with any number of people.

And of course, we don’t have the information on how many of the people exposed to the thing will actually show symptoms. What I’ve read so far suggests that if the shortness of breath aspect doesn’t manifest, it’s pretty difficult to distinguish between the virus and a normal cold.

I should probably add that in my case if/when I catch the thing, I’m not likely to notice more than a normal cold because my allergy issues mean that any cold causes coughing thanks to my sinuses going into overdrive, and when my sinuses are clogged, of course I’m going to have breathing issues. I already know how to deal with that, since for me, hyperactive sinuses and breathing issues is “normal spring allergies”.

What’s got me bemused is the weird atmosphere. Everything feels off, as though the whole planet took the wrong leg of the Trousers of Time. Since the Trousers have an infinite number of legs, this is something that can repair itself – but it can also get very messy, and in the meantime there are a whole lot of very confused people whose minds are in one leg and whose bodies are in a different leg.

That sense of the familiar tilted sideways making it unfamiliar and wrong is something that we can use. As authors being able to capture the atmosphere when everything has gone awry gives our work a bigger impact. As people living in it, being aware that this kind of atmosphere is immensely tempting to the unscrupulous helps to improve our chances of not being caught up in someone’s get-rich scheme. Or worse.

Given a choice, I think I’d rather be a pampered housecat.



  1. Side note: no one thinks that the social isolation thing is going to keep everyone from getting the virus indefinitely. The hope is that we won’t have a mess like Italy, where a massive spike in cases causes hospitals to run at 200% capacity and still have to triage people.

    1. There is that. I doubt that there’s anywhere in the world that can handle a significant chunk of the population needing hospitalization for any reason.

      1. Best as I can determine from casual observation the US is head and shoulders over any other country as far as health care is concerned. That pesky free market don’t you know.
        Most other countries have some form or other of National Health Service which does a fair to middling job of rationing standard health care to their citizens. High end or specialized treatment? Just about everyone takes a medical vacation here to get treated by doctors in state of the art American facilities.
        Now can that be overwhelmed in extremis? Of course, but by all reports with the current pandemic it is only those at extreme risk who might need full hospital treatment. For the rest of us, well a bout of the flu isn’t fun and games, but you tough it out and eventually get over it.

        1. Better health care, an innate social distance, less smoking…lots of things that indicate this won’t hit the US as hard as most of the rest of the world. But we’re going through the panic just the same, and killing our economy over it. We’re screwed.

    2. It won’t be like Italy. I had wondered why Itay was so affected by the WuFlu, when it didn’t seem as if they should have had so many tourists from China. But it turned out that the Italians had imported massive amounts of people from China — I’ve heard it was Wuhan specifically — to work in the factories they’d turned over to Chinese companies. So it’s not hard to imagine the prime minister not wanting to suspend flights from China if entire towns are dependent on Chinese labor. Everything falls into place.

      We just don’t have that situation here. There’s little reason to think we’ll end up like Italy.

      1. With some exceptions. It is not a coincidence that the places in the US that had the first cases, have the most cases, and have the highest growth rate in cases – are exactly those with a lot of Chinese. (Not those with “Chinese-Americans” that are second, third, fourth, or more generations removed from the “home country.” Quite a few of those here in Tucson – but only seven confirmed cases to date.

    3. According to folks I’ve heard from who came over from Italy, they tend to *already* be at 100%+ capacity at least in some places, every flu season.

  2. Thank you Kate. A breath of sanity after hearing one of my co-workers ask if she could get COVID-19 from her animals. She was saying that her husband heard that it came from bats. Okay, my reaction to that comment may have been a bit more forceful that I meant. Bats are already vilified enough. I told her that it did not come from bats, please do not spread that rumor.

    1. You might also point out that you have to be in close contact with the wild animal for a while for any cross-species jump to happen.

      As a general rule you should not handle bats you come across, unless you have proper gloves and equipment, for the reason of rabies. (Sib-in-law had to have the full prophilaxis a few years ago so I’m a little twitchy on the subject.) Bats are wonderful animals and do great things for society as long as we leave them alone.

    2. Oi. Mindless panic and repeating rumors does not help anyone. It’s a variant on a freaking cold virus. One of the more nasty variants, sure, but still… The reactions are more in line with the Black Plague wiping out 1/4 of the European population.

      I’m all for sensible precautions. Panic-buying and crazy theories are not sensible precautions.

      1. Back in 2015, there was a nasty mutant version of the common cold going around Indiana Comic Con. A bunch of vendors caught it, and some of us then arrived at ShutoCon the following weekend either coming down with it or actively sick. It wasn’t the flu, just all of the symptoms of a cold, but dialed up to 11.

    3. What kind of animals? If it’s dogs, surely everyone by now has seen the meme about how the World Health Organization has determined that canines can’t be carriers and don’t need to be quarantined (a.k.a. WHO let the dogs out).

      1. And then it turned out that we should have been more like the Chinese, and shot all the dogs. Except not for eating them anyway because meat is too precious to waste.

    4. FWIW, my mom (grew up around animals) has been pointing out to folks that the existing normal-cold covid *probably* came over from cattle… in pre-history….

      It calms folks down a little.

      1. Nah, Harry Turtledove had it correct.

        In one of his stories, some humans met a group of aliens who ancestors once ruled most of the galaxy until their ancestors fought among themselves.

        The humans and aliens got sharing information but the aliens were shocked when they realized what planet the humans were from.

        Apparently their ancestors had visited Earth and decided that the inhabitants (humans) were too big of a pest so they introduced a respiratory disease intended to kill off the inhabitants.

        Unfortunately their ancestors weren’t able to revisit Earth thanks to the civil war.

        Still, the current-day aliens were sure that the disease should have killed off humans.

        Then one of the humans sneezed (he had a cold, the disease that the ancient aliens introduced). 😈

        1. Huh. How old is the common cold? ’cause it would have had to have been in way-back prehistoric times for it to get this harmless.

          1. IIRC in the Turtledove story, it was early in our pre-history that the aliens introduced the “common cold”.

            We were recognizable human but the aliens thought us untamable.

            Of course, it has been a while since I read the story but I think the hint was that the disease wasn’t as deadly as they planned and that they never had the opportunity to see “how good of job” it did.

          2. Rhinovirus, influenza, and, yes, coronavirus are present in just about all simian species. In fact, there are very close relatives of all three in most of the mammalian species.

            No, that still doesn’t mean that your pet can give you human coronavirus. The cellular receptors are too different, one that infects a dog or a cat cannot infect humans.

            It is a strange thing that the animals with the most receptor sites in common with humans are swine and rodents. The “theories” that this means an interbreeding occurred with those species in the far distant past are bunkum, of course. Even though it is an attractive explanation for certain politicians and other parasites…

  3. Kate, this has been my reaction. I’ve quit reading FB posts from a number of friends because they are fear-mongering (even if they think they’re passing on important information), and causing depression in others. I am gravitating towards those with a dark sense of humor and publicizing my own dark humor.

    1. I hear you. The only reason I’m paying attention is to find out what is/isn’t closed. My employer has gone to “work from home unless it’s not possible” – I’m quite happy to not have the commute, but it’s still kind of weird doing work from home semi-permanently.

      Dark humor is where I live most of the time. I usually range from ironic to outright morbid.

  4. One important insight for my mess in progress.

    Main character has been isolated from his society for two years, and has missed the build up to the event yesterday that set off the panic that nobody is talking about. That panic seriously exacerbates an ongoing political crises, which are the background events for my main plot. Tentative plan is that the story runs six weeks.

    I hadn’t realized that the panic probably peaks and winds down before the actual end to my story.

    Alma, etc, are saying that these things don’t last forever, and the more intense the briefer.

    1. This one may also end with a bang, instead of a whimper, if the hydroxychloroquine / azithromycin trials live up to their early promise. (And are widely used at the first onset of symptoms, and among high exposure people as a prophylactic.) Hospitalizations and mortalities could take a swift nose dive.

      One can only hope that the “bang” is aimed at the right people.

      1. Alas, I fear that the “bang” may need to involve an actual bang, lamp posts, and a length of rope for some of the slimier specimens using this as a way to introduce more rules and more totalitarianism. Like, somewhere north of 2/3 of the bloody idiot politicians.

  5. “What’s got me bemused is the weird atmosphere. Everything feels off, as though the whole planet took the wrong leg of the Trousers of Time.”

    Yes, must agree that things feel weird.

    Example, I just drove home from Oakville at 5:30pm. Normally, 2020, the traffic is stop-and-go to just stop. Today, I felt like I was in a time warp to the 1980s. The rush hour traffic was moving at the speed limit, just like it used to in the Olden Days. Nice, but soooo weird.

    1. Exactly. It’s just close enough to normal that the differences register as “weird” rather than “different place/different time”. It’s actually easier to adjust when things are completely different than when there’s a few things and you get that Twilight Zone feeling.

  6. “What’s got me bemused is the weird atmosphere. Everything feels off, as though the whole planet took the wrong leg of the Trousers of Time.”

    I had to leave the Phantom Redoubt today and go take care of bizzness at [undisclosed location] in the city today. Driving was interesting. Rush hour looked like I was in a time warp to the 1980s.

    Normally in 2020 in the 905 Golden Horseshoe area code the traffic is crawling along at 30-40km/hr, three lanes full of IDIOTS looking at their phones. Today, traffic was moving along above the speed limit just like it used to back in Ye Olden Days, and the people were paying attention to what they were doing. Almost like they’d realized that they might DIE if they crashed that friggin’ Toyota at 120km/hr. Clearly most people were not at work today.

    So for me, I observe that the blasé expectation that many of my fellow countrymen seem to have, that everything will be fine and everyone else in the world exists to take care of them, seems to have evaporated. Everything will -not- be fine, and they’ve got their eyes open for trouble.

    I always wondered what it would take to wake these oblivious assholes up, and now I have my answer. A plague.

    1. Precisely. I’m only going to bother with cough and shortness of breath issues if I also have a fever or if I’m too sick to work. Because I know damn well that once the oak trees start kicking out pollen I *will* have shortness of breath issues and I *will* have a cough.

      Panic is counterproductive. Such a shame the state Governor thinks otherwise (as of last night, everything that isn’t “life-sustaining” has been ordered to close. Enforcement starts 12:01 AM Saturday morning. I wonder how “life-sustaining” being able to earn a living is?)

      Fortunately I’m already in work from home mode and employer is planning to keep it that way. Also fortunately payroll is considered sufficiently important that we’re allowed to keep running.

  7. airport, 5:30 AM: two cars… (the normal at the terminal at that time is 12 plus ~2 shuttle busses)

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