COVID-19 Self-Quarantine Day 5: Now Seems Like a Good Time to Take a Breath

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Photo by Sebastien Wiertz via flickr cc

It’s St. Patrick’s Day today. Just a couple weeks ago, our staff was outlining a ‘Things to Do for St. Patrick’s in Los Angeles” article. That seems like a lifetime ago. It’s crazy to realize how much has changed.

As I spend some time reflecting on the historic times we’re living through, I find my mind divided against itself. On the one hand, it’s impossible not to be infected with a tinge of the fear and panic that has people filling shopping carts with towers of toilet paper. On the other, my inner skeptic reminds me almost hourly that the greatest enemy we’ll face in the coming days, the one that could truly cripple our country, is panic itself. All these people cramming every last pallet of bottled water into their trunk? They’re just spreading the fear. Perhaps the proper modulation of emotion lies somewhere in between.


Two days ago, Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of NIAID at the NIH,  made the Sunday talk show rounds, including an interview with ABC’s John Karl. Speaking to Karl, Fauci put it this way: “For me, the dynamics and the history of outbreaks is you are never where you think you are… if you think you’re in line with the outbreak, you’re already three weeks behind. So you [have] got to be almost overreacting a bit to keep up with it.”

It’s unsettling to think how far behind we might be. Sobering up to that reality is what has people racing to catch up. Unlike countries in Asia, which have been through SARS and MERS, in the U.S. there are no pandemic protocols built into our DNA. This is all uncharted territory. People are slow to react. But now, finally, we’re reacting.

Just yesterday, in the wake of a 14% jump in confirmed coronavirus cases in California, San Francisco and five other Bay Area counties ordered their residents to shelter-in-place as of this morning (Tuesday) at 12:01 a.m. This is an unprecedented action for a U.S. city.

There’s no guarantee that Los Angeles will follow suit in the coming days, but there’s a significant chance. This will mean more changes to day-to-day life and more uncertainty ahead. More stringent social distancing and other uncomfortable adaptions to daily life.

But this is the timeline. Here we are.

I, for one, am glad I live in a city where our leadership seems to modulating an appropriate response. Yesterday, Mayor Eric Garcetti held a press conference alongside representatives from regional grocery stores to reassure residents of our supply chains. The message was simple: food is here, and it will continue to be here. Even in the midst of partial quarantine—or shelter-in-place or whatever may be next—shelves will be stocked. Stop buying six months worth of toilet paper and canned beans.

Yes, I know, food is just one part of it. Even if we manage to tamp down emotion, there are still challenges ahead. Maybe it’s a good time to take a step back and mindfully prepare for what’s to come in the next few weeks and months.

Maybe I should pick up my mediation habit again.

The meditation practices I’m familiar with don’t focus on emptying one’s mind. That’s a misnomer. Instead, you just try to focus on the breath. Each time you breathe in, you pay attention to this singular action. And if the mind slips away, you acknowledge the thought, and then gently bring yourself, without self-judgment, back to the present. The rep isn’t the breath. It’s the act of reminding yourself where you want your mind to be. And just like bench presses at the gym, the more reps you do, the stronger you get.

I don’t know about you, but right now seems like a good time to take a breath.

Let’s just make sure we’re all six feet apart.

“This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.

– First Inaugural Address of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1932

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