Self Isolation

March 14, 2020

So, yeah, social distancing is a thing.. almost blasé now — we’ve been doing it for days now.  But today, self-isolation went into effect way more intentionally here at 609 A Street and across the world as a way to mitigate the virus’ spread.

I’m already over it. At dinner, we just looked at each other and cracked up at how over it we already are. And yet. We get it.. get the whole thing about flattening the curve, being part of the solution. Like vaccinations, you do it for the greater good, not yourself. Ya gotta. Totally on board.

But. how. long. is. this. going. to. last?  [Insert whines here.]

We also acknowledged we have it easy. Jim’s job not affected. Our lives not really affected. Peter’s already accepted to grad school, so a messed up final college quarter is not really going to affect anything. We all have our health, our broader families are okay. We have resources to weather this. It’s a mild inconvenience.. mostly. We’ll find ways to make use of isolated time.

We’ll look in on our neighbor Mary, we’ll do what we can in the community to help.. lots of stuff is getting set up for that; we’ll contribute. I’ll continue volunteer work in new ways (lots of Zoom and online time ahead). Spent a fair amount of time today on writing jobs for the Volunteer Center (press materials). Lots of useful things to do from home.

It will be interesting to see how, over the course of the next few weeks, months (?!), we all factor coronavirus outbreak, and the avoidance thereof, into our lives. I cannot even predict where all this goes, but I do expect the societal impact will be epic as it affects just every imaginable thing (at the end of this post, I’m going to paste in Preet Bharara’s commentary, which I thought was pretty good, as he reflects on the unexpected shock of all of these impacts). The one thing that got my attention today was a comment somebody made about how the primaries are starting to be affected.. two, originally scheduled for next Tuesday, I believe, are now rescheduled for later. The commentator went on to muse that the entire election could be postponed.

Ice runs through my veins.

Not EVEN going to think about that one.

Anyway, a trillion things will be written about the impacts of this pandemic on our lives, our responses to it, now and as the weeks wear on. I don’t pray, but I certainly hope with all that I’ve got that people are ok, that society holds up, that we come out better in the end for all that we will learn and for all the bonds we’ll form.. as humans in this together.

It rained a good part of today, yay, pouring as I type this, and looks like we’ll be getting a lot more in the coming week, also yay. So… how about a couple of sunny shots from a walk through campus earlier in the week.. this is the quad in the early morning light,     m a n i p u l a t e d .. of course… I loved the effects.





And here’re Preet’s comments:

I’m a bit at a loss for words this week. With a sorry response to a spreading virus sinking markets and scaring citizens, it’s hard to be optimistic. It’s easier to be confused and angry and uncertain. As a trained lawyer and former prosecutor, I felt that I had expertise during the Mueller probe and impeachment. I felt that I could assess events, even as I worried that there was a criminal in the White House and the rule of law was under attack. I had a foothold, something to grab onto. When events unfolded – like the firing of the FBI director, the arrest of the President’s personal lawyer, the disclosure of the Ukraine phone call, and so on – I could put each in perspective and stop from underreacting or overreacting. Even as we seemed to be going off the rails, I understood where the rails were, what they were made of, and how far we were deviating.

This is different, and like most of you, my own understanding of COVID-19 is at the mercy of epidemiologists and infectious disease experts inside and outside of government. My understanding of the efficacy of the government’s response is guided by my own common sense, along with what I hear politicians and policy experts saying publicly. None of my understanding is informed by a single word uttered by the President of the United States. In his stark Oval Office address yesterday, Trump botched at least three of his own main policy proposals and they had to be corrected (whether goods were banned from Europe; whether U.S. citizens could return from Europe; and whether insurance companies would waive co-payments for treatment).

I have been talking with lots of people every day about the virus and our response, including medical professionals and policy experts, and so I have formed some views on various aspects of the crisis. But for now, there are much better people to convey that kind of information.

What has struck me this past week is that one’s degree of worry and alarm is very much affected not necessarily by medical pronouncements, but by proximity to the outbreak, by personal disruptions, and by jarring changes to regular life. Many of you may recognize the feeling, of being jolted in your own home, again and again.

I’ll share some of the ways I’ve been jolted. Feel free to share back some of your own.

On Sunday night, our boys’ high school suddenly shut down.

On Tuesday, our daughter’s college announced it was closing, not temporarily but permanently for the rest of the academic year. Though there will be remote learning, every single student has to clear out for good this weekend. That’s quite a jolt to a college freshman.

Also on Tuesday, NYU Law School, where I teach, announced there would be no more in-person teaching for the time being. By today, hundreds of other universities have done the same. Now I have to figure out how to use Zoom to instruct my students going forward.

My family lives a stone’s throw from New Rochelle, now famously associated with coronavirus. Yesterday the national guard was ordered to the area to assist with containment. Jolt.

This week the company that puts out our podcast and this newsletter and all CAFE content instructed all employees to work from home. Anne and I have obtained microphones and are developing a method to efficiently produce the Insider podcast remotely.

Every speech and event for which I was scheduled between now and mid-May has been canceled.

People who are typically measured have been messaging me with increasing alarm.

I haven’t engaged in a handshake with anyone in over a week. At first that was quite awkward; now it’s mundane.

My hands have never been more washed, and they have never felt more unclean.

My father-in-law turns 91 today. He is temporarily in a rehabilitation facility. He comes home Saturday, but no one can visit him on his birthday today because of concerns about introducing contagion.

Some of the jolts are shared widely.

For some time, no one I know has been able to find hand sanitizer, even on the Internet. Every cough on a train draws alarm. There are oddly empty shelves in grocery stores and drug stores. On Monday and again this morning, trading halted because the S&P had fallen too far, too fast. Last night the NBA canceled its season. Tom Hanks and his wife have the virus. That is jarring for reasons that I can’t fully explain. Governors are beginning to prohibit all large gatherings of people. Italy has locked down all of its 60 million people. Each of these things was a jolt.

These disruptions, small and large, to our regular patterns of relating to each other do a lot to feed our unease and can slide us into panic. We rely on things like abundant supplies, friendly greetings, the constancy of work and school and entertainment.

I know there are some people who are not taking this crisis seriously, who think it’s overblown. For too long the President was of that view. That attitude is a mistake. Do what you can to disabuse people of that view if you know them. Life has changed and it’s not going back to normal anytime in the near future. The hope is that those jarring changes are what get us back to normal sooner rather than later.

My best,



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