In December a friend texted a link to an early SARS-COV-2 article and said, “The Zombie apocalypse is starting.”
In February, I had Jury Duty where the trial we were being selected for would last three weeks. A man was concerned he'd need to recuse himself to go to China to care for his father. I was personally concerned about spending three weeks with the same group of people while a virus that seemed to have a two week incubation period and was beginning to break ground in the US.
The first known cases in the US were in Seattle and Santa Clara. The first deaths in the US happened in Santa Clara in February. I drive past Santa Clara on my way to work every day.
In early March, we were given orders to work from home, with an indefinite timeline. Given the cases in Santa Clara and the then developing outbreak in two different regions in Italy, it made sense. We received emails daily from work keeping us apprised on the devloping situation.
The data used to make these decisions were always clearly communicated to us. If I recall correctly, we were given a less than 50% chance we'd be returning to the office in one year and a 95% chance we'd be returning to the office by two years.
The one thing none of us heard internally was, “This will go away in two weeks” because that's always been an objectively ludicrous statement.
Approximately monitoring the Pandemic
Over the next few weeks more and more places shut down globally. I work at Netflix and I was on call when the world shut down.
Primarily, my responsibility is to help in monitoring Sign Ups and Sign Ins. If the numbers go down below certain thresholds, it means there's gremlins in the system that need to be tracked down and triaged.
What I wasn't prepared for was unprecedented levels of Sign Ups. If you're living in Data Darkness, you might correlate our viewership increase at the time to Tiger King. While I'm sure this had an effect, I know first-hand there's more.
While I can't share numbers or charts or any tangible quantified information, I can lend my experience of sitting behind those controls in the early days: It was utterly terrifying.
Our dashboards are able to filter based on country. We can also compare up to the last two weeks to the two weeks before that. As new cases were discovered around the world, I'd read an article and then check our numbers for that country. I'd come back two weeks later and there was consistently growth for that country.
Everyone around the world was staying home, mostly after the virus landed nearby, effectively making the virus real for them.
Witnessing this develop in real-time led to traumatic behavior on my part. After my mom sent me a YouTube video titled Plandemic, I began lashing out more on social media. I started this blog to more appropriately channel my thoughts on the state of technology and society.
The primary undertone of my essays pertains to the conflict of interest between individuals and the people that create the technology they use every day. Misinformation rewards disingenuous behavior handsomely, because it thrives in the attention economy.
It's really hard to relate to experiences we've never had. I saw so many armchair opinions by friends and family on social media over those months and I was super fed up.
It's really easy to not have a first-hand account of a situation and to write it off entirely. I mean, 98.2% of the time, you can ignore something completely and it'll have zero impact on your life or the well-being of your loved ones.
The other 1.8% is the now statistically significant mortality rate of Covid-19 in the US.
I digress. I ended up switching teams at work because I couldn't handle the pressure of looking at these dashboards every day and then obsessively correlating them to news articles globally. The social media landscape didn't do anything to help my mental health.
Historically, I'm probably one of the first people to question and challenge authority. In this situation though, I was one of the first people to fall in line with expert guidance.
I don't want to toot my own horn, but I'm a bit of Pandemic expert myself. Well, the Pandemic board game that is.
I've played it for hours and hours with many different friends over the years. We've had some decisive victories, some narrow wins, and a ton of losses.
Regardless of the final outcome of our game, the results of each simulation was the same: a lot of people died as we struggled to effectively mitigate infections while rushing to find the cures. Some games we'd lose before everyone even got a turn to play.
Every game we won though, happened because each of us worked as a team and played to our own individual strengths. We had enough data to make informed decisions, but not enough data to make perfect decisions. There were always trade-offs.
We never had enough resources to do everything, but doing nothing would ensure defeat.
Given the guidance was to stay home and socially distance from others. It was easy for me to do my part. I'm able to operate fully remotely. The company I work for wasn't at any risk financially. Being home all the time has helped me reconnect with myself.
It hasn't been without it's challenges either. Deciding to cut myself off digitally during a global pandemic led to a bout of depression and loneliness. I mean those are self-inflicted wounds, but I'm glad I did it because I'm better for it now. The gist is though, I'm incredibly fortunate to be able to stay home during a global catastrophe and I recognize that.
Many people did not have the luxury of working from home. Many have lots their jobs. Many became infected while trying to make ends meet. Many transmitted the virus to their loved ones. As of this writing, 523,000 people have died in the US alone. Of those deaths, there were at least least 50 were stored in unrefrigerated U-Haul trucks outside a funeral home in New York City at their peak outbreak, because people were dying at unmanageable rates.
I imagine there have been at least a handful of conversations leading up to deaths of loved ones that went like this:
Sorry I couldn't resist going to Florida for spring break, Grandma. It was my senior year and I want to have fun while I'm still young. I still don't think I'm the one who got you sick though; I never had any symptoms or even a temperature. Anyways, I wish we could be with you now, but they won't let any of us into the hospital.
It's a bit of speculation on my part, but from first-hand conversations with friends and family regarding their general sentiment around the pandemic and correlating relevant news articles, I really don't think the reality of such an occurance is a stretch of the imagination.
Anyway, I digress. A lot of you have lost loved ones over the past year. Some by unfortunate life circumstances and other by selfish actions. Only you know what went really went down.
Growing up I was incredibly fortunate to have my great grandmother, my Nana, around. She was an amazing positive influence in my life and she showed up fully present everyday I had the blessing of seeing her.
Every year for Thanksgiving and Christmas, it'd be a low-key big deal that this may be Nana's last. I mean, we'd never tell her that, but she was getting older and no one could deny that. But she was still very healthy.
She outlived her only two children. Both my Grandmother and her sister passed away within a few years of one another, at 71 and 63. My grandmother died from underlying conditions that could have been treatable given access to affordable healthcare. My aunt died of a cancer that she staved off for as long as she could.
Compared to Nana, they died young, given she made at to almost 96.
One of the hard things about living so far away from all my family is that it's very easy to miss the ephemeral moments that turn out to be a big deal.
I made it to many Thanksgivings, but I didn't make it to Grandma's last.
The night before my Nana passed away in 2017, I'd been drinking. I got a call from my aunt that she was fading. I checked and there was a flight in an hour. If I rushed, I could make it. It was expensive. I could have afforded it though. I'd be sobering up on the flight. That doesn't sound pleasant.
She's a strong woman, I'll fly in tomorrow morning, it'll be fine.
I arrived at about 10 am. She passed away around 7 that morning. They'd already taken away her body. My tiny act of selfishness meant she missed spending her final moments with her great grandson.
Throughout this entire year, this has been in the back of my mind. Both haunting me ever so slightly and reminding me that even the tiniest actions have consequences.
At this point, three of Victoria's four grandparents have recieved both of their vaccines. For the past year, that has not been the case.
While it's been easy for us to stay home given current life circumstances, it would have been just as easy to try and get life back to normal as soon as possible.
We've held ourselves to stricter standards than government guidance and social sentiment. To the outsider, it might look like we're so afraid of the virus that we're overreacting and could do with getting out more.
I know as a young, rich, white, dude, in America, that my chance of mortality from getting the virus is well below the 1.8%. At 31, I also see that my Nana had outlived her youngest daughter by my entire lifetime.
Anyone that discusses this virus from the position that this virus is only killing old people, so we need to sacrifice grandmas to save the economy, is ageist. There have been so many lives cut entirely far too short from this pandemic. Families disrupted.
While this year has been extremely challenging mentally for me, the sacrifices have been a no brainer. We've been able to mitigate ourselves as potential infection vectors for any of Victoria's family. We've kept the option open to be able to see them at the drop of a hat should anything else go wrong.
In addition to that, I know that I've helped keep your family safe and healthy simply by never crossing paths with you or them. Like the board game, this pandemic has been a team sport. Some have played cooperatively, while others have played their own angles.
If you've made it this far haven't lost anyone, count yourself lucky, but please keep the conspiracy theories to yourself. You really have no idea the hell that some people went through this past year and you'll never find out by just parroting whatever sentiment is floating around in your friend group.
And please, for the love of all that is good in this world, stop spreading unverifiable claims on social media.