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Post San Francisco on "Shelter in Place"--and a Trip to Safeway
Created by John Eipper on 03/23/20 4:20 AM

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San Francisco on "Shelter in Place"--and a Trip to Safeway (A. J. Cave, USA, 03/23/20 4:20 am)

I was shopping for last-minute items for the Persian New Year last Monday at Safeway (a grocery store chain). It was more crowded than usual for a mid-day Monday. As I was searching for garlic for the Nowruz spread (Haft-seen), someone turned to me and asked, "Do you know they have shut down San Francisco?" I didn't. He continued, "My son just called me and said they have shut down San Francisco." I checked my phone and sure enough, there were a bunch of emergency alerts that the mayor had issued a "shelter-in-place" order for San Francisco, kicking in at midnight. I had no idea what that meant. So, I had to read the actual press release.

The intent of the city government was to slow down the spread of the coronavirus in San Francisco and six neighboring counties (save Napa). More like closing the barn doors after the horses have already fled.

The impact was immediate. Safeway shelves with emergency essentials like canned good and frozen food, meats, cheeses, snacks, etc., were practically empty and not even a single potato or carrot in sight, with shopping carts overflowing and lines snacking from cashiers to the end of the aisles. By the time I checked out, the ice cream bucket had practically melted.

My next stop was Trader Joe's. There was a line to get in--ten customers per click. They were pretty cleaned out too. I saw a woman who was in a daze. She was practically crawling into the back of the empty shelves (probably) in search of her favorite food items. While other shoppers were ignoring her or pretending not to see, another lady and I were just looking at her wondering what to do. She finally looked at me and shook her head and said, "Just let her be."

I wasn't sure how this "shelter-in-place" is going to work. Some of the business and corporate people with kids had already been working from home, since the schools had been closed. The rest who had been going to work, just downloaded couple of collaboration apps (like Zoom), if they didn't already have them, and stayed home. Silicon Valley is ahead of the curve in terms of working from anywhere, anytime. However, there are many loopholes. For example, San Francisco and the Bay area real estate (pre-virus) have been in a hyper expansion mode. On the residential side, the majority of the houses have been bought by the Chinese and the Chinese-Americans, and almost all are in various stages of renovations, also mostly by the Chinese and South American laborers. That work, not essential in my eyes, is continuing without fancy concepts like social distancing.

As it turned out, San Francisco was the beta test site. On the day of Nowruz, March 19, Governor Gavin Newsom issued a shelter-in-place for the entire state. Other states have been following suit.

Coronavirus has been roaming freely around the globe since anywhere from 5 to 7 million people left Wuhan before the Chinese government locked down the region. So, I can't predict what effect shelter-in-place in San Francisco Bay area and around the state (as well as across the US) would have. The government officials at federal, state and local levels are trying to stagger the flow of critical patients into hospitals, by slowing down the spread of the contagion, until the hospitals can be stocked with adequate supplies. We also need to remember that test results are not a reliable indicator, because it doesn't mean those who are not infected as of the date of the test, won't be infected in the future. And we can't keep the shelter-in-place indefinitely.

Even though I have been talking about the pandemic since January, I am amazed by how fast we have gone from denial straight into mass hysteria at global level. In a situation like this, you always have a handful of rational people at one end, balanced by another handful at the other end who simply don't care. Then you have the mass(es) in the middle who are totally shocked, confused, scared, and depressed, and they are the ones who are driving the bus right now.

So, are things as bad as they look?

The answer is that we really don't know yet. We need reliable data. Data that we don't have for various legal reasons regarding privacy of health records, and not likely to get from many places like the Middle East, North Korea, Russia, Africa, and more crucially, China. Not right away, anyway. We are also unlikely to get data regarding those who got the infection, were misdiagnosed (self, or by medical staff), and recovered (or didn't).

As more people are getting tested, the numbers of the infected are bound to increase exponentially. But while all the deaths are tragic by any measure, we can't draw any conclusions because various countries have different health care systems, and setting aside their political systems, their citizens have different social and cultural customs and beliefs, and financial situations that directly and indirectly impact their health and well being.

Right now the masses in the middle just need (re)assurance that we are working on a solution to benefit all as soon as we can. We are not just doing something, we are doing everything we possibly can. The mathematical modeling of the exponential spread of the contagion is not correct, simply because we are not (and no longer) standing still. Every biotech entity across the globe, from tiny startups to giant pharma, are working on a vaccine. Yes, this is going to take time. It is not just good will toward (wo)mankind, it is a multi-trillion dollar opportunity.

As I write this, the number of total cases are getting close to 350,000 globally. But we need to change the way we are looking at and reporting the numbers. We have to start talking about the survival rate and not the death rate first.

The survival rate is around 93% (including 28% who have recovered and mild cases) globally. The death rate is around 4.2% with another 2.6% who could go either way. As more people are diagnosed, I predict that the number of survivors would increase, while the % of deaths to the total would decrease. We would eventually (hopefully) stabilize around 95-98%+ survival rate globally until we reach the post-virus era.

JE comments:  A. J. Cave summarizes the collective attitude perfectly:  we've gone from mass denial to mass hysteria.  This is typically the way the masses behave/react.  Think of the stock market.

Nowruz makes me wonder how historians might refer to our special times:  Coronavirus Spring?  But "springs" for historical eras usually suggest hope or renewal.  These days we're seeing precious little of either.

Spring sprang at WAIS HQ with a snowfall overnight.  Be that as it may, Happy Nowruz to you, A. J.

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  • Coronavirus Culture: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (A. J. Cave, USA 03/24/20 4:38 AM)
    Before talking about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the financial markets:  As my sister says, most people haven't had enough time to process and digest all the data and information about the pandemic, so whatever I write won't make a difference.

    That said, one of the reasons for the mass hysteria is not the coronavirus per se, it's the reaction to it, especially by the media. I am not on Facebook, so I can't say what's going on there, but if you are, here are couple of things to keep in mind:

    Facebook, and any kind of social media, works on a sort of a feedback loop (algorithm). What attracts the eyeballs is usually the "negative," or what my sister calls "zombie apocalypse" headlines. Once you click on one of those, then the underlying software starts to show you similar links because Facebook and other free social media platforms want to keep you on their sites as long as possible. They sell (monetize) what you read and what you do to the advertisers who want to sell you gizmos and gadgets. They are free because they are compensated astronomically by the advertisers. Network news programs on various TV and cable channels are doing more of the same to attract viewers. They are not really giving us the facts (and just the facts), they are giving us a mix of news and opinions, with less news and more personal opinions, especially in cases like this pandemic where no one really knows much. They are fighting for ratings, whatever it takes, because that is what they sell to their advertisers. They're not really in the truth business; they are in the advertising business.

    So, you really ought to consider the sources in the context. Granted, not everybody is going to read every piece of information about the pandemic across five continents like I do, but you should really stop and ask yourself if what you are reading or listening to makes sense. The other key factor that is warping our sources of information and our sense of reality about the pandemic is the fact that as a country, we are bitterly divided in half since the last presidential election. As reflected by their respective media sources, half of the country believes the president unconditionally, while the other half wants to pull him down by any and all means possible.

    Now, the good, the bad, and the ugly:

    The Good:

    All the people around the world who are working on the front lines of the pandemic are heroes. In US, what most people don't know is that during the budget cuts in healthcare in the last decade or so (maybe longer), we have a shortage of about 60,000 nurses. In a pandemic like this, we can't just bring in temps or gig workers to play nurses on the front lines. Thanks to the same budget cuts, a majority of nurses in California are now contract workers. It means they don't usually have benefits and might not even qualify for employer-provided healthcare themselves. If they want healthcare, they have to buy an insurance package like everyone else. So, let's not make their lives any more dangerous by depriving them of the basic medical equipment they need to do their jobs. According to the health care index 2020 which estimates the overall quality of health care based on the doctors, nurses, staff, equipment, cost, etc., US healthcare system ranks no. 30 among 93 other countries, below Turkey, wedged between Lithuania and Argentina.

    The Bad:

    So many here.  I am only going to scratch the surface:

    1) China Syndrome--I am with the president here. This is a virus originated in China. Chinese themselves (risking jail) have been more critical of their government than any of us in US. Chinese government knows better than anyone else that their food markets (that carry all sorts of live animals, most of which should be either in the wild or in the zoos) have to be regulated and inspected regularly by qualified health inspectors. We should really send Chinese government a bill for the enormous financial damage caused by the pandemic to our economy (and around the world).

    2) WHO--World organizations are notoriously bureaucratic and inefficient. WHO (World Health Organization) has been downright negligent and dangerous to the world's health in this case. The very definition of a pandemic is when a contagion crosses borders. Instead, the WHO General Director just pandered to and praised the Chinese government for their "handling" of the virus and didn't call the pandemic a pandemic until it was just too late and the virus had already spread to the four corners of the world.

    The Ugly:

    Again, too many to list:

    1) These sorts of disasters always bring out the best and the worst in people. Those who are taking advantage of the situation by medical equipment price-gouging , or selling various fake cures and snake oils are just criminals!

    2) Those flocking to beaches thinking they are on paid vacations are just a crowd short of a pandemic.

    3) And politicians collectively. I am a Democrat. That said, I think the way Democrats in the Congress are undermining the economic recovery of the country by constant bickering and politicking over the stimulus package is downright shameful. Instead of doing the right thing for their constituents who are scared and worried about the health and welfare of their families and friends and most don't even know where their next meals are coming from, how to pay their rents without jobs and take care of their kids and parents without money, the politicians are just playing house and driving their old agendas of opposing the president at any cost. This is not the time or the place. They should have been the first among equals to round up their families and stand in lines to get tested like everyone else, and to donate their paychecks (paid by taxpayers) to their districts during the financial hardship in solidarity with their "people." Even a symbolic offering would have made a difference. As a rule of thumb, when politicians talk about "people," they mean themselves.

    4) On both sides of the aisle, our elected officials who had been secretly briefed about the pandemic in January, sold millions of dollars worth of stocks ahead of the crash of the markets. This is not considered insider trading? Seriously? The stock market is down by at least 36% since January. That's loss of trillions of dollars in real money.

    And finally,the economy:

    As I have already said, the Feds would stop at nothing to get the economy back on track, and not just the US economy, the world economy.

    Today (Monday) they proved me right by announcing a (bottomless) open-ended asset purchase program. It means they are providing liquidity in all the financial markets. Period. Those who think the cost of printing money would be astronomical, should calculate the cost of not doing it. It would be massive economic collapse and pervasive global poverty at levels US and the world haven't seen. World economies cannot survive massive supply-chain shock on one end (China accounts for 70% of production) and massive demand shock on the other (consumers worldwide) for longer than a couple of months. That is also the reason why we need to get people back to work in less than a month, staggered and in rotation, if we have too.

    The financial crisis is a byproduct of the health crisis.  A majority of our top corporations are well-funded, with sound balance sheets, and employ millions of workers nationally and internationally. Unlike the financial crisis of 2008, when investment bankers and insurance companies cooked the books, these corporations did not cause the current meltdown. If Boeing falls, 30,000 people would lose their livelihood and the ripple effect through the economy would have unexpected and unknown outcome. Multiply that by all companies in all sectors. What we do want is to cap CEO bonuses and pays for the companies who take the bailout packages and free lines of credit. Bailouts and [CEO] bonuses are not one and the same.

    The companies who should not survive the current market crash are the "zombie" corporations, mostly empty and worthless shells and scams, and mostly Chinese, that have been taking advantage of the greed in our financial markets. They should all be de-listed immediately, without even a red cent in bailout money. That's really where the buck stops.

    JE comments:  We need to unearth more about insider trading from US politicians--and no doubt others throughout the world.  This is no less morally repugnant than war profiteering.

    A. J., I've filed this post under "culture," as the pandemic is touching every aspect of our lives.  Yesterday in the pandemonium of the local supermarket, the crowd spoke of nothing other than "It."  Now that I'm sheltering in place at WAIS HQ, I can say that no crisis in my lifetime has had a wider impact on our existence.

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