Thursday, August 20, 2020

Surviving the Pandemic: A Half-Year On

In a few weeks, the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown will have been going on for a half-year for most people in the United States. I still remember its beginning in early March. Nothing in my entire life has impacted my personal and professional activities as much as this.

I can certainly remember my last trip, a short one to one of my favorite places to visit, Salt Lake City, UT. I was invited to give Department of Biomedical Informatics Grand Rounds at the University of Utah on March 5th. The morning I was leaving for Salt Lake City on the 4th, I had decided to cancel my planned trip the following week to Orlando, concerned about being with 40,000 other people at the HIMSS meeting, which I have attended annually for about 20 years. A few days later, HIMSS cancelled the conference.

I also remember the last leg of my flight home, thinking it might be a while before I was on an airplane again. That was prescient, as OHSU made the decision to institute work-from-home the following week. Not only have I not been in a plane since then, but I have no future airplane trips planned. Most of the meetings I normally attend have gone to virtual mode, and I suspect I will not get on an airplane until some time in 2021.

So for almost a half-year now, my daily commute to work consists of walking down the stairs from my bedroom to my home office in my basement. Fortunately I was already well used to working virtually. Most of what I do can be done sitting at my MacBook Pro connected to the Internet.

I have fortunately maintained my health, both through eating healthfully as well as maintaining my exercise regimen. Running has always been my exercise of choice, and it has helped that I have been able to continue doing it through the pandemic. My cross-training gym workout has moved from my former gym to my basement, and I have no idea if or when I might return to a gym.

While the first couple months were dark and depressing, things did lighten up with the arrival of summer. The days became longer and warmer, and the gradual re-opening of the economy in Oregon has allowed us to pursue outdoor activities, especially patronizing restaurants that seat outdoors, and even entertaining small groups - socially distanced - in the airy backyard of our house. Even though I ordinarily enjoy the fall, with the start of the school year, I worry that his year's return of shorter and cooler days will not be as pleasant as usual.

I have enjoyed some other aspects of normalcy, such as spectator sports. The first sport to return live was Korean baseball, televised live by ESPN. Although baseball is not my top sport for being a fan, it seems like a pretty logical one for the pandemic, without a substantial amount of close contact among the players. Of course, those games being on in the evening in South Korea, which is the middle of the night in Portland, meant that I needed to record them and watch them in the Portland evening. Now there has been the return of US baseball and basketball, which has helped. It is still uncertain to me how the football season will unfold.

While I am aghast at those who want to re-open the economy or the schools too fast, or not wear masks, I crave the return to normal life as much as they do. I prefer to follow the science, especially as summarized in the Twitter feeds of Eric Topol and Dereck Lowe, and am encouraged by our growing understanding of COVID-19, its immunity, new approaches to treatment, and ultimately a vaccine. I have even added my name to the government registry to volunteer to participate in a clinical trial. I have not been called yet but will step up if I am.