Travel update

by Sunita

I had hoped to post daily updates during the walk itself, but our days were long and by the time we stopped we were usually ready for dinner, rest, and bed. It was a great trip, although by about halfway through it became impossible to avoid thinking about coronavirus, and the news updates, both general and specific, came thick and fast.

We wound up spending two full days in London, which was relaxing. We had no trouble booking more nights at our hotel, indeed there was only one small boutique hotel which was full on our whole trip. West Norfolk and the Norfolk coast were great places to be during the unfolding pandemic. London was less crowded than usual, everywhere. Our favorite restaurants had plenty of available tables, the streets were less packed with people, and the buses were light. Not so empty as to feel eerie, but definitely noticeable.

We’re coming home to a city and state with few reported cases, unlike other parts of the country. TheH is postponing his upcoming trip to California; our county has quite a few cases and the university has required cancellation of all non-essential travel. So no Midwest meetings for us this year either.

The UK is taking a less draconian approach to controlling the virus than most of Europe, about which I have mixed feelings. We have done what we can to mitigate our exposure while here. But given we’ve been in a major city with crowds, taken the (amazingly clean and half-empty) Tube to Heathrow, and then are flying on two full flights through two more airports, we’ll limit our contact with other people for at least a week once we’re home. We have friends as well as family of friends and colleagues who are high risk and we don’t want to be transmission vectors.

Thanks to our Dangerous Idiot President’s second travel ban, our previously half-filled flight home became packed, as travelers across Europe panicked that they wouldn’t be able to get back to the US after tonight. Yes, citizens and residents are exempt from the ban, but there was no guarantee that flights wouldn’t be axed. One of the flight attendants confirmed this fear, saying that their shifts are being cut not only on European routes but also for South America. So here we are sitting in fully loaded planes, more likely to transmit everything to each other. Nothing like adding injury to insult.

We’ll be spending the next week, which the university administration has rescheduled into a second week of spring break, redesigning our courses to work online. In addition, I’m on committees that select scholarship and postdoctoral awards this spring, and they are being recalibrated since the university has banned most in-person meetings through April. And I’m Director of Undergraduate Studies, so I have to manage and communicate how to carry out all the usual spring registration, awards, and commencement activities in virtual rather than physical space. The university is basically virtual-only through May 1 as of the latest info from the Chancellor, although as understand it we are expected to go in to work. I assume we’ll all be practicing plenty of social distance. It’s a bit confusing because we’re still planning some very small group meetings in person and the Arts & Sciences division held a virtual and in-person informational Town Hall yesterday. I think the fewer interactions we can manage, the better, but whatever.

Our course plans have in-class and group components that we’ll have to change. We also want to be sure that changes don’t increase burdens for any of our students. TheH and I plan to administer surveys to see what their circumstances are and then tailor our changes accordingly. Hopefully that will work. Who knows; we’re all in uncharted territory.

In the meantime we’ll be spending quality time with the Corgis. That’s an upside! And I’ll write up our daily walking experiences as planned. I think we can all use the pretty pictures and descriptions of bucolic rural life.