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LFH: Day 8

I finally set up my home office yesterday. I’d been dragging my heels, I think because if I didn’t do it I could more easily pretend (at least sometimes) that things hadn’t changed. I was still perching at my workspace to do things rather than fully committing to the face that I can’t go to my office anymore. It’s certainly not that I can’t work from home, I’ve done it my whole life and I live with a restricted workspace all summer. Anyway, I hauled everything out of the bags they’d been in and set up the monitor, dock, and work laptop on my desk. It all fit better than I expected.

The chair I use is not ideal, or rather it is not ideal given the height of the desk and the depth of the drawer space, but I put a pillow at the back and that gets me higher relative to the keyboard (I have a mechanical keyboard which is much more comfortable to type on than any of my laptop or portable keyboards). And I cleaned off the bed next to the desk and added yet another pillow so I can read or work on a lapdesk there when I’m tired of sitting at the desk.

It will be fine. Fine.

Workspace settled, I dealt with email and small work chores and then went for a walk in the afternoon. I went to the park, which was probably a mistake. I really wanted to get out and walk for a while, and it was a cold but (finally) sunny day. I knew I was risking more people going out in mid-afternoon on a Saturday, but I went anyway. It was fine for a while but there were quite a few people out walking and jogging (hardly any bicyclists, unlike last time), and by the time I was on the part of the circuit that took me toward home, there were enough people that maintaining social distance was hard. I managed it most of the time, but groups of three and four people taking up the whole sidewalk did not help. I was glad to get out of the park and back onto the street to my neighborhood. I’m not sure I’ll be doing that again. We have a treadmill and a rower in the basement, and if I want fresh air I can walk around the streets of my neighborhood.

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LFH: Day 7

One week down, one to go on our self-isolation. Although our self-isolation feels increasingly like a technical description of our everyday life now. We’re still asymptomatic and given we’re past the median point of becoming symptomatic (and close to the 2/3 point), it seems likely that we didn’t contract the virus. The best would be if we did and had very mild cases, but we can’t count on that, obviously, so after Day 14 we’ll move from assuming we can transmit it to assuming we can contract it.

I started work yesterday by dealing with a problem that was not COVID-19-related. It was a student issue and took two days, five people and a couple of dozen emails to resolve. On the one hand I was annoyed at being asked to fix something that wasn’t part of the immediate crisis situation. On the other, it was weirdly reassuring to solve the kind of “normal” problem that crops up because undergraduates inevitably want the system to accommodate their last-minute changes of heart, mind, and/or curriculum. We were able to find a solution that made the student happy. And then back to crisis-as-normal work.

I should have finished unpacking and setting up my home office yesterday but I got bogged down doing a bunch of small tasks. I did get out and take a brisk 45-minute walk in the park in the afternoon. There were quite a few joggers, walkers, and bicyclists on the path, all of us attempting to maintain lots of distance. It was cold, windy, and cloudy but it felt so good to be out of doors. I’m very grateful that this disaster allows for outdoor exercise in most places. TheH went out as well, but we took separate walks. He needed a break in the morning when I was tied up and I got mine in the afternoon. I pointed out to him that since we’re together almost 24/7 and will be for a while, we might want to use our outdoor opportunities to have some solitary time.

On my walk I listened to Monday’s Guardian Football Weekly podcast, which was taped after the Premier League suspended its schedule but before many of the other sports and non-sports shutdowns had been announced. There is a hard to hear but necessary interview with their La Liga reporter, Sid Lowe, about the situation in Spain. I hadn’t been able to bring myself to listen to their podcasts before this. I had tried to listen to last Thursday’s podcast while traveling back from the UK on Friday, but the feeling of the season slipping away, and Liverpool’s first title in 30 years with it, was still too painful. I’m mostly over that now. It looks as if they’ll try very hard to finish the season, because it’s not just the title but Champions League places, relegation, and promotion to be determined. But even if they don’t, it’s not that important. People staying alive through a pandemic is important. If you don’t believe me, believe Liverpool’s manager, J├╝rgen Klopp. His comments and messages have been exactly what everyone should hear about football and society.

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LFH: Day 6

Yesterday was supposed to be an easier day, and it started promisingly. But then things ramped up in the afternoon, partly because of semi-panicked emails from different university units I belong to, and partly because, well, we’re not getting easier days for a while.

The two cases of COVID-19 involving locally based university personnel led to a ramp-up in exclusion policies for everyone on all the campuses. We’re not quite on lockdown, or “full closure” as they term it, but we are strictly admonished not to come to campus unless we are designated as essential personnel or have designated essential tasks on campus. Research that requires campus access cannot be carried out, only maintained (in the sense that labs have animals, experiments, etc. that can’t be abandoned). The university is trying to make accommodations for things like season-dependent research, but everyone else, from lab researchers to humanities scholars who need continual library access, is to wind down and do alternate types of work. I wonder if the additional policies are in response to the number of people still on campus this week. I believe our faculty and grad students have stayed away, but clearly that’s not the case everywhere.

TheH and I drove into campus and picked up the few additional things we thought we’d need. I brought home my laptop dock, monitor, keyboard, more files, and a pile of books. I’ve resisted setting up an office-equivalent workspace at home; I much prefer a minimal work surface. But that’s not going to cut it for the next six weeks.

The undergraduate students are really anxious, we were told in the administrators’ daily briefing. Some professors haven’t checked in with their classes at all, even though we start back up on Monday. WTF. I know we’re all stressed and at our wits’ end, but we’re supposed to be the adults here! That said, I’ve been dragging my feet on finishing my course revisions. I’ve been thinking about them nonstop, but I haven’t settled on answers to most of the questions. But I’m out of time, so it’s decision time.

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LFH: Day 5

We are still completely asymptomatic, and every day that passes makes us more confident we aren’t vectors. Of course now that everyone is supposed to be practicing social isolation our behavior won’t change much after the 14 days are up. And as the virus spreads around us we’ll be increasingly likely to catch it. We’re doing our part to stay healthy, exercise, and eat well. I’m frequently grateful that I like to cook, but never more so than now. For decades I’ve regularly played the “what can you make without going to the grocery store” game, and it’s coming in handy.

It was a very busy morning and afternoon, but working was easier because I knew I was getting through the worst of the crisis-level stuff. Of course this doesn’t include all my course revision, which most people would think was the bulk of the crisis-level stuff, but there has been so much department-wide and administrative work to take care of. But I think most of that is in place now.

We got Microsoft Team channels set up for the department (thanks, Cleo!). I don’t know how much use they’ll get, but at least the faculty and grad students have separate and combined places to talk to each other now apart from the inevitable email. We got the updated course information in to the College office, with most of my colleagues responding on time (we really are in unprecedented times). I chatted by Teams and video with my graduate assistants and students and set up schedules and plans for the course revisions as well. One of my colleagues administered a different type of survey than I did, which was helpful. Whereas I concentrated on contextual issues, he asked them about their attitudes and learning styles. Students don’t want long lectures, which most of us already suspected but it’s good to have some confirmation. Many of the students can’t do synchronous classes and the rest don’t want to, another non-surprise. But it’s useful material to direct us as we figure out our pedagogical strategies.

Four university-connected people tested positive for the virus: two medical professionals here in the city and two students who were studying abroad and went back to their respective homes. The physicians’ cases were travel-related, but given how things work they will lead to community spread. It’s inevitable. Testing in Missouri is lagging at least as far behind as it is everywhere else in the US if not more. The lack of emphasis on testing is unconscionable and inexplicable. Yes, I know we have procedures and red tape, but we also have measures to expedite or remove those procedures. The government is making choices here, and they are bad ones.

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LFH: Day 4

In comments yesterday Barb advised me to take care of my eyes, and I really understood what she meant by the end of the day. My eyes were burning from the amount of time I had spent staring at the screen. For someone who rarely Skypes or video-conferences, the last few days have been a big change. Yesterday I logged 4.5 hours of live video interaction. First up was a morning meeting, then from noon to 1:30pm we watched the A&S and College Deans preside over a Town Hall, and then I caught up with the grad student I work with the most from 2pm to almost 3:30.

The main news in the Town Hall was about the closure of the university and the ramifications for faculty and staff. Starting March 23rd only essential personnel are allowed to be on campus, and the university has to be informed about those situations and clear them. Labs and other campus-based, ongoing research are reduced to maintenance. The expectation is that no active research will be conducted on campus with the exception of COVID-19-related research. And graduate students must stay off campus, i.e., they can’t be doing maintenance work in labs or any other tasks. Essential work has to be done by staff and faculty. You can imagine how this impacts labs, research programs, and the building of tenure and promotion portfolios. The current policies are in place until April 6, and all personnel will receive Paid Time Off (PTO) days to cover circumstances where they are unable to work from home, for whatever reason (personal or practical).

In between video appointments I tackled email. I finalized the survey for my students and coordinated the collection of information the college needs on how our we’re running our online classes. My colleagues have been great about responding, and so have my students. I don’t have all the responses in yet, but the majority of both classes are in (75% of one and 80% of the other). As I suspected, most of my students are in the US spread across our lower-48 time zones, but I have a handful that are further away. I was relieved to find that almost all of them have decent broadband internet. On the other hand, I was not surprised to learn that well over half of them have regular and/or substantial responsibilities at home that they wouldn’t have at school, which of course affects their ability to devote uninterrupted, concentrated time and space to their studies.

Our Dean of the College, who is awesome, stressed repeatedly that holding synchronous classes is unlikely to work well, and if professors insist on doing it they also must have a non-synchronous options. My survey responses show why synchronous class sessions are unlikely to work. Students are not captives on campus anymore. They have gone home to widely disparate settings. Many of them have parents, siblings, or other relatives and friends who place demands on their time and space whether they want to or not. And in my university’s case, they don’t even have most of their stuff. They have stresses galore when they’re not dealing with a worldwide pandemic, so what they are confronting now makes instruction an even bigger challenge. But I firmly believe it’s important to offer some kind of continuity. We older adults tend to forget that for most children, adolescents, and young adults, school is the activity that structures their lives. It’s their job, and more. When it’s taken away they are untethered. If we can offer them learning, however altered, we’re giving them something that provides continuity and is theirs. At least I hope that’s how it will work.

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