Coronadventure 3/27/20

Thoughts by Richard Bleil

Today I went to work. Well, honestly, about a week ago by the time this post, but it was today on this writing.

Now, before people think that I’m being irresponsible let me explain the situation. See, I know that I am not infected, at least not today. We were on spring break before everything started shutting down, and being a proverbial “homebody”, I stayed in the apartment pretty much the entire week. Since symptoms show up typically after at most a week, it’s been actually a couple of weeks that I’ve been isolated from pretty much everybody except my roommate. Were I infected, I would have shown symptoms by now.

I work in a small college teaching chemistry, including chemistry lab. Lab simulation products all have the same basic failings; they have a game feel, lack real world practice, and the only things that can go wrong are whatever the programmers can think of. Trust me, real labs are far more creative than any programmer could ever hope to be. I like to put it this way; imagine you had a traumatic brain injury at a remote time and location needing emergency brain surgery. Because of the circumstances, experienced doctors are not available, and the only available doctor has never operated on a live person. Would you like a brain surgeon that at least practiced on a cadaver, or on a video game?

Okay, maybe that’s an extreme example, but the point being that you cannot get the same experience on software than in person. But, don’t worry, I do protect my students, so they will not be coming to class to perform the labs. I’ve put considerable thought into the alternatives, and even looked at some modern lab simulators that, frankly, are not significantly better than the game I purchased in the late ‘90’s. So, I have a scheme.

Every week, at their regular time, they will log on to a conferencing tool and observe the lab being performed live by me. The only person at risk in this way is myself, and while they might not be performing the lab, they are still subject to any problems that might arise, and can still participate by asking questions. Numbers I will read out for them, and if there are things like smell I’ll mention it but otherwise they are responsible for taking their own notes and observations and will have the data necessary for the remainder of the experiment (calculations, lab reports and so forth). If I become ill, I’ll still isolate from week to week and should show symptoms before the next experiment.

From here on out, I can prepare the next week’s labs at the end of this week’s, but unfortunately, I have not had the opportunity to set up this lab in advance. Hence, I went in today to set up for tomorrow’s experiment. Because I have no car, I was forced to take public transit (the bus). It was an interesting thing to see.

The bus on the way in was empty. I mean completely empty; I was the only passenger when I got on, and the only when I left. The only other person on the bus was, in fact, the bus driver. On the way back, the bus was about a third full, so there were far more people than in the morning. And again, the bus driver.

It got me to thinking about these men (which is gender specific because in this case, the two drivers were both male). The reality is that there are people who cannot self-isolate, at least not if they are not showing symptoms. Because of my circumstances, I could do so and will continue to semi self-isolate (staying indoors when I can, working alone in the lab when I must), but places like grocery stores or hospitals, for example, don’t have the luxury of shutting down. Even fast food can restrict themselves to drive-through (which doesn’t help those of us without cars), but they are still exposed to the delivery people bringing in their food. And all of these critical services are still being supported by other people, such as bus drivers.

These men and women are the true heroes of this emergency. They are the ones that are facing the virus every day to their own peril and detriment. Coming back, seeing all of those people on the bus, any one of whom could be infected are not only putting each other at risk, but these civil servants as well. Eventually, everybody will have to go out to a grocery store; provisions will run out, emergencies might arise, and when they do I truly hope they realize that for the very brief time that they have to be out, and for the very few encounters with others they will have by necessity are but a fraction of what these brave souls do for us every day, and for very little pay at that.

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