Saturday, August 15, 2020


Yesterday, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that Auckland will remain at Alert Level 3, and the rest of New Zealand will remain at Level 2, for 12 days, until August 26. That would mean the Levels may be lowered two weeks after the first case was identified (two weeks is the standard allowance for an incubation period). However, Cabinet will review the situation on August 21, and see where we’re at. Ultimately, the Alert Levels could be extended where they are or reduced, but it will all depend on where identification and containment of the outbreak is at.

This is all good news, and the decision was based on evidence and scientific advice, as they always are. But the situation, and the uncertainty had me worried.

It’s been a stressful few days as we went through our raised Alert Levels, waiting to see what was next. I ventured out on Thursday to pick up a few things I needed, both for some projects around the house and a (mostly) routine trip to the supermarket. I went to a home centre (mainly plants for the garden and a compost bin) so that if we went back under lock down, I’d have some projects here at home to work on. However, I’d planned on getting the plants next week, anyway, so it was really only a few days early.

When I entered the home centre, I saw that they’d put back the physical distancing measures they’d removed when we went to Alert Level 1 back in June. The staff were wearing PPE (including one who wore a plastic face shield). I didn’t put on my mask at first, mainly because I’m not generally a first-in kind of person when it comes to social behaviour.

For as long as I can remember, I was paranoid about inadvertently breaking some sort of social taboo and being judged for it by, as I called it in my youth, “The Unseen Other”, an imaginary someone who judges other people for their social mistakes, no matter how small.

As I moved through the store, I noticed some customers wearing masks: All of them younger (20s to 30s). The people most at risk—my age and older—didn’t wear masks. I felt more aligned with the younger people, and thought their behaviour was better to reflect, so I put on my mask, at least in part because I hoped it might encourage older people to wear them. At the very least, I thought it was kind of a way of expressing solidarity with the mask wearers, people who clearly cared about stopping the spread of the virus, and so I also saw it as a way to kind of thank them for that.

It was the first time I’d worn a mask (which I’d already learned to put on and take off correctly), and that meant that I finally understood what some people had said about them: How they can feel hot, you’re aware of your own breath (the heat, the moisture, even the smell), and how hard it is to not touch it. The first two issues passed quickly, but the third took a lot of my mental energy because I constantly wanted to adjust my mask. Mostly I avoided it. I had some trouble with my reading glasses fogging up when I out them on to read a label, and I also realised that I was basically touching my face every time I put them on. I don’t have a solution for that, though I guess I could carry a magnifying glass with me instead. I was anxious at the time, but breathing the slightly elevated levels of carbon dioxide actually helped calm me. Or maybe I just convinced myself of that.

I seemed to adjust fairly quickly to limited visual information about others. I was in one aisle and a young man (mid to late 20s, I’d guess) walked to a shelf to get something and we briefly made eye contact. That was the only part of this face I could see, and his eyes seemed kind. I thought that maybe that’s what people meant about being more sensitive to reading the limited visual cues than maybe we normally are.

I mention all that because it was new to me, and because I can’t remember reading anyone else mentioning their first time wearing a mask. I’m sure some must have, but considering how ordinary it is among rational people overseas now, that makes my first time wearing one quite unusual for me, so of course I had to document it.

I left the store and loaded my car, resisting the temptation to adjust my mask. My next stop was the supermarket, and once in the carpark I snapped the Instagram photo above. The plants I bought are in the background behind me (they’re the ones I mentioned earlier this month). I was feeling a bit anxious about going into the supermarket when I took the photo, which I think is obvious in the photo. That was nothing.

I was lucky that I didn’t have to wait in a queue to get into the store, but once in I noticed that no one was wearing masks, again, including folks in my age group (more or less) and above. As I went through the store I saw a few people (maybe 8) wearing masks—nearly all of them men. More than once I felt incredibly anxious int he store, not so much because of people not wearing masks, but because those same people also totally ignored physical distancing, meaning sometimes I had to wait or even turn around to avoid them. This turned out to be quite stressful, and a couple times I felt I was even close to a panic attack, though that never happened. I did wonder, though, what made “women of a certain age” (basically, my general age group) so cavalier and even arrogant. Is it a Boomer thing and I didn’t get the memo? Was it their political conservatism (Hamiltonians strongly support the National Party)? I have no idea, but they were the people who shot me disapproving looks, something younger people—both men and women—never did.

In a comment on my Facebook post, I joked about buying toilet paper:
…I felt like saying to the checkout person, “I just ran out!”, which, strictly speaking, wouldn’t have been true—I was just running low and it was time to buy more, but that explanation was too involved. I also felt like saying to the lady behind me, “I’m buying two bags of chips because they were on special for two bags,” but then I realised she was probably glaring because she didn’t approve of me wearing a mask
I really did feel sheepish about buying toilet paper, as I did the last time I bought it, too, though I didn’t really explain why I was buying a 12-pack of toilet paper. In general, I ended up buying a little more than I usually would have for a normal shopping trip because I didn’t want to have to go back next week, precisely because of the stress involved. As I said on my Facebook comment, “Going to the supermarket kinda creeped me out, to be honest, just like it did the last time we went to Level 2.”

This took a toll on me: Thursday evening I started developing symptoms of gout, and that night I was in some of the worst pain I’ve experienced in many years. It got so bad that it kept me awake, mainly because there no position that was comfortable, that relieved the pain.

While it’s possible I whacked my knee on something and forgot, it’s probably more likely that it happened because I was so stressed about all of this. I was worried we might be headed for full lockdown again (Level 4), and I felt I barely got through the last one. How would I cope with another lockdown? My shopping trip, especially to the supermarket, was also very stressful, probably in part because I never went to the supermarket when were under lockdown (I found other solutions). So dealing with the restrictions (physical distancing, for example, but masks, too) was actually a new experience for me. In any case, I also felt like my symptoms were easing once the announcement was made yesterday, mainly because we weren’t going up a level. That was highly unlikely to be true, of course: Gout isn’t that responsive and symptoms don’t change that quickly.

New Zealand has, so far, avoided a stronger response to the outbreak because it’s all under control at the moment. That means that I didn’t need to make that shopping trip, but, then, I really just shopped a little earlier than I may have otherwise; it’s not like I have hundreds of rolls of toilet paper. This whole thing taught me that I need better plans in case we have a more serious outbreak in the future and the country needs to move back under lockdown.

Those preparations will be an ongoing thing, too.

My loyal plant soldiers (Pittosporum tenuifolium Variegata) at home, awaiting deployment on the front.


Roger Owen Green said...

Well, when you need toilet paper, you should buy toilet paper. And you Kiwis are still better off.

New topic: when can you get your ballot for the Nov 3 election in the US?

Roger Owen Green said...

Did I mention this man is an @$$4013? https://www.newsweek.com/trump-calls-new-zealands-9-new-covid-cases-big-surge-us-records-42000-1525690

Arthur Schenck said...

Illinois prints its ballots as soon as the Republican and Democratic nominees are official. That delays the posting of them, however, people voting from outside the state (like me) will get the ballot by email. We then print it out and post it back, but that part's a subject itself. Fortunately, I have a blog to talk about that.