We woke up to the news that the University will remain online-only for the rest of the semester. We knew this was coming, but it’s still dispiriting. The original plan, which was sent last Wednesday, was to reconvene classes on March 30. That seemed optimistic to us, a real long-shot, but as long as it hadn’t been rescinded, we could entertain the possibility that they knew something we didn’t. They did not, and it’ll be distance learning for the duration.
We know this isn’t what students signed up for. They want face-to-face time with the Professor, and I can’t blame them. Hilary has always been reluctant to commit to online teaching, and for very good reason: her formidable powers are best encountered in person, and she hates to shortchange her students. But she’s doing her best. She’s got three classes this semester, and while wrangling freshmen has been a chore, the committed English majors are showing up in the chat rooms. The endless nature of the crisis is sure to test diligence, and I wonder if the University will eventually decide to scrap the semester and just give everybody an A.
Two days ago I got the news that my cousin had tested positive. This morning, I learned that her mother is sick, too. So far, their symptoms haven’t been severe. Nevertheless, I can’t help but worry about them. Another cousin from the other side of the family is also waiting for a test. News out of Lakewood is that at least forty people there are positive for the virus. The biggest cluster still seems to be near Teaneck and Englewood, but that could simply be where tests are getting administered. We’re not going to get a clear picture of anything for awhile, and until we do, all this virus mapping is probably more misleading than illuminating.
The Governor of New York has promised that the MTA will not be shut down. This was a change in tone from the near-military language he used a few days ago, which suggests to me that his crisis-management strategies have evolved to suit the moment. It’s probably wise. Talk of the National Guard is bound to make people feel more powerless than they already do. Meanwhile, Bergen County took the initiative and declared a state of emergency, and then rescinded it in deference to Governor Murphy. The White House continues to push the line that this is a Chinese virus, as if viruses pay taxes and salute flags, extending their strategy of pointing fingers at a perceived nonwhite threat at any sign of distress. By now, this ought to be transparent to everybody in the country, yet I still see people on the Internet recycling unhelpful language coming from the federal government. This is something I remember from the 9/11 period, too: the malleability of perception, and the rush to defend authorities by mimicking their behavior and ratifying their worldview. It’s natural in a crisis, I suppose, but that doesn’t make it easy to see.
I’d had a diagnostic appointment with my dentist scheduled for today. That’s been scrapped. I suppose I could call him and talk about the major work I’m supposed to have, but I’m not eager to do that. When I talked to the office about rescheduling, the tone was harried. Should the problem in my upper molar become an emergency, I hope he’ll find time for me. In the meantime, part of my consciousness continues to operate five days in the past — the typical gestation period for the virus — as I remember what I was doing at the moment when the pathogens might have been transmitted. On the 14th, I went to an art opening, and a very good one, at Drawing Rooms in Jersey City; this’ll probably be the last new show anybody mounts in many months, so I’m going to try to keep the memory fresh. Ironically, many of the images on display were paintings of hands. By municipal mandate, everybody in attendance had to sign in. My hope is that they never need to send that list to the city. We probably took a far greater risk when we picked up Hilary’s medication at a crowded Duane Reade. But that was six days ago. Are we in the clear?