Jaron Berman

I am a first-year student in Georgetown College from Boulder, Colorado, hoping to major in history. 

About my collection

My archive documents how the virus has affected my local environment, specifically focusing on changes in day-to-day life and how social networks are adapting to a separated world, as well as  how Georgetown University's faculty and students have handled this crisis by chronicling of both official and unofficial Georgetown communication. Below you can find excerpts from my diary, as well collections of documents from my archive.

 
 
 
 

March 16th, 2020

        Two days ago, on March 14th, I made it back home to Boulder, Colorado, having fervently packed my bags and stored away my things (somewhat haphazardly) after being sent home by Georgetown University, where I was in the middle of the spring semester of my first year. In regards to the virus, the situation here is certainly not better than in Washington, D.C., and most likely worse, as at the time of writing there are 144 cases reported here, as opposed to just 17 in Washington[1], but it feels good to be home, especially given how fast things are changing. There are seven cases within my county alone, but to be frank the way the virus is spreading it honestly seems like it doesn't matter where one goes, as currently the only state with zero cases is West Virginia, but I am sure that is going to change soon. Additionally, just last Thursday I was in Madison Square Garden in New York City with the Pep Band performing for the Big East Men’s Basketball tournament, and was therefore right near the heart of one of the biggest outbreaks in the United States. I have yet to see if the decision for Georgetown to send us to that conference, and for myself to agree to attend, might have been a terrible one, especially given that the day after we played they canceled the entire tournament, along with the entire NCAA and NBA, but the five-day window in which one is expected to show symptoms is closing soon and at the moment I still feel fine, so I am optimistic. 

        The school district here, as well as the local university, have all shut down classes, and many businesses in town have moved to take-out only. I am lucky enough to currently have plenty of food in the house, and am additionally lucky to have a house at all to return to, as I have many peers who for a multitude of reasons do not have a home they can return to, let alone a place where they can complete the online courses now being prescribed by the universities. I only know of one friend of mine whose school hasn’t shut down, at least temporarily, and after spreading to the wind just a few months ago we are now all scrambling to get home as quickly and safely as possible.

        The mood here is tense. It seems every hour a new news alert comes through describing plummeting stocks or new regulations or quarantines. Boulder is a very left-leaning town, and therefore President Trump has never been popular, but it seems that his failed response to the outbreak is sinking his approval even lower. Beyond disparaging remarks about the president, however, there is also an inconceivable amount of misleading information flying about, one particular claim making the rounds is that if one can hold their breath for 10 seconds they don’t have the virus, which is horrifyingly incorrect. One incredibly dim silver-lining may be that once the virus becomes more entrenched, these claims will go away, but I am pessimistic. 

I am additionally pessimistic about the state of our hospitals. Boulder county is served almost exclusively by Boulder Community Hospital, which according to their 2017-2019 Community Health Needs Assessment, has 165 beds.[2] Current analysis of the data for cases occurring outside of mainland China seem to show that the amount of cases multiplied by approximately 1.2 each day, and with 7 current cases, is approximately 17 days until hospital beds in Boulder county are filled.[3] This is obviously a very rough estimate, and doesn’t factor in the effect of social distancing and the canceling of many large events, but it also assumes all 165 beds are currently open, which is not the case. Additionally, according to the American Hospital Directory, all of Colorado has only 8,243 beds, and doing the same math with the current 144 cases reported, gives approximately 22 days until all beds in the state are full. I certainly hope that the next few days will prove that math incorrect.[4]

[1] https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/cases-in-us.html

[2] https://www.bch.org/documents/bch-community-health-needs-assessment-final-august-26-2016.pdf

[3] https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/situation-reports/20200316-sitrep-56-covid-19.pdf?sfvrsn=9fda7db2_2

[4] https://www.ahd.com/states/hospital_CO.html

 

Boulder County CO Stay at Home Order, March 25, 2020

 

Mobile Alert for Statewide Colorado Stay at Home Order, March 25, 2020 8:21 PM MST

March 19th, 2020

        Over the last few days my parents and brother have now officially made the transition to working/taking classes online, which has put a lot of strain on our internet as we all compete to gain access to bandwidth. Personally it means that I am actually somewhat lucky to have early classes (as they have been shifted two-hours earlier due to the time zone change), meaning I have been able to stream my classes with relatively few interruptions. How my professors have reacted to this shift has been fascinating. My History and Ethics classes have drastically changed their curriculums and structures, whereas in Music Theory the professor is still optimistic that we will be able to perform our final compositions for each other over video call (only time will tell if he will be proved correct). What was particularly striking, however, was my Spanish class yesterday morning, in which one of my classmates responded (rather banally) that their parents had come down with the virus, and she was relatively confident she had as well, since she was starting to feel some of the symptoms. Her method of delivery was striking, to the point that I almost thought she was joking at first. When I realized she was serious I instantly felt terrible for cracking a smile, but she insisted that, like my Music Theory professor, she was quite optimistic that nothing grave was going to come of it, for both herself and her parents. It’s not within my power to say why she held such a view, I don’t know whether she was basing this prediction on the relatively low mortality rate of the virus among young people, (although there are frightening reports coming in at the moment that suggest this might not actually be the case) or the fact that Brazil, the country she lives in, has not had as strong an outbreak as of yet, but either way it led to my own confrontation with the virus in a way I really hadn’t felt before. I have heard the news reports and the statistics, as well as the diagnoses of celebrities such as Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, but this was my first face-to-face interaction with someone who is likely to be infected. It was a strange feeling, to think that a virus had, in a matter of months, crossed thousands of miles only to find itself in a bedroom in Brazil. Unfortunately, it is unlikely to be my last face-to-face interaction, as minutes ago I found out that a man from my own synagogue had just tested positive. He has been in the hospital, but before that he attended a shiva, which had in attendance a number of individuals above the age of 60, as well as my Rabbi. At the moment I don’t know the status of those individuals. My Rabbi had already been in self-isolation for the past few days and has not shown any symptoms, but he is hoping to be tested soon. This is unlikely, as Boulder county, like the rest of the country, has been suffering from severe shortages of tests, but I certainly hope he manages to receive one, for one of the few people he has interacted with recently is our synogogue’s Cantor, my Mom[5].

         As all predicted, West Virginia has since confirmed its first case of the virus, meaning it is now present in all 50 states, although New York, Washington, and California are still the worst hit. As of writing there are 206 cases in Colorado, with 12 in my country, including a University of Colorado student who tested positive after attending a St. Patrick’s day party. The model mentioned earlier, with a growth rate of 1.2, had predicted 249 cases by today, which I hope means that successful isolation, including the closure of all restaurants and bars on Wednesday, have been somewhat successful in slowing the spread, yet it is still hard to tell. The Dow Jones has been crashing almost non-stop for the past few days, falling below 20,000 and erasing all the gains of the Trump Presidency. While we do not officially have the data to confirm we are in a recession, at the moment it seems inevitable, as early data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows a dramatic spike in claims for unemployment benefits even before the impact of shelter-in-place orders. I feel awful for the senior class of 2020, as they have now, in their last semester of school, had their classes moved online, their commencement cancelled, and will be graduating into the worst labor market in over a decade.

[5] I live in a same-sex household, and therefore have two mothers. To avoid confusion, I shall call one Mom, and the other Mother.

 
 

March 21st, 2020

        It is beautiful today. After a few days of snow, the clouds have broken to reveal a spotless sky, and the light is reflecting off the fresh powder to create a stunning landscape. On any other day like this every ski resort in the state would be filled to the brim, but they’ve all been closed. Scott Carpenter Park, named after the late astronaut, would usually be filled with children yelling as they ride their sleds down the large hill, but instead it is abandoned. 

        There was a B’not Mitzvah (a shared Bat Mitzvah of two girls) this morning that my Mom and the Rabbi ran virtually from their respective homes, and I sat upstairs providing tech support. The organization of the service is a testament to how quickly things have been changing; just a few days ago the plan was still to hold the service in the sanctuary with limited attendance, now, with further restrictions announced by Governor Polis and the worry that the members of the community may be infected, it was done entirely over Zoom (Surly one of the few companies that has seen revenue skyrocket against a stock market in a tailspin). My aunt brought up the point that, by the end of this thing, the entire generation of mostly technology-illiterate elderly is probably going to be quite apt at initiating video conferencing, as nearly every function of daily interaction moves online. I’m tempted to teach my grandfather how to play virtual chess, as I know it would make him incredibly happy to be able to play with his friends and relatives while he is under quarantine, but I think that might be pushing it for a 90-year-old. Still, I will try my best.

It is the two of them that I am the most concerned for. These grandparents live in San Jose, California, a state that has recently been put under full lockdown. Moreover, my grandmother was a passenger aboard the Grand Princess, a cruise ship that has become infamous due to rampant spreading of the virus aboard the vessel. My grandmother and her sister had been aboard the cruise a few weeks ago, and happened to get off early at what would turn out to be the cruise's final stop, disembarking just a few days before it was announced that many aboard the ship had tested positive. The Grand Princess was forced to circle for 10 days around San Francisco before finally being allowed to dock in Oakland Harbor, and my grandmother, along with all the other former passengers, were instructed to self-quarantine. She has so far not had any symptoms, and I can only pray this continues to be the case, as she and her husband lie within the prime age range for the virus to be lethal.

        Recently, a number of celebrities have been partaking in the viral trend of recording lyrics of John Lennon’s “Imagine”. The irony of celebrities in their multi-million dollar homes singing a song that encourages the listener to “imagine no possessions” has not been lost, with many expressing anger at their perceived hypocrisy, especially as it is the poorest Americans, as well as those working jobs in sanitation and retail, that are facing the brunt of the effects of quarantine. With that said, I feel confident that this anger, like most of the 24-hour news cycle, will fade away quickly, but it will be interesting to see how these sentiments change as the length of quarantine increases. It will also be interesting to see how this affects the political dialogue, specifically in the Democratic primary. At the moment, former Vice-president Joe Biden still holds a strong lead over his opponent, Senator Bernie Sanders, despite the fact that this epidemic has clearly indicated how disastrous the current healthcare system of the country is, an argument that has been Sanders’ main talking point for years.

        As I write, I am struck by the image of water droplets falling from the tree outside my window, as the snow slowly melts. As they fall into the air they catch the light perfectly in such a way to shine brilliantly for a microsecond, before falling out of view. There are now 277 cases in Colorado, 16 in my county, and the nationwide total has surpassed 15,000.

 
 

March 25th, 2020

        Just moments ago I, along with everyone else in the state, received an alert on my phone, indicating that starting tomorrow at 8:00 AM a Stay At Home Order will be in effect, (I have archived the report in the Appendix, as well as the website that it links to) as per Governor Polis’s announcement earlier this evening. This is nothing surprising, and follows the lead of a number of other states throughout the last few days. Even before the official order has gone into place its effects are already felt in Boulder: Broadway and other main streets are distinctly deserted, even during rush hours, and when jogging around the city everyone makes sure to give a wide berth. With luck this will prove effective at halting the spread of the virus, or at least cause it to slow down. There is some prominent evidence from New York that this seems to be the case, but cases continue to grow. There are now 54,453 reported cases in the US, 1,086 in Colorado, and 51 in Boulder County.

        Adapting to working at home has been more of a challenge for some members of my family than others. My brother has been doing just fine, as the recorded nature of his lectures have allowed him to return to his natural nocturnal state. As most of my lectures are streamed live, I don’t quite find myself in the same situation, but as I don’t share his night-owl disposition, I don’t mind getting up a bit early. It has by far, however, hit my mom the hardest. Her work as a clergyperson relies deeply on her ability to talk deeply and intimately with others, and she is incredibly good at engaging in such conversations. Beyond the fact that she struggles with simply using the technology, the fact that it then inhibits her from having the same level of connection infuriates her to no end. I have done my best to provide tech support when I can, but this, coupled with the stress that falls on the shoulder of a clergywoman attempting to hold together a virtual synagogue as members of her own community become sick, has punished her deeply over the past few days. Bit by bit she is improving with the technology, as slowly I think she is finding ways to still make connections through a computer screen, so I am optimistic that things will begin to level out, but I know she is never going to enjoy this, no matter how good she gets.

The question of tech support brings up the fact that, despite us being chastised for it (and perhaps rightfully so), those of us who spent far too much time on computers as kids have in some sense been training for this day for years. Take for instance Tabletop Simulator, an online simulation that allows users to build (somewhat illegally, as it is a flagrant violation of copyright) re-creations of various board games, such as Monopoly, Settlers of Catan, and, ironically enough, Pandemic. While it has been around for years, it has seen a huge spike in sales recently, and I, along with many of my like-minded friends, have been using it all the time since we were all recalled from school. In a strange sense, the parodic generational name we have given ourselves of Zoomers (A portmanteau of Baby Boomers and Gen-Z) has become more true then we ever could have imagined, as not only do we now spend most of our days in class using Zoom audio sessions, we’re teaching everyone else how to use it, too.

        In recent days it seems that the initial stress caused by the unknown of the virus has morphed into stress caused by the long-term reality sinking in. Despite the incredibly optimistic, and likely foolhardy, request by the President to have the county back and running by Easter, I don’t think anybody believes him, and most are starting to accept the likelihood of this lasting into the summer. Who knows what world is going to pop out on the other side of this? Just minutes ago the Senate approved a massive $2 trillion dollar relief package. Will it be enough to save the economy? Who knows? Certainly not myself, and at the moment I am just considering myself lucky that we have plenty of toilet paper. 

 
 

March 28th, 2020

        In a few moments I will join my mom in conducting the second online Havdalah of the outbreak so far. We have the wine glass ready, the spices procured, and the candle awaits a match. Unlike the stress that has abounded ensuring the perfection of the B'nai Mitzvah services, there is much less pressure at these smaller evening services. Last week, below his yarmulke, my Rabbi wore a sweatshirt, and my mom is dressed in a simple green top. Attendance has been high, higher almost even then the live services, as a hundred or so faces pop up on screen. Havdalah is one of the most somber Jewish festivities, as we formally mark the end of Shabbat and bring the week to close, extinguishing the candle in the glass of wine with a slow crackle that I can barely describe, but it is also one of the most optimistic, as we call for a week of peace to follow. I certainly hope that will be the case for the week to come, but I am unfortunately pessimistic.

 
 

March 30th, 2020

        Tofu, it appears, has decided to leave Boulder store shelves. Upon speaking to other members of my Chavurah (Jewish community group) via Zoom last night, it appears that nobody can find any. Shopping trips are a bit hectic anyways, with every individual trying to strike a balance between spending as little time as possible in the store while also trying to buy enough for the next few weeks, and it appears that in the most recent frantic drives tofu is nowhere to be found. I am confident we will be able to make it through this tragedy, but as a town we do eat a lot of tofu, so this does hit close to the heart. Many grocery stores are offering delivery options, but the demand seems to be far outpacing capacity. My mother attempted to place an order from Costco last Friday, it arrives this coming Thursday, and that is one of the shorter wait times. I certainly can’t blame the stores, it’s not like they were designed to be fully online retailers, and I have an incredible respect for the workers who are still coming in to provide this service in the first place. 

        Some companies, however, seem to be relishing in the opportunities brought on by the quarantine. Grubhub, a food delivery company, has issued incredibly dramatic and over-the-top commercials, in which they portray themselves as the only means by which American citizens can perform the moral duty of keeping restaurants open. I don’t disagree that it’s important to support the restaurants, but they seem to be hoping that you forget that they themselves take a cut of the profit. Netflix, the video streaming service, also seems to be capitalizing on everyone being kept at home, releasing the documentary series Tiger King as the stay-at-home orders pile up around the country. To be entirely honest, I’ve enjoyed the series quite a bit, with the insanity of a show providing a nice distraction from the ludacris banality of isolation, and it’s been kind of incredible to see a massive influx of social media posts as we all have absolutely nothing better to do, but it certainly has something to do with the fact that Netflix stock is only down 14% from a month ago, while the Dow Jones is down almost 20%.

        Tonight I had a Zoom call with my grandparents in California, in which my brother and I gave them virtual tours of our college campuses, to make up for the now-cancelled trips they would have taken to see us in early April. I should have done so far earlier, as they loved it. My grandfather in particular was profoundly impressed with the idea of Google Maps Street View, and now wants to try to take a virtual tour of Paris. It was incredible to see them. I have been deeply worried about my grandmother ever since she got off the cruise, but thankfully she is still not showing any of the symptoms, with the exception of a fever last night that has now gone away. Both my mom and the Rabbi have also not shown any symptoms as of writing, which is the best-case scenario and comes as a great relief. Obviously this is not the case for the country at large, nationwide cases now stand at 140,904, with 2,307 in Colorado (we have now been updated to the “community transmission widespread” category) and 100 in Boulder county. I wish all the luck to American Samoa, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and Palau, which are the only American states/territories/affiliated nations that still have no cases. 

 

© 2020 Dr. Ananya Chakravarti

Thanks to Rajeev Kozhikattuthodi for his help in building this website.

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