COVID19 Diaries – SF Shelters in Place

[B]eing an avid reader and writer of history, tomorrow was going to be an unprecedented announcement that the whole world would hear about. I had to experience it firsthand.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

There was an 11pm call tonight from someone we know. “Don’t tell anybody. Don’t post on social media,” the call began. “Tomorrow at noon your mayor is going to announce a shelter in place order. The whole Bay Area is getting it. Go do your grocery shopping now!” We were already in bed and don’t have a car to go to a 24-hour supermarket, if any are left in the City. But we had a serious talk about the near future.

We knew that the Coronavirus pandemic was getting worse, and that things weren’t being taken that seriously here in the United States. Prior to the March 11 pandemic designation, a coworker of mine had travelled to Taiwan for the holidays and said that this was a major epidemic. She had also self-quarantined after someone in her Bay Area family had potentially ben exposed. Another friend is married to an MD specializing in contagious diseases and also agreed that Coronavirus was going to hit the world in a big wave. Prior to tonight, my partner and I had been taking more trips to the local markets, and the Rainbow Coop, to stock up on a stash of food and medicine in case one of us got sick.

But tonight, we felt helpless, and a bit buzzed from the stress chemicals just released in our brains due to the serious call we couldn’t share. I slept lightly, knowing that I was going to go to the office of the environmental nonprofit where I work Monday morning. My work-from-home set up was not complete, and I needed to go in to pack my bags for the long haul.

Also, being an avid reader and writer of history, tomorrow was going to be an unprecedented announcement that the whole world would hear about. I had to experience it firsthand. I felt safe with the idea of going to the office, because we worked out of a small Financial District building. Most coworkers were already at home working, the FiDi had been a ghost town for at least a week, and I ride a bike. My distancing parameters were fine, and I was going to go in to get out with a few much-needed work items while being out there when the shelter in place got announced.

Monday, March 16, 2020

The bike ride in looked like a holiday commute. I always take Eddy down into the Tenderloin to get on Market Street for the final leg onto Front Street. There is quite a bit of traffic around Van Ness due to the ongoing street improvement construction. Polk Street usually has traffic backed up from McAllister past Eddy. Today, I heard birds in the trees and saw very little traffic. On the new car-free Market Street, I pedaled East with only one other cyclist. All the tech companies were in mandatory work from home (WFH) orders, so there were zero Uber/Lyft bikes and scooters. The DPT workers tasked with keeping private cars off of Market had little to do. And my funky left turn onto Front opened up to several car-free blocks littered with delivery trucks.

As I assumed, I was the only worker that came into the nonprofit’s office. I specifically had to find a working monitor and a dock for my work laptop and break it all down into my bike bags. I decided to grab a few other items I may need while WFH. The whole time, I felt like I drank a pot of coffee. I guess it was cortisol racing through my nervous system. I’m buzzing. “Remember to breathe,” I kept saying.

Around 11am, I decided to text a few friends about the upcoming announcement from Mayor Breed. Hard to keep this secret! Not soon after, local media was scooping the announcement, which came closer to 1pm (here is a pdf of the official document). I began telling coworkers I was at the office at that I could mail them anything they thought they needed to WFH. The week before, our home office mailed us a box of N95-rated masks. We got one each. Our West Coast director ordered bottles of rubbing alcohol and small spray bottles since hand sanitizer was sold out everywhere. I mailed some empty spray bottles to her home that day, and also bought stamps for possible work mailings while I WFH. 

I decided to leave early, since regular routines were being upended. But then our director contacted us all with the announcement that our landlord was changing the code on the building’s front door and possibly the elevator code. There had been a recent burglary via jacking the elevator, so I guess the landlord was taking the shelter in place order seriously. I spent the last hour of work throwing out items in the fridge, overwatering the plants, and stuffing every centimeter of my bike bags with office items (including two tasty bottles of microbrew stout). I should have grabbed more masks, forgot to get the work credit cards, and maybe even some paper towels and toilet paper, but my bags were stuffed. I had to tie one bag down with a cut telephone cord, improving when there was no rope or bungee cords. 

The bike ride up to the Western Addition was quieter than the morning commute. More cyclists pedaled by as I listened to birds chirping along Market Street. Many businesses were already closed, and the afternoon car commute was basically nonexistent. Even at Market and McAllister, usually a happy hour destination that makes Lyft/Uber cars jam up the intersection, the ride was smooth. No one talked on the sidewalks, adding to the eerie feeling that I already had since no one was coughing in public anymore. 

I intentionally biked home via McAllister because I wanted to bike past the government buildings. “This is all getting shut down,” I told myself. And the City leaders are going to lose sleep over the next month or so. On top of the unusual rush-hour quiet, a pall of unease floated around City Hall and Civic Center. Things haven’t gotten bad. Yet.

I wheel up to my gate on Divisadero and see the next door landlord packing his SUV. His children come out their gate with hands full of luggage. The landlord looks stressed out and only give me a quick nod when I make eye contact with him. When our brains scream fight or flight during dangerous times, my neighbor is getting the hell out of the City!