Monday, March 16, 2020

in a hole in the ground there sheltered a resident

So now the entire urban area is being put under "shelter in place" orders, effective tonight for three weeks. It's kind of exasperating, because if this is necessary at all, it ought to have been done weeks ago when it might have had a measurable effect. Even two weeks ago, which is when the performance cancellations began to trickle in. It's been a steady increase in rules and restrictions since then, each bringing in a new and more suffocating regime. There's no reason to suppose this will be the last, but there is a sense that all this is running behind events, trying to catch up. Each new restriction is generated by the realization of what has already happened. An endless series of barn doors are being slammed behind an endless series of empty horse stalls.

But despite the name (the order actually says "All individuals currently living within the County are ordered to shelter at their place of residence"), it's not the kind of shelter-in-place that the police would order if there were an armed criminal loose. It's full of loopholes, to be Exercised with Caution. We "may leave [our] residences only for Essential Activities, Essential Governmental Functions, or to operate Essential Businesses, all as defined in Section 10." There we learn that we may still go out to buy food and other grocery items (including that restaurants can offer takeout and delivery), medicine, hardware; do our banking and our laundry; get our cars gassed and repaired; and oh good, it looks like I can still keep my appointment with our accountant to have our taxes done.

In the meantime, as I discovered having some shopping to do this afternoon, it's spawned off yet another wave of panic buying, after the one last weekend that emptied the toilet paper aisles of all the stores that hadn't been emptied by the previous wave. Even at 2:30, less than three hours after the announcement came out, and long before the normal late-afternoon wave of post-work customers, the supermarkets were packed with people all breathing each other's air like the ones waiting for screening at airport customs, how productive.

I'd noticed while out at other stores early this morning what had been swiped off the shelves and what hadn't. Toilet paper and paper towels, gone; cleaning supplies, not. Vegetables, gone except for asparagus and brussel sprouts; fruit, not. (Apples, pears, and grapes, that is: berries were kind of absent.) Chicken, gone; beef and pork, not.

Fortunately for me, I mostly work at home anyway. In fact I have so much research and editing to do for Tolkien Studies over the upcoming weeks that I'd have to force myself to leave home. The biggest problem is that my home research on the annual bibliography is always followed by work in proprietary databases in various university libraries which only allow visitors to use them on-campus. My first-resort library is outside of the urban area and at last report remained open, but I'm doubtful about the risk of going there. And the other two are closed to outsiders entirely. But I have a workaround in my pocket.

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