Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Chapter Four

Suddenly, out of left field, a cluster of infected people in Mexico City is diagnosed with the same avian influenza strain currently seen in India and Pakistan. Scott and Sissy are knocked speechless. Where did this come from? Why weren't more people watching Mexico? Nearly everyone has been watching Asia and Africa. There hadn’t been a single outbreak of high path avian influenza on either the North or South American continents; not even in birds. How could this have happened just out of the blue?

Shortly after the diagnosis in Mexico City is confirmed, there is an explosion of larger clusters of infected individuals in several Asian countries and all along various routes from Mexico into the USA. One coherent investigative reporter ponders whether the virus is travelling along illegal trade routes – drugs, animals, or human.

The virus quickly begins to make massive headway in all of Asia, Africa, and most of Europe. Many countries and organizations are stuck in whether to recall their charity workers from these areas of the world or leave them where they are. The UN is also dealing with the issue of whether to pull troops from areas where they are peacekeeping. The US immediately begins to recall its diplomatic core and some military staff, but sends them into quarantine camps set up in remote areas before allowing them to return to their stateside homes.

Federal troops and National Guardsmen are sent to assist in closing the US – Mexico border. However, despite quarantine attempts, without the active assistance of the Mexican government, complete border closure is impossible. Its too little too late and many rural border towns become funnels for illegals trying to find medical care for their family members. The US – Canada border is also being closed except at designated crossing points where people are screened for fevers and other flu-like symptoms.

Things quickly roll down hill at this point for the US and Canada. Human clusters appear in Texas, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, New York and in several other locations and into several provinces in Canada. It is still unknown whether the original clusters appearing in Canada are a result of air travel or whether they are a result of border crossings. Once the clusters become so wide spread that it doesn't matter, the issue is left to those who will forensically determine what strain of the virus came from where and by what means.

Scott and Sissy double check their lists one last time and add a few things to their "last-minute-if-we-get-a-chance" list before instituting a strict SIP for Sissy and children. SIP refers to a form of self-quarantine called sheltering-in-place. It has more to do with social distancing than illness. It is a way to mitigate the risk to their children. Another term that has been coined for this is JAH or just-at-home. The kids are asked if there is anything that they must have or really want, because there will be no more errand running after today.

Scott starts off with the simple statement, "Guys, I’m sorry. Its time."

James is the first to respond. "You’re kidding right? This is another family drill."

One look at her parents’ faces and Rose says, "no. This isn’t a drill. Can I at least email and call my friends before I have to turn into Bunker Girl?"

"Yes, you can email your friends – as long as you drop the sarcastic routine – but you need to tell them you won’t be answering your cell phone for a couple of days."

"What?! Come one, what will it hurt if I make a few phone calls? I’m nearly 18 and I do my fair share to help around … "

"I don’t care if you are 18 or 80. You are under our roof and part of this family. Your mother and I are trying to make sure we are all as safe and prepared as we can be. You watch your tone girl ‘cause I won’t put up with it. This is hard on all of us." Scott quickly snaps back.

"Rose, I know you are upset. And this certainly isn’t like you to talk to us this way. But the rules are for a reason and if you take a moment you’ll recall what we’ve talked about. We predict that the next couple of days are going to be a little crazy. We can double check emails before we send them out, but it is too easy to let something slip when we are on the phone. Your dad and I are being cautious for good reason. We’ve shown you clips of what happened in New Orleans after hurricane Katrina and of the LA riots in California. You also read about the College Hill riots on the othe side of town. Until we have a better idea of how thigns are going to play out, we aren’t going to take any more chances than we have to. We don’t want a single word about our preps outside of this house. Do you understand me?"

"Yes, and I’m so sorry, I just … I thought I was prepared to hear this … its just … you know hard. And the words just kinda fell out of my mouth when I didn’t mean it that way and … Oh God … "

Scott quickly reaches over and catches Rose as she sinks to her knees and starts crying.

As Scott tries to comfort Rose Sissy says, "James, you get that too right? If you want to email your friends on Star Wars Galaxy or any of your other friends, that’s fine. Warn them, let them know you might not be available, or whatever you want to say if anything. But, not a single word about our preps in any way, shape, or form."

"I get it. I get it. I just didn’t think this would happen, or at least not so soon. This just isn’t fair or something."

Johnnie climbs into Scott’s lap and clings to him and Rose and Sissy puts her arms around Sarah and Bekah while she continues to James. "No one is happy about this son. There is a slim chance this might be nothing more than a nine day wonder, but your Dad and I don't think so. We believe we are in for a long, drawn out time in our lives. Until we can figure out just how bad things are going to be, we are going to take all of the precautions we need to."

"Your mom and I love you guys too much to take risks that we don’t have to. You all have heard that old saying ‘loose lips sink ships.’ Well think of our home as our ship. Better yet, think of it as our Ark. At some point we knew we would need to close the doors to keep the flood out. Well, we are closing the doors now."

"Everybody understand?"

"Yes ma’am. Yes sir."

"Ok then. Go email, pm, or icq your friends. Your mom and I have have some things we need to do. If you can think of anything you need or want, you’ve got two hours to get us your list. And think hard because today is the last day we are going to be able to do this."

Luckily, because of their prior prepping, there isn’t all that much left that they have to do. Thank goodness too. People have started getting concerned and the local stores are worse than the day before a hurricane strike and most of the shelves are already bare of snack foods, bread, sandwich meat, ice, and other traditional food-run items. Sissy made a last run to the book store, dollar store, and clothing store for the kids and nearly gets her vehicle totaled in the parking lot – three times. People are quickly going from concern to panic. The more people that react, the more people that react to that reacting. Sissy wonders how many people are out because they understand what is happening and how many people are out just because they see a lot of other people out doing this?

(posts similar to this one appear frequently on the flu forums during the opening weeks of the pandemic)

I just couldn't believe what I was seeing. Every channel I flipped to had the same footage: incredible lines of people waiting to get into hospitals- everyone wearing masks, travelers at airport ticket counters fighting each other for the last remaining seats before severe travel restrictions were imposed. And the
grocery stores and pharmacies looked like war zones! For the last two years, whenever I talked to my cousin, Laura, at weddings, family reunions and holiday gatherings, all she could talk about was that stupid bird flu! After last Thanksgiving I had told John I thought she was mentally ill! She was OBSESSED with planning for a flu outbreak! At first I tried to smile and changed the topic, but she always came back to it. It made me angry. Then I started to feel sorry for her, and sorry for Jason! He had to live with her! Laura and I had always been such good friends. We were really close as children, sharing summers at our grandma’s house. We were really close, more like sisters than cousins,
and stay that way into adulthood. That is until she read some science book that got her all scared and downright nutty! When she initially told me about it I tried to reason with her. After all, if things were that serious wouldn’t we be hearing about it on the TV? Wouldn’t there be huge newspaper articles about it?
You’d expect the political leaders to be talking about it and warning everyone, wouldn’t you? But there was nothing like that so we could relax! I told Laura she should forget it! I said Jason needed to take her on a vacation! She had been working too hard!
She gave me pamphlets and handouts and emailed me countless articles from medical journals and even foreign newspapers. I would shake me head and think, "that poor girl!" And last Christmas was really too weird to believe. She gave our family a box of medical facemasks! I thought to myself, "Oh, good! We can use these when we take the kids to rob the 7-11!" I tossed them into the Halloween costume box and didn’t think about them again, until now. I wonder if they’re still OK to use?
The mayor just came on TV and told everyone that schools are closed and families should stay home until further notice. How on earth can we do that? I have exactly one loaf of bread in the freezer and about 3 lbs. of ground beef. And my pantry isn’t much better. I’ve just been too busy with my work schedule and the kids’ soccer practices to get groceries for awhile. Well, I’ll just have to swallow my pride and admit to Laura that I was wrong. "OK! You were right, Laura!" That won’t be so hard to
do. We really are going to have to depend on them for some help. I just didn’t see this coming!
But I’ve tried calling several times and there is no answer. It is so weird. Of all the people in the world I would expect to be home right now, it would be her! John said that the last time we got together, he
thought he remembered them saying something about a "bug out" location. I had dismissed it as another in a long line of bizarre comments. I strained my brain. Yes, Laura said something about a cottage they had purchased on a big piece of land. But where was it? Could they be there now? How could they just run off and leave us?

While Scott is out he risks getting several gallons of fresh milk. He also grabs some #10 sized cans of tomatoes and vegetables, a couple large bags of junk food that he has to just about fight for, and about 12 dozen eggs from the local membership warehouse. When he gets home Sissy scolds him soundly for taking the risk. What she faced in the stores was bad enough; she knows how much he hates crowds and shopping. He describes crowds that remind Sissy strongly of aggressive Black Friday shoppers – fighting for items, using shopping carts as weapons, and an almost hysterical mania in some of the people. Scott and Sissy are glad and relieved to be done with that part of their preparation.

They already, more as a direct result of the increase in postage than anything else, have their online banking system firmly in place. This was one of their more important financial continuity planning steps. Thank goodness they decided to invest in that solar powered re-charger system. They built it using a design suggested by a couple of their online buddies on the flu forums. It’s only powerful enough to charge small electronics like cell phones and laptop batteries, but its added insurance they sorely need.

One of Scott’s last chores is to put in a mail change of address for the P.O. Box to have all of their business mail sent to their home address. This will cut out one place they need to travel to daily. It isn’t certain how long, or how reliably, the mail service will run. Even in the best of times, the local post office has significant problems with timely and accurate mail delivery. That’s why, when at all possible, the couple does most of their business and correspondence by email and fax.

Scott and Sissy place their own emails to inform the rest of their family that they are taking no chances and are going into SIP-mode for the children’s sake. Sissy’s parents give them a vote of confidence but some family members immediately begin to berate them for overreacting and panicking. What they mean is, "don’t call me and scare me, I don’t want to be scared." Sissy hopes that everyone installed the video conferencing equipment that they gave as Christmas gifts last year. They remind the recipients that the Internet will be the best way to contact them from now on as they are reserving the phones for emergencies only. Scott has already received lots of calls from tenants and business associates over things it is now too late to do anything about. The volume of calls has been such that they’ve been forced to put the phones on vibrate or silent mode. The messages go to their voicemail for checking later. It was getting impossible to get their work done.

The First Full Morning of Quarantine
(from Cottontop)
First one up this morning, as usual. I still see a few cars going by. I haven't turned on the t.v. yet. I'm not ready for the "news" this morning. We were up late last night. Daughter was upset because she couldn't use the phone. We wanted her to stay off, just for the night. I tried the internet but got mpatient waiting for it to load. I need to get to the wiki. Will try back later today.
You know, I'm sitting here, still in shock. I cannot believe it actually happened! I want to be able to walk out that door, and carry on with my day. But I won't be able to. I don't know when I will. Stomach is upset this morning. Nerves. Guess I'll clean. Weeding to be done. It'll be a nice warm day, so at least we can sit outside. At least we can be somewhat normal. The power still being on will allow us to do that. Don't know how long that will last.
When I mentioned this to the fam last night, I could see the blood drain from their face. Hubby's been drilling me with questions. I answered, than he said he didn't want to talk about it anymore. The look of worry on his face.
I didn't want to answer his questions. I couldn't give him "look on the bright side"
answers. The phones ringing.
My friend and her husband are stuck 1½ hours away. They've been with his sister, as she's been sick. Their oldest daughter, who's best friends with my daughter, is at another friends house, and their
heading out to get her. I couldn't tell her not to. I'd probably do the same thing. She is frantic. They have no supplies, and she doesn't know what they're going to do. But she knows I have supplies. Brother. I'd hate to loose my friendship because of some bird flu! Sigh. Guess I'll turn the news on. Damn bird flu!

On a good note, their home state of Florida, having dealt with other catastrophic events, appears to be dealing with the mitigation techniques better than a lot of other states in the USA. Schools are summarily shut down for a minimum of four weeks by emergency order of the Governor and District Boards of Education, and all public gatherings are prohibited until further notice. That’s not to say things are going smoothly, but at least the chaos is being managed fairly efficiently.

Of course, lawsuits are immediately filed on behalf of individuals that feel that their rights are being violated. The Governor puts the National Guard on alert and lets people know that he is not afraid to call them out if cities begin to get out of control. Some tourist based businesses and entertainment businesses continue to remain open, but see a significant loss of income because strict curfews are being enforced for anyone aged 17 and under.

Anyone on the street that even looks like they are under 18 is stopped and their IDs are checked. If they appear in this check system (which is computerized and a system that was created for just such a catastrophic mitigation tactic as this) then the child's parents are fined a very large sum of money which will be tracked. If the parents are unable to pay the fine, then this will be translated into community service hours. Refusal to pay or do the community service hours will find the parents in jail, under the same system when fines and community service hours are assigned in a court case. The justification used for this is child neglect or child endangerment as it is defined under the Florida Statutes defining child abuse and parental custodial responsibilities. There is quite a bit of shock at how quickly the government has gone on the offensive in certain areas. Even Scott is pulled over and his van checked when a vehicle matching the description of his van was seen with several suspected underage passengers.

Overall, it appears that parents are slow to realize the seriousness of the powers that be with regard to strict SIP for the 17 and under crowd. Many of them are shocked when schools and daycare facilities don't return their phone calls and that they receive little to no sympathy from those that have been warning them for months what would happen. The powers that be are too busy trying to help those that at least made the effort to prepare themselves and have too few resources available to help those that refused to even start. It’s a rude awakening for people that are used to being first in line for assistance because they are always the last to attempt to help themselves.

On the heels of this, businesses quickly realize that it makes more sense to close and save what revenue they've already earned than to stay open and go into the red. Despite the bright outlook posed by the National Restaurant Association during some of their pandemic planning meetings, many restaurants begin to fail both from lack of customers and due to their inability to get supplies to prepare food even if they did have diners. Employees in the entertainment and tourism industries fare more poorly than in other industries, at least in the initial stages of the pandemic.

As the true impact finally sets in, grocery stores, warehouse clubs, drug stores, and convenience markets are quickly overwhelmed and emptied of much of their stock. Employees abandon their posts as they try and secure supplies for their own families. Some stores are looted and damaged when managers try to put a system of rationing into effect. Or by manic crowds desperate to get "their fair share." If anyone ever considered that places like Wal-Mart, SAMs, or the malls would be great places to bug out in during an emergency situation, they would likely find themselves in a horrible position. Many such places are barely recognizable after the crowds have been through them like an Old Testament plague of locusts.

While all of this seems to occur in slow motion, it is actually a matter of a few days. In some cities around the US things get dark even more quickly for families with children who refused to listen to the entreaties to prep for a minimum of 12 weeks.

These first days, right after the reality of the situation sets in for many people, is one of the darkest times so far. It hasn't however reached unbearable levels. A lot of people are talking and complaining. Even more lawsuits are filed ... what they expect to resolve is anyone's guess. But mostly people are focused on waiting for someone, somewhere to make things better. Where is the Calvary? Where are the emergency supplies the government should be giving away free? Those that have been prepping for a while know that neither will happen. It is an unrealistic expectation and a myth that the Federal government has vast stores of food set aside for emergencies. While there are some stockpiles, it certainly isn’t enough to feed over 300 million people for an extended period of time.

While many families are keeping their children sequestered, there are nearly as many who either don't care or cannot control their children's behaviors. Rose and James are surprised at how some of their friends are acting. They also get upset when some of the friends cut them off when they refuse to break curfew or agree with their rebelliousness.

Scott and Sissy keep up with friends and family as much as possible. Sissy keeps a diary where she tucks the letters, emails, and print offs of entries from the flu forums she tries to visit online. Despite having FiOS, some sites are extremely slow due to being overrun by hysterical people looking for help on prepping or influenza. There are a lot of angry posters and more than a few crackpots offering "flu cures" (usually for a hefty price) as well. The moderators of the forums are kept busy trying to weed through the thousands of new posters, while forum members try and point new posters to places to find the most reliable information. Sissy does her share, but it is a nerve-wracking activity that she can only take part in for a few hours each day. The rest of the time she spends trying to maintain some normalcy for her family as they go through a strained adjustment period to their very restricted lifestyle.

Up to this point, the human clusters have been dealt with using quarantines and influenza medication blanketing. Unfortunately as the number of clusters quickly increase, the health care system begins to show the strain. Additionally, they begin to have staff simply not show up for work after several health care workers (HCWs) catch the virus. Viral medications, such as Tamiflu, are also running short as most of what is available has been set aside for the use of the medical profession and first responders such as law enforcement and members of the fire departments.

The casualty numbers begin to appear on the mainstream media outlets. People in the clusters begin to die despite extraordinary medical interventions. Viral-medication-resistance has become the norm, though that is not as widely mentioned by newscasters. Many people are already antibiotic-resistant due to overuse through out the years, so trying to treat the secondary bacterial infections common to influenza is made more difficult. MSRA is added into the already deadly situation. Some spin-doctors try and say that it isn't the virus that kills, and only those who catch secondary bacterial infections die. This does nothing to help the powers that be encourage SIP for those families who need to.

Then the unthinkable begins to happen. There are some cities that have chosen not to implement stringent mitigation practices in the school system. In one of these cities an elementary aged child is sent home with a mild fever. The next day there are an unusually high number of absences ... some put this down to fear and nothing more. By the third day over half the elementary school is absent and in some of those homes, no one is answering the phone. By the fourth day, the first deaths have been reported including the child that was sent home. By then it is too late. Clusters have appeared in many of the city's schools where siblings of children that attended the elementary school go. Clusters are also reported in areas where adults who had contact with these children frequent ... work places, stores, churches, in other family groups, etc.

That first city isn't the only one to experience this and the affect snowballs.


rosarychaplet said...

"how could they just run off and leave us?"

that one happened to me her in cali when we suddenly had a TORNADO! RAM THROUGH A FEW COUNTIES; INCLUDING LOS ANGELES. an old classmate that i had touched bases with again on fb was acting the same way when the tornado hit her. she was asking for my help. during that time i was at home with my daughter and husband. i had not let her go to school in the unusual weather because she was sick. i just sat at home, thinking " i'm as ready as i can be." others were freaking out.

Anonymous said...

"Where is the Calvary?" Not far from Gethsemane.