What matters most during COVID19

March 31, 2020

In the second grade, my classmates and I were once tasked with making lion or lamb masks during arts-and-crafts. The purpose of this was to demonstrate that March in New York state tended to “come in like a lion and go out like a lamb…or vice versa. We were supposed to predict the outcome. I wonder if part of the activity was for us to demonstrate precocious skill in meteorology or something. Where I’m from, seeing snow midway through April is not out of the question.

The lion-and-lamb simile was so profound, that it transcended to my endeavors in higher-education. In college, if I had a bad race or did poorly on a test in the beginning of March, surely, I had to do well at the end of March!

My logic is sound!

I still think about this. For 2020, I predicted that March would come in like a lion and go out like a lamb. I was banking on this because I scheduled a lot of important things at the end of March: An international conference (SOT) in California, my annual seminar to the department, and a committee meeting. I wanted them to all go well. March had to cooperate! But, it didn’t. Darn. March ended up being extremely hectic for me, and the rest of the world. It somehow entered and left like a lion. That’s not supposed to happen! Perhaps the predictive powers are limited to the weather, after all.

In March, we saw increasingly aggressive measures to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus infectious disease 2019, “COVID-19.”

The actual virus is called SARS-Cov2. SARS is an acronym for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. Although some initial cases were linked to a fish market in Wuhan, China, its origin, intermediate hosts and more of transmission to humans are still largely unknown. Here is my favorite COVID19 info-video: https://ourworldindata.org/kurzgesagt-coronavirus-video

On March 6th, the University advised against travel to conferences. On March 9th: SOT was officially cancelled and by March 13th: all classes, committee meetings, and PhD thesis defenses were told to move to Zoom. On March 15th, Rochester had its first COVID-related death, which hastened the city’s efforts to limit the spread. On March 18th, research labs at the U of R were expected to already be “ramping-down” in preparation for a research lab shutdown. And on March 20th Tim and I began a 14-day quarantine in our apartment, that was advised for people in NY. The virus’ spread was exponential, and the response needed to match.

The response really peaked when I began receiving emails from places like SurveyMonkey or Gap about their response to COVID19 (*eye roll*).

I was decidedly not attending SOT prior to the official statement. Nonetheless, I was relieved that the flagship academic society of my discipline (SOT) was adhering to the precautionary principle. As toxicologists, the precautionary principle is canon. To not practice what we preach would be to undermine what really matters – protecting public health.

While going to conferences, performing experiments, and running marathons all matter for my personal aspirations including my career, protecting public health is #1. While trying to explain an extreme measure (the possibility of shelter-in-place) to a city in Illinois, the governor said, “It’s hard to have a livelihood if you don’t have a life.”

I agree with the governor in that I think what really matters is public health. That includes the health of all the people I care about as well as my own. It also includes hundreds of other humans who step on the line beside me before a marathon, or travel from far and wide to present their research at conferences. Whether we know each other personally doesn’t really matter, but the mutual respect we have for each other does. To care about public health is to respect the lives of other people that share the world with you.

I respect my fellow humans enough to run solo, to stay home, and to avoid expanding my network of contacts that could potentially spread the virus. This is difficult for me because it feels so limiting. When physical interaction is suddenly limited, the change is uncomfortable. The changes we’re experiencing now (the quarantine, isolations, and other precautions) demonstrate how interconnected we normally are. We rely on human interaction on massive scales for our work and play.

On the bright side, I think the changes also demonstrate how adaptive we can be. I’ve been impressed with solutions and creativity that my immediate networks have come up with during all of this.

At the University:

-Gatherings of 5 or more people no longer an option,so we transitioned to Zoom-based meetings

-University students can’t return to campus, so all classes moved online, classes have weekly check-ins for students too.

(shout out to all the responsible University leaders who decided to put health above wealth here… and shame on those who didn’t… *cough* Liberty *cough* *cough*)

-Committee Meetings and PhD thesis defenses became Zoom based

After my Zoom-seminar to my department, Presentation Pants and all💫

– Proctor exams via Zoom

-Took some of my transgenic fly stocks home to manage. I need to care for my lil fly babies ❤

Running community:

-My running buddies and I decided to run 6 feet apart or solo.

-Races that were cancelled morphed into to “virtual races”

-Races (like the Boston Marathon and some fun local races) postponed to the fall

*For those of you who had the Boston Marathon postponed – time to get HELLA fit for Fall!!


-Bars and restaurants close to dine-in, and pick up, but offer drive-through-based takeout

Still showing our love&support for Swiftwater!

– Group viewing of movies. GSS is hosting “virtual” movie nights once a week, as well as other activities.

@U of R students who read this – we have a free account on Kanopy (the video streaming service) through Miner Library.

Our apartment:

– Finally bought an Wi-fi router

– Set up our work-from-home stations

(i.e. a fuzzy blanket nest with books and coffee mugs within arms’ reach at all times)

-Baked 4 batches of granola, 2 loaves of bread

– Zoom/FaceTime hangouts with our friends

Yes, even Jakob, who lives across the street! #socialdistancing

-We created a third housemate, Cheryl, to blame dirty dishes and small messes on.

-Learned that “What do you Meme” can’t really ever be a two-person game.

– Played blockus a dozen times or so (Tim won every single time…)

I feel that I’ve learned how to be adaptable as both a graduate student researcher and a runner. The impossibility of planning for every potential outcome kind of demands that. Whether I’m managing an injury, planning when to run during a work-day, salvaging an experiment, or getting through this pandemic, learning to roll with the punches is essential.

I know many of you reading this have had your goal-races cancelled at a time when you’re feeling especially fit, and that sucks. It’s not fair, but it is what it is. The best we can all do is keep on keeping on. Reset, set new goals, and take comfort in the fact that if we do the right thing now, we can be back to running sooner. Onward & upward!

@Followers, thanks for reading this, and I hope you’re all staying safe and feeling healthy ❤

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Toxicology graduate student, marathon runner,and fly-person (#Drosophilove).