A generalized update from Austin. Life in the time of contagion.

Mixed message, both from big governments:

1. Loneliness is an epidemic and a known cause of early death.

2. Self Isolate and stay home alone.

You can't fucking win. 

Well. More official news from the city of Austin management: We're limiting public gatherings to groups of 250 or less. All city sponsored events such as Kite Fest and the Flower Show are cancelled until at least May 1st. Schools are cancelled until April 1st (at the earliest). There have been no requests from state or local health officials to have the majority of the population self-quarantine. It is strongly suggested that the elderly and medically compromised self-isolate for the present. There is no current hysteria here like the #StayTheFuckHome messaging coming from other quarters.

On Friday, during and after the failing administration's declaration of a national emergency, there was a run on food, cleaning products and toilet paper at all the local stores. By yesterday morning more rational thought prevailed and people started to unclench and go back to their usual buying habits. The perceived need for each person to have hundreds and hundreds of rolls of toilet paper had passed.

Belinda and I went grocery shopping (not grocery hoarding) this morning at one of Texas's best grocery chains: HEB. The headquarters is in San Antonio and they generally do everything well; especially in times of general crisis such as tornadoes, floods and hurricanes. It is no different so far in this crisis.

The entire store was restocked and ready to provide whatever we needed. Plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables; in fact, a mountain of fresh avocados! I had to go with my second choice of Ezekiel sprouted bread (sesame) but that kind of inventory variation happens all the time.

The store put limits per customer on some essentials. We were looking for brown rice and coming up empty until an employee came over with dozens of packages. They were being returned to the shelves from the check out area where someone had tried to corner the market in brown rice....

There was lots of inventory and the inventory was deep. My favorite preserves were back on the shelf. My preferred brand of cheese. Even my favorite over the counter allergy medicine.

People were shopping nicely. Not with white knuckles clinging desperately to the handles of their shopping carts but with the same casual Austin neighborliness we usually see. People smiled at each other and folks rolled their eyes at each other when the outlier shopper blazed by with mountains of Charmin toilet paper heaped in his cart.

There were antiseptic wipes everywhere. You could wipe down your cart, wipe down you hands, wipe your produce; hell, you could even wipe down the carton of milk you were about to put in your cart. No one coughed, sneezed or wore a face mask. We are all being cautious but I think most of us are also trying to balance a certain quality of life with the imperative for safety.

I will be leaving the house with a camera in a few minutes. This is allowed by our local government. And in no way discouraged. I'll park in a mostly empty parking lot and walk my usual route through downtown Austin with a Sigma fp camera and a 45mm lens. I promise not to get any closer than 6 feet (2 European meters) to any other pedestrian, as per the recommendations from the CDC. If I touch a door handle anywhere on my walk I'll pull out my little, personal bottle of hand sanitizer and use it. When I finish my walk and head back to the car I'll sanitize my hands before using the door handle. No one will be endangered by my walk. Not in the wildest of imaginations.

And that brings up my next thought: Where do we find balance? This will be the first time in modern history that we allow an epidemic or even a pandemic to shut down our entire global economy in an attempt to prevent a large number of deaths. Our health officials have admitted that we can no longer stop the virus from spreading but that they are working to flatten out the infection curve in order to reduce critical time-loaded impacts on health care resources. To repeat, the same number will get the virus but we are attempting to spread the contagion over perhaps a year or two instead of having the disease spread quicker; more immediately. The idea is to smooth out demand for hospital resources. Less peak demand.

But there is a flip side to this and also a "slippery slope" argument to be made. If we shut down the world economy for as short a time as a month what will we have done to damage the global population? Many will be financially ruined. Many will never be able to catch up and be made whole for their lost time and wages. During the 9/11 crisis the incidence of cardiac arrests doubled. During the 2008-2009 crisis suicides skyrocketed and drug addictions that stem from those times have yet to abate. Hunger will rise among those most in need. The focus on caring for virus victims will cause a redistribution of healthcare services again, depriving the most needy in favor of the richest and fittest.

How many lives will be put on hold? How many futures will vanish or become diminished? And, as we try to compensate by pushing down interest rates, granting tax cuts to big businesses while "hoping" for a trickle down effect, will we be robbing future generations to pay for today's potentially useless fixes? How many retirements will dissolve into irreparable despair?

I don't have an answer. But they are questions worth asking.

Public health professionals are focused like a laser on one thing: preventing the current spread of the disease.

But there is more to the picture than this one narrow focus. I'd like to hear more about how we're going to handle all the collateral damage of an event like this and less about how we should all sit at home like zombies in front of our televisions, streaming mostly crap.

Unintended effects are everywhere. See the enormous crowds wait closely packed together at our international airports for hours and hours with strangers from all over the world --- waiting to have their temperatures taken. Could you even invent a better way to spread a virus?

But that's just my point of view and you'd be silly to take world health advice from a photographer.

All this to say --- we seem to have achieved a good balance for now in Austin. Hope everyone else stops panicking. Sure, do what you can do but let's drop the hysteria (written by a 64 year old who is in the target zone).