Extreme Social Distancing: Self-Quarantine Diary, Day 1

How did we get in this mess? How do we get out of it? What will the post-coronavirus world look like? First in an occasional series.

CoinDesk Insights
Mar 16, 2020 at 1:25 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 14, 2021 at 8:19 a.m. UTC

Michael J. Casey is CoinDesk’s chief content officer. The views expressed here are his own. This article is the first in an occasional series.

I made a difficult decision Sunday.

Having watched with jaw-dropping amazement the speed with which coronavirus cases have exploded in Italy, Spain, Seattle and, now, in my home state of New York, I rapidly realized my family and I need to practice a much more extreme version of social distancing.

For reasons I’ll get into below, I will, for the feasible future, remain in my bedroom, while my wife and children occupy the rest of the house. All of us will have only bare minimum contact with each other and with the outside world.

I plan to write a blog about this. Not so much a diary of my experiences, but a reflection on what all this might mean for humanity. I'll be publishing daily on Medium and a select few relevant posts will run on CoinDesk.

What do I have to offer? I’m definitely not an epidemiologist, a sociologist, an economist, a technologist or a political scientist. But I’m lucky enough to be able to write. And I have access to media distribution channels such as CoinDesk. Information is a vital resource right now. I feel a responsibility to take advantage of the privileged access I have. And I do believe my story can help.

Also, I’ve spent my life wondering about big global phenomena and what happens to them at the intersection of economics, information and technology-aided interconnectivity. My five books are all very different, but they coalesce around a core theme at the heart of these issues: what it means to be human in an age of globalized, hyper-connectedness.

I hope to frame those issues around the coronavirus crisis and our response to it, which is of course intricately tied to how we’ve built such a globalized, interconnected society. I want to explore answers to some of the pressing questions that arise from that so that we might together make sense of all this.

How did we get in this mess? How do we get out of it? And what will the future, post-coronavirus world look like?

My cloudy lungs

For now, though, I’m just going to answer the most immediate question: Why did I take this extreme measure?  And why am I, not my family, the one all alone? After all, I am not at all sick.

The short answer is that I’m at a higher risk than others in their early fifties. I have a condition called sarcoidosis, an auto-immune disease that mostly manifests in the lungs, as it did in my case. All evidence suggests I’m in full remission and have been for decades. It has never bothered me. In fact, I only learned that I had previously contracted sarcoid – most likely sometime in the late 1990s – because of a mandatory chest X-ray for immigration purposes in 2002, which revealed a clouding effect in my lungs, the tell-tale signs of past scarring. (About 90 percent of sarcoid patients have a similarly benign experience, but for a minority, it can be much more debilitating and for a small few, fatal.)

The problem for me during the coronavirus pandemic is twofold. For one, sarcoid left my lung function modestly impaired, which means any constraint on my breathing could be more extreme. Secondly, having just learned the coronavirus, in the most chronic cases, turns the body’s auto-immune system against it, there’s a possibility catching it might reignite the same response. This time, the consequences could be far more severe. Combined with all the other effects of the disease, it could kill me.

But here’s the thing: I’m not worried I’ll die. I’m resilient and I’m lucky enough to have excellent health insurance in a region with the best doctors and hospitals in the world (for those who can afford them.) What bothers me is that tens of millions of Americans have far, far less support. Coronavirus is showing a powerful transmission effect like no disease of its kind – with evidence that human carriers are most contagious before they have symptoms, before they even know they pose a risk. If you do the math from that and add in its relatively high fatality rate, it’s clear that many of those same people are in grave danger. Also, they could quickly overrun our hospital infrastructure.

With the defunding of the Centers for Disease Control, the dumpster fire of the COVID-19 tests, the Trump Administration’s bans on states tapping Medicaid, inadequate sick leave provisions and the general lack of a safety net for the most vulnerable Americans, we simply don’t have the capacity to deal with such an onslaught. Just read the accounts of Italian doctors or news that Seattle’s blood supply is at risk of running out to get a sense of what’s in store for us.

So, as someone at risk of having to tap that medical infrastructure himself one day, I have an obligation to my fellow human beings to try to avoid doing so.

That’s why I’m going for extreme social distancing. Since I can’t control my family’s occasional interactions with others on the outside – and certainly not those people’s interactions with everyone else in their social networks – I need to separate myself from those closest to me. 

It’s also why I got my family tested since we were lucky enough to have access to the new drive-through facility in New Rochelle, N.Y. It was less uncomfortable than I expected. But, man, those hazmat suits have a way of sending one’s mind to all those Hollywood versions of the apocalypse. (See photo above.)

We should have the test results in two days. Stay tuned. 

And, please, I implore you, #StaytheFHome.


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