Life by numbers

Once upon a time, we had Paint by Numbers. Now suddenly, we have Life by Numbers. Numbers circulate in our daily 2020 lives just as much as coronavirus, officially SARS-CoV-2, does in our air; known, unknown, knowable, unknowable, ambiguous markers of the times we are living in.


These days, news publications and websites worldwide first and foremost publish the new daily number of infections from coronavirus. There are websites, worldometer one of the most popular, given over to just keeping track of new infections, deaths and recoveries country by country on a day-to-day basis. Millions check in every day to see how we’re doing. We try to make sense of the numbers, to negotiate whether we are feeling more, or less, vulnerable to the immediate risk to our lives.


In 1918, the year of the last pandemic, approximately 50 million people died. Our fears are well-founded. Though not even close to 50 million, the number of deaths from coronavirus is staggering. The stories of these deaths will not be fully told for a long time. In this year of 2020, we are witnessing a reordering of the world. The number of ICU’s and ventilators available in a broad geographic spectrum close to where we live is now essential information.

False claims, lies, self-congratulations

On April 9, the Atlantic attempted to document the number of misguided assertions made by Trump about coronavirus. More recently, CNN reported on the latest number of Trump’s false claims. And just this week 3 New York Times reporters waded through Trump’s pronouncements during this pandemic from March 9 forward. They found 600 instances of self-congratulation, far outnumbering the 160 instances of empathy or appeals to national unity.

Time and money

$1,200 is the first dollar amount of assistance being rolled out to some 80 million Americans by the federal government. With that, those of us included in the distribution will be good for a couple of weeks, or being optimistic, let’s say a month or even two if we can keep our expenses to a minimum. If the 18 months or 2 years being touted as a time frame for the arrival of a vaccine tallies true, many of us will have been in self-isolation and in need of assistance for more than 540 to 730 days by then. Today welcome news was reported: Scientists at the Jenner Institute at Oxford University in England are preparing for mass clinical vaccine trials by the end of May. Tests have shown their vaccine to be effective in monkeys. If the trials prove the vaccine safe and effective in humans, the first millions of doses could be available as early as September, well ahead of general vaccine expectations just weeks ago. We can only hope.


I’ve been in self-isolation for 7 weeks and counting now. I’ve started a regime of planned walking about my 84 square meter apartment as a form of exercise. My goal is 4,000 paces per day. Some days I register 3,000 paces back and forth, some days 6,000 and some days 2,000. I don’t stress over the numbers. 2 of my cats are mystified about this new walking behavior. They watch me perplexed as I walk counting numbers aloud as a way to keep my mind active and distracted. Sebastian, my youngest and most playful cat, joins me for a lot of my pacing, racing in front of me, beside me, behind me. He makes the whole endeavor a lot more entertaining.


15 X 3; I take 15 deep breathes at least 3 times a day to help disperse my anxiety. My anxiety attacks are generally greater in the early hours of the morning as I’m waking. Sometimes, I take 15 deep breaths before even getting out of bed. Once I get my day going, the anxiety diminishes.


I’m about to turn 70, another number. It turns out that based on the statistics available so far I’m a perfect target for coronavirus, male just hitting 70. I wrote an innocent piece on turning 70 on Occasional Planet not so long ago at all. I wondered then where I was going to spend my 70th birthday. At the time, I had no idea. It turns out that, in all probability, I’m going to spend my 70th birthday in self-isolation in my apartment in Bogotá, most likely pacing back and forth from room to room counting out loud as Sebastian tries to trip me up.


Right now in Bogota, Colombia, where I live, men get to go out for essential services such as grocery shopping on odd days in the month, women on even. My outings are solely confined to taking my garbage out and going down to the gate of my complex to receive deliveries. The doorman wears a mask, the deliverer wears a mask and I wear a mask. And of course, I wash my hands in soap and water for at least 20 seconds after each foray into the great outdoors.


2 X 35 X 99.9. Today, I felt privileged. I had ordered 2 Lysol containers of 35 disinfectant wet wipes apiece online. The wipes guarantee the elimination of 99.9% of viruses. I had read that these wipes were now the equivalent of disinfectant gold and I ordered them without believing that I would ever get a delivery. Lo and behold and on a Sunday afternoon no less, the wet wipes arrived. And I gave a deep sigh of relief, and thanks, that things might truly yet return to some form of normal.


I’m lucky. I can work from home. This week I gave 6 English classes using Zoom, did 2 translations and 1 commercial video voice-over. And I got to work from home on my art, my writing and my cartoons. Many millions of others don’t share the luxury of being able to work as I do. For untold numbers of people worldwide, the risk of contracting the virus is outweighed by the need to go out to work in order to put food on the table.


The key number for all of us right now is how many days, how many weeks, how many months, now many years until we have a vaccine. Choose a number. The truth, despite the good work being done at Oxford University’s Jenner Institute, is that nobody knows.