Day 66 – Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place

Today I was in service to Clemencia…and I loved it! It was a wonderfully refreshing and fun day to do nothing but help her.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020 – Live to Blog from a Better Place

#alonetogether – just the two of us!

Now, don’t read too much into the line above. By “a better place” I don’t mean in the sense of I’ve “gone on to a better place.” I’m just saying that I got out of the right side of the bed this morning. I was disappointed to see that none of this has been a really bad dream but, hey, it is what it is, right? And so it goes.

A Day in Service

Today I decided that I wouldn’t do any of my own work. Instead, I decided to give Clemencia a hand with her fledgling business.

Clemencia – Headshot #1

In January 2018 Clemencia started volunteering at our local library to teach Spanish classes to people in the community. She had been teaching “dental Spanish” to students at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry where she had taught classes and conducted oral health research for 20 years. The group at the school started quite informally about four years. A group of dental students had expressed interest in the language because they were seeing more Spanish speaking children and parents in the clinics.

That first experience with the dental students sent Clemencia down a path she had never anticipated following. She went back to school – after two doctorates, I thought she was a bit nuts. She enrolled in an online course through her alma mater – Arizona State University – to learn how to teach languages. Then it was a couple of online courses with universities in Spain and along the way she picked up many hours and certificates in teaching English as a Second Language and Spanish as a Second Language.

When she finally felt confident enough in her skills, she ventured into the public realm of Spanish instruction. That brings us back to January 2018. The night of the first class was very cold here in Maryland. She was quite sure no one would be there so she asked me to go with her so she wouldn’t have to sit alone in the room throughout the evening. She was shocked…and delighted…when nine people showed up for her first class. I was not shocked at all.

Clemencia – Headshot #2

Since that time, her classes have grown steadily, as has her passion for teaching Spanish. Her retirement dream was to teach for Prince George’s Community College at their Laurel center (only about five minutes from our house). More specifically, she wanted to teach adults and seniors. She reached out to the community college and they, in fact, did have an opening at the Laurel campus for a Spanish teacher for that group.

This past January she started her second year of teaching at the Laurel library and was preparing for her first year of teaching for the community college. She finally started her classes with the college in February and had two weeks of classes then…you…know…what…happened.

After the shock of COVID-19 passed Clemencia began to think about what had previously been unthinkable to her: teaching groups online. She contacted all of her students from both the library (which was also closed) and the college and asked if they’d be interested in online classes. All but two decided they would join her online group classes.

Now, nearly 10 weeks later, Clemencia has become on online teaching pro! Her students have become quite proficient at using Zoom and are loving the classes.

A few weeks ago it became clear that the “new normal” was not going to make it easy for groups to gather for classes again. Clemencia began to consider whether her teaching could actually become a career that paid a little bit. She had been excited about the community college position because it actually did pay some which helps in retirement.

Clemencia – Headshot #3

As long as I’ve known Clemencia she had been a studier and a decider. She does her research, gathers facts, and then, without waffling, make a decision. When she does decide to go all in, she goes all in. That’s exactly how we got to today and ¡Charlemos con Clemencia! (Let’s chat with Clemencia). After weeks of planning, she took the leap.

Clemencia is not as comfortable with technology as I am so she asked if I could help her with a website, setting up a payment system, putting together an online registration form, etc., etc. Because I will do pretty much anything she asks, I agreed.

Today I was in service to Clemencia…and I loved it! It was a wonderfully refreshing and fun day to do nothing but this. I tried to pull together all the things she needs to register students in her inaugural Summer Session – which is barely a month away. I can’t show you the website yet – it is still under review by mi jefe (my boss). However, I did use a few of the new website headshots in the blog. Plus, I have permission to share this video we shot using Zoom. Enjoy!

Clemencia Vargas explains how the classes work at Charlemos con Clemencia

In reality…

My friend Cynthia in Washington State sent me a link to an article today that is pretty disturbing. Researcher’s at the University of Washington are beginning to calculate the death rate for COVID-19. Here’s what they have learned:

A new study suggests the number of Americans who will die after contracting the novel coronavirus is likely to more than triple by the end of the year, even if current social distancing habits continue for months on end.

The study, conducted by the Comparative Health Outcomes, Policy and Economics Institute at the University of Washington’s School of Pharmacy, found that 1.3 percent of those who show symptoms of COVID-19 die, an infection fatality rate that is 13 times higher than a bad influenza season.

“COVID-19 infection is deadlier than flu — we can put that debate to rest,” said Anirban Basu, a health economist at the University of Washington who authored the study.

Reid Wilson, The Hill, May 19, 2020

Good thing it’s not as serious as the flu, eh?

Oh, man, just give me some Chickenman!

The Adventures of Chickenman

Episode 35 – The Invisible Fearless Foul is still…well…invisible despite a rigorous regimen of aspirin. (Gee, maybe he should try Clorox, or Lysol, or hydroxichloriquine.) Anyway, he has to take a pass on saving the country. Wow, sounds like a lot of other folks today!

Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep hoping Chickenman becomes visible again…maybe he knows what to do with this mess!


Day 60 – Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place

Even though she was wearing a mask, I knew there was a lot of lip-pointing going on. She was signalling me to be careful around them and to alert me when they were committing any quarantine faux pas.

Thursday, May 14, 2020 – Live to…WHAT? 60 Days and I’m still doing this? It was only supposed to be 14!


Sixty days! 60! Six-zero! LX! It was still Winter when we entered into sheltering-in-place and now we are halfway through Spring. In barely a month we’ll be starting Summer. This is bizarre! Truly, truly bizarre!

Don’t Mess with Her!

There are Trump’s lockdown orders. Yeah, right! Only until you get bored or need a Big Mac and, hey, I don’t need a mask!

There are Governor Hogan’s lockdown orders. Pretty serious and, you know what, we will shut you down if you try to mess with them. But, you know, we’re going to loosen them up a bit now so, be good…please. (Yeah, right, Larry. You have a lot more faith in Stupid People than I do.)

And then…there are Clemencia’s lockdown orders. Don’t try it…don’t even think about it…you will live without pizza.

Clemencia scared the bejeezus out of three young men who came to our home today. The first was an HVAC technician who came to do the semi-annual check on our system to make sure it was ready for the Summer. Yeah…the Summer…since we’re going to be in the house all Summer. The HVAC technician told us exactly what we knew he would tell us. Our system was old and needed replacement.

We shocked him by agreeing with him. He shocked us by having the salespeople at our house before we could get that sentence. They must have been parked around the corner.

This is the first time anyone has been in our home since early March and Clemencia was ready for them. We were masked up. They were masked up. She made sure they did not open or close any doors. She made sure they knew we expected them to keep at least six feet away from us. She was ready with a spray bottle of disinfectant for anything they touched.

Even though she was wearing a mask, I knew there was a lot of lip-pointing going on. She was signalling me to be careful around them and to alert me when they were committing any quarantine faux pas.

The first guy crossed her when he failed to keep his mask up over his nose. She had to remind him a couple of time to pull it up. After the second time, all she had to do was lip-point and he’d apologize and pull it it. Such fun to watch! The second two guys crossed her by staying too long. Unfortunately for them, the sales meeting took forever due to a glitch in their credit approval system.

Clemencia’s student knew she is very nice and formidable – something our visitor’s learned today.

Clemencia stepped away from a Spanish class at one point to motion to me…from behind them…to move them along. When “somebody” didn’t quite get what she was motioning about, she finally spoke up and said, “This is taking way too long for people like us who are at high risk.” That scared them, though it didn’t speed things up much because the things prolonging the visit were out of their control. Still, from that point on, they were aware that she could come back through the door at any minute and that would be it.

Three times after that they said something like, “We can take care of all of this later over the phone. We don’t want your wife to have to come back out.” Then, I seized the moment to become sinister and speak in a slow, spooky tone.

“Oh, no, no, no. I insist. Stay. Please. She wants you to stay…really. We don’t want to have to do all of this later over the phone. Oh, no, not at all! Let’s get it done while you still can…I mean, while you are still here. It will be fine…just fine,” then I chortled and smiled my best creepy smile. That seemed to help sharpen their focus on their task.

We finally got the deal done and we actually got a good deal. Let’s just say that in this scenario, I got to be the “good cop,” and Clemencia got to be the “bad cop.” She loved it!

When the two left, they assured her that they already had alerted the installation crew (which will be here at 8:30 AM tomorrow morning) about the house rules. Very wise, very wise, indeed!

We haven’t had so much fun in…oh…about eight weeks! And, they learned a few things about physical distancing, mask wearing, and a behaviors that need to go with staying safe in the time of COVID-19. They even learned not to mess with a woman empowered by the truth of public health. For my part, I may have debunked one or two COVID-19 conspiracy theories.

I sometimes refer to Clemencis as “Ms. CDC” because, for as long as I’ve known her, she has approached infection control and all things public health from a strictly Centers for Disease Control and Prevention standard. When she came to the DC area from Arizona it was to work with the Epidemic Intelligence Service. She leapt at that opportunity because she, and many others, saw the CDC as setting the “gold standard” in public health at that time.

That experience profoundly impacted her and it is what informs her insights today regarding COVID-19. So far, she is batting one thousand. She predicted COVID-19 to be bad, and it has been. She pushed and prodded me to buy more beans than I thought we’d ever need in a lifetime and an extra bundle of toilet paper at BJ’s Warehouse in early February. And I’m thankful we did. Her instincts have been spot-on about this thing and I listen very carefully to her counsel. I even do my best to follow it though I’ve not been perfect.

We learned this evening that we have a bit more time to spend in our home. The Prince George’s County Executive announced tonight that we will be sheltering in place at least through June 1 – even though many other parts of the state are opening up…at least just a little.

In addition to monitoring our health and COVID-19 behavior, Clemencia kindly lets me tell some stories about her in this blog. I feel very fortunate to be spending this lockdown with her. If we both make it through this without contracting the virus, it will be because of her.

Lessons from Mom for COVID-19

In my blog on Monday I invited people to send in pieces of wisdom they received from their mom’s in the past which now may prove to be useful during the pandemic. Thank you to everyone who sent me items.

I asked people to also let me know if they were sons or daughters as I wanted to see if Clemencia’s assessment might have been correct – that my list was more likely to be what son’s heard than what daughter’s heard. After reviewing the list of entries I think she might be right. All respondents were daughters. See what you think:

  • Always use the bathroom before leaving home. (Afterall, who knows what germs lurk in public restrooms these days!)
  • Don’t ever cut your bangs by yourself again!
  • Make sure you have clean underwear on.
  • Don’t talk to strangers.
  • Respect your elders.
  • Stop talking.
  • Don’t speak unless asked.
  • Be good to yourself, and in turn you can be good for others.

I wasn’t sure about the advice about clean underwear. Then, I remembered the blog I wrote recently about a question that is puzzling the scientific world. You know the one…does flatulence spread COVID-19? If underwear is the hiney’s mask, then, yes, this one does make sense. Again, thanks to everyone who contributed!

The Adventures of Chickenman

In Episode 29 Chickenman has an unfortunate incident with the Chicken Dissolver in the Chicken Cave.

A Different Side of Chris Mann

I’ve shared several of Chris Mann’s very funny music videos that he has created from his home, all related to COVID-19. This is one that is not funny but very touching. Enjoy and share – especially with someone you know who is on the frontline for us.

Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep doing everything you can to stay safe. The country may be “re-opening,” but Coronavirus has never stopped working.


Day 57 – Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place

All this to say, Dr. Swan is not a wacko. Still, flatulence as a carrier for Coronavirus…I don’t know…sounds like some weird idea Winthrop Dijkstra-Baum would come up with.

Monday, May 11, 2020 – Live to Blog in a Well Ventilated Room


There are so many things we don’t know about COVID-19…yet. Some things we are learning are quite serious. Other things…well, you be the judge.

Does Passing Gas Spread COVID-19?

Catching up on episodes of The Late Show with Stephen Cobert over the weekend I learned of some new scientific research on the spread of COVID-19 which could have serious implications for all of us who love beans. According to Cobert, scientists in Australia have been studying whether the Coronavirus can be spread through flatulence.

I wasn’t sure whether that was an actual thing or if it was part of the comedian’s schtick for the night. Turns out the New York Post reported on April 20th that Dr. Norman Swan said in his podcast that people may pass COVID-19 when they pass gas. When you navigate to the New York Post site in the link above, be sure to watch the brief video so you can hear Dr. Swan make his case personally.

Dr. Swan, it turns out, is nearly the counterpart in Australia to Dr. Sanjay Gupta of CNN here in the U.S. Gupta is a neurosurgeon in Atlanta who actually does practice medicine, performs surgery, and teaches at Emory University School of Medicine. If you’ve been following Dr. Gupta during the COVID-19 pandemic, his coverage and reporting has been some of the best. He is my “go to” guy on television for information when Drs. Fauci, Birx, and Redfield are nowhere in sight. Dr. Swan is a medical journalist though it does not appear he is currently practicing medicine.

All this to say, Dr. Swan is not a wacko. Still, flatulence as a carrier for COVID-19…I don’t know. Sounds like some weird idea Winthrop Dijkstra-Baum would come up with.

When I am filled with uncertainty I go to the source of all knowledge – Google, not Winthrop, to be clear. I asked Google to search for answers to a question worded exactly like this: “Does passing gas spread coronavirus?” Here’s some of what came up in the search:

USA Today: Fact check: We know about coughs and sneezes. But can coronavirus spread through farts?

Forbes: Can Farts Transmit COVID-19 Coronavirus? Here Is What Is Being Said

The Sun: Load of Guff? Doctor says coronavirus could be spreading through farts – but experts aren’t so sure

The Jarkarta Post: Smelly and dangerous? Scientist, doctors on whether farts transmit COVID-19

I hope you took a few minutes to look through some of those articles. Really, it was an education at so many levels and in so many ways.

So, does passing gas also pass the COVID-19? There was some research conducted and reported in the British Medical Journal back in 2001. It had to do with passing gas into petri dishes, really. I think you’ll have no problem sniffing out the article. Once you open the link above (or the next one) just scroll down the page and keep your eyes open for Hot Air? Ironically, the research presents a compelling case for why wearing a face mask helps prevent the spread of the COVID-19. Because, you see, in the case of flatulence, our pants are also masks. If you know people who really can’t understand the value of wearing a mask, share this article with them…seriously…maybe they’ll get it then.

Of course, these days, whenever we need a lift from the news, we just turn our ears and hearts to the music of “Frozen.” Enjoy!

The Adventures of Chickenman

Rhyme is running crampant in Midland City and the call goes out to the Fearless Foul for help.

In Reality…

We know far less about COVID-19 than we think we do. For months millions, if not billions, of dollars have been invested in learning its origins, how it spreads, and what it does to the human body. While we have learned much, there is still much we do not know.

Yes, we had some fun with the question of whether it COVID-19 can be spread through flatulence. The truth is nobody really knows for sure. Just when we think we have a handle on the virus, we learn something new. So, as ridiculous as it sounds, and as much fun as Cobert and other comedians have had with the topic, the most honest response is to check the box “Unknown” for right now.

In the meantime, there is some really disturbing news about COVID-19 that is being reported. On Sunday The Washington Post reported that doctors continue to discover new ways COVID-19 attacks the body.

Today, there is widespread recognition the novel coronavirus is far more unpredictable than a simple respiratory virus. Often it attacks the lungs, but it can also strike anywhere from the brain to the toes. Many doctors are focused on treating the inflammatory reactions it triggers and its capacity to cause blood clots, even as they struggle to help patients breathe.

Lenny Bernstein and Ariana Eunjung Cha, The Washington Post, Sunday, May 10, 2020

Despite the occasional therapeutic diversion into the absurb, let us never lose sight of the fact that this is a real disease that is killing many people. On February 29 the first COVID-19 death was reported in the United States. In the 72 days since there have been (up to this very minute) 80,238 more deaths.

That is 8,023 people per week; 1,114 per day; and 46 people per hour. Think about it…people in the U.S. are dying from COVID-19 at a rate nearing 1 per minute. And we still don’t know how and why it is they are dying. We though we knew…it was respiratory. But now…is it circulatory? Or it something else altogether?

This is why I believe we are in this for the long haul. We still know too little. For this reason, it still makes sense to do things that protect ourselves and others: keep physical distance, wash our hands, don’t touch our faces, cough into our elbows, and wear a mask anytime we leave the house. None of that seems so onerous does it if it means we help save lives?

Lessons from Mom Needed

I’ve been getting a few responses to the question I posed yesterday: What lessons have you heard from your mother in the past that are now good lessons for staying safe in a pandemic? You can respond by leaving a comment on this blog below, you can respond to the posting on LinkedIn or Facebook, or you can follow this link to a Mother’s Lessons for Being Safe in a Pandemic (a Google Form) where you can answer the question. Later this week I’ll share (anonymously) what I’m getting from folks.

Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and, remember, your pants are a mask for your hiney.


Day 53 – Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place

Fingerpointing is like failing to understand why we have a headache all the while we repeatedly hit ourselves over the head.

Thursday, May 7, 2020 – Live to Blog from the Edge


I woke up this morning with insanity on my mind. No, I didn’t say I was insane…only that it was on my mind. Of course, why wouldn’t it be on my mind? These are crazy times, man, crazy! On the other you hand…

You May Be Right, I May Be Crazy But I Just May Be The Lunatic You Are Looking For

Now THAT is a classic Billy Joel song, is it not? I found the “official video” of it on YouTube and it is at least as fun to watch as the song is to hear. You’ve got to love Joel’s hair, glasses, tennis shoes…his whole outfit really. Take a look and then we’ll get back to insanity:

So, why is insanity on my mind? Because I thought I had awakened in 1984…not the year, the book. George Orwell’s book 1984, published in 1949, is a post-World War II dystopian view of the world. At various times it has been banned (even in the United States), hailed as one of the best books in the history of world literature, and even viewed as a prophecy for the world to come. Whatever you think of it, it is a fascinating story.

In 1984, I am the shadowy figure interrogating and torturing Winston Smith, played by my friend Leonard. This photo appeard in Dramatics magazine (October 1971).

(Non sequitur alert!) In high school I was a member of the International Thespian Society. I credit our drama coach, Ms. Bacon, and the Society for giving me my love of theatre and the opportunity to break out of my introversion. Some now may regret that they did this for me, to be sure. It seems I got a lot of “heavy” roles in high school theatre: Dr. Chumley who has kindly Elwood P. Dowd hospitalized in Harvey; a righteous serial murderer in Dr. Cook’s Garden; and a brutal inquisitor, O’Brien, in 1984.

Look, ever since the 2016 election many people have been trying to draw a comparison with 1984. I’m not going there. All I’m saying is that the world portrayed by Orwell in his book was an insane place and it was allowed to become that way. It is a shocking story because it seems incomprehensible that it could ever happen in civil society.

The most insane aspect of the story had to do with the reframing of language to mean its opposite through “Newspeak.” That is “new speak” not “news speak,” just to be clear in this age of “fake news.” No where was this more clearly seen than in the names of the government’s four agencies:

  • Ministry of Peace – which waged war and provided for the defense of the country;
  • Ministry of Plenty – which dealt with the economic welfare of the country and its people – who were living with rationing and starvation;
  • Ministry of Love – which assured law and order through torture and brainwashing; and
  • Ministry of Truth – which melded news, entertainment, education, and art into propoganda.

There was no Ministry of Health in Orwell’s 1984. If there were, I wonder what it’s mandate would have been? Assuming Orwell used the same convention as he did in naming the other four ministries, it would not be about health at all. Quite the opposite.

Frankly, I awoke this morning wondering if our public health system isn’t devolving into an Orwellian Ministry of Health. I do not say this to offend the many friends, colleagues, and clients I have who work in public health. In fact, I may be saying aloud what many of them are already thinking.

Clemencia and I have worked in the public health sector many years. We believe in public health and know what it can do when it is allowed to work, especially in the midst of a health crisis. We admire and appreciate the efforts of Anthony Fauci, Deborah Birx, and Robert Redfield. As we have watched them during the torturous Coronavirus Task Force updates we can see they share our pain and agony. Despite their valiant efforts to communicate accurate public health information to us, I fear the devolution continues.

Why do I fear this? Because I believe we are seeing evidence of it in this moment. Think about it a moment. If public health had won the day:

You may say, “Tom, you are crazy. The public health system has not devolved, it is just marginalized.” Well, whoopy ding fine! And marginalization is just a step toward devolution and devolution leads to irrelevance.

Marginalization or devolution, who is to blame? Some blame the CDC and the public health system itself. Others blame the Trump Administration. Still others blame Congress. In truth, there is a lot of blame to go around and all of us are really good at finger pointing, eh?

You know the problem with finger pointing, right? When we do point a finger at others, there are three fingers pointing back us (remember, the thumb is not a finger). We get so busy with finger pointing that we lose sight of our own responsibility.

Fingerpointing is like failing to understand why we have a headache all the while we repeatedly hit ourselves over the head.

If the devolution of our public health system is to stop, it is on us to step up and make a difference.

Or, you may be right. I may be crazy. Maybe it is just marginalization. But if I’m right and it is devolution, could I just be the lunatic you are looking for?

The View from Jeff

Jeff explains: I think the lettuce wrapped hamburger trend is actually funded by the laundry detergent industry

The Adventures of Chickenman

In Episode 22 Chickeman and the Maternal Marauder visit Clyde Crushman in and effor to reconcile the criminal with the Winged Warrior, who put him behind bars.

Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing you mask, keep physical distance, and especially keep away from Stupid People – because all are good public health practices.