Tag Archives: Coronavirus disease

morning thoughts




The following is the text of an email from me this morning to my friend Clare Bruyère, an emeritus professor of American literature who lives in Paris. I feel that it is not too personal for me to post it.






Thank you very much for your comments, Claire.

I have gotten hardly any feedback or compliments on my family separation posts. …

NYC and Manhattan are depressing — not the same city.

I hate “social distancing” — though I am not in a position to say what must be done, and realize it is necessary, but, I feel that — as a few, very few, commentators have pointed out — people need closeness to people just as they do sunlight and oxygen.

Many commentators are extolling, and advising us upon, the glories of things such as virtual gatherings and parties; interacting remotely; working with colleagues and attending concerts and cultural events from home; and abolishing “old fashioned,” retrograde things such as the handshake.

These moribund social engineers and would be “reformers” have no conception of what makes us human, and what is required for maintaining a feeling of wellbeing.



posted by Roger W. Smith

   May 14, 2020

James Joyce on Daniel Defoe’s “A Journal of the Plague Year”



The black plague devastated the City of London during the earlier years of the reign of Charles II. The toll of victims cannot be established with any certainty, but it probably exceeded a hundred and fifty thousand. Of this horrible slaughter Defoe [in his A Journal of the Plague Year] provides an account which is all the more terrifying for its sobriety and gloominess. The doors of the infected households were marked with a red cross over which was written: Lord, have mercy on us! Grass was growing in the streets. A dismal, putrid silence overhung the devastated city like a pall. Funeral wagons passed through the streets by night, driven by veiled carters who kept their mouths covered with disinfected cloths. A crier walked before them ringing a bell intermittently and calling out into the night, Bring out your dead! Behind the church in Aldgate an enormous pit was dug. Here the drivers unloaded their carts and threw merciful lime over the blackened corpses. The desperate and the criminal revelled day and night in the taverns. The mortally ill ran to throw themselves in with the dead. Pregnant women cried for help. Large smoky fires were forever burning on the street corners and in the squares. Religious insanity reached its peak. A madman with a brazier of burning coals on his head used to walk stark naked through the streets shouting that he was a prophet and repeating by way of an antiphony: 0 the great and dreadful God!



— James Joyce, “Daniel Defoe” (lecture delivered at the Univerità Populare, Trieste, 1912)


— posted by Roger W. Smith

   April 2020

new post: “Sorokin on human emotions in a time of plague”


Please see my new post on my Sorokin site (dedicated to the sociologist and social philosopher Pitirim A. Sorokin:


“Sorokin on human emotions in a time of plague”



Sorokin on human emotions in a time of plague


— Roger W. Smith

   April 2020

the salt of the earth




And make certain not to practice your righteousness before men, in order to be watched by them. …


Matthew 6:1


The New Testament: A Translation, by David Bentley Hart



In an email to readers yesterday, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote:


Hospitals have been very reluctant to allow journalists in to report, in part because of genuine concerns about infection risk and HIPAA privacy rules. But this pandemic is a story that is best covered not from White House press briefings but from the front lines in the hospitals. I asked many hospitals for permission, and two did agree to let me and a video journalist inside. My column today … shares what we found. [italics added]

The visit left me deeply impressed by the doctors, nurses, technicians, respiratory therapists and cleaners who risk their lives by working each day in the “hot zone” where contagion spreads. Many confided their fears of getting sick and dying, or their worries about getting loved ones sick, and some spoke of their nightmares and panic attacks. Yet they soldier on with tremendous compassion. …



I recommend Nicholas Kristof’s op-ed:


Life and Death in the ‘Hot Zone’

“If people saw this, they would stay home.” What the war against the coronavirus looks like inside two Bronx hospitals.

By Nicholas Kristof

The New York Times

April 11, 2020




It’s an incredibly courageous — and in itself incredible — and also harrowing piece of reporting.

The true heroes of this crisis, this pandemic, are indeed the doctors, nurses, and other hospital workers; and the EMS workers, medics, and ambulance drivers.





If I may add one further observation that I have been making in the past two weeks. As usual, it seems that, while some of the rich are fleeing New York City, it is ordinary people often who are the salt of the earth — the humble people who can’t leave. I have observed this several times.

About a week ago, I was on a bus in Queens that was more crowded than one would expect. Everyone seems uptight now about sitting or getting too close, and yet a woman was struggling to get on with an overloaded shopping cart — she must have been Jewish and shopping for Passover, judging by some of the items in her cart. The woman was from Manhattan, and getting back to Manhattan from Queens involved taking three or four buses. It was apparent that she wasn’t going to take the subway. The passengers on the bus, as I am finding with the transit riding public in the past couple of weeks, appeared to be mostly minority and not well heeled. When he observed the woman struggling, a black guy on the street who was not boarding the bus interrupted his walk to wherever he was headed to help her get the cart on. Then, a woman on the bus who appeared to be Hispanic spent ten minutes or so going over possible bus routes with the woman and inquiring from other passengers, all of whom pitched in with advice, the best route for the woman to take.

The bus emptied out, and the woman reached a point near the bridge where she had to get off and transfer for another bus to Manhattan. Passengers, myself included, made it a point to help her get her cart off, find the right place to catch the next bus, and help her get across Queens Boulevard with her cart to the right place.





This past week, I was on a bus headed uptown on Second Avenue. A woman was getting off in Midtown. She looked like she could afford to live there. She had a couple of shopping bags. There was another woman wearing a mask seated across from me near the exit door. The bus goes all the way to East Harlem; this woman, from her dress, did not look rich. I felt she could have been a day care worker or some such type of work.

“Lady,” she said to the woman getting off, “you left your pocket book on the seat.” The woman was very thankful. The bus driver held up the bus so she could go back and get it.

I got off the bus a couple of stops later. “God bless you,” I said to the “day care worker.” “You did a good deed. You saved the woman’s day.” I was thinking how I would feel if I got home and realized my wallet, money, and credit cards were all gone.



— Roger W. Smith

   April 12, 2020

indoors versus outdoors during the Coronavirus epidemic


I recently wrote as an addendum to my post

does cold air kill germs? (thoughts of a fresh air fiend)

does cold air kill germs? (thoughts of a fresh air fiend)

the following:

I live in New York City. Here, and elsewhere — in the midst of the Coronavirus epidemic — people are being urged or ordered to STAY INDOORS.

As a blanket recommendation, this seems to me unwise, medically speaking. Common sense and experience tell us that fresh air and sunlight are inimical to germs and to the spread of disease.




I would like to make a few remarks along these lines.

Last night, I saw a video clip on MSNBC of the governor of some state telling citizens to stay indoors during the Coronavirus epidemic.

She said that people should stay inside and only go out if they had to — for food shopping or to a gas station, say; or a medical appointment.

By coincidence, my wife had an appointment yesterday with a local doctor, Urszula Pustelak, MD, an internal medicine specialist, whom we both like and respect.

Dr. Pustelak practices holistic medicine. She follows her own advice in her daily life. She told my wife that she has been trying to walk as much as she can during the Coronavirus epidemic. She said she thinks that it is ridiculous for people to be confined indoors. She said that people need fresh air and sunshine to stay healthy and that germ or disease transmission is not likely in the open air. (I was not there and am reporting the conversation second hand. I believe my wife said that the doctor made it clear that what she meant was: in the open air, assuming that one keeps a distance from others while walking.)




I have been walking quite a bit during the past couple of weeks — during the period when the Coronavirus epidemic became an emergency — and have been in some respects leading a more healthy life.

On Thursday last week, April 2, I walked for around five hours, probably twelve miles, or more.

Yesterday, Monday, April 6, I woke up not feeling well. I had felt the same on Sunday. It felt like I had the flu. I had a slight cough, was sweating and felt slightly feverish, felt achy, and so on. I Googled Coronavirus symptoms and I didn’t seem to have them (e.g., shortness of breath). Still, I couldn’t help worrying, am I infected? After all, I have been going out fairly often; and I took the subway a couple of times last week.




It was a beautiful spring day. I decided I had to get out for some fresh air. And SUNSHINE. But people have been warning me to be careful: Don’t take the bus or subway. And, I take a bus to Brooklyn, to a point from which it is easy for me to walk to Manhattan.

Why not walk closer to home? Because I wanted to go to one of my favorite places in the City, Battery Park, and to be able to walk along the river, inhaling the fresh air and breezes; and enjoying the sunshine.

I walked for around four and a half hours, twelve or more miles.

When I got home, I drank a lot of water, took a nap which was extremely refreshing, and woke up feeling wonderful. All of my symptoms from the morning had disappeared. No aches; no feeling hot or sweaty. I felt a sensation of wellbeing, of my blood tingling. I felt vigorous and energetic, whereas for the past two days I had felt the opposite.




On my Manhattan walks, I am finding that the City is almost deserted; there are very few people in Midtown or Downtown. I try not to get close to anyone, but of course, one does pass a pedestrian now and then on the sidewalk or on a walkway or path. I try to keep a distance. I do not (unlike most people) wear a mask.

In other words, I am trying to be somewhat careful. But, it has occurred to me, what is the risk that I am going to spread the disease (or catch it) in the open air without being part of a group? — I feel that it is very low.

I don’t go into take out places, say, to get a snack. I don’t eat during my walk. I will stop in a deli to get a bottled water or soft drink.




I am not an epidemiologist or an expert on medicine or health. However, I feel that it is common sense that staying indoors all the time is not healthy under any circumstances — including the present public health crisis.

And that fresh air and sunshine (as well as exercise) are a good prescription for keeping disease at bay — any disease — as well as for physical and mental health.


Roger W. Smith

    April 7, 2020




the Brooklyn Bridge yesterday






“the Son of Man has no place where he may rest his head”


And at his descent from the mountain large crowds followed him. And look: A leper approached and bowed down to him, saying, “Lord, if you wish, you are able to cleanse me.” And stretching out a hand he touched him, saying, “I wish it; be cleansed.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed away. And Jesus says to him, “See to it that you tell no one, but go and show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”

And on his entry into Capernaum a centurion approached him, imploring him And saying, “Lord, my servant has been laid low in my house, a paralytic, suffering terribly.” He says to him, “I shall come and heal him.” But in reply the centurion said, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should come in under my roof; but only declare it by a word and my servant will be healed. For I am also a man under authority, having soldiers under me, and to this one I say, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” And, hearing this, Jesus marveled and said to those following him, ”Amen, I tell you, I have found no one in Israel with such faith. Moreover, I tell you that many will come from East and West and will recline at table alongside Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the Kingdom of the heavens; But the sons of the Kingdom will be thrown out into the darkness outside; there will be weeping and grinding of teeth there.” And Jesus said to the centurion, “Go; as you have had faith, so let it come to pass for you.” And in that hour the servant was healed.

And coming into Peter’s house Jesus saw Peter’s mother-in-law laid out and in a fever; And he touched her hand and the fever left her; and she arose and waited on him.

And when evening arrived they brought to him many who were possessed by demons; and he exorcized the spirits by word, and healed all those who were suffering; Thus was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “He took away our infirmities and bore away our maladies.”

But, seeing a crowd surrounding him, Jesus gave orders to depart, across to the far shore. And one scribe approached and said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you may go.” And Jesus says to him, “The foxes have lairs and the birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place where he may rest his head.”
Matthew 8:1-20



The New Testament: A Translation, by David Bentley Hart







“The Doctor Came to Save Lives. The Co-op Board Told Him to Get Lost.”

By Jim Dwyer

The New York Times

April 3, 2020







I live in upstate NY and my neighbors are shunning me because I allowed a couple from NYC to move into my vacant house. When a friend told me a little more than weeks ago that his daughter and her family in Brooklyn were looking for a place to go because her husband is immune-compromised, I offered my house. I had moved in with my elderly parents to help them out a month ago, so the house was available. I was happy to help. My neighbors, not so much. They have let me know they are furious with me that I have allowed this small family to “infect” the neighborhood and have told me I cannot allow my house to be used by “outsiders” without permission from the county health department. There is no such requirement. Nonetheless, I have been contacted by the health department and the police. In the meantime, the couple has been practicing social distancing just like everyone else and for 2 weeks they haven’t had contact with anyone. They haven’t even left the house except to take their small children for walks. As for my neighbors, it’s true that hard times highlight the flaws in people’s characters. They are not the people I thought they were.


— COMMENT by LibertyN



That crises bring out the best in humans is largely a myth. History has shown us, time and again, that it is only the very few who step forward for the collective good. The mass of us typically withdraw into ourselves when perceiving a life or death situation, scrambling to save our own lives, not infrequently at the peril of those close to us. That is what most of us do when confronted with the threat of catastrophic destruction. Heroic acts get the lion’s share of public attention, giving us the false impression that there are many who behave so generously. But they are, in fact, so few as to represent very much less than 1% of us. We rarely see ourselves as we are, but as we would like ourselves to be. We are most content when we applaud the very few who do the dirty and dangerous work for us, as if our cheering somehow compensates for our own cowardice. Those who daily put their lives on the line for the rest of us don’t need our applause. They need our intervention and collaboration. Sadly, as the crisis worsens — for it surely will — The fewer of us who will be inclined to venture out of our cocoons, but will in fact burrow even deeper.

–COMMENT by citizennotconsumer



This story manages to tell a lot more about the present situation and what’s actually happening than all the analysis and detail being provided about the coronavirus epidemic by the press. A crisis such as a pandemic brings out magnanimity and heroism. Along with callousness in individuals who only care about their own safety — and not a whit about others.

–COMMENT by Roger W. Smith



— posted by Roger W.  Smith

   April 3, 2020

“crisis managers”





Second Avenue 3-15-2020

Second Avenue, Sunday, March 15, 2020




I can’t speak for most people, but I assume that my behavior in response to the Coronavirus epidemic is not that uncommon.

My initial instincts a week or two ago — my thoughts then — were, I can’t eliminate all possibility of illness, control all circumstances. I will try to observe the recommend actions (such as washing my hands more frequently) and precautions, but I’m not going to shut down, or alter my daily routine.

Since then, the fears and warnings have been mounting steadily at an accelerating pace. I am taking the warnings and recommendations seriously and am planning to stay at home for the most part. And many activities such as concerts and classes have been canceled anyway.






On Thursday evening during the preceding week, before language classes were cancelled, I was seated on a bench in a hallway of the language school waiting for my class to begin. I was conversing with a fellow student.

I coughed once or twice.

Being very mindful of warnings regarding coughing in public places, I leaned over, turned away from my classmate, and covered my mouth.

“Are you ill?” an obnoxious woman seated across the hall with a friend said. When I didn’t answer right away, she repeated the question.

“I coughed,” I said. “That isn’t unusual. Are you trying to imply that I have an infection?”






I can’t stay indoors all the time, and I wouldn’t recommend it for healthy people, virus notwithstanding.

Yesterday I went for a walk in Manhattan. A beautiful, mild, sunny day. Sun drenched sidewalks.

I was walking downtown on Second Avenue in the 30’s.

I seem to have an allergic condition where, at any time, including times when I am well and don’t have a cold, the air can cause me to cough. It’s usually cold air, the effects of which I often experience the minute I go outside, or sometimes dust indoors.

It was approximately 1 p.m. There were very few pedestrians, and there was no one near me.

A gust of wind hit me, and I coughed once. It was barely noticeable.

I continued walking. I thought I heard someone say, angrily, “Cover your mouth!”

I walked a few more steps, then turned and looked backwards. Was the remark meant for me?

Apparently — in fact — it was. The only other people on the block were a woman and man standing together a half a block away. They were conversing, not walking.

It was the woman who had told me to cover my mouth.

The average city block in Manhattan is slightly over 260 feet long. The couple was more than 100 feet away from me when I coughed. I was in the open air when I coughed. Not near anyone. Not coughing on anyone or in their face.


Panics, disasters, and emergencies bring out all kinds of reactions and behaviors in people.

Good and bad. The best and the worst. Selfish and altruistic. Noble and petty.

Some persons exhibit increased concern and thoughtfulness for others and their welfare. Others use them as an occasion to exhibit traits of officiousness and pettiness which they feel a license to exhibit.

Such as taking out their anxieties and fears and obsessive tendencies on others who have nothing to do with them and no actual or conceivable relationship to any actual emergency.

They are taking their anxiety out on others and therefore increasing the level of everyone else’s anxiety.






The truth of the situation with these minders, these obnoxious persons, is that they see a crisis situation as an opportunity, almost an incentive, to pick on other people who didn’t create the situation and who have no more to do with it than they do.

There is no way to tell who one encounters in public might be infected. But let’s pick on anyone whom we don’t take to, or about whom something or other might give us the opportunity to show that we are on the lookout for infected persons. Got to keep our streets and classes disease free!

Shows we are on the watch.

We went for a walk in public despite the warnings. While we’re out, we’ll police the streets. Can’t have too few “hall monitors” watching the sidewalks for Coronavirus transmitters. We’re civic minded. No telling who might deserve a scolding.






A crisis brings out the magnanimous and the petty.

Some people are inherently mean.

A crisis gives them an incentive and what they regard as license to take out their mean impulses on the pretense that it’s for the common good. They view themselves as benefactors when it’s actually the opposite. Read, malefactor(s). They are doing harm.

Dissatisfaction with themselves and present conditions becomes disapproval of others.
— Roger W. Smith

   March 16, 2020








I recommend as reading at this time an unforgettable and totally engrossing book: A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe.



cover - A Journal of the Plague Year


does cold air kill germs? (thoughts of a fresh air fiend)


I was cleaning out an overload of emails on my computer yesterday and came across a few emails I had forgotten about between a friend of mine and me from last winter.

The gist of our “electronic conversation” was as follows.




My friend said she had a bad cold. The usual symptoms: congestion, ache, cough, lassitude, etc. Plus, blocked sinuses. The blocked sinuses were really bothering her. “I can barely breathe,” she wrote.

She said she was resting, sleeping a lot, drinking a lot of tea with honey, and STAYING INDOORS.

I advised her as follows:

— To get outside. To go for a walk, preferably a long one if she could manage to.

— That I thought fresh air would ease the congestion. “The cold, crisp air will be very good for you. I am certain that you will come back feeling much better.”

— I suggested drinking fresh squeezed orange juice.

My friend purchased nasal spray. I was wondering if it did any good and if perhaps it actually does more harm than good.

My friend wrote me back that, in her opinion, “the cold and wind make it worse.” That WARM air and temperatures are desirable when someone has a cold.

I said that, in my opinion, being confined inside with indoor heat makes a cold worse.

“Fresh air, yes, but not cold,” she replied. “There are a lot of sick people outside at this time of the year. Coughing. Spreads germs!”




It is my opinion, as I wrote to my friend, that cold air KILLS germs. I had a job one winter a long time ago when I was in my twenties. I was outdoors all day in the cold and snow during the winter months. Shoveling snow; doing manual labor. I never had a scintilla of cold or flu-like symptoms all winter.

I said that I didn’t think she would or could catch a cold from others if outdoors. “How would germs spread in the open air?”

I told her that it has been my experience when experiencing symptoms of a cold or cough, that once I go out, the symptoms seem to ease (in the winter months, that is).

“Well,” she said, “if the cold temperature kills germs and viruses, why do humans usually get sick in wintertime?”

I answered that, from my own experience and observations, it seemed that colds develop from:

— constantly alternating between indoors (overheated) and outdoors (cold)

— not staying outdoors long enough to let the cold, fresh air work its beneficial effects

— staying inside most of the time, day and night

— overheated buildings

“The germs love the indoors — the perfect incubator for them. They can’t survive the cold outdoors. It seems whenever I have a cold or cough and get fresh air, I feel better right away.”




My friend thanked me for the advice. “Maybe you’re right,” she said.

I tried to encourage her, drawing upon my own personal philosophy; “FIGHT the cold,” “don’t let it shut you down,” “try to keep active,” “get fresh air.”

“Don’t take my word for it,” I said. I suggested that she Google the topic to see what she would find.

Then, I took it upon myself to Google the topic of fresh air, cold, and germs. And, guess what I found. Most of the “experts” seemed to DISAGREE with me!

A typical entry:

[W]when we breathe in cold air, the blood vessels in our nose may constrict to stop us losing heat. This may prevent white blood cells (the warriors that fight germs) from reaching our mucus membranes and killing any viruses that we inhale, allowing them to slip past our defences unnoticed.


(And in The New York Times, it was stated, in an article on the coronavirus epidemic: “It is possible that the Wuhan coronavirus will fade out as weather warms. Many viruses, like flu, measles and norovirus, thrive in cold, dry air.” [italics added] — “Wuhan Coronavirus Looks Increasingly Like a Pandemic, Experts Say,” by Donald G. McNeil Jr., The New York Times, February 2, 2020)




I gave up.

But, you know what? I still think I’m right. Fresh air is the best medicine! At all times of the year.



addendum, March 20, 2020

I live in New York City. Here, and elsewhere — in the midst of the Coronavirus epidemic — people are being urged or ordered to STAY INDOORS.

As a blanket recommendation, this seems to me unwise, medically speaking. Common sense and experience tell us that fresh air and sunlight are inimical to germs and to the spread of disease.


— Roger W. Smith

   February 2017; updated February 2020