Quarantunes, Riddles, and Musicals on Lockdown

Quarantunes, Riddles, and Musicals on Lockdown

I first heard of the word quarantunes from Rita Wilson, the wife of Tom Hanks. She was one of the few high profile celebrities who first tested positive for covid-19 last April. As a way of coping with the pandemic’s direct impact, she produced an open Spotify playlist of tunes called Quarantunes. People now have various hobbies. In between covid-19 related work and volunteering for CoronaTracker, I find myself occasionally checking out riddles posted on Facebook just to kill time.

I also enjoyed looking at the kitchen adventures of my friends. Most of my friends generously post about their cooking exploits similar to what Amy wrote about here in The Other Side a few weeks ago. I still have mediocre kitchen skills but new things came out of the pandemic quarantine that I am happy about.

A lot of generous folks from the media industry also released access to Youtube videos of concerts and plays. Most of these were fundraisers for covid-19 relief efforts and was released publicly for a limited time. Recently, I was able to watch The Phantom of the Opera and a local play called Ang Huling El Bimbo in the comfort of my own home and with my husband and two kids.

This May 15, The Shows Must Go On Youtube channel is airing Cats the musical for free to the public as well. It will air for only 48 hours and I’ll definitely be watching this play with my family during the days it’s made publicly available. Broadway is now within virtual reach for most of us who still have to stay home to flatten the curve. We are lucky to have all these resources opening up at our disposal and helping us manage our new normal during this global crisis.

The show must go on mentally as we try to survive the new normal. But as the new normal on a lockdown has taken hold, I also noticed some subtle changes in the way I deal with people. I find myself waving to my neighbor eagerly now when I see him or her from our window. I used to ignore these chances or take these for granted when I had the actual freedom to go out and pay my neighbors an actual visit.

Resolutions have been made; I plan to be more expressive of gratitude to the people I am able to interact with because I sorely missed that interaction now that I am stuck at home. I am introvert but I still miss having the abiity to visit family and friends. I am just grateful I have a fun and supportive spouse locked down with me who helps me with the household chores and caregiving duties for our kids. Not everyone is in the same fortunate situation. Some front-liners have to battle out with the virus risks directly in the hospitals. Covid-19 patients have to fight for their lives and very survival while they wait for a negative swab test result. I hope I don’t forget the reason why I am able to stay home; it’s because of these heroes who are on the front lines of the pandemic battle.

What about you? What new hobbies and interests has this pandemic uncovered in you lately?

Taking Time to Smell the Flowers during Covid-19

My son and I went to our garden today and we spent an hour looking at flowers and sitting by the stairs near the gate. The baby was asleep and my husband was cooking spaghetti in the kitchen while we puttered around with the birds and the bees outside in the yard. We’re not allowed to go beyond the gate in keeping with social distancing here in the Philippines.

Take time to smell the flowers.

These days, we have maximized every possible nook and cranny of our house. The locks that malfunctioned that needed attention are suddenly DIY projects for my husband and he actually has the time to do them at home.

I’ve come to appreciate my home more during this lockdown. We’ve always had the garden but I never had the time to take a closer look at what’s in there. It’s only now during this lockdown that I was able to spend time with my 3-year-old son and sing nursery rhymes while he picked two flowers to give to me this afternoon. These are tiny moments with a toddler that we quickly lose in the sands of time. When he grows up, I know that this is one of the biggest moments to treasure with my child.

However, this is no regular spring vacation. Silently and inside my head I keep asking the question that’s on everyone’s mind: “When will this end?”

And the fact that there are no clear answers to that question is a cause for worry or anxiety. I have seen better days than recent days in social media where people are on edge and experiencing a lot of new and intense emotions. I have been used to working from home so the lockdown or quarantine introduced less of a jolting adjustment to me and my husband. I rarely go out of the house and we are both introverts. But this is not the case for my other friends and family members who are used to being out and about before the social distancing measures began. It must be incredibly difficult to suddenly be tied down to a single place especially if one is a jetsetter before the lockdowns began.

What keeps me going is the faith and the optimism that the whole world will overcome this. There are some tiny things to thank for in the midst of this lockdown. The world’s air quality has improved and the earth seems to be healing itself in the midst of the quarantine protocols.

Aside from that, there is more time for family members to spend with each other. And in family matters, the little things are really the big things. I have seen firsthand how efficient my husband is when he does the grocery runs and my love for him has grown even more these days. It’s a challenge and occasionally suffocating to be with the same person 24/7, literally. But for the most part, being together on a government-imposed lockdown with enough food while being covid-19 negative is a PRIVILEGE during these trying times. Not everyone is as lucky, and this gift must be received with gratitude despite the challenges of this pandemic.

The front-liners are out there suffering the risk of infection and being away from loved ones. They help keep me safe at home. In the midst of my mommy and wife duties and CoronaTracker volunteer work, I utter a prayer here and there for the front-liners like medical workers and food industry workers who have to keep going with some risk of exposure to this invisible enemy called covid-19.

These would have been unthinkable if the situation did not require all of us to literally slow down. We are now forced to take time to smell the flowers, and in spite of the genuine challenges of this lockdown, there is some genuine good that can come out of that.

Covid-19 Hits Close to 1 Million Cases Globally; How’s Your Mental Health?

Data from CoronaTracker today indicates that over 1 million cases from official sources have already been recorded for the covid-19 virus all over the world. This still happened despite the numerous collective efforts of lowering transmission rates by social distancing and flattening the curve for some locations. 

In most countries, people are fraught with anxiety of the uncertainty of the lockdown protocols and the risks of catching the virus via local transmission. With the exception of countries like Sweden which has taken a rather stoic approach to the coronavirus threat, most countries’ daily activities are interrupted significantly and most brick and mortar businesses are forced to undertake a contingency plan or some form of digital transformation in order to keep business operations running albeit in an irregular manner.

The ongoing lockdown protocols in various countries are transforming landscapes and people. The IMF recently called in a global economic recession, airline operations halted because there was diminished demand for commercial travel, and one of the few perks is that the air quality in some areas has improved significantly because people are staying in their homes. 

People are now advised to stay at home and practice social distancing. While this is hardly threatening news for introverts who are happy curling up with a good book and a cup of tea, it may significantly be a huge problem for the more gregarious people who are used to being on the go, traveling, or meeting outside with family and friends. Given this invisible pandemic tying most people to their homes and the rising number of covid-19 cases in the news, it’s incredibly challenging and if unchecked, it might take a toll on one’s mental health. 

A lot of self-care is in order in addition to caring for the more vulnerable segments of the population like the elderly and the immunocompromised people who can have adverse and fatal reactions to the coronavirus once it enters their body systems. Some of the things that can help lower anxiety involve meditating, doing yoga or stretching exercises, gardening (if the space and climate allows it), talking to friends even through video chat or messaging apps, engaging in DIY projects (a Lego model, perhaps?), and learning new things. 

A lot of companies are offering lessons for free in the wake of the pandemic locking people in their homes. It’s good to take advantage of these resources which usually cost a lot under regular pricing. One such example is the Coursera MOOCs offered specifically during this season of covid-19 social distancing

Another way to channel or divert the negative energies is by means of volunteering or helping beat covid-19 in some form. For me, personally, volunteering for CoronaTracker has helped me significantly in coping with the uncertainty and the troubles that are happening globally because of the pandemic. We are using science, verified official data, and analytics to beat the pandemic.

Lockdown Life with a Purpose

The news blasts coming in from Viber, Telegram, and Facebook news feeds show dismal numbers of increasing casualties from #covid19, formerly known as the novel coronavirus. What started as a tiny cluster of cases in China last December became a full blown global pandemic.

Our capital region in the Philippines, like in other countries, was placed on “enhanced community quarantine,” basically tantamount to a lockdown. Lives that used to be hustling and bustling with movement and activity are now restricted at home. The most extroverted of my friends are now experiencing the toll on their mental health of this forced social isolation. The terms “social distancing” and “flattening the curve” fill our feeds. Doctors and nurses are now in the front-lines, battling out each potential covid19 case that comes up in the public and private hospitals. Some patients even lie about their symptoms and put these medical heroes at greater risk because they can’t triage properly. Some people are found covid19 positive postmortem.

The numbers keep rising and there seems to be no end in sight. The stuff of beginning story arcs of dystopian novels is now becoming the main content of global news and current affairs. If you had a personal crisis before, there’s an even bigger crisis now that’s claiming lives and not choosing across education level, location, or socioeconomic status.

Stock markets are plummeting, work in most non-essential industries have gone to a standstill or adapted to a remote working contingency scenario, and families wait on updates from press conferences from the Department of Health and the government. There is much uncertainty and little by way of assurance. Hands go dry from frequently washing hands, each surface is filled with disinfectant, and people refrain from embracing and kissing for the time being.

I needed to do something. But what? I asked myself: What can I possibly do beyond the four corners of my suburban home that can potentially make a difference? I am just a housewife who just gave birth and is in between jobs. What could I possibly offer the world at this point in time that can help in this global monster of a health problem and can fit in between toddler care and newborn diaper changes?

It is under this pseudo-apocalyptic circumstance that I found myself checking out the dashboard at Coronatracker. On Twitter, I saw their call for volunteers from all over the world. I found myself installing Telegram app on my phone in between diaper changes to coordinate with volunteers realtime. I chatted with the core Malaysian and Filipino volunteers on Slack and finally I found something to do in the midst of this crazy time.

I figured that even if it’s just updating numbers on a spreadsheet or typing up words on a Google Document, at least I am doing something valuable. We are conserving the data of covid19 cases globally as it happens using official data sources. The team is powered by 460+ active volunteers who lose sleep and chug up caffeine while shipping out code updates to improve the Coronatracker platform.

We are all so far apart physically but I hardly feel that I am talking to someone in another part of the world; as far as I am concerned, we are together in this important work of preserving the data as it happens and doing meaningful research out of it with the help of our data scientists and medical practitioner volunteers. It may not make too much sense now or be as dangerous as the healthcare front-liners in the hospitals, but it’s the type of crowdsourced work that future generations can benefit from.

Now I am writing content on social media to help spread the word about data integrity in the time of covid-19, because the quicker spread of fake news is another form of pandemic that’s killing people’s common sense and sense of calm.

There is still so much work that needs to be done and this is far from over. If you have time on your hands and a willingness to help change the world one data point at a time, join us and be a volunteer for Coronatracker.

Coronatracker’s Work from Home Warriors during the Covid19 Pandemic

At the moment, over 80 countries worldwide are hit by the new coronavirus strain known as #covid19. While it has brought out the worst in some people (e.g. hoarding of sanitizing supplies, etc.), it has also brought the best in others. It is in such a situation of collective concern for everyone’s well-being and fighting fake news that our website Coronatracker was born. The realtime app curates official statistics on coronavirus incidences, recoveries and fatalities in affected countries worldwide.

The impact of crowdsourcing can never be underestimated, pandemic or not. And with the digital age, it is made even more powerful with remote working or work from home setups. The Coronatracker team, spearheaded by its data scientist founder Dr. Lau Cher Han, is purely powered by a global group of volunteers. Most of the volunteers are themselves implementing their own version of quarantine and social distancing measures at home to quell the exponential growth of positive covid19 cases in the world. (I am personally writing this piece in my pajamas while taking care of my family here in Manila.)

The main public communications channel is done via Telegram messaging system. The core volunteers coordinate via Slack and list all the tasks via Trello but verify reports coming from Telegram 24/7 for authenticity by requiring some official document or source from the country being reported for additional covid19 cases. Once vetted as official data for that country, the system is updated as close to real time as humanly possible. The platform also allots a segment for natural language processing techniques in going through all coronavirus related news articles from major publications in the world. We also host webinar events to help spread awareness and reduce panic in the midst of this global challenge.

The initiative itself is not without its challenges, but so far it’s working and thriving even in the time where fake news is being peddled left and right on social media. There are development teams working non-stop to improve the bits and pieces of the real-time platform. There are also folks who are making sure the social media channels are updated with the latest features of the app. Data scientists, technology and online junkies, medical researchers, and web developers come together as a motley digital crew that empowers this project and makes sure it stands firm with the best possible data sources there are on the covid19 pandemic.

Ultimately, it’s the commitment to maintaining data integrity across all the data sources that makes the app so unique. We are also looking forward to partnering with afflicted countries’ health departments to better serve these statistics to people who need to know facts from actual data and not fake news. The access to the real time dashboard is free for all, and providing some support is an optional thing for people in the public who want to cheer and support our initiative.

There’s the global pandemic and then there’s the fake news epidemic that spreads faster and causes more harm to people who are already undergoing challenges in their respective countries as they protect themselves and loved ones from this deadly virus.

Join us in our initiative in fighting this global pandemic by sharing our platform (coronatracker.com), checking us out on social media, and joining our Telegram chat community for more granular updates.

Covid-19 Research: Marriage of AI and Medical Prowess

At this point in time, a great percentage of people in the world today are locked in their homes and are stuck on a screen with an internet connection and a lot of time in their hands. It is easy to stir rumors and fear at a time like this; a doomsday prediction from an exponential chart of covid19 cases in one country can sound like a trustworthy prophecy of dystopia. Or is it?

The current situation is a cookbook for both doomsday thinking and valiant efforts to cut through the noise with the right amount of information,

There’s a growing debate of whether the data on coronavirus cases globally should be used to flex some data science muscles. There are groups that treat the data as a purely mathematical problem. They run the numbers of a growing trend that assimilates exponential behavior and leave it. But for epidemiologists and medical experts, these individual statistics are more than just data points: these involve complex systems of human beings across nations that are suffering from a global pandemic and has complexities that a strictly mathematical background cannot capture in its entirety. This is where the presence of domain expertise in the medical and health sciences comes in handy.

We here at Coronatracker ensures that our mix of data scientists who are running the numbers on our studies also involves some vetting from members of the medical community. We have doctors and members of medical research who make sure that what we post on our channels and on our pubished research has both data and medical integrity. It is also the primary reason why we managed to get an acknowledgment from the World Health Organization earlier in the phase of our volunteer platform development through our first research paper. To date, we are the only live coronavirus tracker that has this accreditation.

It is a good time to be discriminating with the information we digest and share with other people in our network. Here are some questions we need to ask these days before sharing anything online: Is it helpful? Is it true? Is it grounded on facts and vetted by experts in the field? Is it well-researched or founded on solid data sources? If the information comes from a government agency, did it really come from them or was their logo just used in that infographic to lend credence to the information? Anything that falls short should be taken with a grain of salt.

Keep yourself updated with data coming from official sources with our tracker at coronatracker.com and follow us on our social media pages including here at Medium. Our initiative is powered by a team of global volunteers who value data and medical integrity at this time of severe global medical challenges. If you also have more time in your hands while you conduct social distancing, considering joining our crew and let’s help make the world a better place one data point at a time.

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