Covid-19: A View From Assisted Living

When it became obvious that the Covid-19 corona virus would become a national disaster I began this Post as a periodic email to my children and grandchildren. When informed by my elder daughter that nobody—especially grandchildren—reads emails anymore, this is what has emerged.

The most recent update is here at the top. (If you’d like to start at the beginning, click here for the March 17 update.)

I’d love to hear from you in the Comments (scroll to the bottom of the post).

Update 17: Tuesday, September 1, 2020
Hi All:

Youville has made no addition to its update of July 20.

I believe there are no current Covid-19 cases among inmates or staff.

Here are links to Covid-19 updates at neighboring assisted living facilities at North Hill and Brookhaven where I know some people.

Brookhaven has had no update since June 22nd.
North Hill, I may say, seems not to be doing as well as we here at Youville. Kudos! They are in control(?) but have had many infections and deaths. Note again that they are a much larger facility than we and may therefore be more representative of the U.S. in microcosm.

Our isolation moves us to reflect upon friendships and regrets of the past: Ozerki

I went down for lunch last week to the “socially distanced” dining room. It was so efficiently distanced that I might as well have dined alone.
With nearly one-hundred meals to be served—take-out style to your door—three times a day we wonder how the staff can keep up. We have our own little frustrations (the orders are never quite right), but this must be nothing compared to the difficulties of staff trying to do the best they can.

We have a true gem in Connie who drives the Youville truck and keeps us in cat food, kitty litter, and beer.

Zoom! Yay! Holley fixed the microphone problem!
No new pic of kitty. Hoping for a Recumbent and an Odalisque.

Paul Krugman has an encouraging view from New York: tells us today that Massachusetts is holding its place in the transmission coefficient (R0) game among the states. We (MA) are now still negative—meaning that, on average, each infected individual is passing his infection on to very few others. At least in Cambridge, mask use in the streets seems almost universal. Paul Krugman has a sanguine view of his surroundings in NYC.

Here again the current graph from Our World in Data. It shows that the number of new cases per day (43,700, still highest in the World!) is slightly improved from my last post but with no sign of levelling off:
OWD 9-1

It’s perfectly clear that the U.S., owing to its faux culture of exceptionalism and its fostering of a broad cult of willful ignorance, will not be out of this for years. Now Trump wants to sacrifice two million on the altar of his cult. Sorry.

And here, again, is a link from USAFacts to similar information for all fifty states.
Click around in this link to see how Massachusetts and the rest of the U.S. are doing.

Dad (aka Bill, and Châtelaine)

Update 16: Sunday, August 15, 2020
Hi All:

Youville has made no addition to its update of July 20.

I believe there are no current Covid-19 cases among inmates or staff.
I have not as yet taken part in the optional and partial opening of the dining facilities newly in effect.

Here are links to Covid-19 updates at neighboring assisted living facilities at North Hill and Brookhaven where I know some people.

North Hill is not doing as well as we are here at our Youville. What’s interesting is the presence of “scofflaws.” Of course they are a much larger facility than we and maybe more representative of the U.S. in microcosm.
The Brookhaven update is not current.

I’m happy to be back on the exercise machine!
I gasp for breath as I watch Stephanie Ruhle and Ali Velshi “bringing me news of fresh disaster.” [“But never you mind, my dear. Put on the kettle; we’ll have a nice cup o’ boilin’ ‘ot water.” Do any of you remember the “Beyond the Fringe” sketch of the sixties?]

And now the clothes washer on my floor has croaked.

Chatelaine Ascendant

Good news at the dentist! Where she had threatened a crown was merely a coronet—the tooth was saved to fulfill its manifest dentistry.  RIP Alfred E. Neuman.

Amazingly tells us again that Massachusetts has moved back to the head of the line in transmission coefficient (R0) among the states. We (MA) are now very negative again—meaning that, on average, each infected individual is passing his infection on to very few others. Again, I’m not sure why, but the Covid Gods seem to be with us.

Below is the current graph from Our World in Data. It now shows that the number of new cases per day (50,000, still highest in the World!) has remained fairly constant (a straight line), but with no sign of levelling off.
It got better through June and then worse again in July and is back now to where it was in mid July.

It’s perfectly clear that the U.S., owing to its faux culture of exceptionalism and its fostering of a broad cult of willful ignorance, will not be out of this for years. Sorry.

OWD 8-15

And here, again, is a link from USAFacts to similar information for all fifty states.
Click around in this link to see how Massachusetts and the rest of the U.S. are doing.

Hi Meg and Patrick. Looking forward to sitting at distance with you on the Youville patio on Monday.

Dad (aka Bill, and Châtelaine)

Update 15: Saturday, August 1, 2020
Hi All:

Here is a link to Youville’s July 20 update.
I have added a paragraph describing the rules for outside (patio) visiting. Its one Draconian measure is that only two guests are permitted at a time.

The fancy dinnerware upgrade has happened. In its first manifestation—today at lunch—I received two entrees: An egg salad sandwich on white and a hamburger. I don’t remember which I had ordered, but one had to go. It’s too bad that the orders are almost never quite “right”. It leads to shameful food waste.  But the staff works so hard to accommodate us that it seems petty to complain. It’s good though that we’ve now eliminated a fair amount of single use plastic and bags.

The optional and partial opening of the dining facilities is also newly in effect. People take turns so that social distancing can be observed.
I think I’ll stick with in-house meals for a while.

I believe there are no current covid-19 cases among inmates or staff. I have a good feeling that we’re safer here than in the big suburban prisons.

Here are links to covid-19 updates at neighboring suburban assisted living facilities at North Hill and Brookhaven where I know some people.
Current Massachusetts statistics.

And here is a link to her new piece, God’sWaitingRoom by Ruth Daniloff, a fellow Youville inmate.

The exercise machine is fixed! I was afraid I might be losing some muscle tone and deep breathing capability.

The tooth pulling was trivial and painless, but she’s discovered that I will probably lose one of my incisors. Bummer. Anticipate my new Alfred E. Neuman smile.
You’ll be glad to hear that I have a renewed appointment with the urologist.

Châtelaine is not very nice to me but I try to be nice to her. How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless kitty. tells us that Massachusetts has further fallen in transmission coefficient (R0) among the states. we (MA) are now very positive—meaning that, on average, an infected individual is passing his infection on to more than one other person, thus promoting growth rather than fostering gradual remission. I’m not sure why, but some are blaming unsafe July Fourth gatherings. It takes about three weeks to see the results of idiocy.

Here is the current graph from Our World in Data. It now shows that the number of new cases per day (52,000, highest in the World!) remains fairly constant (a straight line), with no sign of leveling off:
OWD 8-1

In my Update 8 of May 1 I mused about a national total infection count of four million by July. I am going to muse again—today it is 4.56 million—and say that by Election Day it will be near ten million—about three in every one-hundred Americans! This because it is by now obvious that the Trump administration has no plan to mitigate the disaster—and it never will.

Just tonight I’m hearing of a virus “catch” party of seven-hundred young MAGAt covidiots in New Jersey.

Here, again, is a link from USAFacts to similar information for all fifty states.
Click around in this link to see how Massachusetts and the rest of the U.S. are doing.

Hope we can resolve the camera/mic problem for some better Zooming,
Dad (aka Bill and Châtelaine)

Update 14: Wednesday, July 15, 2020
Hi All:

Here is a link to Youville’s July 10 update.
They plan an optional and partial opening of the dining facilities.
And to make an upgrade to the room service, i.e., thermal containers and nicer tableware to replace the plastic. For me this is not much of a change because I already transfer everything to my own washed tableware and microwave as necessary. This way I can eat at my leisure—not worrying the food will be cold.
The dining room schedule will be such that occupancy is limited to promote distancing.

I believe there are no covid-19 cases among Youville inmates or staff.

Here are links to covid-19 updates at neighboring assisted living facilities at North Hill and Brookhaven where I have friends.

Alas, my favorite exercise machine has failed, but I’m assured that new parts are on the way.

I went to my every six-month eye exam and am told that everything is OK.
But now I have to have a tooth pulled, and must suffer the ministrations of the podiatrist for my painful toenails.

A bright naked-eye comet, Neowise, is in the sky and just now (July 15) has become visible in the evening after sunset. The west facing windows on the 7th floor at Youville should be a good place to try to see it. In recent weeks it has been a before-sunrise object but now, having passed perihelion, it is in the evening sky. Seven-hundred years ago the appearance of comets portended disaster and plague—can that be still the case?

In my astronomy days I took a few comet pix myself.

Img_1761I’m waiting for an e-camera Match has sent me to make Zoom-ing less stressful. tells us that Massachusetts has lost its position as having the lowest transmission coefficient (R0) of all the states. I’m not sure why, but we (MA) are now positive—meaning that, on average, an infected individual is passing his infection on to more than one other person, thus promoting growth rather than fostering gradual remission.

Here is an interesting new metric I just stumbled upon at Twitter. Given any random crowd size from ten to ten-thousand—Georgia Tech predicts (by U.S. county) what the chances are that at least one infected person will be in that group.  Poke around in it—it’s frightening. In Arizona it’s 88% for a group of 25. In Massachusetts (Middlesex County) it’s 9%. Wear your masks when outside!

I continue to notice that in Cambridge just about everyone on the street is masked. And inside offices and stores it is universal.

From now on I plan to post twice monthly.

Again, my fears of June 10th continue to be realized. The early and ill-advised (mostly red state) maskless and crowded “openings” in the South and the West have proved disastrous—nationally overwhelming the modest gains made in the Northeast. This failing is owing (let’s admit it) to the Trump administration’s having instituted no national coronavirus policy. The daily increase in the number of confirmed cases in the U.S. [highest in the World!] has ballooned from about 45,000 cases per day (June 30th) to 66,000 cases per day (July 15th) with no end in sight.

Here is the current graph from Our World in Data. It now shows that the number of new cases per day has become constant (a straight line, no longer increasing):
OWD 7-15It’s that bending back upward that we knew was coming in Update 10 on May 21 when the southern governors first announced their “reopenings.”
This is a long, long way from leveling off to zero.

In my Update 8 of May 1, I mused about a national total infection count of four million by July. There were those then who thought this preposterous. Now July has come and it is 3.43 million—about one in every one-hundred Americans!
Update 7/23/20: So, I missed it by a week.

And here is a link from USAFacts to similar information for all fifty states.
Click around in this link to see how Massachusetts and the rest of the U.S. are doing.

I will say it again: The “first” wave is still building and is long from washing over us.
We will be submerged in this national administrative catastrophe for many, many months.

Dad (aka Bill and Châtelaine)

Update 13: Tuesday, June 30, 2020
Hi All:

Youville House has posted no update during this twenty day period.
I believe there are no covid-19 cases among inmates or staff.
This is owing to the dedication of our essential workers who, themselves, must find it much more daunting to follow the “rules” than for us for the most part safely hidden in our dens.

Here are links to covid-19 updates at neighboring assisted living facilities at North Hill and Brookhaven.

I did go through the car wash. 🙂

And I went elsewhere as well—to the Subaru shop in Belmont, to my old shop in Auburndale for a new inspection sticker, and to Needham for an annual hearing evaluation. I was hugely impressed by the coronavirus response at these places. Masks and distancing universally and cheerfully observed—no Karens in sight. Waiting rooms closed, hand sanitizer on the counters, seating only outside, door handles and steering wheels wiped. Too, masks on the street are almost universal. Cambridge has new lighted traffic signs saying “Face covering required in Cambridge;” in Needham—not so much.

It should be noted that today Massachusetts has almost the lowest transmission coefficient (R0) of all the states, and that its curve of confirmed infections is noticeably flattening. Massachusetts rocks!

My previous posts have been at ten day intervals, but I delayed this one another ten days so that the unfortunate national trend would stand out more starkly.

My fears of June 10th have been realized. The early and ill-advised (mostly red state) maskless and crowded “openings” in the South and the West have proved disastrous—nationally overwhelming the modest gains made in the Northeast. This failing is owing to the Administration’s having instituted no national coronavirus policy. The daily increase in the number of confirmed cases in the U.S. [highest in the world] has ballooned from about 22,000 cases per day (June 10th) to 45,000 today (June 30th) with no end in sight:

Here is the graph showing the upward curving national infection rate between June 10th and June 30th:
OWD 6-30

And here is a link to data for all fifty states.
Click around in this link to see how Massachusetts and its counties and the rest of the U.S. are doing.

The “first” wave is still building and is long from crashing over us.
We will be submerged in this disaster for many, many months.

Sorry—no cat pic.

Dad (aka Bill)

Update 12: Wednesday, June 10, 2020
Hi All:

Here is a link to Youville’s June 1 update.
It’s mostly new complicated and cumbersome visiting requirements—certainly justified in the current Covid-19 climate.

Links to Covid-19 updates at neighboring assisted living facilities at North Hill and Brookhaven.

Again, as for me, there is really nothing new.
As usual, surfing the Twitterverse (with @EricBoehlert and his trying to hold the feet of the Trump-enabling Press to the fire.

Now that it has arrived it is hard to take advantage of the nice weather—unless you’re resigned to enjoying it alone or, at most, with masked and muffled beings six feet away. My hearing being what it is I don’t much take to it. (I’m thinking of having another hearing exam and aids update.)

As entertainment I’m thinking of taking the car through the local car wash. Any takers?

I continue in my personal view of these current nation-wide “openings” in that they will prove to have been a mistake—if not a disaster—the results of which will be still hidden for another few weeks. The U.S. total infection rate arc continues upward, now just noticeably more steeply than ten days ago. The “first” wave is increasing in size and long from over.

Here is link to a broad assessment from The Atlantic.
And here (6/11) is a new confirmation of my fears.

Dad (aka Bill)

Update 11: Sunday, May 31, 2020
Hi All:

Here is a link to Youville’s May 29 update.
They are announcing that if we should leave Youville for “an extended stay” we will be subject to fourteen days of quarantine upon our return. I’m assuming that this definition does not include local medical appointments; but I think it needs some clarification.

Here are links to Covid-19 updates at neighboring assisted living facilities at North Hill and Brookhaven.

And here is a link to a timely piece, “The Virus,” by Ruth Daniloff, a fellow Youville inmate.

Again, as for me, there is really nothing new.
“Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, creeps on this petty pace from day to day.”

I do wonder about my own vulnerability to the virus, not so much as to who I’m with and where I am, but more as to what I am—a product of good fortune and chance. I suppose that reaching age 95 says something good about general health, but it definitely speaks ill of the statistical chances in regard to surviving the infection.

Does it mean anything that I haven’t had a chest or head cold in ten years? Have I had them all? So, that I’m now immune to all of them? Will the new virus respectfully take heed?

They say that a vitamin D deficiency plays a role. I was discovered to have such a deficiency 50 years ago and have been taking pills ever since.

They say that maintaining lung capacity is important; the reason that, every day, I exercise to breathlessness; hoping that in the ICU with “proning”—if it comes to that—I might make it. Sometimes I try to review in my imagination what days and nights of struggling would be like and how I might be able to respond.

I continue my personal view of these current nation-wide “openings” that they will prove to have been a mistake—if not a disaster—the results of which will be hidden for another few weeks. The U.S. total infection arc continues upward, only barely less steeply than ten days ago.

In the states—especially those in the south and central U.S.—many of the total case trajectories are yet becoming steeper: more and more cases per unit of time as time passes. Their peaks may be months in the future.

The national rate of increase has eased slightly from around 20,000 cases per day, but I expect that, owing to reckless national gatherings having become common again, it will strengthen substantially. It’s not that there will be a “second wave,” it’s that the first and only wave will be bigger.

By mid-June or July we will know whether the “reopening” will be sustainable.

I sure hope that something will allow us to be social beings again.

Dad (aka Bill)

Update 10: Thursday, May 21, 2020
Hi All:

Massachusetts cautiously “opens” but there is to be no significant change here at Youville.

Here is a link to Youville’s May 21 update.
Anything I could tell you about what’s new at Youville is included in this update.

And again links to Covid-19 updates at neighboring assisted living facilities at North Hill and Brookhaven.

As for me, there is really nothing new. After a few weeks, which will give us time to see what’s going to happen, I will again look into reinstating medical appointments.

We try to sit in the sun for a while but others are so far away that conversation is impractical, especially with hearing aids.

20052001_ChatelaineThe quality of the food has remained good all along, although sitting down to dinner—alone in ones apartment—is fraught with minor inconveniences like no syrup for the pancakes, no butter for the mashed potatoes, and the impertinent expectations of a kitty-cat.

My personal view of these current nation-wide “openings” is that they will prove to have been a mistake, the results of which will be hidden for another few weeks. Already today news out of Florida suggests that after having opened last week they may be forced to close again.

It no longer makes sense to characterize the change in the infection rate by its doubling time, which has lengthened to a month, because now—owing to sequestering—the case rate of increase appears to be more nearly linear than exponential.
OWD 5-21The national rate of increase is now around 20,000 cases per day, and will stay that way until it increases again as reckless “reopenings” become common.
I expect that by mid-June we will be able to see whether the reopening is sustainable.

Here are two interactive websites that show national and state-by-state data:
1. Our World In Data—The one I have been using for the past several updates.
2. USAFacts—A new one showing state-by-state data that I just found this morning (5/22). Louisiana is interesting because it hints at the up-tick I expect for the rest of the country.

Dad (aka Bill)

Update 9: Monday, May 11, 2020
Hi All:

The City of Cambridge has tested us, yet again–for the third time! Go Cambridge!
My result was negative. Also they tested us for coronas antibodies but we’ve not heard back on that.

Here is a link to Youville’s May 8 update.

And again links to Covid-19 updates at neighboring assisted living facilities North Hill and Brookhaven.

Well it’s really a super serving of the “Same old, same old.” What can I say?
Some people have been lifted from fourteen-day quarantines and others have returned from surviving the infection itself. There seems to be a bit more distancing sociability going on, but following speech filtered through masks is tough—you don’t realize how much of speech interpretation is visual, especially with hearing aids.

The weather continues cool and inhospitable and so no one is yet out on the patio.

Here is an example of the current tonsorial state:


The doubling time continues to increase having now reached thirty-one days.  At last post it seemed to me that the total infections might reach four-million by July. If the current count doubles two more times from now—each in thirty-days: to July 11th—it will indeed have exceeded four-million by then.
It is hard to know which course of action will win out. The country in general seems to favor social distancing, but Trump’s “open the economy now” scenario may gain enough strength to cancel the effects of general distancing. We will know the answer by the end of June; watch the doubling time.
OWD 5-11

Here is the logarithmic plot:
OWD 5-11L

Dad (aka Bill)

Update 8: Friday, May 1, 2020
Hi All:

Yet again the City of Cambridge has come through with continuing concern for its citizens. As of Wednesday (4/29) all Cantabrigians are required to be masked when on the street. What an opportunity for lovers of intrigue!

Here is a link to Youville’s April 27 update.

And again links to neighboring facilities North Hill and Brookhaven.

Au Cordon Bleu in my kitchenette

At mealtime a knock on the door precedes the appearance–in the kitchenette–of a plastic shopping bag:

Gloves on!

Soup: In paper container; pour into coffee cup; microwave (30sec on high); container back in bag.
Entree: In plastic doggie-box; transfer to dinner plate; nuke as required; container back in bag.
Coffee: In paper cup; transfer to coffee mug; paper cup to trash.
Shopping bag: Finis! Out the door.

Gloves off!

Banana: Wash with soap.
Milk carton: Wash with soap.

Bon appétit! (keeping Châtelaine at bay the while!)

Sewed two more masks to pass some time. Always hoping not to break the thread. Threading the needle is an exercise–almost–of geezer impossibility. And invokes speaking sternly to the machine.

The family has made two forays into Zoom world with mixed results, owing to having to patch video and audio in from my cell phone–my PC/monitor (for the purposes of viewing the Gallery) having no camera or microphone. Lots of talk-over and frantic waving.

I spend time on Twitter watching the cats and baby elephants go by; marveling at the examples of Why Women Live Longer Than Men–it’s akin to the Darwin Award; and pleading with the @NYTimes to give up its sloppy, Trumpy ways. If you’re on Twitter you should be following @EricBoehlert’s new presence at, as he holds the feet of the wayward Press to the fire.

For history buffs here is an excellent timeline of the pandemic of 1918-1919–the similarities are sobering.

What’s worrisome now is the occurrence then of three infection peaks of which the second was the worst. The end of World War I enabled a resurgence of influenza as people celebrated Armistice Day on November 11 and soldiers begin to demobilize.

In 1918-19 my father was stationed in France with the AEF. But on November 14, 1918 his father (my grandfather)—botanist and mycologist George Francis Atkinson—died of that second peak of flu while on a mushroom specimen gathering expedition near Mt. Rainier. (It is my impression that my father was given leave to attend the funeral in Raisinville, Michigan—which would have meant at least a month’s absence from his unit in France.)

Also near the second peak in New York City, on November 16, 1918 my mother boarded a steamer for France to spend a year working with the YMCA running a soldier’s canteen, and then with the Red Cross in reconstruction in the war-torn Champagne region.

Fortunately both Elsie Church and Kerr Atkinson spent the winter of 1919 in different rural regions of France where the virus never penetrated.

What to say about the current Covid-19 crisis? The national doubling time is now about 25 days and increasing 😃. But out in Trumpworld the dynamics may turn out be dramatically different. On that path, I’m reluctant to think, the doubling time could decrease again; the national case total then approaching four million by July. We’ll see.

“Be well, do good work, and stay in touch.”–Keillor
Dad (aka Bill)

Update 7: Tuesday, April 21, 2020
Hi All:

The City of Cambridge has tested all of us a second time, this time including an antibody test. I have tested negative.

Today Youville House has issued its latest official update of April 21.

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow had a segment on the independence–from Trump–of some savvy smaller U.S. cities. I’m trying to encourage her to do one on our own super Cambridge.

Youville has built a transparent barrier around the welcome desk to protect the receptionist.

Our isolation from one another is virtually complete. We are encouraged not to visit.
The meals staff has changed from rigid trays to plastic bags; perhaps considered safer because disposable.

If I may dabble in simile I can say that the efforts of our staff are Herculean. Day in, day out–while the rest of us loaf (ha, ha) in our rooms.

April has been unusually cold and wet (snow recently) so we’re looking forward to the first seventy degree day for sitting outside.

I’m reading that practicing strong breathing, through breathing exercise, may have a positive influence on covid-19 outcomes. April is my third anniversary here at Youville and I am blessed to have an apartment on the same floor as the exercise machines, one of which is easy to use for arms and legs. The Internet lately (for a couple of years maybe) has promoted the idea that short, intensive workouts may, in the long run, be more generally beneficial than longer, less strenuous ones. And, since I dislike exercising as much as the next guy, this seemed worth trying. I set the machines’s stiffness to the maximum (15), maintaining a pace of more than seventy strokes-per-minute for seven minutes*–I do the last ten seconds at 80spm. This is enough completely to exhaust me, breathing so hard I can’t talk, but I feel that it has had a salutary effect on my lung capacity. I’ve been doing this every day now for three years.
*Once around the machine’s “quarter-mile” track.

But not everyone here is as fortunate as I am. Those already with heart conditions and compromised lungs can’t take advantage of this idea.

I have friends in retirement communities in Needham, at North Hill and in Lexington, at Brookhaven, each of who are reporting covid-19 cases.

OWD 4-21
The doubling time has increased significantly from six to eleven days, but bear in mind that the testing under Trump as been an abysmal failure and that the unknown number of actual cases is many times the published figure. And that, owing to the recalcitrance of some GOP state governors, the doubling time may shorten again as their new cases flood the record.

And so–hang in there.
Dad (aka Bill)

Update 6: Saturday, April 11, 2020
Hi All:
Big news! The City of Cambridge has arranged for every inmate of a nursing home or a retirement community to be tested for covid-19. In fact, two burly fellows in full PPE have just left me after having stuck a long thin swab up my nose.
There is no information yet as to the availability of the results.
Note (4/11): I have since found out that there were not enough test kits to include the Youville staff; and that these additional tests are expected to be available on Monday.

Now everyone here is masked. It began with staff and, just a day or so ago, expanded to everybody.

My mask effort

Earlier I had made a mask on a corrugated pattern but it was awkward to make on my sewing machine and was made of some old napkins I had which are too “see light thru” to be of much use.I found a simple mask pattern on-line which used two layers: tight weave cotton bandana outside and cut up fleecy long johns inside. No light see-through the two layers. They look good but are only OK as the fit is not the best and I couldn’t find anything good for the ear loops.

Well, it killed a couple of days anyway.

All Youville all social programs have been cancelled. Staff roams the halls wiping door handles, delivering meals, and checking in on us. They work hard and I hope they will be safe.

My friends at North Hill, a retirement community in Needham, MA, tell me of similar restrictions.

Occasionally the Internet has slowed into uselessness. This was true on Sunday.  At first I accused my browser but it was confirmed by my granddaughter in SF. Everybody is WFH, watching YouTube, Zooming, and taking university classes on-line.
It’s been much better since Monday.

I don’t walk well enough to take advantage of the coming nice weather outdoors.

On a political note everyone seems to be blaming Trump for this. This is all very well as a proximate stance, but misses the main point: The true failure is that of our Senate who have the power, if not the will, overnight to alter our calamitous course.

It is time to see what my eight doublings (since March 20) have wrought.

OWD 4-11
Instead of  64 million we have only 0.5 million.
This is because the case doubling time has increased significantly–a very good thing–and indicative of the efficacy of  social distancing which in no way should be relaxed or ended for many, many weeks.

Dad (aka Bill)

Update 5: Wednesday, April 1, 2020
Hi All:
The only significant change here at Youville is that our kitchen staff is now fully masked and gloved when in the common spaces distributing and retrieving trays.
The onus on gathering menu preferences has been transferred from staff to us; a huge relief for them I am sure.People seem pretty upbeat and are putting a brave face on things, although I see so few to talk to day-to-day that this may be a misconception.
While keeping our distance we are free to move about in the building and to step outside for “air” or to walk.However dire the prospect overall there are this week some inchoate signs of change.OWD 4-1
My guess for April 1, Wednesday (250,000 U.S. cases) was too high; we’ll have to wait all the way to Saturday for that.

Obligatory cat pic: Châtelaine

Since March 21 the case doubling time has increased (a good thing) from two days to almost five but there is nothing strong to indicate that this trend will continue.

Since, in fact, the total number of cases in the U.S. is much, much larger than this, and is essentially unknowable owing to the national failure in testing ability, we may actually know almost nothing about the future actual doubling times.

Dad (aka Bill)

Update 4: Wednesday, March 25, 2020
Hi All:

As you see I have transferred this post from email to my website.

Youville has closed its hair salon, a good move, so that all the men now can look like Einstein, and the women like Raquel Welch.

The food stays really good; last night: kudos to the Chef for his medallions of pork.
New plastic dinner trays have replaced the papier mâché. I think this is a good plan; much easier to wash, wipe, and to keep clean.

And they’ve just marked the floor at Reception so that we can’t lean in too closely to the person at the desk.
Meds are still available from Skendarian, the local connection, and we have hard working Connie who is our driver and does our shopping–stuff we need as for pets and the outer man.

We see almost nothing of one another these days, except maybe in the exercise room where some gravitate to the machines–which are now provided with alcohol wipes.

I’m fortunate in having access to the world through my computer; I can’t imagine such solitary confinement without it. Many here were born too soon to become part of the computer age and must be content without it.

We seem largely to be hopeful here inside although outside things are not looking much better:

My 64,000* U.S. infections guess of the last post for the 25th was not met so that there is, as yet, faint hope that the country’s case load has begun to slow, in spite of the fact that the nation has not yet done as much as it should to slow the rise. It is painful to accept that there are, in fact, hugely more U.S. infections than today’s published number indicates owing to the lack of testing and the irresponsibly slow response of our Government.

*By the evening of the 25th the number was 64,000.

QWD 3-25

You can see that the doubling time has slowed from two to three days and, if this trend continues, that in six days there will be two more doublings to 110,000 cases. We can hope by then that the doubling time has lengthened still further, a good thing.

For the more scientific of you here is the semi-log(arithm) plot in which equal doubling intevals plot as a straight line, the slope (steepness) of which indicates the doubling time. My own feeling is that this conveys less well to the layman the truly alarming nature of the growth rate.
QWD 3-25 Log

“Be well, do good work, and stay in touch”

Dad (aka Bill)

Update 3: Friday, March 20, 2020

Hi All:
Things are stabilizing here at my assisted living facility in Cambridge, Mass. People are getting used to the draconian lockdown derangements. We are already pretty much restricted to our digs. Outside visitor ban; even the U.S. mailman is denied entry. All staff and aides are queried and have their temperature taken at the door. Compulsive hand washing [wringing?] abounds.

Social programs have been cancelled and the dining facilities closed. A system of delivering meals to the apartments—initially a bit chaotic— is smoothing out.

Very few of us now are out and about in the public spaces. We miss talking to people. Only one person at a time is permitted in the elevators. Basically I’m just plunked here at my computer.
The staff is knocking itself out to help us and to ease the following of the rules. For them this is a dedicated and dangerous business because they themselves have no way properly to do in-house self-isolation.
Theoretically we seem pretty safe here, but it’s early days and the prognosis for us and the U.S. is not good.
I think many have not really grasped the vastness of this crisis. Few seem to understand the exponential growth function. Especially not the psychopath Trump, his feckless enablers in the GOP, or the Nation at large.
The latest yesterday from Rachel Maddow at MSNBC:
Covid-19 Update 3
With a bit of extrapolation: Today 14,000 cases. The case doubling time seems now to be about 2.2 days. Probably owing to the hordes of the unidentified infected among us.

This is much faster than estimated as recently as a week ago. Originally 9 days.

By April 1 (10 days) four doublings, 250,000 cases.
By April 11, four more doublings: 4 million cases (1% of US population).
By April 21: four more doublings: 64 million (18% of US population). If at 3%, 200,000 dead. Four times the US 50,000 of the 1918 pandemic [in which my grandfather George Francis Atkinson–a prominent mycologist and botanist–died at age 64].
You don’t want even to think about May.
We are still essentially without testing and will be for many weeks; flying blind. Hard to imagine a more colossal (Presidential cum GOP) failure, but there it is.
Let’s see what the case number is on March 25th, five days from now.
Two doublings, to 64,000, would confirm this particular prediction. We may then be able to see whether our one week old (and only partial) national isolation mandate is having an effect.
At least I don’t have to worry about my taxes.
I can’t tell you how weird and unsettling this all seems.
Call me alarmist. I don’t mind.
Dad (Bill)


Update 2: Thursday, March 19, 2020

Hi All:
OK. yesterday, the house instituted a new rule: Only one in an elevator at one time. I thought it would be chaos, but no, our lockdown has sufficiently reduced local circulation so it’s not a problem. The Feds have banned postal personnel from entering the building so staff is now laboriously sorting mail into our cubbies.
Chatelaine: mistress of the castle (foreground) Irving Porter Church: my grandfather (background)

Cat company is good, but with its hazards. Food delivery to the apt. has proved a boon to Châtelaine and a problem for me. She is aggressively into everything that arrives through the door; I have to fight her off.

On leaving a recent long-scheduled Doctor appointment at Tufts Boston, the receptionist said that I needed another appointment.
  “In six weeks.
      “In six weeks? Are you kidding?
  “No. A bone scan in six weeks.
The woman at the next station caught my eye; she was appalled. She knew.
  “Don’t you realize,” I said, “that in six weeks the US medical system will be on the verge of collapse?”
Blank stare.
I wished them both well and shuffled on home.
Covid-19 Update 2
I can spend the next few days doing taxes. At least something to do.
Love to all,


Update 1: Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Hi All:

I’m surprised and impressed with my assisted living facility. Now for the past week no visitors to residents from outside; staff and outside support personnel temperatures taken on arrival.

Today they eliminated all group activity and closed the common dining facility. All meals to be ordered in writing and delivered to individual apts. Worrisome only if paper plates, utensils, cups are not handled carefully. They’re starting out with the usual hot meals.

But I imagine it will morph gradually into cold and packaged food only (cereal, canned stuff, milk, juice, etc.). We all have small fridges and microwave ovens.  It seems a bit ad hoc and chaotic today but I think they’ll get the hang of it soon.

It will be interesting to see how the “one person in the elevator at a time” rule works out. I’m still able to negotiate my two flights of stairs–but slowly.

I have a new and friendly shelter kitty cat (Châtelaine by name–the mistress of the castle).

We’re all looking forward to its being warm enough to use the patio.

Alas, it will be unseasonably soon; a harbinger of our other existential crisis.

As Garrison Keillor was wont to say: “Be well. Do good work. And stay in touch.”


Dad (GPBill, Bill)


Francis Kerr Atkinson (1890-1976)

Francis Kerr Atkinson 1890-1976: Some Biographical Notes

These notes have not been researched in any substantive way, being largely what I remember from reminiscences told to me during my childhood and from direct experience later.

1890_GfaEkaALMy grandfather George Francis Atkinson, after having graduated from Cornell University in 1885, held teaching positions in zoology at the University of North Carolina, later of botany at the University of South Carolina, and then at the Alabama Polytechnic Institute in Auburn. He had moved there with his wife Elizabeth Graham Kerr—formerly of Raleigh, NC where her by then deceased father, Washington Carruthers Kerr, had been the State Geologist. A daughter, Josephine, was born but died in infancy.

My father—Francis Kerr Atkinson—was born in Auburn, Alabama on the first of May, 1890.

In 1892 his father accepted an appointment at Cornell University as an assistant professor of botany and the family moved to Ithaca, New York where his sister Clara Packard Atkinson was born that year.

The family settled on the campus in a house at 5 East Avenue whose wooded backyard sloped steeply down to Cascadilla Creek. From visits in the late twenties I can remember the house which was eventually swallowed by the burgeoning engineering campus after WWII.

At the end of the nineteenth century the mix of public service technology then in Ithaca was interesting. There was no domestically distributed electricity, yet the telephone had arrived and a fully functioning electric street car utility served the town and the campus above. The automobile was a curiosity; all local transportation was by horse and carriage. Houses were piped with gas for lighting and cooking but central heating, such as it was, was hot-air and coal-fired. My father recalled arriving home to a dark house in winter whereupon his father would don slippers, turn on the gas and, after some diligent shuffling of feet on the carpet, touch his finger to the gas jet; lighted by the resulting electrostatic spark. A gas-fired “Geyser” in the bathroom heated water on demand but not without its dangers. One winter night while he basked in the bath his mother sensed that too long a time had passed and went to investigate. After having broken open the door she found him unconscious in the tub, victim of the Geyser’s stealthy coal-fired appropriation of the oxygen in the closed space.

Naphtha Launch
Naphtha launch

At the age of five (1895) Kerr was witness to the tragic drowning of his maternal uncle, William Hall Kerr, a successful textile entrepreneur on whose naphtha launch Watauga the families were enjoying an excursion in Annapolis Harbor. Six year old Philip, one of the four small Kerr boys—my father’s first cousins—slipped overboard, and his father, who evidently could not swim, jumped after him. Others managed to rescue the boy, but the father drowned [1]. Kerr’s mother and his young sister Clara were also on board.

My father disliked the name Francis and took his middle name as his first: Kerr [pronounced “car”]. In his early years he attended “Miss Hitchcock’s” school on the Cornell campus along with other children of faculty families, most notably my mother who was almost the same age—Elsie Sterling Church, daughter of Professor Irving Porter Church of civil engineering. It was there—after a discussion of the children’s ages—that one child blurted out to the young Miss Hitchcock: “Gee, you must be a hundred”!—one of my father’s favorite anecdotes. Kerr and Elsie both later attended Ithaca High School from which my father graduated in 1907 and my mother in 1908. He and Elsie played the violin in the high school orchestra [2]; my father kept on with it for the rest of his life—all through my childhood he practiced in the dining room on Sunday afternoons—themes and melodies that have lasted in my memory to the present day.

1908ca_FkaRTTaviDuring his secondary school years he kept a small but elegant inboard motor launch on Cayuga Lake—the onomatopoetic “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” after the sound of the engine. I have a series of photo’s of my youthful father off on a picnic in the boat with his family and their black cocker spaniel, Booker T. Washington; which probably says something about the times and my father’s Southern parental origins. He was always polite, fair, and deferential to black people although never, I think, able completely to accept them as a natural part of his cultural and professional world.

With the exception of an occasional vignette he never spoke in detail of his years as a boy and young man at home in Ithaca. He rarely mentioned his family or his sister Clara; an omission I never questioned until years later. Only near the end of his life did I learn from him that his parents had separated and divorced over his father’s alcoholism (probably around 1910) and, further, that his sister Clara had died, a suicide in 1917 in New York City [2]. He revealed these secrets to me with great emotion and I realized that they were born in a different cultural era where divorce and suicide were universally considered to be dark and shameful family failings.

BookPlateClara was a talented artist all of whose work has been lost except for a clever bookplate designed for her brother when he was at Cornell.

After the separation his father acquired a small rustic house in the woods and fields north of the campus at 138 Ridgewood Road that he called “Laurelwood”, where he lived and worked until his death in 1918. His mother moved to Manhattan with his sister Clara and, sometime after 1925, removed to Asheville, North Carolina where she died in 1952.

Kerr entered Cornell in 1907 and in 1912 graduated with a double degree in mechanical and electrical engineering. The engineering honor society Tau Beta Pi inducted him as a member. His classes in mechanics were taught by 1912_2 FkaFlyerProfessor Church, his future father-in-law. This period was barely five years after the Wright Brother’s success in 1903 and my father—an early member of the Cornell Aero Club—was active in the designing and building of tethered gliders and towed machines which were tested and “flown” on the open heights to the east of the campus. Cornell (perhaps my father) built one of the earliest wind-powered flight trainers.

Finished with university he immediately got a job in Schenectady with General Electric where, I think, he had had previous summer stints. He was there for more than a year and remembered having met and had exchanges with the eminent Nikola Tesla and Charles Steinmetz.

Eventually a Cornell friend, who was teaching in Missouri at the University in Columbia, invited my father to join him there. He accepted and spent three years as an instructor in electrical engineering during which time he broke his leg playing soccer and broke up with a serious lady friend. Asked why he didn’t stay in teaching he would say: “I could see an inescapable groove”—he meant a “rut”; he would indicate it with an undulating motion of his hand—“forming ahead of me.” He feared that teaching would be too narrowly restrictive and not sufficiently representative of the larger world where the important action lay.

1916_LVCoalCoIn June of 1916 Kerr began work in Wilkes-Barre Pennsylvania for the Lehigh Valley Coal Company where he began as assistant to the company electrical engineer. He told a story of a problem with a new electric traction locomotive which, when set up and ready to go, would not start on the advance of the conductor’s controller. He lay down next to the track close under the engine and asked the conductor to try it again, this time hearing a faint “click” on first contact. After some reflection he directed that the polarity of the connections on one of the two traction motors be reversed; and, lo, the locomotive started. He reminisced that, while lying close to the track in possible danger, it was fortunate that the two electrically mis-opposed motors had exactly balanced starting torques.

1918_FKAOne year later World War I overtook him and he enlisted in the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) as an engineer in the officer candidate program. He finished training at Fort Dix in 1917 as First Lieutenant and sailed to France in 1918 as commander of the 78th Division, 303rd Engineer Train “comprising 125 men, 100 mules, 25 wagons and 12 motor trucks.” They were part of the 78th “Lightning” Division. After slogging eastward across France supplying timber and hardware to the builders of bridges across the river Aire under fire and cover of night near Grand Pré they saw several weeks of active service before the November armistice.

Paris- 1918 (Kerr on right)

After the Armistice Kerr’s unit was sent to wait out the return home in Venarey-les-Laumes where he was billeted with a French family, Chapeau, for the winter and spring of 1919. During this period he became attached to the young son Fernand Chapeau, then about ten, and, over many years, sent gifts at Christmastime and small sums to help with his education [3].

After the War he put together a small booklet “Mules and Motor Trucks in France”; a reminiscence and detailed history of the 303rd.

Mules and Motor Trucks in France (1919)

It was while he was in France that his father died of the “Spanish” influenza [4] in Tacoma, Washington in November of 1918, interrupting a mushroom specimen gathering expedition in the vicinity of Mount Rainier. It is my impression that Kerr was given leave to attend the funeral in Raisinville, Michigan—which would have meant at least a month’s absence from his unit in France.

After the war Kerr returned to the Lehigh Valley Coal Co. where he remained until connecting with an old friend and fellow engineer, Roderick Donaldson, who had established a small consulting business in Manhattan and who sought a partner. In 1920 Kerr accepted a partnership and moved to New York City where he lived for several years at 502 West 113th Street.

As I have heard it, late in 1920 Kerr bumped into Elsie Church in the New York City subway. I suppose each must have known of the other’s presence in the city but hadn’t yet formally arranged to get together. Elsie had just taken a job at the Guaranty Trust after a summer of odd jobs at home in Ithaca. Following a springtime courtship they became engaged and were married in Cornell’s Sage Chapel on August 18, 1921. 1921_EscFkaWed
They honeymooned in France where they revisited Kerr’s Fernand Chapeau “family” in Venarey-les-Laumes; the son, Paul Debrion [5] of his mother’s godson in Clermont-Ferrand; Elsie’s Leandre Legal “family” in Hautvillers; and Elsie’s wartime AEF “canteen” village of Bay-sur-Aube.

Back in Manhattan Kerr and Elsie first lived in a small apartment on Tiemann Place on the Upper West Side, but by the spring of 1923 they were expecting a baby and had found a larger apartment on 113th Street in the same building where Kerr had lived with his mother before their marriage. Sadly, in July the child—a daughter—was stillborn.

Then, on January 13, 1925 I was born, as my mother liked to say, in “Hell’s Kitchen” where the hospital was located on the East Side in the forties.

Later that year Donaldson gave up his part in the consulting partnership and Kerr, who may have already entertained the idea of continuing on his own, gave that up after having received word from his first cousin Philip Kerr in Boston that his employer, the engineering consulting firm of Jackson & Moreland, was hiring. It was Phil who had been saved from drowning in 1905.

And so in October our family arrived in Boston, and by way of a night in the Beaconsfield Hotel—where, I am told, I spent the night in a bureau drawer—we settled into a second floor apartment in Brookline at 27 Claflin Road on Aspinwall Hill. Kerr began what was to become a successful twenty-five year career at Jackson & Moreland where he soon became a project manager directing the design and construction of electrical power generating plants, oil refineries, and industrial facilities.

On March 1st 1926 my sister Elizabeth Holley Atkinson was born in N.E. Baptist Hospital.

To be continued?

[1] The press of the Wm. J. C. Dulany Co. of Baltimore published a small monograph entitled “William Hall Kerr” containing notes on the funeral services, a biographical sketch , and details of this accident.
[2] Clara Packard Atkinson (1892-1917) died in New York City, a suicide.
[3] After a search I was able to find his son Pierre, a mason, in Venary where I visited on two occasions.
[4] The “Spanish flu” pandemic killed 20 million people worldwide and 550,000 in the United States.
[5] Paul’s father, Henri Debrion, was (un filleul de guerre) of Kerr’s mother—as un poilu killed in a tragic military rail accident in 1917.
Also:  A recent search for the traces of Paul Debrion by Les Poilus de Madrid.

William C. Atkinson, November, 2017