The P-Wave


If you’ve never seen videos of Japan’s earthquake warning system on their television stations, I highly recommend it. Although the warning comes just seconds before the worst tremors hit, those few seconds are often long enough for most people to get to a secure location, to say nothing of assist with the stopping of surgeries and the like. These systems work because earthquakes are preceded by an initial, smaller tremor — caused by what is called the P-Wave — that moves much more quickly than the main tremor, which is caused by the S-Wave. Near the epicentre of an earthquake, the time difference between the P-Wave and S-Wave is almost negligible, but by carefully monitoring P-Waves, and sending nationwide alerts out as soon as one is felt, Japan has been able to significantly reduce the fatalities caused by earthquakes. (No, we don’t have anything similar here in the United States, at least not on a national scale.)

When it comes to COVID-19, I can’t help but feel that we are still in the P-Wave stage of this disaster, and that few people understand what long-term impacts this will have on the entire planet. This isn’t the right time to talk about that, though. Right now, focus needs to be on minimizing the spread of the virus, and how this is affecting people, whether directly or indirectly (through things like the panic buying). As such, I just want to share my own story about how things are here in southwest Wisconsin at the present, and what the last week has been like. There will be time to blog about the other stuff later.

I went into last week having heard about a fair number of event cancellations in other localities across America, but nothing all that close to where I am. My mind was already going through possibilities of what might happen — the curse of a creative’s brain, always playing with the “what-ifs” as they present themselves — and I was remembering how I taught English classes online back when I was still living in Toledo, just in case I needed to do that. Although there still hasn’t been a confirmed case of COVID-19 in this corner of Wisconsin, the statewide case count continued to rise there, and my students and I started talking about what the best courses of action would be if there was a case confirmed in any of the counties our campus serves. That was difficult for me, since I have absolutely no frame of reference for what to do in the middle of a pandemic, but I did my best to be honest with my students, and to give them reliable information so they could come to their own decisions.

As school cancellations kept piling up, it felt like only a matter of time before our campus would shut down, and all the sporting events that got postponed or cancelled last week really brought the seriousness of this situation home to our students in a way that the other news stories hadn’t. Thursday afternoon, after I got back here from my office hours and I was streaming on my Twitch channel, our parent campus sent us word that we would hold a minimum of two weeks of classes online, starting on 03.29 and ending on 04.09. (We already had 04.10 and 04.13 off for April Break.) We were going to try to meet in-person this week, simply because this is midterm week, and next week is Spring Break; in keeping with what other University of Wisconsin campuses were doing, we wanted to get through midterms, then take things from there.

After the national state of emergency was declared on Friday, though, our parent campus quickly moved to cancel all of this week’s classes as well, giving students an extra week of Spring Break. These next few days are going to be a rush of teleconferences for us instructors to get ready for all the online teaching we’re about to do, and with news of COVID-19 continuing to get worse and worse, it wouldn’t surprise me if we end up teaching the rest of the semester online. (In the event that classes do end up meeting in-person, we’ve been instructed to disregard attendance requirements for the rest of the semester.)

I’d already moved one of last Friday’s classes online, and I’d planned on moving all of this week’s classes online as well, but now I’m wondering just how much longer I’ll be teaching online here. Given that my social media feeds are bursting right now with my friends RTing messages from their friends who have already lost their jobs, things like the store being out of eggs when I went there this weekend seem like absolutely nothing to complain about. I’m showing no signs of illness, I can shelter in place here in my apartment for weeks if I need to, and I know that my job is secure through at least the end of May. That’s worlds better than a whole lot of people can say right now, so I’m just trying to be grateful for the blessings I have here.

Maybe next week will be the right time for me to talk about things like the political impacts of this pandemic, and how it could reshape teaching in America. Maybe it won’t. All I can say right now is that I feel like we’re still a long ways away from the worst of this situation, and until I can get a better idea of what’s going on here, it’s probably better for me to just shut up and do what I need to do. The S-Wave is still coming, and I don’t think anyone really knows how big it’s going to be.

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