Responding to

"No one is so brave that he is not disturbed
by something unexpected."

Julius Caesar
Humans like to plan. We're just wired that way. We plan our days. We plan vacations. We plan for retirement. So when our innate drive to plan for the future is thwarted, it can make us pretty uncomfortable.

Scientists tell us that no other creature (except for a few varieties of primates) engages in the "self-generated thinking" that planning for the future requires. The fact that we spend between 30 and 50 percent of our self-generated thought considering the distant future is one of the things that makes dealing with a pandemic so difficult - we can't see our path forward.

Arthur C. Brooks writes in The Atlantic that this thinking about the future, referred to as the "monkey mind," is what makes mediation so difficult for many people. The monkey mind doesn't want to sit still - it wants to swing off to the next tree, seeing what there is to see and moving on to the next great adventure. But right now the trees are empty. There's not much to see nor are there adventures to experience.

Since we spend so much time thinking about the future, we're happiest when we feel that the future is full of possibilities and that we have some control over turning those possibilities into realities. Feelings of pessimism and low personal control over our circumstances, which is how many of us feel these days, make things doubly difficult. Compounding the difficulty is that all our monkeys are in the same empty tree. Not only do many of us feel pessimistic right now, there’s an overwhelming collective sense of helplessness.

Brooks believes that we're not helpless. "While there’s little we can do to change the harsh realities of the pandemic, we can change the mindset we use to face them." He suggests doing two things.

The first is to "channel our inner lawyer." He explains that we can combat our tendency to expect the worst by employing a disputing technique - verbalizing our negative assumptions about the future and disputing them with realistic facts. So, while it may feel that the pandemic will never end, the reality is that all pandemics end. In addition, after the 1918-1919 pandemic ended, the world experienced a period of tremendous economic growth.

The second thing he suggests is to "turn constraints into decisions." We can do this by looking at our problems and, rather than accepting them as givens, consider how we can change them. Most of us are unable to pursue the activities we enjoyed before the pandemic, but it doesn't mean we can't pursue new activities. Brooks concludes, "As we confront pessimism in the context of COVID-19, we will start to see and manage it more generally in our lives. If we are lucky, this is the most pessimistic and powerless period we will ever face. But even if harder times await, what our monkey learns today will help him later."
Even though our monkeys' trees are empty, some planning will be necessary as the weather cools, as Apoorva Mandavilli explains in this article from The New York Times. The coronavirus will likely resurge as we retreat back into our homes, classrooms and offices because the virus poses a greater threat in crowded indoor spaces than it does outdoors. In poorly ventilated indoor settings, like most restaurants and bars, the virus can remain suspended in the air for long periods and travel distances well beyond six feet.

That's why ensuring adequate indoor ventilation is important. "But the conversation on risk reduction [goes] beyond ventilation,” offers Joseph Allen, an expert on building safety at Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “It’s a layered defense approach where no one strategy in and of itself is sufficient, but collectively they can reduce risk.” Things like opening windows, particularly while the days are still comfortable, doesn't require any special equipment. A non-oscillating fan placed in a window and facing away from people can increase the airflow in a room without blowing the virus into people's faces. For a single room or office, a portable air cleaner suited to the room’s size can also work as an easy and low-cost strategy and provide several air changes per hour.

While life at home doesn't require any extraordinary measures, unless we're living with an infected person, lots of products are showing up for home use that claim to remove the virus from surfaces and the air. "Most are overkill. Anything that sounds fancy and isn’t tried-and-true - those are all things to avoid,” suggests Delphine Farmer, an atmospheric chemist at Colorado State University in Fort Collins.

Some folks are turning to UV lights to kill the virus on surfaces and in the air. However, Saskia Popescu, a hospital epidemiologist at the University of Arizona in Tucson, warns that UV lights need to be carefully engineered by trained individuals in order to disinfect. She cautions that, installed incorrectly, they can cause skin burns and damage eyesight. "UV light generally does not penetrate deep into a surface and will not destroy virus that’s buried beneath other microscopic detritus."

Kitchen Angels has made all of the changes the experts recommend for an organization such as ours: restricting public access to the building, reducing the number of people in the building, increasing sanitation of all high-touch surfaces, and requiring the use of face masks and gloves while inside. We've limited person-to-person contact between delivery drivers and other volunteers as well as clients, and we've segregated Kitchenality from the program side of our operations. In addition, we're working with an engineer on changes and upgrades to our HVAC system to ensure the maximum amount of ventilation in the building. If and as additional changes or risk-mitigating efforts are recommended, we'll keep updating our practices to make sure everyone is kept as safe as possible.

To each of you and the entire Kitchen Angels family, thank you for all you do, every day, to keep yourself and others safe and healthy.

In gratitude,
Thank you for all your vigilance. We want you to stay safe,
healthy, and informed.