They’re trying to snatch all of my joy away!

We’ve been sent a letter from our university president. As of Wednesday, 18 March, everything is shutdown. How’s this for a thorough expulsion?

As I communicated this weekend, I expect all employees to work from home by no later than Wednesday, March 18. This is not optional for faculty and staff at all levels of the organization systemwide, and I expect supervisors to honor this decision.

Not optional. This isn’t a choice for a lot of faculty who maintain live animal labs. Or the greenhouse. Or anything that requires regular maintenance.

A little further, it links to more details for us slaves to other organisms.

Each lab should develop a list of essential operations to continue ongoing experiments and research that would suffer a major impact if temporarily discontinued, such as loss of years of effort, data, or loss of a major investment. Work that maintains essential equipment and safe standby mode in labs or maintains essential samples and animal populations also meets the criteria for essential operations.

Other laboratory research is to be discontinued. The only expansion of research that is allowable during this time is research related to the COVID-19 virus.

Examples of essential operations for projects unrelated to COVID-19 include (but are not limited to): 1) maintaining liquid nitrogen levels in storage tanks, 2) maintaining ongoing animal experiments where stopping the experiment would compromise the project, 3) feeding and caring for animals, 4) maintaining critical cell cultures, and 5) processing specimens for those clinical trials that will remain open during this period.

So I’m supposed to continue all research? If I go in to throw flies at spiders, I can’t even spend an hour or two on the microscope? I really work solo most of the school year, and have a few students — if I’m lucky — in the summer.

So right now I have no family, no students, I have to do all my teaching through a computer screen, and everything is frozen outside so I can’t go spider hunting, and now they tell me I can’t even work alone in my lab? I’m just to be trapped inside my big empty house with an evil cat all day, every day? I might snap. Mary will eventually come home to a gibbering madman. Well, more gibbering and more mad than usual.

Hmm. I could bring the spider cages home, and an incubator, and at least my dissecting scope. Then Mary could come home to less gibbering, but a house full of spiders and lab gear instead.

Sacrifices. We all must make sacrifices.

Aww, heck. If Idris Elba has been diagnosed and is staying home, I have to buck up and hang on here, too.

I haven’t been tested, and can’t be — we still have too few testing kits.

On the other hand, does Idris Elba have a colony of spiders he has to take care of? I think not.


  1. says

    And then I get a phone call from our division chair — there are a few of us, including me, who will be authorized to go in to take care of animals. Whew, that’s a relief.

  2. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Also very pragmatic. I could stop the isolation of a compound, and stuff it into the freezer under N2 for a while before analysis, and wouldn’t much effect my research, which could pick up immediately after the hiatus. Your spiders, and other animals used by biologists, would need weeks/months to repopulate after a big die-off. Meanwhile, you really aren’t much of a problem for the pandemic in the building alone feeding flies to your spiders.

  3. blf says

    Why wasn’t Idris Elba visiting our house when he got quarantined?

    This might be charging at windmills, but I’d like to point out there is difference between “quarantine” and “isolation”. Mr Elba says he is in “isolation”, which is very probably correct — and that is not (in the strict sense) quarantine.

  4. says

    It’s interesting dilemma.
    We have a little more lax restrictions here (there is no list of who is allowed to enter, just the requirement to limit visits to hte university to the neccessary minimum)
    I can go to my lab crossing just 2 sets of doors and spend whole day in a room where only I work, so in theory I am not spreading anything while in there.
    But there is nothing essential that I really have to do, so there is no point taking any risk or giving bad example.

    In your situation, when you already have to be in the room, spending a little more time there, if no one ever uses the room anyway, should not increase the risk for anyone. On the other hand, social distancing is also about social reinforcement, everyone is doing it, without a need to explain “but for me it’s different”.

  5. brucej says

    “3) feeding and caring for animals, ”

    So long as the bait shop stays open :-)

  6. Anja says

    I absolutely vote “bring the spiders home”. What’s the point of doing invertebrate research if you can’t do shit like that??

  7. says

    I’m really worried about my friends in the service industry. We just shut down all dine-in service in the entire state of Oregon. A lot of my friends work in that industry and don’t have a lot in savings. I work in a production brewery so I’m OK for now. Plus I have savings, but most of my friends do not.

  8. lakitha tolbert says

    I’m not sure what it means, that after I read that first paragraph, my first thought was: “Omg! What about your spiders?!!!”
    And I, a confirmed arachnophobe!

  9. wzrd1 says

    @8, as if this is news to anyone born and raised in the US or at least has lived here for more than a day?

    @10, a spot our youngest child shares, due to the occupation being chef and the facility is indefinitely closed. Annoyingly, I was supposed to start work on a DoD installation on Monday, but that got canned for biosecurity reasons (along with all other onboarding). For us, that’ll be one last week and we’ll be homeless.
    Oh well, a friend, knowing that our finances are now utterly depleted, did manage to drop off some food and restock our depleted ibuprofen. No luck for my antihyperthyroid or hypertension medications, as that requires a doctor visit, lab tests and hence, medical coverage.
    Only civilized country give those to all.

    @PZ, reading the notice I noticed the caveat on care for animals and well, spiders are animals and also an investment of time and resources, so would be exempted to the abandon everything that won’t level the building directive.
    I’d leave most of the colony in the lab, only bring home specimens for examination, hence bring the equipment home (me being me, it’d be what I need and the most expensive equipment I occasionally use, just to be a dick about it (think they’ll notice the electron microscopes being removed?)).
    I was a tad surprised, I’d forgotten that the university maintains BSL-3 lab facilities. I wonder if that study is also to be conducted at home? ;)
    Yeah, I know that answer is no. Still, wouldn’t take much to actually make that possible, given robotics and all.

  10. says

    Why wasn’t Idris Elba visiting our house when he got quarantined?

    Because he actually should have been over here…
    Yeah, we’re seeing the news change by the minute. Yesterday morning I was told that our team meeting at the special needs centre was moved to another day, last night the news was that it’s cancelled.
    Non essential shops will close down from Wednesday on (except hair dressers, I’m still puzzled and amused by that) and seriously I think it’s necessary because people are just idiot and all the Karens and Beckys and Jimmys and Marks thought that now they finally had the time to go to the mall (or send the kids there now that schools are closed) and get some ice cream.

  11. ajbjasus says

    But you’re getting paid.

    My microbrewery has suspended all production. No customers no money
    No wages.

    People are trying to help – my landlord who is just a private individual who bought the site with his pension savings is giving a rent holiday, so shebhas no income now, customers are buying some of our bottle stock, and suppliers are extending credit.

    Still don’t know if we’ll make it though.

  12. blf says

    Non essential shops will close down … except hair dressers, I’m still puzzled and amused by that

    At least in Spain, there actually is a reason behind that. Sadly, I cannot recall it, and my Generalissimo Google-fu isn’t fu-ing at the moment. I sort-of kind-of vaguely, very vaguely, recall it’s because, for many elderly ladies, it’s largely their only point of social contact, and they usually trust their hairdresser, so it’s a way of keeping them informed and not-so-isolated. (I’m probably badly garbling, sorry!)

  13. asclepias says

    Ray Ceeya@10–yeah. Right now I work part-time at the local Panera, and I’m waiting to see what happens. McDonald’s closed down in-person visits as of yesterday, so with any luck Panera is not far behind. However, I live with an immunocompromised person, and she is scared to death to get this stuff because she doesn’t want to end up in the hospital again (a full month two years ago, and 5 months the year before that. She still has flashbacks). I mostly clean tables in the dining area. They can fire me–this job is very helpful, but as a family we’ll pull together. My other sister has already said she’ll help out monetarily if I need it. Some things are more important. (Yeah, got an advanced degree in biology, but trying to get a full-time job of any sort in this town, let alone the state, has been–trying.)

  14. alwayscurious says

    Hey, it could be worse. After my university spent the last several years trying to convince everyone to move from power hungry electrical -80C freezers into liquid nitrogen freezers, yesterday announced plans for a “Level 4” response plan. Level 4 may be implemented in the near future and includes such tidbits as:

    • Liquid N2 maintenance ONLY by Research Stores—cannot be guaranteed, however

    Yeeeeah….after feeling like a troll for absolutely refusing to even consider liquid nitrogen as an alternative to our lab’s -80C freezers, I’m suddenly feeling very justified. The electricity is FAR less likely to go out for weeks at a time. I fully expect that this section of the plan will be modified/exempted, but it sounds pretty grim to even consider.