I’m Will Vitka, digital editor for WTOP.com. I’ve been at home, working while in self-quarantine for longer than most of you. It’s been a month. And here’s what it’s been like.
We thought we were prepared. Hell, we tried.
My wife, Reem, and I started stocking up in early March. We had a feeling coronavirus was going to become a widespread nightmare, regardless of government talking points, and started storing canned goods early to avoid the panic.
It all kicked off for us when Reem, who works for a D.C.-based nonprofit, got an email saying a colleague may have been exposed to the coronavirus.
We even marked it on the calendar, hoping things would settle down in a couple of weeks.
I called WTOP Director of News and Programming Julia Ziegler the night of March 11. We agreed that I would need to figure out a telework option, and we made it happen.
This was not a “Hooray! Vacation!” moment. I’ve been a working reporter since I was 21. Thanks to my dad, Bill Vitka, I grew up around some of New York City’s bustling newsrooms. Not being in a newsroom is painful.
So Reem and I took a deep breath and figured out what we needed.
At the time, Ready.gov suggested two weeks’ worth of food and water. (Now it just says: “Store additional supplies of food and water.” — because God knows how long this is gonna last.)
Me, being a little bit of a prepper, found a month’s-worth:
Things got complicated because we live in a nice, albeit sort of, maybe, kind of small, one-bedroom unit in the District. With a dog. And two cats. I mention this because space has become a thing — more so than usual.
If you’re a married couple looking for your own place (after living in a basement in Columbia Heights) the idea of a fifth-floor, one-bedroom apartment for about $500 cheaper in Petworth is awesome.
Maybe fewer shootings! Also, sunlight!
Plus, the cats can go just do cat things and not infinitely annoy. (This is incorrect by the way, they always annoy.) The dog can bounce around a bit, then pass out on the couch.
We’ve all got some space!
This is all horribly wrong in the age of coronavirus.
Reem and I have been in self-isolation since the night of March 11.
When it started, Reem and I worked more or less side by side in the living room/kitchen. Our dog, Moby, was happy. Humans! All the time!
This is Moby. Moby does not know that coronavirus exists. Moby also does not know what teleworking is. Moby does not care. As fas as Moby is concerned, dad is home, and that means happy wiggle time. pic.twitter.com/QtmX5ntN47
— Vitka (@WillVitka) March 17, 2020
Now, more than a month in, it feels like prison.
I built Reem a desk in the bedroom so that it felt like we had space. So that she can do her job away from me doing mine. I gotta say, it hasn’t really worked.
When she closes the bedroom door to have a meeting, it’s one more notch of isolation.
At this point, Moby tends to give me a look then just pass out on the couch. The cats, of course, just keep being cats.
Call it … Apocalypse Meow. Editor’s note: Please Will. No.
It all reminds me of Tom Clancy’s The Division 2, and there ain’t much hope to go around.
And often, I find myself wondering who the stockholders at the companies that produce “cures” or “solutions” for coronavirus actually are. Who are they tied to?
Reem, the cats, the dog and I are holed up here and, according to The Associated Press, the surgeon general says that Americans should brace for levels of tragedy reminiscent of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks and the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
So, hey, woo, it just keeps getting better.
It’s no wonder that the workers at Safeway in Petworth were among the first that I saw to wear gloves and masks as I was doing a self-checkout. And that was more than two weeks ago. (I went out for Red Bull — I can’t make it at home.) Grocery clerks and gas station attendants and sanitation workers have been deemed essential.
Frankly, they need hazard pay. As do nurses, doctors, police officers and other first responders.
I mean, hell, every time I go out, even to walk Moby, it feels like this.
So I can’t even begin to imagine what they’re seeing.
I overheard a clerk at Safeway talking to a longtime shopper. The longtime shopper said, after some pleasantries, “So you’re going to be working for a while?”
Clerk: “Yeah, they made us essential.”
Shopper: “Is that good?”
The clerk didn’t mean working was bad. They meant that the constant threat of coronavirus was bad. And if you’re “essential,” you don’t have a choice.
There are many others who need help, too. Like those in this virtual tip jar of D.C. servers and bartenders you should toss a coin to.
It sucks. It just all sucks. I don’t know how many different ways we can say it, so I’m not going to try.
This is what I know, while wearing some of the stinkiest sneakers and jeans that are well-past their wash-by date: We’re still working to deliver the news, even though, when I walk into the bedroom, I see this goober:
I don’t even know what the above is.
I’m told by sources it’s Moby and hair and I assume a blanket. She stayed asleep like that for about two hours. IN THAT POSITION. Was it comfortable? Who knows! I assume so. She did not respond to repeated questioning, as she is a dog. I can confirm that she enjoyed her “walkies.”
While I edit and write stories in my stinky shoes from Petworth, others at WTOP are on air, and recording from closets.
And, of course, Neal Augenstein keeps out the echo in his on-air reports with sofa cushions:
— Neal Augenstein (@AugensteinWTOP) March 23, 2020
We’re still working. WTOP has taken great pains to make sure we continue to deliver the news.
But I gotta tell you: There’s a unique kind of exhaustion that sets in after a while. Misery. I don’t have the words for it. Still, there’s a drive to push on.
I miss the newsroom.
-Vitka, in isolation since March 11, signing off (for now).