On January 23, I bought a box of 30 N-95 disposable dust masks at Home Depot for $21.47. They’ve been standard fare in my shop for decades, but a little more than a month later, with the spread of the coronavirus, a box of 20 was selling for $132.99 on Amazon, and wouldn’t be available for two weeks. I’ve been watching the coronavirus spread like an incoming tide, and it is already lapping at my doorstep. On February 29, a man in a care facility 8 miles from my home in Seattle died, the first person in the U.S. to succumb to COVID-19, the illness linked to the virus. The governor of Washington has declared a state of emergency.
I was once on a morning Seattle TV program along with an Iditarod-winning dogsled musher, the late Susan Butcher, and an aerial-acrobatics pilot, Patty Wagstaff, if I recall correctly. I was there because I’d covered a lot of miles in a small boat. We were all introduced as risk-takers, but all three of us had to explain that we were doing what we loved, had logged a lot of hours, and took great pains to avoid risk.
Risk takes on a different look when it’s not something you take on willingly but something imposed upon you. Dealing with what appears to be a pandemic seems scary to me, but health professionals all around the world are approaching it head on. They’ve learned to accept working with people carrying viruses and infections and can rely on their training to minimize risks to their own health to levels they can accept. For me, the threat of COVID-19, something unfamiliar and imposed, makes me anxious.
I read a lot of books before I built my first boat, took my first cruise, did my first solo hike, and climbed my first mountain. The more knowledge I accumulated, the more I knew the risks and how to avoid them. Heeding the advice of health professionals now, I trust, will do the same.
My first instinct was to stock up on supplies and stay home, but I realized I’d be just as safe out on the water and working in my shop where I have made peace with the inherent hazards to life and limb. So I’ll continue with my shop projects and my outings on the water. I know how to keep my fingers away from a spinning tablesaw blade and how to scan the horizon for any subtle signs of a change in the wind and the water. I can adapt those kinds of skills now and put them to good use now as I navigate a changing world.
Afterword, Tuesday, March 24
On Sunday, I called up my local hospital and offered to donate N-95 masks and safety glasses from my basement shop. They’ve set up a system for collecting much needed Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and I’m waiting for instructions on delivering what I can to the hospital. Your local healthcare providers may also welcome donations of PPE that we boatbuilders and woodworkers can spare. Please call them if you can help.