ESSAY: Contemplating death in a year when it feels closer

MILWAUKEE — One day, on a walk in the middle of a workday, I came across a gorgeous red finch on a sunny sidewalk that didn’t fly off when I approached it. It barely put up a fight when I picked it up with a tissue.

I had hoped to take it to the nearby wildlife rehab people. Maybe they could save it. So I walked back to my house and put it in an open plastic tub on my shady porch with seed and water.

I called the rehab people. I knew from past injured wildlife encounters that I should call ahead. The line was busy. Every time I checked on him, I felt a greater urgency. His breathing had increased and he was shaking a little. Their line remained busy.

Less than two hours later, his breathing had stopped.

I cried. I just couldn’t hold back.

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I’m struggling. And I have been for awhile.

A lot of us are. There’s a pandemic going on, and we are all isolated from each other. There’s a recession looming, maybe even a depression. And a divisive election, no matter which side you support.

But it feels like so much more. None of my emotions seem to want to hide anymore.

There’s anger, irritation, sadness. Muting life with Netflix has an upside-down reaction for me: I’m crying at happy scenes and sobbing over suspenseful or stressful scenes. I wake at night with bouts of anxiety.

As a reporter, I’ve told the stories of countless tragedies over the last 20 years: mass murders, murder trials, tornadoes where people lost everything, any number of horrific crimes and dramatic hardships. Why does this feel so different?

It finally dawned on me: Death seems so close to everyone, more than I can ever remember. In the United States, for many, it hasn’t been quite this way for a really long time.

So far, more than 225,000 people have died in the United States from the coronavirus or complications, according to Johns Hopkins University. On the entire planet, more than 45 million have been infected and more than 1.1 million are dead.

All that pain and suffering. All those individual stories. And right now, with the numbers of infected soaring in Wisconsin, where I live, my anxiety skyrockets.

Even physicians are dealing with anxiety, some for the first time, says Joan Anzia, psychiatrist and professor at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. She often counsels those in the health care field and says this sense of mortality is even hitting them.

“It’s been decades since physicians have had to endanger their own lives and put their own life at risk just by going to work,” she tells me when I call her.

The last time a life-threatening health crisis of this scale engulfed American society was early in the last century: the 1918 flu pandemic. Less widespread was polio, before a vaccine emerged in the 1950s.

Medical advancements though, have pushed death away, made it feel

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‘Troubling’ COVID-19 Trends Push Region 9 Closer To Restrictions

MCHENRY AND LAKE COUNTIES, IL — A spike in coronavirus cases and hospital admissions could mean Lake and McHenry counties could see an end to indoor dining or restrictions placed on sports activities as early as next week, health officials said Friday. Region 9, which includes Lake and McHenry counties, is teetering on the edge of the state’s thresholds that could trigger additional mitigations — all set up as a way to prevent the further spread of COVID-19.

McHenry County, in particular, has seen a steep spike in cases with the coronavirus positivity rate jumping nearly two percentage points in just one week. As of Oct. 14, the 7-day rolling average for COVID-19 positivity rate is 8.9 percent in McHenry County and 5.9 percent in Lake County, according to Illinois Department of Public Health stats.

Region 9 is currently at a 6.8 percent positivity rate — up from 5.6 percent a week ago.

Also on Friday, the state set a record for new coronavirus cases for a second day in a row totaling 4,554 new cases. Meanwhile, hospitalizations jumped more than 14 percent since the beginning of the week. And McHenry County was added to the state’s “watch list,” due to concerning trends in COVID-19 cases.

Similar health trends are cropping across the Chicago area and state health officials are urging mayors, police, state’s attorney’s office and other community leaders to take swift action to slow the spread of the virus as people, they say, are not abiding by rules set up to keep everyone safe and healthy.

“Public health officials are observing businesses blatantly disregarding mitigation measures, people not social distancing, gathering in large groups, and not using face coverings,” according to a news release from the state health department Friday.

Meanwhile, at least one school district in Region 9, Woodstock Community District 200, has decided to delay its move to hybrid learning due to COVID-19 trends. The school district only planned switch from remote learning to its hybrid model if McHenry County was on track on four of its COVID-19 metrics.

“According to the COVID-19 metrics provided by the McHenry County Department of Health, the county does not meet the metric for weekly count or new case increase. This number has increased for the previous two weeks and in fact has increased 51% for all of McHenry County residents and increased 42% for school age children in the last week,” District 200 Superintendent Mike Moan wrote in a letter posted on the school district’s website. “These significant increases caused the metric to fall short of the goal to move to hybrid instruction.”

In addition, area business owners are starting to worry what another shutdown could mean for their bottom line.

Melissa Blach, owner of Smoothology Smoothie Cafe in Crystal Lake, says her business has been destroyed by the pandemic, according to the Northwest Herald. Another shutdown for her cafe at 67 E. Woodstock Street if more restrictions are put in place for businesses in the county.

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Melbourne closer to easing restrictions

MELBOURNE, Australia — Australia’s Victoria state has reported just one new case of COVID-19 and no deaths as the city of Melbourne moves closer towards the easing of some lifestyle restrictions.

The state’s coronavirus death toll remains at 816 and the Australian total is 904.

Melbourne residents are expecting COVID-19 restrictions to be eased on Sunday but it is unclear how much freedom will be regained.

Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews has indicated the changes would be more “in the social space,” prompting pleas from business operators for relief from restrictions that once included an overnight curfew.


Current restrictions include a two-hour exercise limit within 5 kilometers (3 miles) of work or home and mandatory face masks covering the mouth and nose when a person leaves their home.

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HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— Virus surges in key battleground states as election nears

— White House puts ‘politicals’ at CDC to try to control info

— UK’s Johnson threatens to impose restrictions on Manchester

— Belgium will tighten coronavirus restrictions from Monday in an effort to hold the disease in check. The new measures include a night-time curfew and the closure of cafes, bars and restaurants for a month.

— Doctors are warning that Europe is at a turning point as the coronavirus surges back across the continent, including among vulnerable people, and governments try to impose restrictions without locking whole economies down.

— Hundreds of Argentine flags dotted the sand of a beach at the Mar del Plata resort, a poignant memorial to the victims of the novel coronavirus in one of this South American country’s virus hot spots.

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— Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

SALEM, Ore. — The Oregon Health Authority reported 418 new confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases and six additional deaths.

At the current rate of transmission, Oregon Health Authority officials project that new infections will increase “substantially” to 570 new reported cases a day and 40 hospitalizations.

In addition, Gov. Kate Brown announced Friday that Lane County has been added to the County Watch List.

Currently there are five counties on the watch list — Benton, Clatsop, Lane, Malheur and Umatilla. A county is placed on the watch list when COVID-19 is spreading quickly.

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico health officials on Friday confirmed the state set another single-day record with 819 COVID-19 cases, bringing the statewide total to 35,770 since the pandemic began.

New rules to limit gatherings to five people or less, reduce hotel capacities and impose a 10 p.m. closing time for bars and some restaurants also took effect Friday after successive days of record-breaking daily infection rates.

The previous record of 672 on Thursday already had eclipsed records set in recent days.

The state on Friday also reported six additional deaths related to the pandemic, bringing that total to 928.

At the University of New Mexico, eight football players and one assistant coach have tested

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