March 24, 2020

The “Nina Flax” Files: Shelter in Place Neuroses

Like many of you, I’ve spent the last week sequestering myself in my home office, trying to be a model social distancer & trying not to wonder how long this will all last and how much damage it will do.  So has our faithful correspondent Nina Flax of Mayer Brown, and she weighs in with her thoughts on the way we live now:

The Bay Area was the first to institute a shelter-in-place, and even days before that, my family was in self-isolation (my son developed a cough, so we went on lock down). In watching American Idol recently (and I should mention that during each episode so far there have been multiple times I have had tears stream down my face – so inspiring and moving), there was great advice from Bobby Bones for Francisco Martin: “I’m going to give you a little advice about these nerves. You can’t will them away. So what I would suggest that you do is just embrace the fact that you’re just a nervous person.” Here is how I am embracing the fact that I can be a neurotic person at times and otherwise coping with the pandemic (for now):

1. Taking This Seriously. We are trying to do anything we can to not be any strain on the system in any way. We have some food already in the house, and as I write this on March 19th, for now have not gone to the supermarkets. I did place a Whole Foods order for toilet paper (since we do not have a hoard of it) and Matzo, Gefilte Fish and horseradish (to try to keep some semblance of normal around Passover). But we are also (i) rationing (to delay having to get food for as long as we can) and (ii) quarantining. For rationing, my husband and I have more fully embraced the parents-are-their-kids-garbage-cans mentality; anything that our son leaves, we eat before we decide what else we will eat. We also are setting aside at the beginning of the day what snacks our son wants that day in a designated box, so that he knows what he can have (and does not eat more). And, finally, trying to calorie restrict ourselves while not giving up on some things that make us happy – like a piece of chocolate. For quarantining, because current indications are that the virus can live on cardboard for 24 hrs and plastic and stainless steel for 2-3 days, we have had designated areas of our fridge and freezer for “older” food (meaning food from a store that has been in our fridge for more than 3 days) and “newer” food (that we place in one area, immediately wash our hands and leave untouched for at least 3 days). Clearly, as we got longer into this, the fridge and freezer areas became unnecessary. But we are also applying this old/new process to any mail that comes (including Amazon boxes). What goes along with taking things seriously is considering your actions that could result in a non-COVID-19 related visit to the doctor or hospital. For example, now is not the time that my son should be learning to ride a bike without training wheels. He likes training wheel riding just fine.

2. Being Considerate of our Friends in Essential Businesses. We need our friends in essential businesses to stay healthy, and part of staying healthy is staying happy. So please don’t complain to any of your friends who are still providing the services we need about cancelled yoga classes (not kidding, when speaking to our pediatrician for over-the-phone advice on our son’s cough (since we could not bring him in just in case), she mentioned how down she was when friends of hers would say things like this). Which is not at all to say you shouldn’t complain. I am a firm believer in needing the complaint-related release some of us get before keeping things in perspective. One thing that seemed to mean a lot to some of our friends is (i) telling them how seriously we are taking things (and letting them know about other friends and family who are being similarly neurotic), and (ii) saying thank you for all that they have always done and are now doing (which is something our family already does whenever we speak to someone in the military – so an easy expansion).

3. Being Grateful. I have touched on this one before, but want to come back to it again. I am grateful (i) to have a roof over my head (many in the Bay Area do not), (ii) have food in my fridge (same comment) and (iii) be in a position to assist others as we can. This ranges from asking our elderly neighbor if there is anything they need that we might have (over text/email, not in person), continuing to pay all of our service providers who we have asked to not come to our house during these times and determining food pantries and animal shelters we can monetarily support.

4. Staying Positive – or #teamhumanity. This is my favorite hashtag so far. Things that we are doing within this category are trying to enjoy the extra time we have with our son, so taking my “lunch” break to get a hug and see the crayon bits he melted into multi-color shaped crayons this morning. Staying in touch with friends through text, calls and especially video calls. Reaching out to a colleague who is in the US from abroad, having just arrived for a secondment two weeks ago. Sending around emails with fun things, like the Shedd Aquarium penguin videos or free opera streams or live virtual concerts. Reminding those with dogs to hug them. All of us who are fortunate to have jobs are juggling how to work under these conditions, but it is not insignificant the amount of time we will spend with our loved ones, human or furry, in person or otherwise. I hope we all come out of this more connected. That is at least my personal objective!

5. Relieving the Stress and Staying Healthy. I am not the best sleeper – but now I am trying to make sure I get at least 8 hrs of sleep each night. I am not the best at prioritizing exercise – but not I am increasing my 2020 goal from exercising once per week to at least twice per week. I am not the best at drinking water – but now I am trying to remember to drink the recommended daily intake each day. And, I am doing the things I know relieve my stress – meditating (which for me is watching really mindless TV), taking a bath and asking my family for hugs.

6. Limiting the News. This relates to item 5 above, but is so important I wanted to call it out separately. I check the news in the morning for 15 minutes and at night for 15 minutes. That’s it. Please do not get sucked in; it is not good for your mental health.

Let’s remember Anne Frank, who lived in a secret annex from July 6, 1942 until August 4, 1944. This will be hard, harder for others, and entirely surmountable. We can be amazing – I am already inspired by how others are rising to the occasion – from our preschool teachers who have arranged zoom meetings for the kids to see each other, to our neighbors who are all observing the stay-6-ft-apart concept but still engaging in friendly banter as we cross each other on dog walks from across the street, to clients who were not yet under shelter-in-place orders and offered to send staples to us, to our office leader arranging for video lunches, to my friends who have been also been FaceTiming my parents and keeping their spirits up. I continue to strive to embrace the positive.

New Practice Area: “Covid-19 Issues”

Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been inundated with law firm memos and other materials covering a wide variety of legal issues raised by the Covid-19 crisis. In an effort to bring some order to those resources, I decided to organize them into a new “Covid-19 Issues” Practice Area. I think the last new practice area that we added was for the Wu Tang Clan. This one’s a lot less fun, but we hope it will make it easier for you to find the resources you need.

Transcript: “Audit Committees in Action – The Latest Developments”

We have posted the transcript for our recent webcast: “Audit Committees in Action: The Latest Developments.”

John Jenkins