A coast to coast perspective on COVID-19
A coast to coast perspective on COVID-19
Read a first hand account of the pandemic as it proliferates across the country in its early stages.
An entire world of change has happened in the past 18 days. Eighteen days ago I was standing on the eighth floor of my dorm on the border of Downtown Crossing and Chinatown. My roommates read aloud an email from the Emerson College administration, declaring that Friday March 13th would be the last day of in person classes. Simulatouaous cries of joy could be heard throughout the hall as other students received the same email. The next day of classes was normal and everyone was eager to enjoy the coming weeks chaotically destructured schedules, but that night everything changed. That night Wednesday March 11, 2020, The disease COVID-19 commonly labeled coronavirus, became a pandemic. The cosmic mood flip was palpable.
The NBA and other sporting organizations suspended all activity until further notice. A seeming flood of notifications, stating which ‘important’ people had already been infected and which events were being cancelled, came pouring in. President Trump’s address to the nation that night only inflamed the situation as viewers could easily detect the stench of misguided confidence.
The Boston metropolitan area is home to a massive population of students, who had already begun to evacuate from some institutions. I should have guessed that this was the direction our collective circumstance was headed in, as I had been in New York City only a few days earlier. In Manhattan, the sidewalks were the usual torrent of pedestrians. Bars, bookstores, restaurants, clubs, and public venues seemed to be at capacity. However I couldn’t help but feel an eerie cloud over the city while I was there. From the jokes at the comedy club to conversations on every street corner you could overhear, everything was about coronavirus. I watched from the hotel TV as outbreaks were occurring in communities neighboring New York City and as Governor Andrew Cumo sounded an emergency throughout the state. I left New York with the weekend coming to a close and as our train departed from Penn Station up through The Bronx, it felt like we were escaping a patch of earth which was rapidly transforming into quicksand.
It did not take long for my school in Boston to announce that it would be closing its dorms to students, barring a few exceptional circumstances, by Friday Mar. 20th. Governor Baker declared a state of emergency in Massachusetts, closing down all bars and sit in restaurant operations. In a matter of days the students had cleared out of Boston and left it partially deserted. There was a noticeable decrease in traffic in just a matter of days. There were opportunities to stay but seeing as the situation was devolving and my home is located in Northern California's East Bay, I planned to leave on a flight for the following Monday. The Bay Area is a long way from Boston and plane travel was only going to get more hectic so it seemed right to get out early. Unfortunately the Bay Area had not fared much better against COVID-19.
Logan airport was a main thoroughfare for the virus. Earlier that week of Mar. 9th, an international BioGen conference had further desperced the infection throughout Boston and funneled many carriers through the airport. Walking through the Logan terminal on Monday Mar. 16th was a difficult scene to describe. On the surface business seemed to being moving on just as usual. There was a certain tension in the air, one of suppressed paranoia which kept most people from wearing masks amidst the beginning of a global pandemic, but which altered their behavior and made the virus a subject of every conversation within earshot. It felt similar to the tone in New York City only a week early. People seemed conflicted between being cautious and trying to force everyday life back into the predicament which they were caught in. Obviously people were scared. Both the airport and my flight to SFO were seemingly at half capacity. It was hard to tell if it was my paranoia towards the situation or if there really were more dirty tissues and coughing people wafting through the terminal halls. At my flight gate a girl sitting on the same row of benches as me puked on the floor. This added to the general feeling of disease.
When I landed in the Bay Area, a shelter in place mandate had been put out by local governments that very night. Starting that Monday Mar. 16th at midnight, everyone in the Bay Area’s surrounding counties were strongly advised not to leave their houses until Apr. 30th. Non-essential workers are not to leave home and social contact with people who you do not live with is to be kept at a minimum distance of 6 feet apart. San Francisco and Santa Clara had suffered outbreaks which spread, leaving the entire Bay Area in a heightened state of infection. The busy freeways have been reduced to a trickle of their usual traffic. The Oakland sidewalks are noticeably emptier and for the first time in my life I entered a grocery store to see that entire shelves had been stripped bare. It only took a few days within my landing, before the entire state to entered a lockdown. However a threshold had been passed and even though all of California was now being made to shelter in place, at this point anything else couldn’t really make the situation anymore surreal.
Schools, offices, restaurants, bars, movie theaters, essentially any public venue with the purpose of occupying one’s time, is closed. An optimistic mind would say that there is plenty to do, though all I can come up with is mundane household tasks and listening to countless podcasts on the situation which is transpiring around us. I have heard many experts from the CDC, Center for Infectious Disease, Yale, and Johns Hopkins give their assessment of the issue confronting us and their guidelines on how to stay safe in a public health crisis such as the one COVID-19 presents. To sum it up, even given my alarming descriptions of our society adjusting to the problem at hand, the world is not going to end from this Coronavirus. Our world is not going to end. Even with the predictions of millions of infected Americans and a mortality rate of between one and two percent, this disease has given us a much needed, though harsh, reminder to check ourselves. Our society is a fragile one, held together by global supply chains and exchange of capital and services. A vast network of impersonal monetary transactions is obviously vulnerable to the effects of a global pandemic and not what we as a society need to be working to maintain at the moment. What we need to build here is a community where members can rely on one another in times of need. Regardless of economics. This pandemic is reminding us to check ourselves because the next one we face may be more severe. A mortality rate of 1-2%, like that of COVID-19, pales in comparison to the 60% mortality rate of some avian influenza strains which can sometimes make the jump between birds and humans.
Even if COVID-19 is not the end of our organized society, it is extremely important that we take this disease seriously. A mortality rate of 1-2% cannot be treated lightly with a disease that has the potential to infect tens of millions. These odds only get more precarious with age and preexisting medical conditions. For our elderly population, there is a significant chance that contracting this disease could be fatal and this is an unavoidable fact. Not being part of a predisposed risk group does not mean you should be apathetic to the risks of this disease. The main threat of this disease is that you are spreading it without knowing. We should air on the side of caution. It’s important to remember that Coronavirus is not the end of the world. However consider this: when I landed at SFO on Mar. 16th, there were about 4,400 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and about 80 recorded fatalities. There are now over 174,000 confirmed cases and over 3,500 fatalities. A world of change can happen in 18 days.