The Louvre is closed. Broadway is dark. Harvard shut its doors for the first time since its opening in 1636. The NBA season is over. NCAA isn’t playing March Madness. Canadians can’t go to hockey games. Paddy’s celebrations are cancelled everywhere (or postponed, in Peoria, Il.) The governors of Illinois and Ohio today ordered the temporary closing of all restaurants. Countries have shut their borders. Africa has turned the tables and forbidden European visitors. Certain states are in lock-down mode. Italians are in the strictest movement since World War II, when they were bombed under a Fascist regime. Residents of China have been filmed walking the streets in hazmat suits and heavy masks. News alerts bombard our mobile devices on the hour. Every single organization you’ve ever permitted your email address is now sending you their response to the world pandemic.
It sounds, simultaneously, like a futuristic sci-fi novel and a history lesson. It’s stepping into Doctor Who’s “Turn Left” or General Hospital’s 2012 water crisis. It’s the setting of George Orwell’s 1984.
Yet, it’s real. It’s happening. As of three hours ago, 80,000 citizens of China are dead from the Coronavirus. It’s everywhere – can’t even pop onto imgur without seeing a Corona-related meme. It’s keeping huggers away. It’s what the introverted have prepared for all along. You may be sick of it by now. But it’s important to not turn a blind eye.
Americans often feel we are invincible to the sufferings of the “rest of the world.” We put ourselves in isolated bubbles from both residents of other nations and our fellow Americans. (Ironic, as Americans have the reputation of being open people. Yet, as Americans know – unless you’re one of those huggers – we like our separate seats.) To be fair, most crises of the world have never reached our own soil – until now. World War I affected us because it affected our servicemen, their families and in turn the nation. World War II once again, affected our servicemen, their families and in turn the country. However, aside from Pearl Harbor, we were still protected on the home front. 9/11, same idea, except for those who personally lost people on that September morning. But this – this is on our turf. It’s affected national treasure, Tom Hanks. It doesn’t discriminate between rich and poor, black and white, Hispanic and Asian, Native American and Latino, US citizen or undocumented immigrant. This has invaded our states. This is new. This is unprecedented. And, just as in the Great Depression when the world was last in sync, we don’t know how to respond - except by fighting the intense urge to touch our faces and reexamining our hand-washing techniques.
The initial reaction when Coronavirus reports first came out was indifference. “Oh, it’s China. These kinds of things are always happening in China,” we told ourselves, not thinking much of it until we heard about Italy. “Those poor Italians,” we whispered, shaking our heads in grief, many of us feeling more connected to the situation in a land full of Italian-Americans (while also ramping up racism towards Chinese-Americans or those who look Asian and therefore must be Chinese.) “You know how many people die from the flu each year?” we comforted others. “Gun violence, cancer, forest fires, etc. We’ll be fine. It’s nothing.”
Then the media received news of the first confirmed case in the US – a 35-year-old man in Snohomish County, Washington fresh off a visit to Wuhan, China. News organizations began to realize this might be bigger than we’d allowed ourselves to believe. Still, thanks to a history of over-sensationalism and boy-who-cried-wolf articles, Americans continued our daily lives as normal. We brushed it off as media scare tactics. Republicans blamed Democrats; Democrats blamed Republicans. Some decided it was a political move to frighten people away from the polls. Others decided it must be China’s new weapon to wipe us out. And while we were engaged in the usual heated battles, the amount of cases in Spain tripled. Ireland’s tiny emerald isle encountered its first fatality. Coronavirus seeped its way into all our lives (barring the African countries and few island nations that have not yet received cases. Praying that they will stay clear.)
On Monday, we were fine. On Tuesday, we were baffled Harvard sent students home – even in the flu pandemic of 1918, Harvard remained open. By Wednesday, many school systems around the country followed suit after the World Health Organization declared a pandemic. Come Thursday, Disney, Universal and all major theme parks; concerts and sports were cancelled; nursing homes and elderly facilities refused to allow visitors. Thousands of Disney College Programmers, ICP'ers and interns were told to leave. Programs cancelled trips to Israel and Sicily. Thursday, too, saw the implementation of a travel ban on most European countries – a travel ban that has been put in place numerous times for people of color, which white people never thought would affect them. Finally, on Friday, the president placed the United States under a national emergency and released funds to the public that we’d been told for centuries were inaccessible. Insurance companies began to care. Overpriced arts organizations put their productions online for those home-bound to stream.
Some people still insist others are overreacting. Maybe we are. Maybe we aren’t. Maybe the US will be fine. Maybe it won’t. Maybe this will all blow over in a month. Maybe by summer we travelers can cross the ocean again. Maybe.
People are frustrated. They’re scared. Many are angered that we’ve been lied to this whole time and student loan interest could have been waived all along. They’re running to the grocer to stock up on toilet paper – in the United States, in Canada, in the UK and Ireland and Australia. The great toilet paper phenomenon is as worldwide as the pandemic. Next went the hand sanitizer, then the rubbing alcohol, then the cleaning supplies and frozen foods. Grocers throughout the country currently look like Aldi on a Monday. There are too many what-ifs and worst-case scenarios, too much unknown to deal with at once. Self-declared entrepreneurs started milking the situation, selling $50 bottles of Purell and $55 packs of toilet paper. One package of four tissue packets price gouged to $20. The pandemic is enhancing greed. It’s bringing out hatred. It’s causing bloodbaths in the grocery aisles – and it’s not even Black Friday.
But it’s also showing the good of humanity. It is churches putting their services online after pastors decide to not hold Sunday church. It is people worshipping together from all over the world through a live stream. It’s video of an entire Italian city performing from their balconies; of hope from Wuhan that people can recover; of international artists uploading private performances to “All I Have to Do is Dream.” It is Marvel artists welcoming coloring pages from children stuck at home. It is Jennifer Garner encouraging the dreamers of dreams to share their material with her. It is asking if elderly can have separate hours to grocery shop. It is financial institutions showing they can care about more than just money. It is thanking nurses, doctors, medical teams, sanitation workers, retail and food employees for their continued service. It is the beating hearts of organizations that provide free food for those who would have otherwise gone hungry without their daily school meals. It is the Washington Post disbanding its paywall on all live updates.
It is hope. It is faith. It is love. Continue to share the positive. Keep calling out the racism. Open your hearts to those around you.
We will get through this. When we do, let’s never forget. Let’s remember how we acted when millions of lives were on the line.
Use it as a chance to show each other just how amazing humans can be when we try.
Note: I'd like to use this time to share the stories of how Corona is affecting you or those you love around the globe. Please feel free to reach out to me if you are interested in having your story shared.
My love to each and every one of you - especially to you, China, Italy, Iran and Spain. May you keep pressing on.