Clarkies vs. Coronavirus

Making sense of a turbulent time

Luis Santos, News Editor

I was informed to an extent, or rather, I knew nothing of the details until I watched “Why Shane Dawson is PARANOID, investigating the Mysteries of Coronavirus,” a video posted about two weeks ago, by a YouTube drama channel called Spill. As I watched the video early in March, I was in my dorm and in my bed, living a solitary and comfortable existence while taking a break from what I knew to be my college life and a hectic work schedule. I drew my own conclusions. Instead of informing, I will attempt to be part of a conversation by outlining my own experiences and observations.

My life is anything but simple, yet I have never before imagined that there was a lot to lose when the coronavirus first hit the US physically and metaphysically. By “lose” I mean losing our minds and our sense of reality in thinking about the probability of social collapse. Realistically speaking, with the cancellation of campus events and in-person classes, there is something lost in the process.

When we suddenly lose touch with our friends and colleagues and those who keep us fervently going and motivated, we start to feel nervous. In the process, perhaps we realize that we can lose a sense of ourselves and who we are. As I started packing and boxing my things to move out of my dorm and back home, I realized how I may miss my best friend’s graduation, and among other things, like not physically be able to present my research for Academic Spree Day. The smaller things in life. Brief moments like seeing my professors in office hours or saying “hello” to a friend and friendly acquaintances while passing by the Academic Commons. All of which go in the “lose” category as a college student.

Close to home, the official announcement of the cancellation of in-person classes on Thursday, March 12th due to the virus, was a surreal experience for many. The postponement or cancellation of many campus events, the conversion to virtual instruction, to synchronous and asynchronous online classes (which may or may not be for everyone or suit a student’s learning style), have left some students scattered and feeling anxious. Although the administration and our professors have responded promptly by keeping us in the loop with email updates and announcements, there are many unanswered questions that are left for improvisation and experimentation for “when the time comes.” 

Before things went south: the coronavirus scare in Worcester

It was March 8, a Sunday afternoon. I was with my mother at the local PriceRite. For a Sunday, there was a large crowd of people. The shopping lines seemed endless and extended over to the self-checkouts. Same story in Walmart and the other retail stores we routinely visited to get groceries. One could feel the anxiety from the collective mass of people contrasted with the image, as I have seen, of Clark students sitting and camping idly by in the “green space,” in the middle of the day like “no tomorrows” a few days before (to be fair, it was a sunny day and it felt like spring). It was like we knew intuitively that something big was coming. I jokingly told my mother in Spanish that it was the coronavirus. That we are going to go out of toilet paper like in Australia. Little did I know that my nervous joke would become a reality and part of our daily experience as I warned my mother to better stock up on supplies.

Living with COVID-19

The dangers and fears of social collapse, these are themes right out of a Sci-fi film. No, they are exaggerated and come out of a terrible movie from the Sci-Fi channel. No doubt the COVID-19 crisis is impacting the way we live and the way we do things. In our digital age, how do we find human connection while living with COVID-19? I don’t know. Nevertheless, technology has become integral in changing how we live and the way we communicate and more importantly, it has eased our transition into practicing “social distancing.”

While these times are unprecedented, I have never before witnessed the panic, paranoia, and surrealism, as I have seen in the last few weeks. Just turn on the news to see the latest updates. From “The Coronavirus keeps growing,” to the “The Dos and Don’ts of Social Distancing,” and the “Coronavirus brings out anti-Chinese sentiment in South Korea” and still other news articles, topics, and discussions surrounding the virus.

Before I continue my rant and observations, let it be clear right now and once and for all: it is never okay to discriminate against people. It is illogical to conclude that a group of people, based on how they look and where they are, are responsible for a global pandemic. Let’s call out these internet trolls and those present, now and in future hours. Thank you. Next!

Asleep or in waking hours, COVID-19 has become ingrained into our daily lives to the point of obsession and part of our physical and mental weariness. A manifestation of internet memes. Comedic, or investigative online videos. Bias and partisan news media and contending discussions. The storm of social media. The rise of U.S. cases. A flood of information on the subject. For better or for worse, these past few weeks I have noticed, as I am sure that others have, how deeply COVID-19 is affecting people’s habits and behaviours and not just changing them for the sake of changing them.

I don’t think anyone could have conceived the massive changes and the extreme measures taken to overcome COVID-19. I can relate when I say that these have been long and stressful weeks. For others it has been a vacation or a type of escape as they sit comfortably sipping their coffee or glass of wine (nothing wrong with that, keep living your life). Certainly, they embrace being quarantined even though introverts were first and the experts of self-quarantine and isolation. In any case, if you are not feeling the stress and anxiety, then you are warding it off and seeing it from your next door neighbor since their daily experience is exacerbated by end-of-the-world vibes and false information online.

Still other people’s days are a means to get by or “just another day at work” or what is now their remote job working telecommute hours. And then there are the unfortunate ones. People facing unemployment and layoffs. In our time of “social distancing,” the working world is impacted just as our personal lives. The tides change because we are abiding by state, federal, and health officials statements about the best ways to slow down and combat the spread of COVID-19. Social distancing, self-qurantines, cancellations, and safe practices are the new normal. It is non-negotiable, and thus, we may feel powerless.

More questions than answers

Nonetheless, I have taken some measures to protect my health while searching for some semblance of normalcy. But it has been difficult to focus because of the constant distractions online and in the news. I have to press on. I have adopted common sense practices like washing my hands constantly and staying up to date among the sea of information surrounding the COVID-19 crisis while my mind has a barrage of unanswered questions in our time of uncertainty. When will we tell when it’s post-crisis? When will we determine its old news? Surely it will pass. What are the long-term ramifications?

At one point, I could not stop thinking about the origins of the virus. I couldn’t help myself to dwell on the internet memes and the conspiracy theories away from the sea of bad and negative news. Some say it is a 2020 bioweapons arms race and no one is looking for the signs or paying attention or taking responsibility. Others feel that the rate the virus spread domestically and internationally seemed too calculated and unnatural that it must be an artificial virus right out of a science project. Insidious and ridiculous rumors about COVID-19 testing infecting people with the actual virus. An artificial virus created for human  depopulation. And then there is the 1981 controversial novel “The Eyes of Darkness,” by Dean Koontz, which “predicted” the 2020 coronavirus outbreak and the global pandemic. We can certainly leave it to coincidence. But all of these patterns point to the notion that we now live in a digital age where it is no longer science fiction. When there is no evidence, when the news seems to be overwhelming or when we distrust different sources of information we must trust our own intuition and use some common sense. Certainly, we have more questions than answers, but at least we can trust our own sense.

I cling to the idea that any person with a diabolical mind would use and capitalize the COVID-19 crisis to carry out their own agenda, whatever that is, whatever that may be. This is my general conclusion which opens the door for many possible scenarios and discussions. Although these ideas do not contribute in any way to combat false information or provide positivity or positive news, they do provide some insight into our values and the kinds of conversations we are having or could be having in 2020. On the other hand, health insurance and COVID-19 testing, the impact on the U.S. economy over prioritizing human lives, lockdown and closures, discussions of a potential vaccine over social distancing, “to quarantine or not to quarantine is the question,” were all contending news topics which have also opened discussions about the way we do things and how to make them better.

Living with uncertainty

We live in times of uncertainty. But also in times of possibility. These are times for reflection and self-reflection. It is easy to lose sleep and time focusing on the wrong things. We are embracing technology remotely and are adapting to these changes whether we like it or not. So this is my expression of tough love, because some changes and sacrifices are necessary.

But there are positives. Recently, Mutual Aid Worcester on Facebook is a growing campaign of locals coming together as a community to help other locals in need of work and resources. They also provide services, supplies, meals, and tools for people to get by and continue the conversation on how to make things better and spread some positivity among the chaos and the government distrust.

At Clark University, students have compiled a spreadsheet called “Clark U Mutual Aid” for students to get access to additional support, COVID-19 updates, essentials, and other student needs. Above all, the rapid response from the Clark Undergraduate Student Council (CUSC) is commendable and noteworthy, as they have been ensuring that Clark students have the tools and resources to get through hardship. Whether that is helping students move out of campus or providing free transportation with the Student Escort Services and the Uber Program, CUSC rose to the challenge and is beyond noteworthy!  

Clarkies coming together, including Clark alumni, is a remarkable experience to witness and shows our power as students to make a difference. People coming together as a community in times of uncertainty, that gives me hope and the courage to overcome the personal challenges ahead, and no doubt, those of my peers and colleagues because people working together creates possibility and change.