What a world we lived in just last week.
Last week, we were organising packing lists, looking at car rentals, and I was finalising meet ups with my State-side friends while rolling my eyes at toiler paper memes. Conversations with my co-workers went like this:
“See ya after Easter – unless they cancel our flights, lol”
“Lol that would suck”
“Totally would suck, good thing it’s only a slight possibility and would never actually happen lol”
“I know right lol”
(this is how professionals speak)
Thursday, things started to get a bit more tense. More cases in the US were popping up, and panic buying was getting out of hand. A Covid-19 testing centre was set up overnight behind my work building, and at 7:55AM there was a line of people in masks waiting outside. Our HR department started sending out the first of many “this is what we’re preparing to do about Corona” emails. On my lunch break, passed another line of people wearing masks waiting to get tests.
Friday, most schools, organisations, and hospitality industries in the US were going on lock down. We started to contact patients to screen who was sick or had been overseas in the last two weeks. Smart Traveller and the Australian government advised everyone to “strongly consider whether your international travel is necessary.” All sports in the US were cancelled, The Royal Easter Show was cancelled, basically every festival or gathering with hundreds of people was cancelled. HR sent out a memo saying anyone coming in from an international trip would need to spend 14 days in quarantine before coming back to work. In a brilliant move, I suggest we watch Contagion. I spend the night staring at the ceiling.
Saturday, wake up at 6:30AM so we can be at the grocery store (the only one near us that re-stocks) by 7:15AM to shop, hopefully get toilet paper. Wake up to 40 (!) messages on What’s App from my family about everything going on lock down in Virginia, about how grocery stores are bare; and from my friend in LA about how it was getting scary, and she was going to wait it out with her family out of state. “I wouldn’t come to California right now if I were you.” Up until this point, the idea of not going hadn’t so much as crossed my mind. We were locked and loaded, and had been saving for and looking forward to this trip, to my sister Mary’s wedding, to a few days in a cabin the woods, for the better part of a year. But suddenly shit got real, and it got real fast. I cried in bed.
I texted my sister to see if anyone had rescinded their RSVP’s for her wedding, but no one had. We got home from the store (store already packed with people) and talked it out. We decided to wait til Monday to make a final decision, but that it was 99% likely we would have to cancel the whole trip. I got concerned about drastic changes while we were in our 17 hour flight – what if the US banned international flights from entering and our plane was refused or turned around; what if we had to go into mandatory quarantine – but not in our apartment, rather in a hospital or detention centre; what if two weeks quarantine turned into a month? And there was also a very real possibility of getting stranded in the States if our flights were cancelled. I was already taking 2 weeks unpaid leave for the trip, a month would be hard, anything longer could be crippling. But most importantly – every airport we’d go through would be a hot spot, and we would 100% spread the virus, no matter how careful we were. I mean, unless we were Naomi Campbell.
So I made the call to my sister, and broke the news. In the few hours since I had texted her, a couple of people told her they couldn’t make it as well. After I talked to her, I called my parents. We were all sad, all disappointed, but ultimately, we were understanding. It still sucks, though, to cancel the trip. And sucks is the understatement of the year.
Sunday: We read articles of mandatory health checks in airports like LAX and O’Hare causing passengers to wait over 6 hours to get through customs. Our prime minister instituted mandatory quarantine for anyone returning from an international trip – with massive fines or jail time for those who didn’t comply. We officially put the kibosh on our trip. Mary and Brian decide to postpone their wedding.
Monday: More lock downs and social isolation enforcement in the US as cases climb. The frantic energy at work starts to brim over, everyone (who can) work from home starts to prepare to work from home. I go to my local grocery store and the meat section, as well as the toilet paper, tissues, canned goods, bottled water, rice, pasta, flour, etc are picked clean. We cancel our plane tickets.
Tuesday: Two grocery stores near work are also picked clean, this time even the root vegetables like potatoes and onions are gone. A professor from a university in Sydney (can’t remember his name, can’t find the tweet) tweets that projections of the virus predict 5-10k new cases of Covid-19 in NSW in the next two weeks.
Wednesday: US bans gatherings over 10 people. Rumours start swirling that NSW colleges and hospitality will go on lock down soon. NSW is running low on Covid-19 tests, so now if you don’t meet federal guidelines, you can’t get tested. I go by the grocery store after work, and while fresh produce abounds, there’s not a whole lot of non-perishable food to choose from: canned tuna and mango (wtf); gluten free sprouted bread in the frozen section. I have the next two days off of work, because I didn’t want to completely miss out on the holiday. I come home, sit down with the cat, and think what is going to happen now?
It’s such a weird, scary, stressful time. My SERIOUS FIRST WORLD PROBLEMS (my favourite jeans ripped from under the crotch to around my butt WHILE I was wearing them AT WORK so I had to go buy a new pair of cheap pants on my lunch break; my Macbook developed a small crack under the screen that quickly grew to a crack going up the entire side of the screen; Pancake accidentally missed while she was peeing in the litter box and now the carpet near my desk always kinda smells like cat wee; I haven’t been able to find my favourite frozen pizza in over a week) are much more petty and funny to me now than they’ve ever been, because the actual problems (that are highly likely) to come are too much to think about. I’m relieved that I have Joel, who insisted we prepare for the worst. Otherwise it’d just be me, a bag of Reese cups, the cat, and my Amazon Prime Video account. I’m relieved that I’m surrounded by positive but realistic friends, family, and coworkers who are helping me not lose my shit*.
To clarify, I’m not losing my shit over being forced to stay in my apartment for two weeks – I’m an introvert homebody with a manuscript that needs hella work and who can watch the same shows and movies a million times before getting bored and who gets a Monica Gellar-like thrill out of house cleaning and organising. I’ve been waiting for this moment.
I’m losing my shit over: possibly having to go a month or more without pay due to massive quarantine/lock down; complete and total food shortages; energy and water shortages; rioting and looting; living in the city during a global crisis; my friends and family getting Corona and its fatal; utter financial collapse; being at the wrong place at the wrong time at the exact moment the world turns to shit; Pancake getting sick and I can’t take her to the vet because everything is closed and she dies under the bed. These are the things I obsessively worry about.
It’s going to get worse before it gets better. So stay home, wash your hands, stay home, don’t cough in public, stay home, and don’t buy all the food at the store.
For the love of all things, PLEASE STAY HOME.