Published: June 2, 2021

My Experience During the 2020 Pandemic (and What I Learned)

I don’t think anyone was really prepared for the perpetual dumpster fire that was 2020, which is a sentiment I’m sure Fang Fang can understand. Generally, as the promise of a new calendar year begins to approach, people will either 1) cheerfully toast to a future of prosperity and/or 2) lament how unprepared they are for another 365 days of troubles and anxieties. Having (mostly) made it to the other side by this point, hindsight tells us that the former were in for the shock of their lives and the latter probably even more so. I, myself, am not exactly sure which is worse— the universe proving you incredibly wrong or the universe letting you know just how right you were. 

I’m not easy to shock. Really, I take most things in stride and I accept the fact that, in a very general, cosmic sense, I can’t control most things. But 2020 was, for lack of a better word, full of surprises. I believe that this mainly because so many of us initially had faith: in our government, in our social safety nets, in the people around us, and in the things we thought we knew so well. We believed that our country, if not the world at large, could sustain a virus. Sure, it was contagious and capable of killing people, but it had a low mortality rate and it could have fastly been staved off by staying indoors and being cautious— the rest would be taken care of by the powers that be. The solution was, and is, easy. What we didn’t know yet was that arriving there would be exceedingly and depressingly difficult.

I remember the first week of the pandemic. Myself and my classmates were excited to be getting the next day off while our school administration sorted things out. The next day we were told that school would resume the following Monday— from home. My mom, a worrywart, was pressed about the implications of such a thing. If schools were shutting down for the time being, that meant the virus was becoming a serious problem. I, a worrywart to a lesser degree, worried that maybe hey, maybe this isn’t going to be just a week but also I got to attend school in my pajamas for the foreseeable future so I wasn’t questioning it too much. Next month, my school principal said. We’re predicting that we’ll be back on campus by mid-April. April, however, came and went, and my AP exams were getting worryingly close. The reported infections rates on the news gradually climbed as time passed and my mom and I understandably became panicked because the virus clearly wasn’t going anywhere. This was compounded by the fact that my mom had a rare immunological disorder (and severe lung issues) that made her incredibly susceptible to infection; my uncle had leukemia and similar lung problems, my grandpa was a quadriplegic in remission, and my grandma was a morbidly obese diabetic with a weak immune system. All of whom were in close, regular contact with non-family members. We had already heard horror stories of people being placed in induced comas and being incubated with tubes down their throats; we didn’t want to imagine any of our family going through that. 2,000 cases per day became normal, even expected; my family began ordering groceries through Instacart and spraying down all of our delivered items with 80% isopropyl alcohol. With the exception of emergencies, we didn’t leave our apartment for three months. We didn’t visit my grandpa, who had recently survived metastatic cancer, nor did we visit my grandma, who was severely mentally ill and benefited from company. My only female cousin, Sarah, became pregnant during the pandemic. She shared the exciting news with me and my family while standing on the other side of our balcony fence, my uncle and aunt on either side of her, and all of us wearing masks. She gave birth in January, though I only just held her baby for the first time last week, which was when we considered it safe to do so. 

I was beginning to struggle with school at this point.  Any illusion that quarantine was an extended “vacation” and not a necessary evil to protect those around me was shattered. I somehow managed to cram more than a month of study material into a week, after spending weeks depressed in bed. I received my results in June and I was incredibly excited (jumping up and down, in fact) because of how well I did. Self-isolation and the general state of the world had damaged my self-esteem and ability to work efficiently; I was proud because, despite this, I had passed. It was a fleeting feeling, but it’s important that we feel these things during dark times. 

2,000 quickly escalated to 10,000 daily cases. The government response was staggeringly slow and inadequate. Political talk show hosts on TV dismissed the severity of the current situation: we need to re-open the economy, they said, sometimes even explicitly citing survival of the fittest or thereabouts as justification for the lives that would be lost as a result. I was already aware of how shamelessly greedy American politicians and pundits could be, but the pandemic truly revealed how bottomless that pit could be. $1,200 stimulus package, Congress said, while the cost of beef at Aldi rose by more than $4, while sick employees were being forced to continue working because of mounting bills, while some of my classmates' parents were being laid off. But still, that was too much for the people who ran the country (but the deficit!, they said). My Instagram feed was full of outrage, disgust at the government for even implying that an amount that little was enough: how could they be so out of touch? they’re supposed to be running our country! I was shocked, and like I said, I’m not one for surprises. I’m upset that it took more than 30 million cases and 500,000 deaths for myself and others to realize just how fundamentally flawed the U.S. is. A country built to maximize profit and productivity has little room for empathy; in hindsight, what else could we expect? The same country that forces many people to pay their medical bills through GoFundMe, or that still struggles with implementing a basic minimum wage is likely the very same country that would expose millions to COVID-19 for the sake of the economy. 

As the debate regarding the pandemic and the economy raged on in the background, my family suffered losses. A relative close to my mom passed away due to COVID-related complications; my mom wasn’t able to see her in her dying moments because boarding a plane would have put her at risk. My grandfather was hospitalized due to the virus, and though he lived in the same city as us, my family couldn’t see him due to hospital restrictions. It was absolute hell for my mom, who wanted to be with her father in what was likely the last month of his life. He miraculously survived, however, and was able to spend another two months with my family before he passed away. Thankfully, he had access to great healthcare and government-provided assistance at home due to his neuropathy. But I wondered many times how many people infected with the virus didn’t have the same access. How many families have been torn apart by avoidable deaths? How many children, grandchildren, parents, or siblings didn’t get to say goodbye for the last time? Just how many people have needlessly suffered because of this pandemic? I hope that these questions will remain in the government and the American public’s conscience, so that hopefully, we can avoid a similar situation in the future.