Brandon Shi is a freshman from Chino Hills in Southern California who thrives off of meeting others and loves to dream big. Olivia Olek is a sophomore, originally from Minnesota, but is currently residing in Florida. Her hobbies include traveling and art. Nico Wipf is a senior Biology student planning to graduate in May. He applied for an internship with the United Nations Development Program before the spread of the virus began, leading him to New York City over 3 weeks ago. Anna Gabriel is a sophomore from Napa Valley in Northern California who has, like Olivia and Nico, been fully partaking in online distance learning since February.
- Where are you? Do you plan on staying there?
Brandon: I’m based in Chino Hills, CA, a suburb of San Bernardino county 45 mins from LA! Yes!
Olivia: I am based in Fort Myers, Florida. My home is in St. Paul, Minnesota and I originally came down to Florida to visit my mom, but because of the current COVID-19 situation, I’ve decided to stay out and extend my stay.
Nico: In an attempt to spend my time wisely, I applied to internships and shadowships. I got accepted to one at the UNDP here in New York City. Starting last week I, along with everyone in the office, have been required to telecommute for our work. I am staying in an apartment on the Upper West Side and now with the increasing spread I suspect I will be spending all my time indoors.
Anna: I’m currently based at my home in the Napa Valley in Northern California, and I intend to stay here for the time being because my classes will continue to be online for the duration of the semester and traveling is not what one would call an option right now
- When you step outside, what’s the vibe?
Brandon: Because I live in a suburb, many people, I feel, are completely dismissing the virus. It almost feels like nothing is happening, and everyone’s proceeding like normal.
Olivia: We live in a gated community, so within it is very calm because there are not as many people. Going out to the grocery store or just driving on the roads is crazy. Especially because Florida is a hot spring break location, it is filled with college-aged kids. Just during spring break seasons alone, hundreds of thousands of people come to Fort Myers. That has definitely put a strain on the homeowners here.
Nico: The general vibe is a lot less intense and anxious than I would have suspected. A good handful of people, when you walk by them, keep their space and give a look that indicates their desire to keep distance. The rest of the people on the other hand don’t do this. There are still small groups of friends and family walking around together and couples taking their kids out for walks in the park. I should mention though, that there are also plenty of people with surgical face masks and latex gloves on.
Anna: I live in a smaller community, so I can assume the environment is more relaxed compared to that of a larger city, but there is a noticeable decrease in outside activity in general
- From your perspective, is COVID-19 being taken seriously?
Brandon: I think there’s a spectrum. On one side, people don’t mind and are not taking any precautions. The other side? people are quarantining themselves, isolating themselves from family members, stockpiling. I realize many people fall in between, these are just the extreme cases.
Olivia: Going off of what I said before, the homeowners and residents here are doing their best to remain at home, while the rest of the people here (spring breakers) are on the beach, at the bar, and out all day. there is a huge split in people actually practicing social distancing and not.
Nico: I don’t think people are taking it seriously enough. From the statistics I have researched and obtained from friends to the information that comes my way through the UNDP, people should be a lot more afraid than they are. Naturally, it isn’t a good idea to become hysterical, as that will lead to chaos and stronger mental impact, but a more attentive attitude would do better. I think we are currently in the calm before the storm where the numbers haven’t quite soared too high and not everyone has been affected yet. Soon enough, everyone is going to know someone who has been infected and this will bring on the fear and anxiety that partners with a pandemic (unless well maintained and organized).
Anna: I haven’t left the house much but when I do, the town is definitely quieter and shops are closed or running on limited hours/service, which leads me to assume that the majority of the people here take the situation seriously. There is a rather large proportion of individuals who are in an older age bracket, which may be contributing to this.
- What are your personal thoughts about the current state restrictions or lack of restrictions?
Brandon: My personal thoughts may be a bit skewed. As an extreme extrovert, I’ve never stayed at my home for more than one day at a time. I’ve always been out exploring and thrive off human interaction. I realize the importance of flattening the curve and combating the virus so I’ve been doing my best to take preemptive measures. (social distancing of 6 feet away, avoiding crowds, wearing masks, washing my hands how we should have always been doing, etc.)
I think the restrictions should have come sooner, for the greater good. However, I can also see the argument that going outside should still be allowed to keep both physical and mental health in check. Social distancing is completely different from isolation/quarantine. Also many people think that staying home is easy, they don’t factor in parental tensions or living situations.
Olivia: I respect all the restrictions that have been suggested because I want to slow the spread of the virus. But how I see it, if 50% of the population stays at home and quarantines themselves and the other 50%
is going out, taking flights, and using this as a socializing period, it will do no good. It’s unfortunate that people have already been quarantined for some time and their efforts are being undone by people who aren’t doing the same.
Nico: The restrictions haven’t been absolute here in NYC yet. Only today (March 19) are some new regulations being rolled in but there are still people roaming the streets and some physical work and shops are still open. Very soon all the restrictions will occur and that will be good in preventing the spread of the virus and lessening the load on the health system. Unfortunately, I see the service industry and freelance workers suffering greatly from what is about to happen so I do appreciate what the US government is trying to implement but wish for even larger movements. With harsh restrictions and supportive governmental action, the end of the pandemic could come with less mortality and with greater speed but there will be loss both financially and in terms of health. I suppose we have to trust in the government to take the best measures but also looking out for yourself and doing whatever is necessary is just as important.
Anna: The current restrictions are a headache to say the least, but regardless are necessary to limit the spread of the virus, especially considering the number of older people in this community in particular.
- When you go grocery shopping, what’s the environment? Do people seem scared? Are you scared?
Brandon: People don’t seem to be scared. 1 in every 5 people are wearing masks, some people are keeping their distance, others not. I’m scared of the tensions that are dividing people… Fear takes over common sense, as common sense isn’t so common anymore.
Olivia: People don’t look necessarily scared, but I think the level of stress and panic is matched when they see shelves empty and store hours changing. It is alarming to think you might not be able to access the necessities you require, so I think that’s what scares people most.
Nico: I went to Trader Joe’s yesterday to buy enough groceries for maybe a week and a half (instead of the usual week). They had you wait outside of the shop and keep your distance from each other. This was a good method because it prevented too much interaction inside the shop. Inside the shop people weren’t as afraid as outside, distance was really kept while waiting. Inside people were more focused on getting what they wanted instead of keeping space. I was a bit scared, both on my visit to the grocery and my walk through Central Park. I think knowing a bit about the science behind the virus and also having the information stream from my friends and internship has heightened my anxiety a little bit. Even though I say this, I think the best advice is to try and stay calm.
Anna: Because this town is rather small it’s difficult for the grocery stores to sell out completely like some news stories show, but there are still certain items that have been completely bought up. The last couple times I’ve gone to the store the atmosphere is clearly one of anxiety, but everything seems to be more or less under control, despite the larger number of people inside. I have my own concerns naturally, but the best I can do is follow the guidelines for keeping myself healthy.
These interviews have been edited and condensed.
This article was written by Steph Scaglia. Please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to get in touch.
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