Questions of when life will finally return to normal have been circulating since March, when the media first began to cover the coronavirus’ spread into the U.S. When will these shutdowns end? Simply put, the answer is when people start taking coronavirus seriously.
Over the past ten months, coronavirus has woven itself in and out of various countries, but the U.S. seems to be stuck in a state of permanent concern. As we approach a year of quarantine here in California, it is becoming increasingly apparent that even state mandates are inadequate for handling COVID-19.
California’s new Stay-At-Home order was issued last month, yet it has proven itself largely ineffective. Interestingly, California currently has nearly 30% more coronavirus infections than Florida, a state with virtually no government restrictions.
These undeniably high numbers contrast California’s status during the first wave of coronavirus infections, when state governor Gavin Newsom proudly reported an “arguably flattened” curve of infections in April of 2020. Now, with this newly implemented order that is really no different than April’s, California’s infection rates are only on the rise.
Clearly, the issue here is not a lack of government response. Surely, effects of the shutdown order would be far more prominent with adequate enforcement, but the bulk of the responsibility lies on the shoulders of the public.
It is easy for us to push the blame over to the radical right-wing anti-maskers who are marching through Target and blaring the ‘80s hit “We’re Not Gonna Take It” on a Wednesday afternoon. But to say that these conspiracy theorists are the only ones contributing to the problem at hand would be a lie.
Anyone who has been keeping tabs on their neighbors and classmates over the past ten months will surely be able to name half a tour bus of people who have been putting their peers at risk of infection. Whether it be going to house parties every weekend, travelling to busy tourist attractions, or simply not wearing an effective mask, these people are just as at fault for California’s rapid coronavirus spread as the Target conspiracists.
It is important to put all of this into perspective and realize the severity of this pandemic. With only 22 ICU beds left available in a county of over 10 million people, minor medical accidents may quickly become deadly without proper attention. However, the largest problem at hand – the pandemic itself – is just as dangerous. ABC reports that one person in LA County is killed by coronavirus every 8 minutes, on average.
Since March, many of us have become accustomed to hearing these statistics, and allowing them to fly past us with the blur of last year. It now takes extra effort to force these numbers to truly sink into our hearts and affect us the way they once did. But as we ride out a third and much more massive wave of infections, please take this moment and treat each number as what it is – a human life.
It is entirely unfortunate that the rationale behind the careless spread of COVID-19 in our community is not ignorance; it is apathy. With so much exposure to news on the internet and social media, almost the entirety of our community has access to these numbers. Yet, new photos are posted across social media on the daily, showcasing groups of people walking around carelessly and in close proximity, sometimes even maskless.
“Some of my family members aren’t taking [the pandemic] very seriously, and it’s [been] detrimental to our relationship,” one anonymous LCHS student says. “At first I agreed with them, because they were the only source of information I was getting. But now I read the news more, so I’ve realized that they’re wrong.
“I feel betrayed because they are also exposing me to the virus with their decisions, and pressuring me to go out when that’s not what I want [to do].”
This student’s experience is not unique. Multiple schoolmates have voiced similar frustrations in the past. How did we reach a point where going out recreationally so often is considered “normal” in the midst of a deadly pandemic?
Unsurprisingly, this isn’t the first time such behavior has shown itself. Looking at newspaper excerpts from the 1918 influenza pandemic, it is clear that history repeats itself.
During the 1918 pandemic, approximately 50 million people were killed by influenza worldwide, CDC says. Presently, COVID-19 has taken nearly 2 million lives across the globe, and following in the footsteps of our ancestors does not seem to be the optimal choice for our generation.
Will this cycle ever be broken?
From the looks of it, we don’t seem to be moving in the right direction. “The fact that people are ignoring a pandemic in favor of their own personal wants is only one half of the problem,” another anonymous student claims. “The other half is the fact that they’re not embarrassed of it. They flaunt it all over social media – photos of them touching, sharing food, even kissing – and they get away with it, because no one is willing to tell them ‘no.’”
It’s true that this behavior has become grossly normalized. People, whether they be schoolmates or celebrities, are not being held accountable for their actions.
“I think that people have genuinely been struggling. I empathize with this,” Anna Pacino, an LCHS sophomore, comments. “It is so hard to experience high school like this […] It is an insane adjustment and it hurts to never see [your friends].”
The problem, though, she points out, is that “people detach themselves from the virus. They think that it’s something foreign and something that will never affect them. But this is very dangerous. COVID doesn’t care who you are, or what your circumstance is.
“The bottom line is, if you’re being unsafe, you’re not only harming everyone around you, but you’re harming yourself. It just isn’t worth it to risk lives for short term fun. […] If you love your friends enough to want to break quarantine for them, you will stay home to protect them and yourself.”
Pacino is one of many students in attendance at LCHS who are at high risk for COVID-19. “I have type one diabetes and my dad is a doctor,” she tells me. “I’m doing the best I can [to stay safe]. I don’t see friends without strictly following guidelines. […] This is life or death and I don’t want to contribute to that.”
Kourosh Salahi says, “I’ve been following the lockdown pretty strictly because I’m high risk. […] I used to go out with friends, but only outside with masks and 6 feet [apart]; rarely, though.
“Honestly, I’m fine being at home,” he remarks. “It’s not that bad.”
It hasn’t been as easy for Mia Segismundo, another high-risk student with severe asthma. She says, “For the first five months of quarantine, I didn’t go out or see anyone at all, and I was okay with that because I didn’t want to put myself or even others at risk.
“After a while, though, I did hang out with some friends a couple of times, while following social distancing rules and wearing a mask at all times. I made sure they got tested [and cleared] before hanging out with me. But now,” she adds, referencing the new strain of coronavirus, “I’m not hanging out with anyone anymore.”
As would be expected, the high-risk students I spoke to tended to be treating coronavirus with much more caution than their low-risk peers. However, it’s not just high-risk people who should be taking a deadly virus seriously.
“This goes for people even without health issues. This goes for everyone,” Segismundo warns. “Stay inside, wear a mask, and social distance so that everyone can go back to living life. I know this is an incredibly hard time for everyone, but I know that we can all get through it!”
It’s important to remember that even if the virus doesn’t take your life, low-risk and otherwise healthy people are still affected. Long-term effects such as memory loss, strokes, and seizures are correlated with COVID-19, according to Mayo Clinic. If you are fortunate enough to get through the disease without any of these, hospitalization alone would reserve one of the 22 ICU beds left open in LA, contributing to the potential deaths of countless others who may not be able to get one in time.
“It’s not just [about] getting COVID,” adds Elyse Hwang. “You break your leg? Got a stomach ache? Guess what – there’s no room for you.
“My dad said there are no more ICU beds [at Kaiser Permanente],” says Hwang, whose father is a doctor there. “We’re on our own if we have any non-COVID injuries.”
This truly is an extraordinary situation for all of us, but that does not justify prioritizing a day’s worth of socialization over any human life. While we all reserve the right to make our own decisions, we do not have the right to make that choice for others.
It is not just your own life you are risking by going out with friends. It is also your parents’ lives, your grandparents’ lives, your neighbors’ lives – it is your community.
As Los Angeles becomes America’s newest coronavirus hotspot, it remains our duty to protect lives in any way that we can. The easiest way to do that is to stay home, wear effective masks, and socially distance ourselves from other people before it is too late.
There are many who yearn for the return to normal life – you’re not the only one. But until we can eradicate the coronavirus and ensure our safety, that cannot happen. Please do not become part of the reason our community remains affected and lives are being lost. There are serious issues at hand, and we must respond appropriately.