Kenny Rogers, who passed away on March 20 of this year, had a music chart hit in 1968 with a song entitled “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” with his band The First Edition.
I have always been very fond of that song and decided to borrow from its title to share some of my continually changing thoughts and observations about the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on our world.
Everything seemed to be great on Jan. 22, which happened to be my birthday. I was back at UNR following our winter break, in classes, and thinking about a summer program doing archaeological fieldwork in Italy and/or Belize. Granted, I had read about a new and mysterious virus affecting people in the Wuhan area of China, but did not think much about it. But then the viral nightmare began, with cases of illness slowly building and then skyrocketing around the world and in the United States. It seemed like we were all being cast as extras in a sequel to the movie Contagion.
On March 12, an extraordinary student announcement was issued by Marc Johnson, the President of UNR. It essentially said the college—as we knew it—was changing dramatically. While not shutting down, the school’s in-person classes would be replaced by online classes, and students in university owned housing were told that they had to find alternative living arrangements. While this was devastating to many, it was likely inevitable and followed or mirrored the direction of universities around the country.
Again, this happened on March 12, just about a month ago. Spring break followed the announcement, and it gave me—and many other UNR students—the opportunity to consider next steps forward. I spent the break at my parents’ home, installed Wi-Fi at their place—a necessity if I were to do my schoolwork from there—took some long walks, spoke with friends from UNR and at colleges around the state and in other states, and began to follow the advice of health professionals with respect to efforts to avoid the coronavirus.
Following the break, I returned to my apartment, which is just a block from our campus. My three roommates were there as well. Being close to the university—and back with my roommates—adds a sense of normalcy, although nothing is really as it was. We are all trying to find a new normal, that oft-used phrase, but the goal-posts keep changing.
In the days since the March announcement by President Johnson, the entire world has changed—and maybe forever.
The coronavirus has now infected many people, and many have died. Everyone I know is processing what has happened and continues to happen to us. That includes struggling with challenges to balance and sanity, and constantly changing and conflicting emotions, including grief and anxiety, depression, anger and fear, among others.
The fears are widespread and include the fear of being infected by the virus, being hospitalized, and losing friends and loved ones. Added to that are fears related to losing income and savings, running out of supplies—many of which have been hoarded, and a future that is uncertain. The sense of safety is gone, and this is all new territory.
There is also a painful inequality in how the pandemic impacts people. Those who are not wealthy have far greater challenges with regard to housing, money, supplies, computer equipment, connectivity and medical coverage. The unfairness of society is more pronounced when crises like this happen.
We have also been bombarded with new terms, such as shelter-in-place, self-isolate, quarantine, virtual meetings, social distancing, flattening the curve and the constant reminder of what we are dealing with—coronavirus, COVID-19, novel virus, face masks, hand sanitizers and the like.
In addition to the above, the last few weeks have required the re-calibration of our lives. We have had to find necessary household supplies. We have had to postpone or cancel plans—my summer fieldwork programs have been permanently canceled. Graduation and other ceremonies will not take place as they have historically. And many have had to change their living situations. Moreover, sports events have and will be cancelled or postponed, as have movie openings, vacations, weddings, and trips of all kinds. And there are funerals taking place without anyone in attendance. The totality of the changes is exhausting.
Personally, I will be happy—at the end of all of this—to be in the company of family and friends again, to be in class with my professors and fellow students, to hear laughter all around the campus, to eat at my favorite Japanese restaurant, to just see a movie in a theater and a sporting event in the company of thousands.
For some, the unwelcome but new reality has set in. For others, it has not, especially since the evolution of that reality is far from over, and daily life continues to change as the virus spreads.
But as we will settle into our new patterns, our isolation at home and our online classes. We will almost certainly also reflect on the time—the “good times” before the pandemic. We will process what has happened to us, think about how the government must be far better prepared for another pandemic, conclude that “wild” animals should stay in wild places and not be extracted from their environments and brought to cramped and unsanitary markets and consider how we will move forward and live once again after effective treatments and vaccines become available to combat the current coronavirus.
In thinking about the government response, we must demand available, fast and accurate testing, the stockpiling of necessary supplies and materials and greater coordination of a response by the federal government. Also, we should not accept the blame game being played out now, and we should never accept falsehoods from government officials about a serious and deadly virus. Those included that the coronavirus was a hoax, it was just like the flu, it was contained and it would miraculously go away.
The pandemic we are living through is a century-defining moment. Nothing like this has happened since the 1918-1920 Spanish flu pandemic. Unfortunately, that pandemic claimed the life of my great-great grandfather. His death certificate listed the cause of death as “Influenza; Bronchial Pneumonia.”
Until this pandemic is brought under control or ended via an effective vaccine, it will continue to cause disruption. Let us all hope that in the aftermath of this virus, with its consequences that are affecting all of us individually and collectively, we will see a positive reshaping of society, with greater worldwide crisis management, stronger and better health systems, and serious advanced preparation for another such event. Let us hope further that we never see such an event again in our lifetimes. Please stay positive, safe and healthy.
Seth Bell is a junior at University of Nevada Reno, studying Political Science. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NevadaSagebrush.