I read an article today in which a historian suggested keeping a record of your life during this strange time in which we are living. I myself have wondered – what was it like to be alive during the spread of the Spanish Flu of 1918? What was the atmosphere like in America in the 1940s and 1950s, as thousands of children (including my father) contracted polio? I wonder what my children will remember 30 years from now (and whether they will ask me to recount for them what it was like from my perspective). I wonder what questions my grandchildren will have. And for those reasons, and because my blog already serves as a sort of journal for our family, I’ve decided to do occasional blog posts about our lives during this time.
Today I’m sharing about our family’s particular experience of the time leading up to the day we started practicing extreme social distancing.
Having two daughters who were born in China, we try to follow news coming out of China. I texted an article to my mom (the Director of Emergency Management for her county) and the rest of my family about the coronavirus on January 22. It seemed potentially worrisome but still so far away from us.
On February 24, I sent an article to them that had the headline, “Past Time to Tell the Public: “It Will Probably Go Pandemic, and We Should All Prepare Now”.” By that point, the United States had only 14 diagnosed cases of the coronavirus (the first had been on January 21st), but 14 cases, across multiple states, of a disease that seemed to spread exponentially, seemed like just the beginning.
Our president, Donald Trump, had been making comments that downplayed the significance of the virus. According to a New York Times article compiling his statements and comparing them to what was going on in the world, he stated, on January 31, “Well, we pretty much shut it down coming in from China.” On February 10, he said, “Looks like by April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away.” His statement on February 19 was that, “I think the numbers are going to get progressively better as we go along.” On February 23, he said that the situation was, “very much under control.” But on that same day, “the World Health Organization announced that the virus was in 30 countries, with 78,811 confirmed cases, a more than fivefold increase over the previous three weeks.”
On February 26, he said, “We’re going down, not up. We’re going very substantially down, not up.” That is not at all what seemed to be happening, though. That same day, this was the snap I sent to a few close friends (for fear of being seen as alarmist, I didn’t want to send it out to everyone).
I’d made a special mid-week grocery shopping trip to both Aldi and Hyvee and spent about $600 getting us stocked up on non-perishable food items, frozen vegetables, and toiletries. Little did I know that it was going to be toilet paper that was the big item (who could have guessed?) – but fortunately, we have that set to be delivered to us monthly through an Amazon subscription, so we’re fine for now! I may need to start looking for some, though, if Amazon is unable to fulfill my regular monthly order.
Trump continued to double down on his claims, stating on February 27, “It’s going to disappear. One day — it’s like a miracle — it will disappear.”
Meanwhile, cities, states, and public and private institutions were beginning to prepare for the arrival of the virus. On March 5, the University of Missouri, where Matt is a professor, instructed faculty to begin thinking about how they could deliver in-person course material through other means.
Amid reports from all around the country that there was a shortage of testing kids, Trump said on March 6, “Anybody that wants a test can get a test.” This is patently untrue, as basically every media outlet has reported. On March 7, Trump stated, “I’m not concerned at all.” On that same day, Missouri’s first confirmed case of COVID-19 was diagnosed. Of course, because of the shortage of testing kits, no one knows whether it was truly the first case in the state.
On March 10, Trump said, “It will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away.” The next day, Wednesday, March 11, the University of Missouri sent out an e-mail in the morning informing the campus that some students and faculty had attended a conference the prior weekend from which another attendee (not from Mizzou) had later been diagnosed a presumptive positive for COVID-19. A few hours later, that afternoon, the University announced that as of 5:00 pm that day, in-person classes were suspended through the following Sunday, at which point professors would be expected to teach their formerly in-person classes remotely for March 16-20, the week leading up to spring break. They stated that they hoped to resume in-person classes on Monday, March 30, but honestly, I cannot imagine anyone actually thought that would happen. Even though Missouri had only 1 diagnosed case at that point, students, faculty, and staff could travel all over the world during that spring break week and come back to campus having faced innumerable exposures.
The University of Missouri putting into place its plans for remote instruction had a domino effect for us (and, I suspect, for many others). Up until that point, we had been living life relatively normally. We were expecting this to come, and we were beginning to prepare, but we didn’t know exactly when or how. The prior weekend, I had been visiting my best friend, Courtney, hanging out, riding horses, and just getting in some good, quality self-care time.
That day, Wednesday the 11th, I enjoyed a long lunch date with some friends and then came home and took the kids to swim practice. That’s where we were when we heard that Mizzou was canceling its in-person classes. A few minutes later, we received word that the swim meet that our club was supposed to host that weekend at the Mizzou Rec Center had been canceled by the university. I had been scheduled to work about 15-20 hours of volunteer time at that meet, and I’ll admit, I was getting increasingly nervous about it, knowing that swimmers (and their families and coaches) would be traveling from all around to attend the meet, and that there would be large numbers of people in close quarters at the arena. I was relieved when it was canceled.
The combination of in-person classes being canceled and the swim meet being canceled meant that we theoretically could begin staying home. Public K-12 schools here were still in session. There was not yet a mass effort at social distancing. But we knew it was becoming increasingly likely that the coronavirus could be present in and spreading within our community. Matt and I talked about it that night after the kids were in bed and decided that this was the moment – we were going to start staying home. We kept the kids home from their homeschool enrichment group the next morning, and though we did have to run one family errand, that day, Thursday, March 12, is what we consider to be our first day of extreme social distancing.
In my next post, I’ll share more about what these first days of staying at home have looked like for us!