text and photography
by Emily J. Sullivan
March 18, 2020
Total Confirmed Cases Globally: 214,894+ Total Confirmed Cases in America: 7,769+
It’s beginning to sink in. This reality is not only mine to grasp, but everyone’s in the world.
I’m locked inside my two-bedroom condo with twin 5-year-olds and my fiancé, who comes and goes from work. We live 40 minutes east of Los Angeles, and it’s not safe to go outside. I suppose I could step onto my front porch, or post up on my balcony to inhale some fresh air, but that’s as far as I should go. It’s not just here. People are confined to their homes in Milan, Italy. The streets of Daegu, South Korea are deserted. Black body bags are lined up outside a morgue in Qom, Iran. In Wuhan, China, where the crisis began, corpses have been snatched from their homes and immediately cremated. Families were not given the option to object.
I’ve never had something in common with the rest of the world – a shared experience dense with uncertainty, anxiety, hope, frustration. I imagine we’re all gripping our loved ones a little tighter. And missing the ones who are out of reach.
The initial news of the coronavirus felt so distant. It was this eerie reality happening another world away. In America, news of a far away country’s hardships and chaos are met with a furrowed brow and a $20 donation made through a link shared in the bio of an Oscar-nominated actor. Americans tend to look over photos of tragedy and carnage happening in real time and assess it as though we’re looking at the history books—what a shame, we think. Then snap a photo of our quinoa salad, post it to Instagram and move on with our lives.
The first time it occurred to me that the virus could get personal was when I was lying in bed with my fiancé, during the first week of February. A cruise ship traveling to Japan had passengers infected with the virus. The people aboard were quarantined on the ship. My fiancé, Michael, is a scientist at Gilead Sciences. The company had produced an antiviral drug, Remdesivir, when the Ebola virus was a threat between 2013-2016. Now the biopharmaceutical company is in the news again because that same drug has been used in attempts to treat coronavirus patients in China and the results were promising.
“Oh, God, all those people on board; they’re coming back here,” I said to Michael, eyes wide, as I scrolled through the article on my phone.
“We have the chance to contain it,” Michael told me. “It just has to be taken extremely seriously.” I realize now, we missed our chance.
March 19, 2020
Total Confirmed Cases Globally: 218,824+ Total Confirmed Cases in America: 9,415+
A 34-year-old man in neighboring city Glendora died today. Jeffrey Ghazarian had recently returned from Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. After coughing up blood, he sought medical care. His sister posted from his Facebook page over the course of a couple weeks, giving updates. Today, she posted he died. So far, the virus has been considered only dangerous for senior citizens. He had asthma as a kid and survived testicular cancer years before, but the coronavirus killed him.
I’ve had asthma since childhood. I wonder if that will be enough of an underlying condition to create complications if I contract the virus.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom asked all non-essential businesses to close down, including restaurants for dine-in service. Many restaurants have followed the orders, but countless others ignore it. San Bernardino County issued an order as well, neglecting to ask its restaurants to close their doors for dine-in. I wrote a letter to six San Bernardino County Supervisors. They replied with a number for a hotline and otherwise blew me off.
My best friend Lara went to work today. She’s a server at Yard House at Victoria Gardens. She arrived at the start of her shift to a full section, six tables filled with patrons. She walked up to her boss and said, “I’m not OK with this. I won’t work tonight.”
When the clock changes from 11:59 p.m. to 12:00 a.m., an hour from now, the state will be placed on full lockdown. California will be the first U.S. state to impose government restrictions of this magnitude. I expect an outpouring of opposite reactions flooding social media by morning but personally, I’m relieved. Sacrificing social drinking, shoe shopping, manicures and hair appointments are the least I can do. Sacrificing potential income is a more difficult and vulnerable sacrifice for everyone and yet an imperative one unless we’d rather sacrifice the lives of family and friends.
April 7, 2020
Total Confirmed Cases Globally: 1,365,004+ Total Confirmed Cases in America: 369,069+
I find it baffling that a plague is politicized, but if ever there were a time, it would be now. Political ideology in America has become so polarized and volatile in the last four years it’s seeped into all of our lives in one way or another. I remember reading about America’s Civil War, how brothers fought against each other, fathers fought against sons. That seemed unfathomable to me, but now I can see how potent political tribalism can be. How it leads to the acrimonious severing of friendships, familial relationships and marriages. It makes me sad, but I also understand. When people believe in something so strongly, it’s inevitable there will come a point that those beliefs dictate the people they choose to have in their lives, and the people they have to let go.
I think of the friends and family I’ve lost in the last four years, because of the political climate, and my disdain for Donald Trump grows deeper. I blame him. I’ve never felt such anger toward a person I’ve never met.
Lately I’ve switched the channel from Trump’s daily briefings and have found comfort in briefings from California Gov. Gavin Newsom, not because I’m a fan. I’m indifferent toward him typically, but he repeatedly promises to govern California based off the science of this virus, and that is something I will always get behind. Leading with respect for science gives me comfort.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s briefings have also been a welcome treat. I think he’s a babe. Michael knows about my crush on the “love gov,” and he doesn’t seem to mind. Gov. Cuomo’s handling of the pandemic has made him popular on the late night show circuit and apparently popular with the ladies— his admirers are called “Cuomosexuals.”
April 17, 2020
Total Confirmed Cases Globally: 2,200,000+ Total Confirmed Cases in America: 700,000+
Although life at home is monotonous, it’s so busy and chaotic that the repetition doesn’t bother me. I have to prepare breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner every day, so my sink is piled high with dishes that I can’t seem to get ahead of. The couch is covered with clean laundry that needs folding, and the corners of each bedroom are filled with dirty clothing that needs laundering. I was never cut out to be the kind of housewife who vacuums in pearls and has the smell of fresh muffins lingering from the kitchen on Sunday mornings, and I accept that about myself. But, my failures in the house “wifing” department feel glaring more than ever now that we’re stuck in an unkempt house, and the kids are having Easter candy for breakfast.
It’s difficult to prioritize. When I choose to spend the day getting caught up on schoolwork, I’m choosing to neglect the housework, and when I choose to dedicate an hour to exercising, I’m choosing to neglect spending time with the kids. Finding a way to prioritize, multi-task and pay homage to all the aspects of daily life and the attention it needs isn’t easy, and I’m falling short all around— messy house, late school assignments, missed freelance deadlines, neglected children, overworked husband, hair that needs washing, and legs that need shaving.
The shelter-in-place orders initially extended to the end of April; now it’s been extended again to the end of May. The economy is suffering with non-essential businesses closing down. Restaurants are closing their doors for good, and small business owners are scrambling to stay afloat, applying for emergency loans and trying to adapt their services in a way that would help them to bring in some income—even a little is better than none.
April 25, 2020
Total Confirmed Cases Globally: 2,980,000+ Total Confirmed Cases in America: 939,000+
I haven’t been to a grocery store for a month and a half. I used to go every other day because I’m terrible at planning meals ahead of time. Now, I am relying on subscription boxes and Instacart, a grocery shopping app that sends out other, more willing shoppers, to purchase groceries for me. I signed up for Blue Apron, Home Chef and Bright Cellars – two meal subscription boxes that come with pre-measured ingredients and recipes for easy-to-navigate dinner prep and a wine subscription box because, wine.
The last time I shopped at a grocery store, the shelves were emptied, and what few items were left had been rifled through. The lines were filled with shoppers with carts that overflowed with canned goods and frozen dinners. It felt like we were all preparing for the end of the world. Maybe we are. Now, my foyer is overwhelmed with Amazon prime boxes stacked on top of each other, new boxes coming daily filled with items like laundry detergent, tea, soy sauce, etc.
People are starting to get antsy. San Bernardino is re-opening parks, hiking trails and golf courses this weekend – a move I think they’ll come to regret. I’m sure they’re trying to appease county residents who are protesting the strict social distancing measures, but I can’t help worrying this will prolong everyone’s suffering.
May 8, 2020
Total Confirmed Cases Globally: 3,910,738+
Total Confirmed Cases in America: 1,273,887+
Total Deaths in America: 76,706+ (More than any other country in the world by tens of thousands.)
I caved and went to Target. The girls’ birthday was in a few days, and our Amazon shipment of gift-wrapping paper had been delayed. I wore my mask and brought hand sanitizer. Walking in, I was surprised to see how packed the store was. There were two lines that wrapped around each side of the store, one for self-checkout and one for cashier checkout. People stood feet away from one another with masks covering their faces, making all of their facial expressions appear blank. Loudspeaker announcements loomed over shoppers: “Hello, Target shoppers, please remember to stay at least six feet away from other shoppers.” I turned around and left.
My saving grace has been Michael and the girls. I’ve been hearing about couples calling it quits while sheltering in place together. Apparently quarantine makes you or breaks you as far as relationships are concerned. The time I’ve spent home with my family has reminded me how much I love hanging out with them. All the card games, dance parties, shared dinners and bedtime stories – I’m into it. I accidentally bought two copies of “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” by Hunter S. Thompson, so Michael and I are reading it together every night. I wish Hunter were still around for a spinoff – “Fear and Loathing During the Coronavirus Pandemic” would be an instant NYTimes best-seller.
I don’t know how long this pandemic will last, or how intensive the protective measures will remain. I’m buckling up for a long ride. I have good days and bad days. On the good ones, I reorganize my pantry and pat myself on the back for the small wins. On the bad days, I drink too much wine, call my sisters and cry. I think the key to surviving the pandemic, and the rollercoaster of emotions it’s plagued us all with, is to remain vigilant: Read the news, stay informed, do my part in curbing the spread. But also, appreciate the charm of family life at home, stay connected with the people who bring me joy, and when the world feels hopeless and rough, muster courage and compassion.