When the CDC Announced That Social Distancing Was the Rule, I Didn’t Get It

I think I can speak for most people when I say that the last couple of weeks haven’t felt completely real. I feel like I’m in the wrong timeline from some Doctor Who-esque sci-fi show.

A few days ago, some friends of mine made a group chat and we asked one another how we’d been doing with our time off. I replied: “Wake up at 1 PM, watch YouTube, eat too much food, realize I haven’t done homework all day, watch Hulu, go to sleep at 4 AM, repeat.” While this reply sums up my dullest days, it’s not the whole story.

Drama in college life

When the CDC first reported on the pandemic, I didn’t take it seriously

This kind of thing hasn’t really happened before, at least not in my lifetime. In high school, during the Ebola virus outbreak of 2014-2016, we didn’t worry about getting sick or dying. We certainly didn’t cancel school or shut down the country, so I didn’t understand why this was any different.

Don’t get me wrong; I was worried for my parents, especially worried for my immunocompromised mom. She had multiple myeloma (bone marrow cancer) several years ago, and, while she is in long-term remission, I get a bit worried every time she gets sick, even if it’s only a cold.

For this reason, even before we understood the severity of the coronavirus and before the government took measures to regulate the spread, I considered not attending the Sigma Tau Delta English Honors Society conference. I thought avoiding airports, the conference hotel, and other public places with large groups of people would be wise.

I didn’t want to get sick, and I didn’t want to get my family to be exposed to me upon my return. Ultimately, I didn’t have to decide because the conference, like so many other events, was cancelled.

I had mixed feelings about the conference’s cancellation. I attended last year’s event with a broken foot and sprained arm, so I was pretty dependent on others to push my wheelchair around. I don’t feel like I got the full experience, and I was looking forward to this year making up for last.

However, the cancellation also meant I didn’t have to make a possibly life-altering decision. If I had chosen to go, what would have happened to my mom? If I hadn’t gone, and the coronavirus wasn’t serious, what would I have missed out on? The decision was made for me, and I’m thankful in that respect.

The conference cancellation helped put the virus in perspective

Saint Leo University decided to go online days before the conference was cancelled; all student activities and events had been cancelled; and social distancing had been ordered. All of these moves showed me that something was really wrong. Finally, I understood that I should take precautions and pay attention to the situation.

Unfortunately, the phrase “social distancing” is vague. It’s a new phrase that, without clarification, didn’t mean much to me other than “act like you’re contagious with a cold, unless you actually feel sick.” In other words, as long as I washed my hands and stayed a good distance from others, it didn’t matter where I went. I celebrated my 21st birthday before realizing what “social distancing” really means and before starting my life as a hermit. I went to a few bars with some friends—we tried to find ones without large crowds, which wasn’t difficult, given the circumstances. Apparently, other people had gotten the No, seriously. You should stay home memo before my friends and I did.

The week after my birthday, I hunkered down

The week after was spent in front of my laptop, watching shows, and procrastinating on homework with brief interruptions from worrisome thoughts.

It’s startling the thoughts a person thinks during self-isolation: What if I get the coronavirus, even if I try to prevent it? What if my family or friends get it? Nothing feels real. And why am I getting so many pimples? It’s easy to let worry turn to fear. Florida preschools, pre-kindergartens, and daycares remained open. Since my mom works at a VPK (Voluntary Prekindergarten Education Program), and she was adamant about returning to work, I was very worried about her. I argued with her telling her that even if she was careful, she’d be around young kids with snotty noses and scant personal hygiene. Thankfully, all but one kid stayed home, and she didn’t have to return to work.

I’m doing my part to avoid catching and spreading illness to others

I’ve been staying home and washing my hands frequently. I recognize the true danger of the virus now and staying home helps me be a lot less stressed about it. The only person who leaves the house frequently is my sister, who works at a vet clinic. She’s young, has a strong immune system, and is one of the cleanest people I know. I think my family and I will be okay; this too shall pass.

In the meantime, I’m sort of lost in a timeless fog. I’m dealing with fairly common problems for college students at the moment. Meeting deadlines for homework assignments hasn’t been easy without the structure of scheduled class times or theatre rehearsals. I miss seeing my friends in person instead of through a tiny phone screen, but I’m able to sleep in and spend more time with my sister before she leaves for college next year. For that, and my family’s continued health, I am grateful.

You Might Also Want to Read:

A Love Letter From All of Us to Our Kids’ Teachers

Why Social Distancing is So Difficult for Adolescents

Emily Rachael Miller is in undergrad in her junior year at Saint Leo University. She is an English major with a professional writing specialization. Emily is also a writer and copy editor for The Lions’ Pride, Saint Leo’s student-run newspaper. She is also the secretary for Saint Leo’s Sigma Tau Delta English Honors Society chapter.

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