By Patrick Yang
COVID-19 tales from San Diego, CA.
In the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak, my two immediate family members and I were all in different locations. My son works in the Bay Area, my daughter attends Oxford, and I work in Southern California.
At the end of February, people from China entering the Bay Area were asked to stay at home for 14 days even if they showed no symptoms. Many tech companies asked their employees to work from home. My son's was no exception.
When he had a workplace to go to, he ate at the company cafeteria. On weekends, he either dined out with friends or grabbed something quickly by himself. I doubted his fridge was even plugged in. Now he had to work at home all day long. The first thing he had to do was to plug his fridge in and stock it up.
Oxford’s spring break was scheduled to start in Mid-March and would last for six weeks. My daughter had planned to do a micro-internship during the second week of her break, then fly back to America at the beginning of the third. Before spring break, there had been seven confirmed cases among the Oxford student body. While she was waiting for her internship to begin, she heard that a friend of hers had shortness of breath, a typical symptom of COVID-19. The last time they had contact in person was more than ten days ago, but she’d met with another friend who was in close contact with the first. I told her again and again to wash her hands, drink more water, go out less, and keep an eye out in case her friends developed symptoms.
Fortunately, all three were fine by the time she flew home.
On March 11th, Trump announced that all travel from Europe to the United States would be suspended for 30 days starting on March 13th, but if my daughter could find a direct flight, she could still come back.
Whether or not she’d actually return was a tricky question. She had a friend who had returned to the US two weeks earlier. In order to avoid infecting her family, she stayed at a hotel nearby and had not yet seen them.
If my daughter were to quarantine for two weeks, there would be only one week left for her to spend with us. Coupled with long confinement in an airplane and potential exposure at airports, it was far riskier for her to come home. Besides, if the virus went rampant in the U.S., she would have to quarantine for another two weeks after she went back if she was even able to. Rumor had it that Oxford would hold classes online next term. If that was true, she could stay in the U.S. for longer.
On March 16th, six Bay Area counties announced shelter in place orders for all residents. That same day, the British government announced a new set of social distancing measures. My daughter’s internship was canceled.
I tried to figure out which country would be safer but realized I would worry about her far more if she stayed in the UK. On March 19th, the state of California issued a shelter in place order. The situation was changing by the minute and we needed to make a decision. I called my son to discuss it. My son was mature and decisive, which was a great comfort to me. He insisted that our family stick together in this difficult time. He suggested his sister come to the Bay Area instead of Southern California. Although Southern California had less cases, my place was a one-bedroom. I had no room for her to quarantine. My son lived in a three-bedroom house. His sister could stay in her own room while he provided for her.
The only other factor was whether or not Oxford would go online next term. My son bought her a plane ticket for a flight in a couple days. If Oxford decided to still hold its courses in person next term, he could easily cancel the ticket.
We waited nervously for an update from the school. On March 23rd, the UK declared a lockdown. The day before my daughter’s flight, Oxford announced next term would be held online. My daughter stayed up all night packing. The next morning, she checked out of her dorm, put her stuff in storage, and took a bus to the airport. She flew from London to Newark and then to San Francisco. She finally arrived on the evening of March 28th.
I monitored the process remotely. When my son picked up my daughter at the airport, she sat in the backseat diagonally opposite him. When she got home, she dumped her clothes in the washing machine and took a shower. Her luggage was left outside for a day. For the next few days, the two never met each other face to face. All meals were placed on a table outside my daughter’s bedroom. Their communication was via text or shouting through the door. My daughter was to quarantine in her room for 14 days. My son could move around freely inside the house, but he decided not to go outside for 14 days, just in case. He’d planned ahead and had bought all the essentials in advance. I was so proud of my children for their intelligence and discipline.
I asked my daughter if she felt bored and she said no. Her only regret was that she wouldn’t get Oxford’s signature face-to-face instruction next term. On top of that, she’d have to deal with the time difference once online classes started.
My son kept himself busy. Aside from work, he repainted the house and did his taxes. April 7th was his birthday. He ordered a good meal to share with his sister. They celebrated with a door between them.
I’d planned to drive to the Bay Area for his birthday. I’d been working at home since Mid-March and could certainly work from Northern California. My daughter pointed out that if I went inside that house, I had to stay there for 14 days too. After much consideration, I refrained from going. I cooked longevity noodles for my son and ate in front of my webcam. Meanwhile, I was prepared to drive up north any minute if they found themselves infected.
My son and daughter completed their quarantine on April 12, Easter Sunday. They went to the supermarket to buy food and ordered meals from their favorite restaurant. The pick-up process was very odd. After texting the restaurant, my son drove to a parking lot to wait for a clerk who came and left their packed lunch on a table. The moment the guy left, my son got out and grabbed the goods. The transaction was done in seconds, as secretive as a clandestine operation.
In the past, Easter Sunday was always a lively day. Churches were busy and filled with various activities. When my children were young, I brought them to the park for Easter egg hunts. They were always overjoyed for their gifts no matter how big or small.
This Easter Sunday, I stayed home alone and listened to Andrea Bocelli sing to an empty Milan Cathedral. I’d visited that church in April of last year. I was impressed by its grandness and the sheer number of visitors. How could I imagine that one day Andrea Bocelli would sing alone in this expansive space? On the other hand, this global lockdown had brought together an audience from all over the world.
That same day, my friend sent me a video about a four-year-old boy living in Southern California. The boy was disappointed that his birthday party was canceled due to the lockdown. What made it worse was that his mother had gone to the hospital and had given birth to his sister. He wanted to visit but wasn’t allowed. Somehow, the police found out. They drove circles around his house and dropped off a present and birthday card. The neighbors all stood in the street and applauded while keeping social distance. They later sent their own blessings through social media. That’s how I got the video. The police told the overjoyed mother that it was their duty to interact with schools and children. Cheering up kids was their most important work and they were happy to do it.
Tears welled up when I saw the video. This birthday will probably be one of the most memorable birthdays of the boy’s life. In this spring while the epidemic is raging, the human heart is as warm and bright as ever.
Bocelli's rendition of "Amazing Grace" echoed in my mind when I was writing this essay. The song calmed me down and filled me with hope for the resurrection of life.
This catastrophe will be over sooner or later. This is probably the only Easter Sunday that people have spent in lockdown. I believe that my son and daughter, as well as that little boy and many other children, will be able to take their kids to the park for Easter egg hunts years later.
Will my children remember the happiness of going out of the house and bathing in the sun after days of quarantine? Would they realize that that day happened to be Easter, the day that Jesus resurrected to save humanity from death?
Patrick Yang is a pharmaceutical scientist. He enjoys writing articles in his leisure time. He uses 皮皮虾 as his pen name when he writes in Chinese.