Observations by a Global Health and Communications Science Major at an American University Campus

Written by Tali Sulcas

The elderly checkout attendant at Target is trying to explain to a middle-aged woman in front of me attempting to buy six cases of toilet paper, that these are a rationed item and she is only allowed to buy one case.   Her child, a curly-haired blonde boy of about 6, looks up at his mom with his hands in his mouth (love the irony here) as she’s huffing about putting the remaining cases aside. You would think that COVID-19 was the most severe diarrheal illness humanity has ever seen, and the rush for toilet paper is because it is in unimaginable physiological demand.  And, the rush for clean water is because our sanitation system is so overwhelmed that we can no longer drink from the tap. 

Perhaps, though, the stress of uncertainty during this pandemic is in fact leading people to experience gastrointestinal distress. The stress is real, especially that associated with planning for the rest of the semester- accommodation, transport, food.  All of these things present issues of interpersonal interaction, and the reality is that it takes but a second for a microscopic pathogen such as COVID-19 to come in contact with a hand and jump to the face. Our classes are all online now, my job at the campus fitness center is on hold as the facility has been closed and my research lab is closed as well.  We continue our lab meetings via Zoom and using the time to process data that we have collected and brainstorm around new directions in research. We are all in this together, pushing forward with our education, not giving up, but finding solutions to the current situation we find ourselves in.  

For international students like me, the benevolence of friends and their families is the means of a private place to stay, where everyday acts like brushing one’s teeth and having a meal won’t put one at risk for infection.  Staying in university housing, which will likely close altogether within the week, sharing a bathroom with 3 other people and a dining hall with thousands in a day is a recipe for disaster and uncontrollable community transmission.  

Speaking from my own perspective, I think much of the popular concern (hysteria, in some cases) is about the questions:  “What’s going to happen?,” “Will I be, literally, bound to my dorm room until the end of April?,” “Will I write finals in my living room?,” “Can I even travel to my own living room?,” “Will there be any food in the grocery store for me to buy, to eat in my living/dorm room, now that the dining halls are out of commission?.”  I am catching myself indulging the beginnings of a, completely useless, internal AnxietyPalooza 2020 (For non-millennials….palooza is the art of throwing an extravagant party with a plethora of friends. Whoever is throwing the palooza usually adds their name as a prefix to the word.)  Most people, like me, have never in their lives experienced a far-reaching social phenomenon remotely similar to this strange time. If I get this virus, statistics show that I will most likely not be terribly sick and will make a full recovery.  But if I give it to my 79-year old grandmother, that might not be the case. So there is such an irony that to really care about my family and community, I must isolate and stay away from everyone. 

Having said all this, I write this post from the comfort of my best friend, Cameron’s, kitchen table in California, where a gluten-free slice of toast and an omelet with dairy-free cheese awaits for breakfast. I am very blessed to be surrounded by loving, sensible people during this time, but in the end we are all in the same boat, facing the same frustrations, doubts and concerns during the pandemic.  I plan on returning to campus in Arizona this week, renting a small apartment and self-isolating while finishing my semester online along with the rest of the university.

In its essence, the global panic that is taking place is rooted in one, very modern, and often toxic trait that much of the Western world is powered by – the urgency for perpetual productivity. The need to keep going, keep working, shopping, running errands – making things happen. What happened to thinking, reading, breathing, observing, writing, stretching – hell, maybe even having a good poop, as my oversharing Jewish mother would comment.  These things that have no purpose but that of the addition to one’s happiness. So, take a “Coronacation”, press pause, and add to your happiness.