It’s been a week since my sophomore year physically ended a little abruptly and I left Rutgers University—New Brunswick to engage in some social distancing with my sister in Indiana. Terms like “social distancing,” “self-isolation” and strangely enough, “toilet paper” have overwhelmed the vernacular on social media.
There are a lot of valid emotions that humankind is processing in the wake of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. As an international student, I cannot help but worry about moving out of on-campus housing, as ominous travel advisories and bans have made planning a journey home tedious and scary.
Much of the turmoil surrounding the coronavirus crisis is associated with traveling in an interconnected and globalized world. I always knew airports were cesspools of germs, but last week was the first time I wore latex gloves in an airport and found myself envying the people wearing medical masks. I had to remind myself that masks were only necessary for people who were actually sick or showing symptoms and selfishly hoarding masks only takes away from the medical workers who are trying their best to fight this public health crisis.
Hand sanitizer, in 2020, is basically liquid gold, not just a mere drugstore item. A few hours before I left for the airport, my best friend and I frantically began pumping my desk sanitizer into a portable bottle I could have handy on the plane.
In the airport itself, most people washing their hands in the bathroom rode it out for the recommended 20 seconds. I thought of songs to sing in my head to pass the time. I also became increasingly more conscious of deep cleaning my thumbs, knuckles and fingernails while vigorously rubbing soap and water between my hands. If I heard a stifled cough or sneeze in the airport, I felt my surroundings pause for a moment.
My small flight had some empty seats and the airport, a place of movement and excitement, was mostly silent and paranoid, with the exception of the omnipresent crying baby. The only calm I found among the chaos of this short journey was when the nice stewardess aboard by United Express flight offered me a delicious packaged stroopwafel and some orange juice. Now, I can only longingly wait to know when I can board a 15-hour-long flight to go home and see my parents.
I made this trip from Newark to Indianapolis a week ago, and as you probably know, things have changed by the hour since then. Everything about the future of society and the economy feels uncertain and indefinite. I signed up for The New York Times free newsletter on the coronavirus outbreak to keep myself glued to coverage, as I wondered when it can be safe for me and many others to go home and for life to return to some degree of normalcy.
In the meantime, while world leaders work to find effective solutions and healthcare professionals in laboratories and hospitals fight on the front lines to flatten the curve of the coronavirus outbreak, do your part and stay home. There are selfish spring-breakers on Miami beaches and greedy people clinging to toilet paper and hand sanitizer, but humanity needs to and can put up a united front to fight a novel invisible enemy. Listen to the public service announcements and advice given by medical experts, but do not get too wrapped up in the news and find new ways to distract yourself.
Express gratitude for this prolonged free time and be productive by picking up new hobbies or simply picking up the phone and talking to faraway friends. Workout or meditate to energize and clear your head or finally do a reading for class to feel like you’re back at Rutgers! I recently downloaded Discord and played a fun game of Quiplash on Jackbox with my friends from college, who I likely will not see in person for the next six months.
Many people in grocery stores, restaurants and the healthcare sector cannot afford to stay home right now and are working tirelessly to provide for an anxious public. Try to pay attention in online classes and be grateful for professors who are now adapting their teaching styles to support our higher education.
Support small, local businesses in these unnerving times. Tip your Uber Eats and DoorDash drivers well or indulge in some quality family time and quarantine cooking. Donate to local food banks and charities online or volunteer to help out the most vulnerable, the elderly and the immunocompromised, when going grocery shopping or running other errands. Spread love and kindness, not fear and misinformation.
Most importantly, look out for each other.