As a young person in today’s America, it sometimes feels as though every day is a battle. Surviving crashing stock markets, increasing student debt, and slow-turning political policies and viewpoints that constantly blame my generation, aka millennials, as the harbinger of the end of times.
It’s Feb. 28, as normal of a day as any. I wake up, potty, contemplate all of my life decisions up to this point. I think about eating breakfast, but settle for herbal tea, and post a status on social media informing my network that I will be highlighting some amazing folks and nonprofits and to get involved. And then, preparing for a move, I continue my day of cleaning, packing, having a mini panic attack, crying, and finally eating food, then sleeping.
I had no idea what was to come, not even a full 48 hours later.
March 1. I am tagged in my first social media post about coronavirus. Without giving it a second thought or glance, I accept this tag, allow the information to be on my wall, and continue about my day. At this point, my partner and I are in the midst of moving out of his apartment into our apartment. I have five days to clean, pack, organize, fund, and move all of this crap. I don’t have time to read what’s going on in the world. I get the majority of my updates from social media anyway. If it was that bad, then surely my timeline would have had more than one mention of this by now, but I saw nothing else as I scrolled. So I continued about my week; ensuring that this move could be completed with as much ease as possible.
March 11. As I attempt my aimless social media scrolling, I quickly recognize a pattern among my network. It seems like everyone is posting about something major. It is hurting the communities I care about, so naturally I jump on the bandwagon. I take a similar approach, offering up my services, amenities, and resources to those in need. I didn’t give it a second thought. My community was hurting, so I was hurting.
March 13. Trump declares a national emergency, and all hell breaks loose. Toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and water is gone before I can even spell “coronavirus.” At this point, I also begin hearing the name COVID-19. Large events are sending out mass emails to ticket holders with postponed or canceled dates. Whispers of a nationwide shutdown begin to flutter like leaves in the wind on a fall day. Things are moving too fast for me to comprehend as I begin to shut down and shut off reality.
March 15. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns against gatherings of 50 or more people. No one is really sure what is going on, but we all know one thing to be true—be prepared! By this point, I’m caught in a state of confusion, terror, and peace. Friends begin relocating from the office to home environments, hosting virtual meetings and safe(r) space connectivity, all while holding on to any amount of normalcy to be found among the destruction.
March 16. I take a step back, take a deep breath, nap for an entire day, then face the music. Except when I was ready to hear the blaring roar of the masses, suddenly I was greeted with a more somber, melodic tune that served as a reminder of my mortality. I am a young, mixed race, cisgender male living with HIV, crippling anxiety, and financially skating on thin ice.
As I struggle to process this particular set of circumstances in the middle of a global pandemic of yet another infectious disease, I also begin to look at what’s happening in my own home state. Here in Florida, I keep reading stories with very different sentiments. From apathetic student spring breakers, declaring, “If I get corona, I get corona,” to those in extreme panic, hoarding supplies and repeating the importance of being prepared, with a constant sigh of disappointment when yet another organization or company has longer than usual call/wait/delivery times.
Without the additional pressure of a crisis at our door, I would most likely have looked the other way, or even jumped in to defend the Miami spring breakers. I am the first person to defend young people, but holy hell, y’all, get it together! We aren’t just talking about your BFFs—COVID-19 has been shown to live on surfaces for hours. Research has only scratched the surface on identifying potential treatment options. We are still walking toward the unknown, for the most part. Nothing is yet confirmed, and it’s getting darker with each new update.
Panic has engulfed our households, communities, and society at large in almost one singular moment. We will never be “prepared enough” for all the what-if situations we may think about, but we can become better prepared by ensuring our communities (small and large) have access to the resources they need in order to survive.
We will overcome COVID-19 as a world comprised of communities of individuals working together. This pandemic is a particular obstacle we have yet to overcome, but the world is not ending.
But to other young people out there, I say to you, take this seriously. Your decisions during these moments may impact you and your loved ones directly. But it may also impact those you may never have a chance to meet.