Today marks one year since the first documented case of covid-19 in the United States. To date, over 408,000 people in the country have died. For this number, I would like to express my direct empathy for anyone who has been affected, socially, economically, and politically, and invite those reading to do the same.
As an international student in a master’s program in Spain, I watched this first documented case from afar, hoping that the leaders would shut down borders, restrict all travel into and out of the country, enforce mandatory quarantines and begin case-tracking right away. I watched as none of this happened; why didn’t they feel the immediate urgency that I felt? The US had ample time to prepare, much more time than Italy and Spain which became the epicenter of the pandemic in March 2020.
Every day in Spain articles were published showing pictures of the hospitals in Madrid, the families in despair, how they didn’t have enough ventilators, how they had to set up a makeshift overflow facility in one of the stadiums. Doctors in hazmat suits lined the front pages I scrolled through while standing on my balcony watching the police roll by saying “stay inside” on their loudspeakers.
After landing in Los Angeles from Madrid, my temperature was taken, I was documented as not having a fever or symptoms, and I was let into the country. Not everyone in the airport was wearing a mask. Not everyone was social distancing. No one outside of customs knew that I had just been on a plane traveling from the epicenter of the virus.
I thought that it was over, that Europeans would recover at least health-wise, maybe not as quickly economically, but it would be okay. I had hope. But then things quickly escalated in the US. New York was overthrown by the virus and Los Angeles began its own lockdown. States in which leaders shut down operations and began unemployment subsidies fared the best.
For me, it was and is the lack of clear decisiveness from national leaders in the countries hit the hardest that led to where we are now. I believe in the power of strong, collaborative, interdisciplinary leadership, and none of this was demonstrated in the US. The US struggled with polarization, conspiracy theories, non-compliance, and still does. I can only say that people in the US were following their leader’s example.
Just under a year later, I stand on my patio in Southern California scrolling through my news feed seeing the same photos of doctors in hazmat suits and hear word about further lockdowns in Spain. I look at the photos I took the day the State of Emergency was called and think about the loss in lives that can still be prevented, if we cooperate.
My goal with expressing this thought is to share a brief piece of my story during the 2020 pandemic. I hope that with the vaccines now available that distribution will be carried out in an organized, efficient, and safe manner. I hope that technologically developed countries will share the wealth, and they will work to send proper supplies and vaccines to countries that were not first on the list. I hope that we choose to follow the guidance of scientists who study this to make a difference in our lives. I hope that those who haven’t will take a step back and reflect to empower themselves and those around them by leading by example.
Written by Syd, Co-Founder of Relief Retailers