March 19, 2020

Coronavirus: Early Impressions of Sudden Social Change

Todd Schoepflin author photoBy Todd Schoepflin

I can’t believe I was in a classroom less than a week ago. It feels much longer than that. In one of my courses last week, a student started a conversation about Coronavirus. It gave us an opportunity to talk about our various emotions and reactions to an emerging and uncertain situation. In the next class (and final class before spring break recess), I thanked the student and told her I was grateful that she initiated a discussion about a sensitive and difficult subject.

During my office hours on Thursday March 12, two student athletes stopped in to drop off papers that were due. They asked if they could be excused from class due to a team meeting in which they were expecting to find out their athletic season would be canceled. One of my students was visibly upset and fighting back tears. I thanked them for coming by, told them not to worry about missing class, and said I was sorry their season was suddenly ending. I started thinking about all the student athletes who have worked so hard, putting in countless hours at the gym, during practice, in games, only for their pursuits to end unexpectedly. And then I started thinking of students in their senior year who are so close to the finish line and whom are surely excited about a graduation ceremony. But customary rituals like a commencement event are up in the air at colleges nationwide. It’s too early to tell how our lives will continue to be disrupted in ways ranging from minor inconveniences to major emergencies.

My kids are 12 and 9, in 7th and 3rd grade, and their schools are closed for at least a month. We are extremely fortunate to be in a position that we, for the time being, can readily adjust to an unanticipated situation. My wife is a social worker at an elementary school that’s been closed, and it appears as though she’ll be home the same amount of time as our kids.

The original plan at my university was that we’d return to campus at the end of March, but the plan changed as I wrote this blog post, as we got word from our university president that courses will be offered remotely for the remainder of the semester. In our case, we have a good handle on taking care of our kids while they’re home from school, and our 12-year-old is responsible enough to watch his younger brother if my wife and I have work commitments requiring us to leave the house.

Things would be so much different and stressful if our kids were younger, or if we had jobs that required us to physically be at a workplace right now, or if our income changed drastically. I’m worried for people who don’t have their regular salaries or wages to count on, who don’t have child care, who don’t have healthcare insurance, who don’t have savings. What happens when the rent, utilities, student loan payment, credit card and car payments are due? And what happens to businesses that suddenly have had to close?

By now we’ve seen pictures on social media or televised news stories of people carrying on as though things are normal and we aren’t in the early stages of a pandemic. We’ve also seen images of people with large packages of toilet paper, and those empty shelves where there used to be hand sanitizer. I’m the kind of person who “takes it all in,” and that’s what I’ve been doing so far. I’m evaluating information, trying to interpret what’s changing in society, and trying to comprehend the various ways people are behaving.

It seems to me like a lot of us are trying to get a grip on a fast-changing situation that is leaving us bewildered, anxious, and scared. I can understand a person grabbing a giant package of toilet paper. It’s something they can control in the short term. I said to my wife today that I’m glad gas prices are relatively low, at least for now. If gas prices were rapidly increasing there’d likely be chaos at gas stations.

Here in Buffalo, we’re accustomed to people racing out to buy bread and milk, beer and liquor, and gas when we’re bracing for a snowstorm. In our region you occasionally get snowed in and sometimes you lose power. You worry about people who are sick, or elderly, or who face medical emergencies. You think of women who are due to give birth and wonder if they’ll be able to get to a hospital okay. No doubt, people face severe challenges in those situations, and there are people who get injured and, tragically, there are instances when people die.

In large part, though, the feeling of normalcy returns when the snow melts and the power comes back on. And so I understand the desire to “get back to normal,” but I’m wondering what “normal” means right now in American society. Being realistic about the possibility of a “new normal” is something sociologist Tressie McMillan Cottom tweeted about recently.

The Coronavirus pandemic presents an overwhelming medical, emotional, psychological, and social crisis for which most of us haven’t been trained and aren’t prepared for. As sociologist Eric Klinenberg wrote about recently, this is a time when we’ll be challenged to cultivate social solidarity, which includes interdependence, protecting vulnerable people, developing concern for the common good, and making policies that benefit public well-being.

I hope we rise to the challenge. It’s impossible to know where we’ll be 30 days from now, or 60, or 360. I hope we are creative, bold, compassionate and flexible in our thinking and policy-making. It caught my attention that Senator Mitt Romney is calling for every American adult to immediately receive $1,000, and I’m eager to see if Congress makes this (or something like this) happen.

Before I conclude, I want to acknowledge some of the people who are working to hold the fabric of society together: workers at grocery stores, food bank employees and volunteers, medical care professionals, public health workers, sanitation and maintenance workers, fast-food workers and other service employees, truck drivers and other delivery workers, public transit workers, utility workers, business owners, law enforcement professionals, firefighters and EMTs, civil servants, daycare workers, senior care providers, counselors and educators. That’s not a full list, and I mean no insult to any group not mentioned. Those are just some of the people who come to mind as I write this.

Finally, how are you doing? How are you feeling? What changes have you experienced in your daily life already? What changes in your community and in broader society have you noticed so far? What changes do you anticipate in the near future? What policy ideas do you think are needed? In what ways can we be good neighbors and members of society in these challenging times?

Comments

Is this a place where my students can comment?

I find it so crazy that all of our lives and routines got turned upside down in no time whatsoever. Being a college student and being told we had roughly a week to make plans and move out if out of state, and as soon as possible if you were somewhat local was intimidating, scary, and left me wondering. I am hoping that we take more initiative in the next steps we have to keep protecting our population, such as going on a more strict lockdown. I believe that many aren't taking this virus as serious as they should, and it's putting so many in danger and harms way. I think as good neighbors and members of society we need to stop being selfish, but become more selfless and really think about the effects we have on those at higher risk than us when wandering around as if life is normal, when it is far from.

Hello,

thank you for your post and I am definitely also grateful for all the people you ave mentioned who are trying to keep our society stay together.

Personally, I am coping with the chaotic situation alright as I am a student at a college and the college is trying everything to make sure we are safe here. As I am living here in Idaho where there are not as many confirmed cases as in other states, I feel "safe" and comfortable. Although, our institution has switched to online classes as well, most of the shops are closed, we are not allowed to have fun with friends in rooms except if we follow the 6-feet and less-than-10-people-rule. All these changes have definitely made my life less interesting, but compared to lives which are actually affected radically, my life has been going ok. At home, in Austria where my family lives, there are drastic fines (up to 2500 €) for walking outside and for not having a mask on if you are grocery shopping. I don't live there right now but when my family told me this, I got shocked that something which was as "normal" as grocery shopping as become a "dangerous" task for people with low immunity and task where you have to take quite a lot of precautions.

Personally, I have also realised how I miss little things which I am not able to do anymore. For example, I really miss my friend coming to my room and talking to me which she cannot do anymore because she went back to Taiwan or I miss sitting in the cafeteria with other students to share our days but since the cafeteria makes us pack our meals and eat them in our rooms, I am not able to sit with them as regular as before.

The other day I was talking to a friend and she said that for example other illnesses such as cancer cause more deaths and nobody talks about them. While I do not know if this is true or not, I can say that I think often people start changing their behaviour once a thing actually affects them. For example, cancer deaths does not really affect us which is why we might donate a bit of money but there are probably only few people who actively raise awareness. When COVID-19 had its first cases in December in China, not many people were affected which is why not a lot of people did "anything". But now that it is spreading rapidly, people are freaking out and buying toilet papers. Thus, people are more likely to change their behaviours when they are affected directly. This is just a thought, though.

Lalita Digwal

It is crazy to think how quickly the world flipped upside down. This blog post was incredibly helpful in opening my eyes and mind to the possibilities of whats to come. I is important to realize how others may be seriously struggling due to this epidemic. I was forced to move back home from my college with only a few days notice, my parents cannot go to work, times are different. I think there is hope in the fact that as long as we follow guidelines we can be back to normal as a society in the next few months. My one concern is how long it will take the economy to become healthy again. It is important that all of us take necessary precautions in order to end this pandemic and relieve the stress and fear of so many individuals throughout the world.

As a collegiate student athlete myself, I can say that few things have been as disappointing as losing the season that my team and I have spent all year preparing for. This has been especially heart-breaking four our team's seniors. Personally, adjusting to getting my college education at home has been a matter of prioritization. On the one hand, I feel like constant distractions and home responsibilities make it hard to focus on schoolwork, but on the other this is the first time since 3rd grade that I haven't had a sport in the spring to occupy my time, leaving me with extra time that I should be able to fill by working on my classes.
Like most college students, I also miss the social aspect of being on campus. I think that for many students this sudden change to quarantine has had a somewhat negative effect on mental health, even though it is absolutely necessary in order to protect the physical health of others.
In order to start thinking more positively and take on a more selfless attitude, I think it can be helpful to realize that we are currently living through an event that will be talked about long before we get old and pass away. We will get to witness the effects of this pandemic on our societies, and live through the change that our countries will undergo as a result. To me this notion is exciting in the midst of the disappointment over lost seasons and time with friends, and fear over covid19. As my coach told us in our own meeting before we were told our seasons would be cancelled; if one life is saved from not competing and distancing ourselves, then it will be worth it.

I find all the things you stated up as perfectly accurate. Everything is changing and it is effecting some more than others yet we are all still going to feel the effects.
I loved the comment on how after snowstorms we all go back to normal having barbecues, parties and all that good stuff, but what is going to be normal after something like this? Also how long is it going to take to be "normal" again. Being in a situation that the world has never been in before there is so many unknowns that can happen. To me I feel that during this time many views and aspects in society will change right before our eyes.

I would have to say that it I am in the same boat that you are, I am highly concerned for those that are nonessential and those that were laid off due to the crazy times. I know that I am fine because I know all of my family are either essential or can work from home but what about those that cant? What will the impact be on them? Will they be able to recover from this or will we have to step in like with the stimulus checks and help the American people regain jobs. I hope that we will not have to intervene too much to help but I fear that is what must happen.

It’s been a difficult transition getting used to this major change we are currently experiencing, its often hard to find any positive turn to these events. However, I’m greatful for my and my family’s health, I’m greatful that I still have a job and that my nursing home hasn’t been hit by this devastating virus. Unfortunately, I know many others are not as lucky to be in this situation and my prayers go out to them. I appreciate your blogpost as it’s great to see various perspectives on this event. I was curious as to the motivation for toilet paper hoarding but what you said makes sense, it’s something in the short term you can control, and control makes us feel safe.

Concern for others is one of the most important aspects of being human, and you along with so many other people in the world are showcasing that during these trying times. Thank you.

On a different note, I am very excited to see this "new normal" you mentioned that Tressie McMillan Cottom suggested. Across the world, compassion and panic ensue daily but hardly is it as far-reaching as it has been recently. I'm hoping it will give everyone a little more perspective, and I hope that gain in perspective will lead to everyone having even a little more compassion. For themselves, for the world around them, and for the people sharing that world.

This has really helped give me another perspective on the change we have had in recent time. Not being in school right now definitely doesn't feel normal nor does not being in football. Hopefully these procedures we are going through to stay safe and stop the spreading will help us get through this mess and have everything go back to normal.

Hi there,
I think it is crazy how quickly this situation is changing and continuously developing. It seems like every day a news anchor is saying, well you know what I said yesterday, that’s wrong now, here’s what’s going on today. For me, that has been the hardest thing to adjust to. I work in a hospital as a nursing assistant, and every day I go into work to find that our policy has changed and there are new procedures to follow when it comes to patient contact (I don’t work with COVID-19 patients). Over the past month it has become increasingly hard to mitigate the concerns and fear of my patients, especially now that the hospital doesn’t accept visitors. For me, the most helpful thing to understand is that we are all in the same boat. For the most part everybody is scared and to some extent we don’t understand the whole situation, so now I think the only thing we can do is have sympathy and compassion for everyone. Right now, don’t think there is a policy that could make anyone feel safe, and in my state, there are rumors that additional counties will be put on lockdown under martial law. While this might be helpful in “flattening the curve” it will probably increase the amount of panic in society. So for now, I think we just roll with the changes and take it one day at a time

I completely agree with your post. As a student-athlete, my spring season was cut short so I was not able to play and finish out the season. I was devastated since I wouldn't spend the countless hours with my teammates who are essentially family now. As for my academics, it is a huge adjustment.
When you mentioned your concern for others, I also have those same feelings. I work in a Nursing Home so everyday I work, I am constantly thinking about my residents and how they are feeling during this pandemic. I fear for them and worry about their well-being. This situation is changing our habits and daily routines 100%. The 'norm' is slowly becoming a new normal in society and I am unsure how I feel about it. I miss the freedom of being able to go out in public, see my friends, and even eat dinner at a restaurant with my family. The adjustments are difficult to swallow.

It is crazy to think how fast this all happened, everyone and everything suddenly stopped and it seems like we are expected to continue like things are normal, school especially has been difficult due to the online switch and honestly I do not know why we are still doing it. I can not say how long this will last or how things will turn out but I know that I just need to look out for my mental health.

I am exhausted and have been since this whole pandemic started. The biggest challenge I have faced since classes got cancelled at my school is trying to balance work and home life. Since I have two jobs (one I can work from home and one I cannot) and am still expected to log in during what would be my regular class time, I feel like I am busier than ever before. My work has a difficult time understanding that despite the fact I am not attending in-person classes, I still do not have unlimited availability like I do during times like the Summer and Christmas. Having to call my manager every time my schedule gets released so it can get fixed has resulted in receiving less hours than I normally would (for comparison, I have never had issues with them working around my class schedule during regular, in-person classes). While working from home at my other job, it is hard to not drop everything and respond to an email when it comes in no matter what I was originally doing.

I don't see things go back to normal anytime soon, so I have been trying to mentally prepare for what is to come. I think the best way to be a good member of society right now is to be supportive and understanding of other people's needs. Some are terrified to go in public, some won't leave the house without a mask, and some don't have a choice because they do not have access to the things they need.

It's been a mouth and like a week since the state of closed a now the governer has an agreed to open and I'm not sure what to think. What I do know is that I haven't been the same and it's very fitting but I do know that we can get through it one day at a time.

It's been almost 3 months, and it feels like it's been much, much longer than that. This whole thing is crazy, thanks to the dirty work of Donald Trump, who did nothing whatsoever to even contain it when he first knew about it in mid to late January of this year, when that was still possible. He's a horrible president.

My school has a choice to either do online learning or in school learning. In school you must social distance, but still function as normal. If you are a online student you must join a google meet and stay in the meeting until your teacher releases you, and you have to still wake up early as if you were in regular school.

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