Quarantine Qualms

The editorial board reflects on the life during the Coronavirus pandemic

Reading Time: 16 minutes

Cover Image
By The Art Department

Clara Shapiro, sophomore

Here in my hut, I have unexpectedly begun to empathize with El Chapo, who has been practicing social distancing (in a high-security jail cell) for many a year. I have not seen a friend in 3D for some time, and thus my social ability continues to deteriorate, which I fear will have lasting effects. My practical skills have also suffered—some days ago, I encountered a door that clearly said PULL, and I spent much time pushing against it. Futile!

Pressing (puN) as my door struggles are, I've also been thinking about other corona concerns that don't affect me directly but still make me vicariously anxious. My parents mentioned that the virus will force a lot of people out of work and out of food, which hadn't really occurred to me. Anyway, just some things I've been thinking about.

Kristin Cheng, junior

It feels wrong to have found this much solace and comfort in our state of confinement.

I mean, it’s like the end of the world as we know it. With the “how are you feeling?”s and the “I just wanted to check in with you”s, and the “is your family alright?”s, and all. Jobs are being lost almost as quickly as lives are. The stock market is crashing. The city that never sleeps feels like it’s finally been laid to rest.

And my sheepish, guilt-ridden answer to my guidance counselor’s concerned emails has been, well, relief. Because I am unmistakably Asian-American: upturned eyes, wide nose, yellowish complexion, and all. The poster child for Chinese people, for the “Chinese virus,” as our president has so aptly decided to put it.

Because last Tuesday, as I stepped onto the 3 train on my daily trip to school, I had a pair of gloves in my hand and an unmistakable fear in my eyes. Because when the middle-aged white woman sitting next to me caught a glimpse of both, she started screaming, calling me racial slurs, mistaking my precaution for contagion and my worries for guilt. Because I had to watch as she shoved Lysol wipes at me, had to listen as she demanded that I get the hell off the train and out of her country.

Because I fear that if schools had stayed open, if the whole world hadn’t shut down, if the virus had stayed just bad enough to warrant racism yet not bad enough to keep me stowed away from the racists, my run-in with that middle-aged white woman would have escalated into something far more physical.

“Quarantine” has come to mean a lot of things for Stuy students. Shortened AP exams, better Netflix Party maneuvering prowess, greater familiarity with the ins and outs of Zoom. But above all else, for our majority Asian student population, it means safety.

Kelly Yip, sophomore

“Quarantine.” I heard this word a lot when watching the vast amount of medical drama shows on the Internet. To actually be a part of it feels weird, like the fictional pandemics and emergencies on screen have suddenly become a reality, with people dropping dead left and right, hospitals filling up, and paranoia coursing through cities and neighborhoods. It’s scary when you realize that these stories are happening outside your window.

Paranoia is also a very strange phenomenon. I remember going home on the subway on Friday, March 13; I happened to get stuck on a very crowded subway car, along with many people going uptown on the 2 or 3 line. I was standing, holding on to one of the poles that my parents warned me not to touch. As I felt myself starting to lose myself in the monotony of the underground, the man in front of me coughed. My chest tightened, and I looked away. I looked around and saw that some people around me had also turned away. Why am I turning away? Maybe he doesn’t have the virus anyway, I thought. What’s this innate panic? Why is my heart suddenly pounding? What am I thinking? I was so ashamed that I would just assume that someone had the coronavirus even though he was just coughing. This is what paranoia does to people. Well, that and the information my parents and the media are pushing onto me.

“Social distancing” is also strange when it becomes a reality. If I had read these two words before I ever heard of the term “coronavirus,” I probably would’ve laughed. It sounds kind of crazy, to be honest. Just the thought of people in an entire society purposely distancing themselves is so absurd. Taking away socializing, something so commonplace, is something that never crossed my mind.

I definitely took all those moments with my friends for granted. At home, sure, I can see my friends on Zoom, have group calls, and play video games together. But not seeing their faces in person, not enjoying the sun as we walk home together, not high-fiving each other when we solve a question after pondering for so long, is actually quite lonely. I know I shouldn’t feel lonely. After all, we have the great advancement of technology and social media to fight that. Still, there’s just something special about talking to someone in person rather than through a screen. I miss that a lot.

Maybe when the world resumes after being paused for so long, I’ll go out and hug them and show my appreciation for the many wonderful people in my life that I haven’t seen for so long. Maybe you should too.

Suah Chung, sophomore

Watching the worldwide death toll rising on the daily news, the coronavirus feels almost surreal. I’ve only been outside once, and it was late at night when most people aren’t outside. During the day, my neighborhood is peaceful and neat, like a row of dominoes, as it has been for my entire life. It’s hard to believe that the order in the world outside of my isolated bubble has been overturned so quickly and drastically.

Time seems to pass more slowly, and I chase my daily goals of finishing a project or studying for the entire day, never quite making it to the finish line. To say this period of quarantine amplified my procrastination is an understatement.

Ironically, I miss school because I have lost the choice of going to school. Sometimes, I have the urge to yell really loudly at home so something will change from yesterday to today. Though my head occasionally feels like it could crack open because of the monotony, I am grateful to be able to eat my breakfast, get extra sleep, have time to pursue hobbies like reading, listening to music, and writing fiction, and enjoy the overall comfort of staying at home. For the past week, I have been blissfully ignoring the anxiety people feel about the virus.

Even before schools closed, I was adamantly opposed to what I deemed “paranoia.” I would get annoyed when my mom insisted that I wear a mask during my commute to and from school. Nobody else was wearing masks. I would have agreed to wear a mask if I didn’t have glasses, but if it's cold out and I’m wearing a mask, my glasses fog up, and I can’t see. I detest not being able to see. One day on the subway, there was a woman wearing a mask, and the seat next to her was empty, which was rare on a crowded subway. With an illogical urge to reject “paranoia,” I sat next to her. I also reasoned that out of everyone, the person wearing the mask would be least likely to be sick since they are protected. In retrospect, my stupidity is not worth the lives of my family or others around me.

After my father, who is a pharmacist, came home from work sick a few days ago, I was scared because I suddenly realized that what I thought was “paranoia” was more of a precaution against a very real disease that we currently don’t have a cure for. Luckily, my father is recovering, but the looming reminder of this global pandemic hasn’t faded away.

Erin Lee, junior

After a week of total confinement with my little sister, mother, and father, who have all begun working or learning from home just as I have, we finally ventured outside our cramped apartment Saturday morning to take a stroll up Broadway. We walked freely and peacefully, our block no longer crowded with the tourists who usually roam lower Manhattan. It was initially a figurative and literal breath of fresh air. No chaotic Zoom calls, clashes with my sister over occupying rooms, or living in the same set of pajamas for three days in a row.

But as we approached Canal street, I started to notice how all the store windows were dark, plastered with white signs that wrote of their temporary closings and empty wishes that they would return shortly. The silence of the vacant streets became uncomfortable, and the only noises to be heard, bird chirps and the lull of a few cars, were more unsettling than serene. The lively and bustling New York City that I knew and loved all my life had become a ghost town, with the exception of the occasional deranged man who would scream at us and tramp in our direction, luggage in hand.

I started walking and taking the subway by myself in fifth grade, and not once did I ever feel unsafe in broad daylight while in my neighborhood, reassured by the dozens of other passersby around me. But now, passing through a lifeless city, accosted in the empty streets and train cars by those my parents would deem “crazy people,” anxiously scrolling through my newsfeed to find rising death tolls and severe warnings, I am instead in a state of constant distress.

While I was sleeping in till 11:00 am and scrolling through my Netflix browse page for shows to mindlessly watch, the world outside my tiny apartment has come crashing down, taking the city down with it. And despite this revelation from finally venturing outside after a week of isolation, I want nothing more than to stay in my quarantined space at home, as suffocating as it may be.

Chrisabella Javier, junior

The idea of being “quarantined” still feels so surreal. Sometimes, I go on a meme page in my free time in order to entertain myself while being stuck in my apartment for days and weeks on end, and I can believe that I can be separate from the virus—that it is just as separate from me as the chaotic incidents that you see on television dramas surrounding hospitals, police departments, or something like that. But then I see it in my everyday life: the frozen yogurt place near school that no longer allows you to get your own toppings in fear of someone touching the chocolate chips, the people in my building putting on their masks and gloves to leave to go do the essential jobs that were deemed worthless just a month ago, the near-empty subway cars, my dad telling me that his work schedule is going to be erratic because his job fired 75 percent of their workers, and my friend telling me his great-aunt has the virus. I know that this is my reality.

The only time I go out anymore is to walk my dogs. I need to wear gloves when I go out with them because my mom is immunocompromised, and the virus could be the thing that finally kills her. I see my dogs just go along with the walk as if nothing has changed, except now I don’t leave them every day, and I stay in my room while they sleep in the light of my window. They don’t know what the coronavirus is. They just live in peaceful oblivion in which their main concern is that I’m pulling them away from sniffing the stray cat that lives outside my building.

I realize now that this is history. One day, in a few decades, there’s going to be a bunch of bored high school kids having to sit through their APUSH classes, and they’re going to learn about the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 that shut down the entire world. I wonder what they’re going to think. Will they be so shocked to learn about the fact that such a supposedly developed area like America could fall prey to a disease? Would they keep existing on their high horse, as we do about the many epidemics and pandemics of history, because they live in such an advanced time? Surely they could never fall victim to something like this. Could they envy us for our lack of school, not realizing the gravity of the situation?

What will we think of this?

Caroline Ji, junior

It has been approximately one month and 21 days since I last stepped on the track. I still remember the burning sensation that lingered in my throat as I walked off lane two, clutching my bib with a huge sigh of relief. At last, I could put my season to rest and begin my much-needed one week break before the start of outdoor track.

When the coronavirus started making international headlines, I had a relatively nonchalant disposition—there was no way the coronavirus could possibly travel 7,476 miles from Wuhan to New York City. So for a while, everything was normal: I woke up, went to school, went to practice, came home, and repeated this cycle again the very next day.

It wasn’t until the middle of March that I had noticed that everything around me was gradually changing. First, it was the masks. Next, it was the subways. After that, it was the classrooms. Little by little, facets of my daily life that I had never even stopped to acknowledge were dramatically becoming unrecognizable to me. It didn’t truly hit me until Governor Cuomo canceled all PSAL activities; the news just hit too close to home. From that point on, I knew that the rest of the school year would never be the same again.

I started running in the sixth grade. And over the course of the past six years of my life, what started as a fun side activity I did during my spare time quickly blossomed into a passion ingrained into my daily routine. There’s something so special about hearing the cadence of my breath and the thud of my strides as I tune out the hustle and bustle of New York City that makes me feel so at peace with myself.

When the coronavirus unleashed its damage onto New York City, it took away one of the most important aspects of my life. I was scared to leave my house. I was hesitant every time I laced my sneakers. An added sense of apprehension weighed down my every stride. It was such a strange feeling; something that once brought me so much comfort and solace now feels alien to me.

The funny thing is, though the coronavirus has undoubtedly disrupted my life in unimaginable ways, it has humbled me to an unforeseeable degree. Despite being one of the most accessible sports, I am reminded that not everyone in the world has the privilege to freely go outside for a run in a safe quarantined neighborhood. Not everyone has the fame or money to acquire a coronavirus test. Not everyone can afford to stay home from work.

While the coronavirus itself does not discriminate against religion, culture, ethnicity, or gender, it has acted as a catalyst in exposing the deeply embedded socioeconomic and racial inequalities in our world. This is especially apparent in the fact that fame largely determines the accessibility one has to a coronavirus test, the despicable manner in which our commander-in-chief labeled the coronavirus the “Chinese virus” or “kung fu flu,” and the recent increase in gun ownership among Chinese Americans. So while in an ideal world, I would love to applaud Gal Gadot, Sarah Silverman, and Will Ferrel’s attempts to revive dampened spirits by singing “Imagine” on Instagram, I can’t help but cringe in disgust.

I guess it’s hard to wake up to the reality of things.

Victor Siu, junior

Life has been quite different since the coronavirus struck. Millions just like me find themselves stuck at home, asking “when,” not “will,” the coronavirus hit them next. Perhaps it hasn’t been different from a typical weekend during the summer, but this weekend suddenly got stretched into five weeks. At some point in life, all of us have wished for that one weekend to be just one day or even one week longer, and it seems that we finally got our wish. Unfortunately, that same wish cost thousands of lives around the world and caused hundreds of times the amount of suffering.

I was jubilant when schools closed. After all, it meant staying home for about a week, catching up on sleep, and getting time to do things that we’ve always wanted to do. The reality was that we just ended up reverting to a version of our middle school lives in which we would go home and just indulge ourselves in whatever we wanted, whether that was video games or watching movies.

I’ve been sitting at home for a week now, alternating between playing video games, coding, studying, and sleeping. Perhaps it isn’t the best existence for a Stuyvesant student, but I feel that it is quite a relaxing one. However, I can’t throw off the feeling that I’m wasting my life at home doing these things and not doing something really productive in life. I should’ve gone out and enjoyed a few days with my friends before this virus struck. Now, I’m stuck at home and only leave my house a few times a day to take a walk or practice soccer by myself. I no longer see my grandparents every week, fearing that I’ll infect them with the coronavirus if I visit them too often.

I can’t even look at the news anymore; all the talk about the coronavirus reminds me of the pain and suffering that I’m oblivious to as I stare at my screen all day, engrossed in my own problems. But then again, I only feel my own problems. Why don’t I have enough time today to watch the rest of this Netflix series? Why can’t I beat my friend at this video game? I can’t wait for that one day during this “break” when I actually get something meaningful done. Maybe tomorrow will be that day.

Irene Hao, junior

It’s like summer vacation came three months early, except I can’t hear any children racing past my bedroom window or any basketballs slamming onto the concrete and skateboards scraping the sidewalk or any loud gossiping moms. In fact, I can’t hear anything at all.

It’s like the apocalypse has come upon us. It’s something straight out of “The Walking Dead”: roped off parks, shutters pulled over every supermarket, bakery, and shop, and scurrying rats under the growing piles of trash bags on the ends of curbs. Everything is all silent, too silent.

It’s surreal. Come January 2020: my social media feed was filled with memes and dark-humored jokes about World War III and the Australian fires. Come February 2020: my late-night homework sessions are interrupted by my mom answering a phone call from my only grandparent living in Guangdong, China, only a train ride or two from the center of a rapidly spreading disease called the coronavirus, Wuhan.

Come the first full week of March 2020, and my late-night sessions grow later and later each day as I return from Junior SING! practice. My priorities then were to not mess up my Flow choreography onstage, to ensure my family enjoyed that Friday night, and to study for my SAT on the 14th; my priorities then were to not think about The New York Times notifications about the exponentially increasing number of cases in Iran, Korea, Japan, and Italy, to focus on my academics, and to end my strenuous junior year on a high note. Come the second week of March (or the first week of official quarantine): postponed SATs and bittersweet relief, my 17th birthday and a brief respite, and waking up every morning to my mom asking me to check the news again and again—how many people in NYC were infected? How many have died? How many of them were in Brooklyn? Did scientists know anything about a cure? How has the virus even spread so quickly? Why did Brooklyn have the highest number of cases?

And soon, those worries became my own.

Though online learning and quarantine give me the freedom and time to better my time management skills, dive into hobbies and fleeting interests more deeply than before, and reach out to people virtually, I feel the world is struggling to reach me virtually. Grocery shopping and takeout order options are diminishing every day. More and more mailmen and delivery workers are (understandably) not showing up to work. Online shopping is slow. The servers on the games I usually play are struggling with the sudden influx of players.

But the way that I am going about my daily life now is how I usually go about my day on a relaxing Sunday, and I am glad it is like this. I am trying to go about my day as normally as I can. I am trying to reflect on the weeks before quarantine, on what I have already accomplished, and what I am glad already happened before it all happened. I am glad SING! did not happen any later than it did. I am glad I got my SSR done. I am glad that I was able to spend the last few days of my junior year with my friends and that I am still able to spend time with them now.

Cynthia Or, junior

If one were to graph the level of panic that I felt from the coronavirus, it would look like a log graph. Just having family living in one of the most densely populated cities in China was a constant concern for me, like an ache in the back of my stomach that I could not get rid of. Two days later, my mom approached me with a mask and forbade me from taking it off on the subways. A week of wearing surgical masks, and suddenly I was expected to wear surgical gloves on the subways. Another week, and I had to spray my seats and desks with isopropyl alcohol.

But when the quarantine started, I was suddenly living in a bubble. It’s so easy to be wrapped up in the comforts of my own home, only faintly disturbed by my mom’s excessive wiping of the doorknobs and floor and spraying of the groceries. After all, I could simply rely on my parents to keep everything under control even when the world outside was falling apart. Like this, my panic smoothed out into a nearly flat line.

When reality hit me, my graph broke apart into tiny little pieces. For two days in a row, the ambulance pulled up at the house right next to mine in the middle of the night, right when I was about to go to sleep. Someone hopped out in a full suit, covered from head to toe, and carried someone off from the house. And then, a relative got struck and faded away. How many more have to go?

There is still a disconnection between the outside world and me. I really wonder how much more suffering I have to see in order to realize the severity of this threat myself. It is too easy to be sheltered when I can simply rely on my parents to take care of everything for me. But most importantly, when I see how medical personnel get cuts on their faces from wearing goggles and think of how they are risking their lives to help strangers and then constantly see posts about the hatred, racism, and ignorance blow up, I wonder how our global perception of other people and cultures will change after this pandemic, if at all. But for now, in my home, I am safe.