Doing My Part to Control the Spread of the Coronavirus

Practicing acceptance, not denial.

by Matthew Carlson

I wasn’t scared of COVID-19 when I first heard reports about its spread in China a few weeks ago. I thought, It won’t come to the USA. Then when it came to the USA I thought, It won’t affect me. Then, when it started to affect me, I thought, I don’t want to feed the panic. I want things to be normal.

It wasn’t until I read the March 12 New York Times headline, “Broadway, Symbol of New York Resilience, Shuts Down Amid Virus Threat,” that I started to get scared. Broadway was the one place I felt would never shut down. Even with the coronavirus, I felt that the principle of “the show must go on” would apply.

I don’t accept difficult news easily. I tend to choose denial and distraction instead of feeling the pain and discomfort of reality.

So two days after I read the headline, when two of my friends asked me if I wanted to hang out, I said yes. It was a Saturday. We decided to go to Manhattan, and head back home to Bay Ridge before it got dark.

We often go to the Village, so we started there. When we arrived at Astor Place, I went to the same breakfast cart I always go to and ordered the same egg sandwich I always order. It tasted exactly as it always does.

We made our way to Little Italy and saw that the restaurants were still open. It was a sunny day, and it felt like spring itself was trying to break through the brisk air.

When we got back to our neighborhood, we went to a pizzeria called Peppino’s. We couldn’t decide between margherita or pepperoni, so we ordered both. We talked with an elderly couple next to us, and they said how much they were enjoying their meal as they always did there.

Not a Normal Day

Although I had thought so much of my day was typical, when I got home, I recalled differences I hadn’t noticed at the time.

When I got my sandwich from the breakfast cart, the cashier used hand sanitizer after touching my money, as if it were contaminated. When we were in Little Italy, waiters seemed to be begging us to patronize their restaurants as we walked by. “Do come in!” “Please, have a bite!” “We have sangrias!”

And when we were in Peppino’s, when the elderly couple left, I suppressed the urge to say “Stay safe!”

I began to realize and accept that my life wouldn’t be normal for some time.

I remembered how I was a year ago, when I had struggled with depression.

For months, I tried to carry on as if I was fine, hurting myself in the process. I had learned that denial leads to uncertainty, but acceptance leads to change. So this time, I chose to accept.

With this acceptance, I thought about the days ahead. In two days, school was scheduled to stay open, no matter what other countries or states were doing. But based on what I’d been reading, I didn’t feel comfortable going. I wanted to do my part to stem the spread of the virus.

Do the Right Thing

So I emailed all of my teachers a social quarantine notice. I was especially concerned about the subway. I live on a line with infrequent service, meaning that even with more people telecommuting, the cars were still packed. I read that the surfaces on a subway car (plastic, stainless steel) could host coronavirus for up to 72 hours.

I wrote:
I don’t want to be a carrier, and risk the lives of others every time I show up to class. I don’t know how I could live with the guilt that I could have done something to prevent others from suffering, but didn’t.

At first, I didn’t take the news seriously, and felt that the protective measures were an overreaction. I wanted to believe that there was nothing to fear. But now, I’m realizing that I was underreacting, because I didn’t want the coronavirus to affect me.

I wanted to see my friends’ final spring concert, and get to see the colleges I got accepted to in person. I wanted to hang out with my friends in the city in the warmer weather.

I still want all of those things to happen. But if the spread of COVID-19 gets worse, it’s even more likely that things won’t get back to normal for a long time. I hope you can respect my decision even if you don’t understand it.

In the end, New York City schools closed on Monday. But writing the notice provided me with a deeper acceptance of facts. This allowed me to think about how I could make change in the world, no matter how small.

I saw a tweet when coronavirus was just starting to spread, a video of a large bar packed shoulder-to-shoulder, with the caption, “Downtown Nashville is undefeated.”

I understood the sentiment. They viewed going about their lives as usual as a sign of strength, that they wouldn’t let the virus get to them. (The city had just experienced a tornado two weeks earlier.) But by refusing to accept the reality of the coronavirus, they probably put themselves and others in danger.

I believe it takes more courage to accept a difficult situation than to deny it. I hope that the people in downtown Nashville, as well as people all over, can find this courage, and that they are now staying at home to keep themselves and others safe.

I had learned that denial leads to uncertainty, but acceptance leads to change.
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