I don’t think that there’s anything unique about this nearly universal experience. In one way or another, we’re all experts or feel like experts on this pandemic, and it’s hard to bring something to the table that hasn’t been examined, poked at, or hit upon a couple dozen times before. The only thing that might be different about my experience is that unlike most people who don’t often travel, I got to experience the darkest arc of the pandemic two separate times.
In late January 2020, I was working in a reporter group near London— we were technically a part of the media— and we were coming upon articles and articles about the COVID-19 virus across the globe. Yet even approaching the news first-handedly, I was cynical about its existence and the way in which the virus itself was being reported. I saw the coronavirus as being overblown out of proportion— nothing more than a nonsensical media-play.
But despite effectively monitoring its approach to London, we all seemed to be blindsided by the whirl of change COVID-19 wrought upon us. All within the span of 4 days, I started working from home, and then the coffee shops closed, and bars, and quarantine was officially announced. Travelers, or foreigners like myself, took the chance to flee home. But I didn’t, much to my entire family’s anxiety, and I guess at the time, I felt a bit untouchable.
But with an administration as unpredictable and illogical as Trump’s, and with flights being cancelled every day, the decision to stay out of the country slowly slipped into doubt and, eventually, regret. And when the headline— I distinctly remember this— appeared on top of the New York Times, saying “Trump tells citizens— come home now or stay away for a while”, I knew it was getting worse. My six roommates were going through the same thing. We talked late into the night, and went to sleep with everyone planning to stay. The next day I woke up and half of the apartment was on the phone, either arguing with their parents or booking a flight. Two days later, there was no one left.
I boarded my own flight 18 hours within my decision to leave, and travelled through the jumbled, yet somehow eerily sad, mess of JFK. It was bustling with people, and I remember marveling at a place the crisis hadn’t reached. And then it hit me— a deja vu of sorts— I’d been through this before. I know what happens when people don’t take COVID-19 seriously.
I’ve crossed the world during this pandemic, in a kind of haste and uneasiness that I’ve rarely experienced before. My decision to stay in London for as long as I did put myself in a position of experiencing the worst of the pandemic. And yet, returning to the US and spending 30 hours on a plane and in airports could have put everyone I met back home at risk. Every single decision I make and anyone makes now have implications we haven’t thought of. I hope we keep forcing ourselves to re-evaluate our decisions the best that we can— to try them on and put them off if they don’t fit, and hope it’s enough.
Written by: Cam Nguyen