Column: Crisis Calls for Unity
March 22, 2020
Only a few weeks ago, life in San Diego was seemingly normal. Shops and schools were open and productive; the usual traffic filled the morning bustle; restaurants and social events maintained their lively splendor. Business continued as usual. The threat of the COVID-19 health crisis was largely confined to our television screens—until it wasn’t. This time, San Diego would awake to a new reality that would disrupt its comfort and test its moral boundaries, requiring the initiative and responsibility of all.
On March 14–as cases in the U.S. reached the hundreds—I entered the Target at Westfield Plaza Bonita with my family to buy some supplies. I had heard of a recent mania caused by the looming Coronavirus where people were hoarding food, toilet paper and other supplies. But surely, I thought, that must be in Seattle or in New York; somewhere far from the comfort of home. I almost chuckled at what I saw as I pulled up my red cart to the Household Essentials section.
Rows and rows of empty shelves filled the scene. The typical assortment of colorful products and goods was no more—only the quiet regard of my fellow shoppers. I looked to my dad in confused amusement, and for a moment I wasn’t quite sure how to feel.
It was a barren landscape I cannot describe in words. It was almost reminiscent of a Hollywood film—of some estranged, dystopian society—something so foreign to my senses. But it was knowing that this mania was rippling across the nation that was particularly unsettling. Even my uncle in Mission Valley sent me photos of his local Food For Less grocery store.
“This is just crazy,” a cashier said.
I was told that every morning shoppers were lining up before the store’s opening to stock up on essential goods. Supplies were disappearing faster than workers could replenish them. It seemed ridiculous then, but as I left the store with what my family could scavenge, I could not shake off an emerging sense of anxiety, a sort of dread that was just beginning to settle. It wasn’t until then that I realized this hoarding mania was the start of a more ominous trend: one that would require the efforts of all San Diegans.
Just a few days later, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer ordered the closure of bars, nightclubs and dine-in restaurants. All gatherings of 50 or more people were prohibited. Then, on Thursday, California Governor Gavin Newsom ordered all Californians to stay home—except for essential duties—in a final bid to stop the spread of the virus.
Throughout my years in San Diego, I have never witnessed such a crisis. Inevitably, the Coronavirus has upended our way of life, but naturally, our spirit is aching, yearning for familiar days of open sunshine. We are a tapestry of diverse cultures; a breathing organism of different customs and languages suffocated by isolation.
This new visibility will require many sacrifices on the part of San Diegans. Governments, community leaders and citizens will all have to work together to mitigate potential disasters as the coronavirus diffuses. For most of us, this means entering a period of isolation as we make a slow transition to home life.
It won’t be an easy path.
During trying times, fear has a tendency to rewire the human psyche: it forces us to stretch moral principles; to abandon the generosity and pluralism we so proudly lived by; to sever human ties in a selfish effort to survive.
But I know we are above this. Now more than ever, the call to reaffirm our unity and common values resounds clearly. There is no excuse for racism or hostility of any kind. Times of crisis are true tests of character, and our community must be conscientious and resilient as we adapt to these changing times.
I should clarify: we are rightfully entitled to our woes and frustration. The future remains unpredictable and every wrong choice seems tempting, but if grim times have taught us anything, they have urged us to bring out our best amidst the worst.
So please, practice reasonable social distancing. Thank your doctors and nurses. Be kind to your family; you’ll be spending extra hours with them. Rekindle old friendships—from afar—you’ve slowly let go of. Support local businesses; small business owners will see drastic losses in the coming days.
And—please—spare the toilet paper. I promise there’s plenty to go around.