Being able to witness a pandemic like COVID-19 in our lifetime has been both a dream and a nightmare for me. For many public health students, a real-life pandemic is everything our education has been building toward. In every class, we are reminded of our predecessors who created the polio vaccine and eradicated the source of cholera way back when. We are constantly empowered to work for communities that are the most vulnerable and under-served. We aim to uplift the voices of those that may be hidden by systematic oppression. Yet when news of the virus coming to the state of Michigan came, I found that many of us were quiet.
No matter if you’re in public health, medicine or any other field, the COVID-19 pandemic scares every single one of us. We’re all human. As public health students, we realize the importance of social isolation; of flattening the curve; of making sure that our health systems and hospitals are not given more than they can take. But at the same time, the human in me is still stressed, confused and helpless.
Every day, as I slog through hours of online classes, I look back at all the times I took my life for granted—seeing my friends every day, not having to worry whether someone in my family has been exposed, being able to go about my day as I normally would. Not finishing the semester out is one thing, but being removed from our lifestyles has left many of us in a state of shock. I’ve learned that this “disturbance” is the cause of my newfound constant exhaustion and lack of motivation.
My heart aches as I see all the stories on Twitter or on the news. Every time I FaceTime a friend, I’m being told of more heart-wrenching narratives. It hurts to see photos of vulnerable populations, like the elderly and those who cannot afford to buy in bulk in grocery stores, looking so helpless when they see nothing on the shelves. It hurts to see videos of people whose parents, aunts, uncles and loved ones are dealing with the virus. This pandemic is bigger than anyone ever imagined it to be.
Students are being hurried off of campus, even if they don’t have the means to do so, as fast as everything is occurring. A huge disparity still remains between those who are actually being tested and those who are not. Every day more celebrities announce they’ve been tested for the virus, while regular people are not. Many still have to go to work to pay their bills because they cannot afford to give that money up to stay home; unpaid leave is not an option.
COVID-19 has made me realize my privilege and I encourage everyone to realize theirs too. You don’t have to be a public health major to see how important it is for us to take care of each other, to keep in touch or to reach out to those who may be struggling during these times. These are times for solidarity.
This pandemic motivates me to see how impactful the public health field can be and how it facilitates change so fast. The biggest thing about public health is that, if we do our work well, you won’t see the effects of the issue later. Though COVID-19 has already destroyed the lives of many, I am hoping that we all can prevent it from getting worse for others dealing with it or who are susceptible. It’s the least we can do for humanity. It is both a dream and a nightmare, but I’m hoping that I can wake up soon and it’ll be over as fast as it started.
Sania Farooq is a junior in the School of Public Health and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.