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  • Rachel Chin

Has it really only been one week?

Updated: Oct 15, 2020

CORONAVIRUS DIARIES: MARCH 20, 2020 - Denver, CO

Has it really only been one week? It feels like the longest frigging week in history. Exactly one week ago today, I was at four different stores, looking for toilet paper (unsuccessful at all of them). I stood in grocery store lines that were longer than Christmas Eve lines. Everyone was in fairly good spirits, I have to say. We all felt a little sheepish that we were there to begin with, and everyone was quick to make self-deprecating jokes about the items in our cart. That was the day I truly first felt the doom of coronavirus looming over us. Like legit looming. Like when I'm lying on the floor and I see my 60-lb six-year-old running backwards toward me (because running forwards is so boring) and there is *no chance* I can scramble out of the way before he reaches me, so I just stiffen my muscles in the nanosecond I have left, and brace for the impact. That kind of looming.


Today, I was supposed to be flying out of town for a fun and care-free girls weekend. We decided last week to cancel this trip. Just one week ago, I totally thought I would be relaxing and having some well-deserved down time with some of my favorite people. How naïve we were back then.


Next week is my seven-year-old’s birthday. A week ago, I still thought we were going to have a birthday party for him at Chuck-e-Cheese. Two weeks ago, a co-worker shared that she had decided to cancel her son’s upcoming birthday party due to coronavirus concerns. I was mildly confused by this, as I had *no idea* what was happening in the world. A little about me: I almost never watch the news. Occasionally, if I have an extra half hour before waking the kids in the morning, I like to make myself a cup of coffee and sit down and watch the news with my dad. My dad is dead, but let me explain. My dad died eight years ago, right before my 2nd son was born. I always imagined that they met somewhere in the otherworld, my dad and my son, and maybe high-fived as one went out and one came in. But anyway, this coffee/news thing was my dad’s daily ritual when I was young, and so I always think of my morning newstime as time with my dad. So sometimes I watch. And I have coffee. But it’s pretty sparse and far in-between. So I wasn’t up on the whole coronavirus situation, and the few comments I’d heard were fairly benign… “it’s not as bad as the flu” … “it only truly affects the elderly” … “if you get it, you’ll be fine” and so on.


It’s my own fault. I mean, it’s not like there were no signs.


Two weeks ago, my company (a commercial real estate firm) began suddenly making extreme efforts at ensuring every single employee was equipped to work from home. And they canceled all conferences and meetings. Worldwide. For the rest of the year. It seemed like an overabundance of caution. There weren’t really even any cases of the virus in the U.S. (wasn’t it a China and Italy thing?).


On Thursday, March 12, I got my coffee and I watched the news. I saw the recommendations to have two-week supplies on-hand in the event you needed to be quarantined. I saw the reports that some stores had run out of supplies. And weirdly, that toilet paper was flying off the shelves? And I felt a tickle of doom. Later that day, my Denver office announced a “test” work-from-home day would be held on Friday, March 13. Just to be sure we all could do it. Then that evening, Denver Public School District announced an extended Spring Break to last March 16 through April 6. A three-week spring break?


On Friday, March 13, I got my coffee and I watched the news again. And then I dropped the kids off for their last day of school before the three-week spring break, and I hit the stores. Me and everybody else and their brothers. My husband really felt strongly we needed more toilet paper (he’d heard that the rumors were true, and he was deeply concerned about our supply), and I love my husband very much, so I was hunting for the tp. But alas, it was nowhere to be found that day.


Over the course of that weekend, things changed so quickly that we couldn’t even finish planning for scenario A before it became replaced by scenario B. By Sunday evening, my downtown Denver office had issued multiple recommendations and instructions that all were replaced by a simple “all employees should remain home and work remotely, starting Monday, March 16.”


Luckily, my husband’s company had already made the same decision. So Monday morning, we were all home together in our cozy little house with our three young boys, attempting to work remotely to the best of our ability while providing guidance to our kids, instruction for their time and energy, feeding five people three times a day, dealing with multiple work requests, trouble-shooting for kids and work, and feeling, quite frankly, a little scared. Is this the new normal? It’s so different from the old normal. You know, the one we had THREE DAYS AGO?

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