On March 12, when my father told me that I couldn’t see my friends anymore, I was peeved. There were only nine cases in Minnesota, and I was going to lose a couple of weeks or more from the end of my senior year! None of my friends were quarantined; it was cruel!
We all now know how COVID-19 played out – in the two weeks following my parents’ decision, national cases exploded from just over one thousand to one hundred thousand, all before our governor issued a stay-at-home order.
That was just one instance of a pattern of seeming over-preparation that turned out to be prescient in a way we can no longer expect our leaders to be.
It seems we can only hope for individuals and organizations deeply concerned and knowledgeable about medical risk to guide us in these turbulent times. In the first week of February, I distinctly remember laughing with one of my friends on a hike as I explained how my father was stockpiling peanut butter in the basement, because he thought there was a chance that schools and even shops could close. I have been eating those gleeful words on my peanut butter-and-graham cracker sandwiches every day for the past six weeks.
Like nearly every other senior, the COVID-19 pandemic and isolation have tossed my life and future plans in a blender. Instead of spending my weekends going to orchestra concerts and watching bad movies in a friend’s basement, I’m watching good movies and listening to 80s music during board games at home. Life isn’t the same, but both my sister and I have found ways to stay productive. We’ve been calling our friends regularly, cooking, and keeping up with schoolwork. In an effort to stay productive, I’ve poured effort into programming a coronavirus case and fatality prediction model with a friend of mine. Finding projects to work on has helped me keep my mind focused and planning for the future.
At the moment, I’m pursuing computer science and mathematical modeling as a career. Applied mathematics utilizes skills I’ve been developing for years to solve problems in a diverse array of fields that will allow me to keep up with my changing interests. The COVID-19 pandemic has inspired me to consider jobs more focused on bringing data into public policy: biostatistics (such as infectious disease modeling), climate and weather modeling, and data journalism.
Focus on my future has proven necessary while coping with ever-changing conditions that will determine what college and even future careers may look like. After spending the isolation deciding which college to attend, I’ve been thrust into deciding if I even want to enroll this fall – as well as trying to game out what efforts to reopen might look like, and if I’d be better off deferring admission. If only my coronavirus model was light-years ahead of leading researchers, then I might be able to predict what things would look like in the fall.
Given the turbulence we’re going through, I’m incredibly hopeful, witnessing the reaction to the shutdown from my generation – both for our ability to weather the storm in the short term and to build a more scientifically literate society afterward. All of my friends are going along with isolation. While there are always irresponsible people, I’m proud to see that the under-30 demographic seemed rather underrepresented in the crowds clamoring to prematurely reopen the country.
My generation – raised in the shadow of a climate crisis about which the only concerned, trustworthy figures are scientists – is navigating this crisis with aplomb.
We’ll get through this.