Coronavirus at Cal

The Psychological Impacts of Cancelled Classes, Social Distancing, and the Toilet Paper Panic

Last Monday, all UC Berkeley students received an official email that classes would be transitioning to a remote/online format, effective through the end of March. There are rumors that a student in the dorm has tested positive for Covid-19, but no confirmation yet. 

How do I feel? Healthy…at the moment.

But as someone who thrives on routine and order, I felt strangely unsettled when I first heard about online classes. How serious is this? Should I go home? Stock up on food? Does life proceed as normal? What even is ‘normal’? 

I have a conflicting sense of endless potential and extreme limitation. Someone texts me about a deal on $100 flights to Hawaii!! But wait, there’s a real reason school has been cancelled – and it’s not to magnanimously grant us an extra 2 weeks of Spring Break…

Today feels surreal. I can sleep in and watch movies all day, or gym and job search and try to maintain some semblance of structure. Most extracurricular events have been cancelled, and I wonder how the isolation will affect my mental health. I’ve shared about my struggle with depression before, and realize that social support plays a huge part in keeping me going. On the bright side, social media has somewhat counterbalanced social distancing policies.

At a university notorious for grade deflation, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the accommodations that professors have been making, from the concerned tone of their emails to the speed with which they’ve worked to make class materials available through alternate methods. We’re all just human after all. But at the same time, the disconnection from community is uncomfortable and unexpected. Is this how my final months of college will play out? Watching lectures online while experimenting with various stock photos on my greenscreen, pasta overcooking and laundry washing in the background?  

My friends and I carry hand sanitizer around, but the somber mood is tinged with lighthearted jokes. “Corona can’t enter your body without consent – just say no!” We laugh about those desperate enough to raid the local Walgreens for toilet paper, then go home and secretly order a couple hundred rolls for ourselves via Amazon Prime. Just kidding – Amazon is out of stock.

This week, I’ve been reminded of the bigger picture. Of how much I take for granted – good health, public transportation, fresh air, internet access. I am thankful for the deliverymen and store workers who continue to do their jobs and keep the city going. For the school janitors who keep our campus clean, and to my friends from other schools who have texted me to check if I’m healthy. For those self-isolating so that others may stay healthy. I never expected my last semester at Cal to unfold this way, but hey, that’s life.

To everyone affected, my thoughts and prayers are with you. 

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