I knew the virus was coming for us. It started in China in 2019 and by February 2020 it was in Europe. Italy and Spain were completely in lockdown. Public health officials kept warning that San Francisco was two weeks behind Italy. In two weeks we would have more sick and dying than Italy if we didn’t shut down everything.
But that sounded crazy. Wasn’t it just a bad flu? No one in our government was even addressing it. I only knew about it because I’d been reading frantic posts from doctors and epidemiologists on Twitter but I still didn’t think it would affect us much other than perhaps a shortage of Airborne and Nyquil.
I started to become more alarmed when public health officials began talking about permanent school closures. I was watching TV on a Sunday night on March 14th when our governor, Gavin Newsome, declared that all bars and restaurants would be closed until further notice. My TV showed images of crowded bars, overflowing into the streets, everyone trying to get their last drink in. This seemed to be getting pretty serious.
I was in no way expecting the Shelter In Place announcement from our mayor in San Francisco the next day. Later in the afternoon it became a Shelter in Place order for the whole Bay Area. The virus is all anybody thinks about now, but at that time, it was barely a blip on the news. It was truly shocking and seemed hysterical to just shut down everything and sit inside.
What did that even mean, anyway? I wondered. Would our streets be blocked off like they were in Wuhan where you can only leave your house with a pass? How would my dogs get out? Walks aren’t enough for my two baby monsters, they need to run free, roll on the beach, get their energy out.
I got pissy. “How can they do this?” I asked Britt. “This is the USA, California,” I told him. “They can’t force me to stay inside or reduce my liberties and freedoms!”
I became panicky, melancholy, wistful, angry as the sun set that night. Would the police be blocking off streets starting at midnight? I was already feeling claustrophobic thinking of not moving off my block for close to a month. How could I not go to the beach for that long? Not go surfing or skateboarding or hiking? I paced and complained to my husband in the kitchen. We planned to leave before dawn to escape any barricades that might be happening in our neighborhood and get the girls out to the beach without getting busted.
It was dark when we left. We were nervous for what we’d find with a city on lock down. The streets were quiet but there were no police, no barricades. Everyone seemed free to drive around to their various destinations. I was surprised as the sun came up, how many cars were actually on the road.
The beach was cold and beautiful and there were already people on it that had the same idea as us. Relief came over me as I realized this was just a firm suggestion from the city but not an actual enforceable rule. They just didn’t want large gatherings of people in workplaces and public places. We let the dogs play and said hi to fellow San Franciscans from a distance and then made our way back to the car.
We drove through the neighborhoods, taking stock of what was open. Starbuck’s and other corporate chains were closed. Our bagel shop was open! Coffee shops offering just to go items were open. Hardware stores, open. Furniture stores, hair salons, nail salons closed, closed, closed.
After the beach Britt stopped to grab an egg biscuit from a bakery that had stayed open. I stayed in the car, watching our new reality out the window. There were tons of people out and about, popping into the market we were parked in front of. It looked like a normal Tuesday but there was a quiet feeling surrounding everyone. There was no stopping for chit chats. Everyone was pacing their walking to not get too close to others. A mom wearing a mask was waiting outside the market with her baby in a stroller. The vibe was very surreal. No one was frantic though. No one was loaded up with toilet paper. Shoppers only had one bag of groceries. I watched as one guy came out with just a four pack box of La Croix.
“Of course.” I said to myself. “So San Francisco.”
We drove back to our apartment and tucked ourselves in for our quarantine, not yet knowing that it would last way past the April 17th open up date and that by May, almost 100,000 American souls would be gone from earth.