Updated: Mar 18, 2021
By ALLAN NOSOFF Editor-In-Chief
Listen to the story above for the full experience!
Can you believe it?! One year ago this week, we began to watch the world change in front of our eyes, as an invisible enemy, the coronavirus, COVID-19, permeated across the globe, shutting down economies and shattering expectations for 2020.
LIU students had little or no idea of just how much their lives would change because of the pandemic, and many on-campus were just enjoying Spring semester as-usual, with sports teams travelling across the country and classes meeting with no restrictions. The World Health Organization upgraded COVID-19 from an epidemic to a pandemic on March 11th, as cases were growing out of control in parts of Europe and Asia outside of Wuhan, China, where the virus originated, and cases would soon spiral out of control here in the United States.
One year later, we look back on how a domino effect of events began the pandemic in the United States and around the world, as well as LIU students recalling their extraordinary experiences.
Following the suspension of the NBA season, a domino effect would soon ensue. COVID was unavoidable in our minds. Tension was rampant in the air. Many people were remarkably on-edge. A few people even wore surgical masks out-and-about. And when someone coughed in the packed subway train during that morning commute, many frightened eyes looked for who it was. Others jumped from their seat to the other side of the subway car.
It was becoming clear that COVID-19 was not going to be like the H1-N1, the Swine Flu. Or any flu that we have seen for over a century. Positive coronavirus cases continued climbing, up to 109 that Thursday in New York, and over a thousand single-day cases a week later. We were entering territory where many just did not know what steps to take, forget in what order. But we had some precedent from other countries, and if the United States were to go through what they were going through, a catastrophic scene awaited, particularly in the hospitals. While the White House was cautious and calm, others like Cuomo, saw the writing on the wall.
The end of that work week was practically the end of pre-pandemic life as we knew it. The executive actions from Trump were like the cherry on top of the COVID cake.
Some LIU students who were studying abroad were scrambling to get home, including from countries where the pandemic was already approaching the peak of the 1st wave. Senior Alyssa Juris was in Italy to start her Spring 2020 semester.
“So, February 21 we just got into Venice, Italy to celebrate Carnaval. We were all very excited to experience this big Italian cultural tradition and the island was absolutely packed: every train we rode, and on every sidewalk everyone was shoulder to shoulder. It was a very overwhelming feeling but coming from New York, to go into a state like this, I wasn't too overwhelmed.”
“Then on February 22 our day was pretty normal. We went to a couple of museums and just wandered around in Venice. It's about 9:00 PM when we were at the concert and we got a text from our advisors to come back to the hostel right now...and we knew that since we're still two days out from leaving, that it was a really big deal. They told us that the first case of coronavirus was discovered on Venice Island, and shutting down in less than 12 hours. So we had to figure out how we were getting home.”
“On the train back to Florence, which was very overwhelming, especially being with a group of 25 kids between the ages of 19 and 21, we were very freaked out as everyone had on masks except for us, because we weren't able to access any masks. So our advisor tried their best by giving us hand towels and ponytail holders as makeshift masks, and once we got back to Florence on February 23rd, everything was back to normal, honestly. Florence acted like they never even heard the word coronavirus.”
“So we were back in Florence and it's about three days later, where you would just go out, and since there's 6000 study abroad students, you always were out talking to other college kids. And rumor had it that NYU announced their departure plan and everyone from NYU was leaving on February 26. And then there was just that gut feeling that everyone knew like…’oh, like when are we going...when are we going next’ and kind of just felt eerie around Florence from then on. But then on February 27 we got a text at 10:00 PM and luckily all of us are hanging out and at dinner. They told us the next morning that we had to be out within 72 hours, and if we weren't physically feet in Brooklyn at the LIU campus on March 1, we were going to be penalized.” “Trying to find a flight in such a small airport in such a small city was really hard and very expensive. Flights were ranging from anywhere between $800 to $1400, just depending on what you could get and between where you could transfer. Also just finding out that you had to leave a place that you began starting to call home within the eight weeks of living there was very overwhelming, but we all made it and we all did not wear masks on our commute back. So now looking back, it is kind of crazy to think that we were in an epicenter and had no idea that it was going to get that bad.”
And for LIU students who lived outside of the states, they too had a scramble of their own. Sophomore Julia Zebak recalls her experience heading back home to Canada.
Multiple flights were being cancelled. I had to go to Toronto and in Toronto at the airport they already treated you like you were coming diseased. Because you're coming on the flight from New York and you're connecting, they made you go into a special section, and they made us do two extra protocols. They treated you like you were already infected, and then when I arrived at home it was an automatic two week quarantine, they said.
You were locked in a room and you had to give them an outline of your plan. You would say ‘this is my room,’ ‘this is who is delivering meals to my door,’ ‘this is the bathroom that only I will use,’ so you wouldn't spread it to your family and everything…’will you be able to be 6 feet apart’ on your car ride home from the airport, or to your destination...if so do you have PPP?
This is what happened when you flew into Canada, and you were already on lockdown. But they told you, depending on your plan, the police service, your local police service could be stopping at your home to check up on you if you are not in a room confined, and you will be fined if you were found walking around your house.
I arrived just past midnight on Saturday night after a long day of travel, and I began my two weeks of self isolation, so I was not allowed to leave my bedroom other than to use the washroom (bathroom). Whenever I would have to go to the washroom I had to wear a face mask. Leaving my bedroom I could not see my family. If my parents dropped food off at the door, they left a container of Lysol wipes so they could wipe the plates down before touching them, because they were so afraid I was going to give it to them, because I came from New York. When I arrived back in Edmonton, they ultimately made me end up getting tested, and so that was my first ever experience getting Covid tested. At that point very few people I know had it, and so now being an in person athlete I've had more Covid tests than anyone else I know. But at the time, so many people were shocked that I had been Covid-tested in March.
But we all knew this was not going to disappear in a matter of days. Hospitalizations, ICU admissions, and deaths began skyrocketing in the United States by the end of those 15 days, with the first peak not coming until the end of April. Some states did not heed the warning signs like others, and many Americans unfortunately were caught off guard by the silent killer. Those states included Florida, where 5th-year Senior Katie Hinkle was playing softball, when the NCAA suspended college sports. The combination of mixed messaging and cancellations by professional sports leagues caused chaos for LIU sports teams.
My team was in Florida for a spring break trip. So we had been there for at least 10 days and we were coming up on our last games. We showed up to the field one day knowing that things with the coronavirus had gotten more amplified, but we showed up to the field for games just like any other, and it wasn't supposed to be our last games of the trip.
Our coaches were kind of acting quiet, like, not their normal selves. Then right before game time, one of the umpires comes up and is just talking to the players, and they were like, ‘...oh like what a shame that the NCAA ended your guys is season right…’ and our faces just go pale. We were like, ‘what do you mean?’ Our coaches clearly didn't want us to be thinking about that while we were playing these last two games of our season. Apparently we did not know that it would be the end for us.
We went through and played the games, and as a senior on the team we have this tradition and it's supposed to be your last home game ever, you go out to your position and you leave your cleats on the field, and your teammates carry you off for your last game as an LIU Shark. And since I was a senior, I wasn't going to get that last home game, and the same with three other seniors on my team. So after that last game, all of us were just crying and the four seniors went out to their positions and we were carried off the field and our coaches were like, ‘you know we don't know what's going to happen.’ In our minds that was like I just possibly played my last softball game ever and I didn't even know it.
We were having such a great season and all the sudden it was just taken from us. We were in Florida, we had to book a flight home, and then once we got home it was like you have to pack up your stuff and go. You have to get out of here and you have to find somewhere to go.
Julia: So while the rest of the school was going away for spring break, I had to stay on campus and keep training, and even as instruction got moved online and everything, our coach said regardless you're staying here.
But Thursday afternoon they said your season is done; book a flight home. So we had a team dinner, we booked our flights, we made arrangements and that night our entire team had to pack up their rooms. You had to take every item. We were all at Target at 11 PM trying to buy bins, and the storage unit opened at 8 AM on Friday. We were at the storage unit trying to find a unit someone close so that we could just walk there to take all our stuff. Our coach offered to drive us to the airport and we were all leaving at noon the next day. So from Thursday evening like 5-6 PM when they told us ‘your season’s cancelled,’ book your flights home, we did team dinner and then most people pulled an all-nighter packing up their rooms, figuring out how they're getting to the airport, how everything is going to happen.
And so we loaded up the storage container and hopped on the team van and we went to all three airports dropping friends off so that people could get on flights back to Africa, back to Europe, back to anywhere, back to Canada for me. I was so stressed. And I got into the van and everyone was like we're going home...no one could believe that we were going home when the day before they had said you will be staying; you will still have a season. And I just I cried.
I sat down in the van and I cried because I didn't know what was going to happen. I didn't know if I was going to be let into the country. I could be in the air and they could call a travel ban, and I'd be stuck where I'm at.
Katie: It was just so difficult...as I mentioned I was a senior, and I didn't know if the NCAA was going to let us come back. I didn't know what I was supposed to do. I stayed here and looked into grad programs for a little bit, and then eventually I went back home to California and just hoped that everything would be OK. And luckily things worked out, and I ended up coming back this year.
But for me and my softball team, now it's like we seriously haven't been on a softball field competing, and coming up on a year...like this second week of March is when everything shut down for us and that's so not normal for us. We normally play all the way into May and for it to be a year now where we haven't competed against another team, it's really surreal because we didn't even get to play conference last year, and now we're rolling right into conference on March 20. We're starting out against Sacred Heart, and for me, I haven't played them since I was a junior...it's been two years since I've competed against a conference team. It's really crazy to think about it this way and we have no idea what to expect. I haven't seen a conference team in so long; it's just been a long time coming and it feels unlike any other experience I've had with softball.
From looking back a year to looking forward in the months ahead, we still don’t quite know what’s in store. Many life and career decisions were affected by the coronavirus, and the pandemic could still impact choices to come. Depending on how successful the Biden administration’s COVID vaccine distribution is, we could return to some semblance of normal by the summer. As Dr. Anthony Fauci mentioned, we might return to a ‘normal’ without masks by 2022. But we need to continue doing our part by social distancing and wearing our masks until the worst is behind us! Shark Nation, we got this!