Day 1 – Sunday, March 8, 2020
8:30 a.m. As the nearby train horn blared, my eyes popped open. I immediately flipped on the television to see what the weather would hold for the day. Instead of the daily forecast, the local news blared the “Breaking News” logo over my closed captioning. Ugh, I would have to turn up the volume to hear exactly what I feared. The novel Coronavirus pandemic had spread to 547 cases in the U.S. and two in Atlanta. The official name was changed from the Coronovirus to COVID-19. My stomach began to feel queasy.
9:40 a.m. The phone rings. It’s my mother. “I heard you went to see a play last night. You know you shouldn’t be in large crowds right now. Where was the play anyway, Lisa?” Obviously my concerned sister or loving son, had called to tattle on me. I had gone to see “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” at the Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center. Without wanting to admit it, I could really confirm my mother’s fears. The outing to the play was the first time I felt very strange and uncomfortable at a public event since the news had broken about COVID-19. The ticket takers, the security staff, and the ushers all had on gloves (some had on masks) and there was hand sanitizer everywhere. People nervously covered coughs while looking around apologetically. Meanwhile on the phone, I assured my mother that I had been careful, and quickly changed the subject. My normal optimism was waning and my stomach gymnastics were in full swing.
10:30 a.m. In my home office, I checked the CDC website and the NYTimes feed. I was actually impressed with the NYTimes’ interactive infographic. I couldn’t help but wonder if everyone else was thinking what I was thinking, “How could anyone know how many cases were in the U.S. if everyone hadn’t been tested yet?” and “What was our country’s strategy for containing the virus since we could certainly learn from the hardest hit countries?”
1:30 p.m. The phone rings again. This time it’s my daughter calling. “Hi mom, I’m leaving my unit now.” This meant she was leaving her Army National Guard unit in Cumming, Georgia and returning to Auburn, Alabama to pick up her dog and do a turnaround trip back to Atlanta. Her college’s Spring Break was starting. I was anxious about the distance she would be driving, but college students are superheroes and cannot be told otherwise.
1:50 p.m. I checked the NYTimes’ infographic to find out the status of COVID-19 cases in Auburn. There were none reported in the whole state of Alabama. That stressful question popped into my head again: “Hmm, how do we know if we haven’t tested anyone there?”
7:00 p.m. An email notification sounds on my phone. It’s my supervisor. She sent an email request to change the time of our standing weekly meeting for tomorrow. Something must be going on at our college.
8:30 p.m. I joined a friend at Bettlecat Seafood for a late dinner. The restaurant and all the surrounding venues were pretty crowded. No one seemed to be discussing the pandemic, but I had an aching feeling in my gut that something was going to happen and then at 10:30 p.m…
10:30 p.m. My daughter’s ringtone buzzes in my pocket. “Mom, I have bad news. I’ve been in a car accident and the front end of my car is crumpled, but I’m okay. I’m in LaGrange, GA at a truck stop.” The only reply I could muster was “send me your location on Google Maps and I’m on my way to get you.” The nagging aching acid brewing in my stomach was beginning to manifest in the form of mild panic.
Day 2 – Monday, March 9
8:30 a.m. With coffee in hand, I checked my emails and news feeds to discover several colleges on the west coast had closed until further notice.
11:00 a.m. I walked into my supervisor’s office for our weekly update meeting. We chatted about our weekend activities before jumping right into a discussion about strategies to readjust the current week since COVID-19 forced us to cancel our signature travel abroad experience for our first year students.*
Our department had already come up with a few ideas to help students navigate the big change in plans. As my supervisor, Elaine, and I discussed the upcoming week’s schedule, we also talked about what technology, digital assignments, and remote learning might look like if our college closed for any length of time. It was in this conversation that the sage words from Elaine emerged. “This is a leadership opportunity for students. There’s no need to panic, we just need to pivot. This pandemic is a global issue and a profound way for students to consider leadership during a crisis.”
Those words were a dose of antacid to my otherwise churning stomach. We quickly took notes and hashed out a plan for a few ad hoc meetings later in the week.
*Because COVID-19 had spread to many countries across the planet, our college made the wise decision to cancel our 8-day travel abroad experience called Journeys, which would have taken 294 first year students to 16 different countries around the world. The trips were scheduled for March 8-15. This cancellation threw a HUGE curve ball at our campus community in every way imaginable-from financial losses for the college and students to pedagogical devastation in faculty courses to dining services scrambling to figure out how to feed an additional 300 students who would now be in resident halls. In spite of the inconvenient impact, everyone agreed that it was the best decision for the safety of students. There were just too many uncontrollable variables: traveling bans in and out of several countries, exposure to contamination, protecting students, faculty, and staff with compromised health conditions, and the uncertainties of the rapid development of new cases.
12:30 p.m. While walking back to my office, I bumped into the IT Media Services team which gave me a great opportunity to go over our class plans for the week.* IT Media had four Zoom workshops scheduled and several Canvas and Moodle trainings. Our unit (the CDVL) had one class for faculty entitled How to Record My Lecture and one fun class for students called How to Use Your Mobile Phone to Make a Short Film.
*Backstory: Last Wednesday, March 4th, (before any Georgia coronavirus cases appeared), we met with a team of 14 key stakeholders (including the college’s Dean and Associate Dean) to discuss the possibility of remote education in the event an emergency happened on our campus. Because at that time, we had no concrete data for our state, we decided to host a few Zoom sessions on how to use the technical tools for online interfacing.
4:00 p.m. My mother’s ring tone. Ugh, my stomach. “Hi mom, what’s up? You never call me in the middle of the day.” She explained, “I’m just calling to let you know that since the two cases of coronavirus in Georgia are a parent and child in Fulton County Schools, we may close the schools and maybe even the district this week. Why aren’t you watching the news?” Whew…I wanted to tell my mom that I haven’t checked the news because I’m too nervous and my stomach just won’t take it. I wanted to tell her that instead, I was out on Instagram looking for some glimmer of comic relief about anything other than the pandemic. Instead, I said, “I’m on it, mom. I’ll stay up-to-date on my phone.” I did a facepalm followed by a long sigh followed by setting up news notifications on my phone. My stomach stopped churning and my focus suddenly, stealth-mode.