Now it’s our problem

This ‘Life In Quarantine’ column originally ran on Sunday, July 19, 2020 in the Gaston Gazette.

It all started in Wuhan, China – a place many of us have never been to, much less ever heard of. And in our typical American response, we casually dismiss it with an “oh well, that’s their problem”.

But then it crossed our border, into our country, and landed in Seattle.

“Oh, but that’s all the way out in the Pacific Northwest”, you say. “I hate to hear that, but that’s their problem.”

Then New York got nailed. Next, it spread into the Midwest and eventually made its way into the South. It wasn’t long before North and South Carolina were reporting their first cases.

At first you hear numbers – numbers of positive cases, numbers of hospitalizations and then numbers of COVID-related deaths. But they are just that in the moment – numbers.

But then you hear about a friend of a friend who has a family member sick with the virus. Or even worse, you hear about a friend of a friend who lost a brother to the virus just recently. It slowly but surely gets more and more personal with each passing day.

These are people we kind of know. With real names. They have families, kids, parents, and careers. Some happen to be our age. It’s in these moments, we can finally start to relate.

But then it hits even closer. You hear about an extended family member contracting the virus and getting sick – laying in bed for a week and a half with a bad fever. Or a co-worker. Or maybe a friend. Or, God forbid, a brother, sister, parent or child. At this point, it’s real and it’s here.

The problem that was once “their problem” has suddenly become your problem. And my problem.

Let’s face it, it’s our problem now.

We start to see things in a new light. We take things a little more seriously. We now can relate, because it’s hit someone we know and love. It’s gotten personal.

Unfortunately, that’s what it takes for people to change their behavior. It has to get personal.

No one wants to willingly face a reality like the one we’re now living with. No one wants to acknowledge there is an actual threat. It’s taken so much away already and it’s not stopping anytime soon. Partly, because we all haven’t been collectively vigilant in the fight.

Americans are pretty good at uniting against a common enemy – Adolf Hitler, Fidel Castro, Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. This virus is quite different than those enemies we’ve faced in the past.

It’s nameless, faceless and doesn’t take human form. But it’s real. And just as deadly.

That’s what makes it so difficult to collectively mobilize against it. But we will have to find a way.

In the meantime, we have to acknowledge our fears and anxieties. We need to allow the time to mourn the loss of a life we once knew. And we need to be OK to tell friends and family that we don’t feel comfortable getting together.

Those British rockers, The Rolling Stones, said it best: “You can’t always get what you want”. Americans love to sing that song, but they really don’t want to hear the words. Americans want their cake and they want to eat it too.

But that’s the thing about this virus. It doesn’t care about you, your plans or the cake you want to eat.

Now if that’s not personal, I don’t know what is.

Ben Dungan has been writing about how life has changed since the COVID-19 outbreak. You can email him at [email protected] and read more from him at