Inflection Point

Hannah and I talk about what each of our inflection points were. When what was to become a historic pandemic finally lodged itself into our mind as something that was happening to our world, not to someone else’s world way over there.

For Hannah, it happened a week or two before it happened for me. For me, it began with a WhatsApp message from my friend Adam in the early morning. “Us to suspend travel from Europe,” he simply wrote at 2:22am on March 12. I saw the message at 6:00am when I woke up and immediately checked the news because I was sure he was wrong. He was right.

I watched President Trump’s news conference slack jawed and my thoughts immediately turned to work - what in the hell was I supposed to tell all our Americans citizens in Spain? He had sprung this whole thing on the federal government with no guidance and no consultation. The last I heard, the NSC had been wringing its hands over whether to raise some European countries to level three: “reconsider travel.” This had come out of nowhere.

I had been planning on making March 12 my first day teleworking out of precaution - we had heard that the epidemic was starting to get out of control in Madrid. All of that planning went out the window and I went into the office the next few days to field frantic phone calls and emails from panicked American tourists who thought they had been abandoned abroad by their government.

Each day after March 12 brought a new unexpected development. My sense of comprehension of the likelihood of events in my immediate future went all out of whack. It felt like every day, a new piece of news came out that would have been unfathomable only 24 hours before:

March 11/12: Presidential Proclamation suspending entry to non-citizens and non-residents who had been in the Schengen Zone. This caused a rush of people living on immigrant visas to get back into the U.S. before the proclamation went into force at midnight on March 13. This restriction also effectively killed transatlantic air traffic. With no Europeans to fill plane seats, airlines started canceling flights, which stranded hundreds, if not thousands of Americans in Barcelona.

March 12: The Sagrada Familia closed to tourists, only a few days after saying that they'd put a cap on on the number that could come inside to mitigate risk. Spain also closed all schools overnight, moving up a cancelation that was supposed to take effect the next week and leaving parents scrambing to find childcare. This was also the day people started panic-buying toilet paper, bread and lentils in Spain.

March 13: We watched on TV in the office as Spanish President Pedro Sanchez announced a State of Alarm (Estado de Alarma) and said that he'd have more details about what this meant once he'd had a chance to meet with his ministers. On this same day Catalonia tried to go its own way, implementing movement restrictions and restaurant closures . Catalan President Quim Torra asked the Prime Minister to authorize the closure of all Catalonia's ports, airports and railways, which scared the heck out of a lot of our U.S. travelers still trying to get out. The authorization didn't end up happening.

March 14: Spain announced the details of its national lockdown - people would need to stay in their homes for two weeks (this was later extended) and could only leave for essential things like going to the grocery store, the pharmacy, or work. Bars and restaurants were mandated closed. Police began to enforce the decree immediately, ticketing people out for evening strolls. It took a few hours for it to stick in our neighborhood - Hannah and I remember seeing families strolling and kids on scooters in the morning, but by evening the streets were empty.

March 16: Spain prohibited the entry from land borders with France, stranding U.S. citizens in southern France who were trying to get out via the Barcelona airport. The European Commission recommended that Schengen Zone countries deny entry to all third country nationals into the area. National borders between these countries had been reimplemented in a way that Europe hadn't seen in thirty years.

March 16 was also the day that we watched the inflection point happen for many of our friends and family in California. That day, six Bay Area counties announced a shelter-in-place order for residents. Later came California Governor Gavin Newsom's executive order on staying at home, which made it much more real for my family in San Diego. The same order was issued on March 20 by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, shifting the world in which Hannah's parents lived.

On March 29, I assisted a U.S. citizen's spouse catch the last direct flight out of Spain while seated in my bedroom, where I was starting day one of my personal quarantine.

My experience over the last three weeks, like many other people's all over the world, has been a non-stop parade of paradigm-shifting events making each new day completely unrecognizable from what I thought would happen the day before. No deep insights about that. I'm still just trying to catch up.

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