From Doral to Iran, the coronavirus has raised concerns and caused change

The worldwide pandemic emptied streets and grocery store shelves, mass gatherings were banned and social distancing ruled. “Remote learning” and “shelter in place” became constants of everyday vocabulary.

But the novel coronavirus offered a candid look at mankind’s capacity for introspection, entertainment and compassion.

Maria Rivero, a 59-year-old physician and resident of Miami Lakes, grasped the severity of the pandemic early on. Working each and every day of the week at local clinics and emergency rooms, Rivero says never drifting too far from moments of levity helped. “I cope by staying informed and by laughing at jokes people send me, which I share with others,” she said. “The ingenuity of the human mind never ceases to amaze me.”

She views the ongoing crisis as a wake-up call surrounding shared values and habits.

“Countries need to become more self-sufficient instead of importing so many items, and hygiene awareness should be a priority, including washing hands at home and on the go and holding off on shaking hands to avoid the transmission of germs,” Rivero said.

She highlighted the need for better disaster preparation and the need for planning ahead and stocking up on supplies that comes with it. “It could look a lot like Cold War preparations, where many people had shelters and all,” she said.

Also in Miami Lakes. Frank Estrada, a 26-year-old veteran and paramedic student had his schooling shift away from in-person meetings.  “I am meeting my school hours virtually, and I am being very cautious not to waste supplies in case martial law is passed.”

Estrada is quick to recall a recent instance at his school where the virus came too close for comfort.

“My school mandates we complete hours riding along with a fire rescue team in order to obtain field experience,” he recalls. “A student from a different class was informed that a patient on a field rotation that he participated in had tested positive for coronavirus, and so he and the responding rescue crew had to be quarantined for fourteen days.”

Just as Estrada faces a new normal for schoolwork in the form of remote learning, so does 29-year-old Rafael Almeida, a full-time student at Florida International University living in Kendall. In Almeida’s case, the transition to online courses sharply contrasts with the learning that he has become accustomed to through the years.

“I’ve always preferred learning in the classroom, and now that all of my classes are online, I have to find a way to get comfortable with doing work from home.”

He is also deeply concerned about friends and loved ones. “I have a friend whose dad is over eighty and already has an autoimmune disease, requiring him to use oxygen,” Almeida says.

But he has been able to glean some enjoyment out of quarantine. “Some friends and I are watching movies online,” he says. “I’ve been testing out different ways to stream videos simultaneously with another friend.”

In San Diego, 24-year old Navy hospital corpsman Jannely Torres, who was 14 weeks pregnant when interviewed not long ago, said she fends off anxiety while residing in a state where there have been more than 110,000 cases of COVID-19.

“While this global pandemic raises concerns for the safety of my child, I am hopeful, on the other hand, because we are fortunate to have hardworking healthcare workers dedicated to helping those affected,” Torres says.

Maximizing time spent indoors, avoiding crowds, leaving her apartment solely for essential needs and seeking updates from family and friends have become coping mechanisms. Torres recalls an experience during work at the clinic involving a potential case.

“There was a nurse who came up to the front desk asking about an active-duty sailor that might have checked in with symptoms including a cough and a sore throat. . . Less than a week later, news broke about a sailor on the same base having tested positive for COVID-19, with two more testing positive that week.  Several others were positive in surrounding bases, including someone on the same ship as my roommate. As a result, bases here [were] under quarantine and all gates have installed checkpoints to screen those entering for coronavirus.”

Hossein Kasmai is a 51-year old Iranian-born entrepreneur and CEO of franchise consulting firm Franchise Creator who lives in Miami. His elderly father, who remains in Iran, has seen his condition gradually improve after he contracted COVID-19 due to the country’s mass outbreak. Kasmai’s father grappled with its symptoms for nearly a week and a half. “I am concerned about the time it could take before everything is back to normal and about the long-term effect of this pandemic on the economy,” he said.

Kasmai’s remarks come as the stock market wobbles and Congress has passed billions aimed at coronavirus relief.

He has enjoyed parts of the pandemic, though. “Being locked up in the house with the ongoing pandemic is making me appreciate the various entertainment activities you can partake in with your loved ones when you all spend time together.  We’ve been playing lots of board games and video games we otherwise had no time for,” Kasmai says.

In the Westchester neighborhood of Miami, freelance critic and FIU visiting instructor Alfred Soto questions the appeal of isolation and intimacy. “I don’t know what the future looks like,” he says. “Possibly we will have become accustomed to solitude; probably we will recoil when a friend tries hugging us. A wariness of contact — intimacy of any kind — will bind us for years.”

He also stresses the importance of maintaining a routine. “I’m operating at a low level of stress. I awaken, grade, exercise and shower as if nothing had changed. Walks, writing, reading and reveling in Publix’s uninhabited dog food aisle have helped.”

Leisure has also functioned as an escape for 21-year-old FIU student and instrument craftsman Billy Yeung. “My method of coping involves playing music and passing time watching movies or playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons on the Nintendo Switch,” he said.

While making deliveries for a family-owned Chinese restaurant in Doral, he has noted diminished traffic. “It is certainly strange to see the streets empty,” Yeung says. “It’s hard to ignore the lack of traffic and anything that is not open.”

Andres Arias, born and raised in Miami, is currently majoring in journalism and pursuing a film studies certificate.  He is interested in pop culture and consumer technology and aspires to contribute to the body of public opinion as a critic.