Pandemic Insights

A year ago, we were bustling around the Hilltop and the world expecting a normal return to school after spring break. However, the worldwide spread of the coronavirus changed our reality and forced many students to leave their dorms and the city when campus shut down and classes moved online. To commemorate the somber one-year anniversary of when COVID changed our lives, the Foghorn invited students and staff to reflect on what they were doing twelve months ago when they got the news in their own words. -Ethan Tan, News Editor

  1. Julian Sorapuru

Junior media studies major

When the pandemic hit, my mom was blowing up my phone (as a concerned mother tends to do) trying to get me to come home. I had stayed in SF for spring break, so I was okay with taking a belated two-week break in my hometown of New Orleans. I remember packing up my stuff in one day while seeing fellow Toler Hall residents file out of the building. Campus was very empty when I left the next day, even considering some people still hadn’t come back from spring break yet. I got on the plane home mask-less, which just makes me cringe now. I was happy to be home because that was a stressful time in my life, but I never would have imagined that COVID would move the fall semester online, or that a year later, people would still be dying from the coronavirus. I’ve often thought of how we will reminisce on these events, but I guess only time will tell. 

2. Coco Romano Giordano 

Senior fine arts major

Around this time a year ago, I was gearing up for what would become my last real taste of freedom before COVID, I was about to attend the National College Media Convention in New York City. In the days leading up to the trip, University emails were sent about possible class cancellations and campus closure due to safety concerns. Not fully understanding the weight of the situation, I was insistent on going through with the trip anyway. A year later, the activities of those few days now feel so foreign. I stuffed myself into packed subway trains, sat in rooms full of people for hours at a time, and talked to strangers on the street without a mask in sight. Upon my return to San Francisco, reality hit me like a truck. Reflecting back a year later, although it has been a stressful time with lots of mental burnout, I can’t say that the lockdown has been all bad. I still miss the “normality” of my old life, but I have also been fortunate enough to spend more quality time with my family than I have since starting college, which is all I can really ask for.

3. Josh Safier

Senior media studies major

If I could describe the last year in one word, it would be “paused.” Depending on who you ask, that could either mean something unfortunate or something absolutely wonderful. For me, this word means a bit of both. On one hand, pausing my day-to-day life at USF and my ability to see friends truly threw me for a loop. My social life and workout routine were thrown out the window. Instead of a “freshman fifteen,” I put on a “COVID nineteen.” The positives of this pandemic and my “paused” life have been my home life. My family has not spent this much time together since I was a little kid. My sister being home from New York and having family dinners every night has been absolutely magical. This pandemic has reiterated to me that life is short and should be lived to the fullest with those closest to you.

4. Haley Keizur

Senior media studies major

A year ago I was sitting in the back corner of the August Wilson Theater off of 52nd Street in Times Square. I was seeing what turned out to be the last Broadway performance of “Mean Girls.” I was enjoying the College Media Association Conference that Coco and I were attending in New York. We had gotten the initial alert that school would be closed for an extra two weeks because of COVID and I was looking forward to spending them at home before in-person classes resumed. The next day, Broadway shut down and the conference was canceled. Two days later, we got the notice that school would be online for the rest of the semester. As cheesy as it sounds, if it wasn’t for that Wednesday night in New York, my quarantine would be a lot different. I immediately fell in love with the show I saw and the performers in it. Throughout the past year, a few of the actresses have become my political and spiritual mentors. I met some of my current best friends through our mutual love for social justice and theater. This spring break, I’ll be staying at home with my parents, where I’ve been the past year, rather than boarding a plane. But unlike last year, I now have long chats with one of the stars who I saw on stage along with strong support from long-distance friends who I never expected.

5. Riley Rich

Senior media studies major

One year ago, Italy was the epicenter of the world’s second harshest coronavirus outbreak — only following China. A month into my Florence study abroad experience, the first recorded case in Italy was found in a small Tuscan town just a hillside over. The news hit fast and the city shifted faster. I had been there just enough time to completely settle into my cozy apartment near the Arno River and establish a solid group of friends. The locals were still going on with their lives as normal, but the normally tourist-packed streets were completely empty in a matter of days as tour groups shut down and one abroad program after another swiftly sent their students home. I was back home with my family in San Diego within days of the first discovered coronavirus case and have stayed there for the last year. I had to begin all my courses over again after being ripped away from my Florence curriculum — another unideal reality of the situation. I was angry and in denial over the circumstances that robbed me of my experience, but quickly became eternally grateful for the surreal time I was fortunate enough to spend abroad.

6. Matt Mariano

Junior psychology major

My early quarantine experience consisted of being stuck in the dorms since I come from Guam, which is around 17 hours away from SF. I had to stay for two reasons: firstly, I was sure that I could not fly back, and secondly, the time difference (Guam is 18 hours ahead of San Francisco) would have been, and still is, very bad for attending classes. I have since moved back to Guam. I’m an introvert at heart, so I actually did not have too bad of an experience being alone all the time. Thankfully, I was smart and had an emergency fund set up to be financially secure. I think the key to keeping sane during quarantine is to constantly give yourself things to do to occupy your mind and give yourself a sense of making progress. Also, I know that many felt that their plans were ruined or that their situations were really bad, so I feel it is also important to adopt the mindset that things happen. You have to be smart and make the most of what you have.

7. Crystal Wong

Bon Appétit, USF General Manager

This time last year, I can vividly remember the excitement for spring break quickly changing as the news emerged that cities, states, and countries were beginning to close due to COVID-19. 

As the majority of students packed up and left campus, Bon Appétit quickly needed to figure out how we would safely continue service for the community who stayed. This included researching city and CDC ordinances, collaborating with other universities and accounts in the Bay Area on best practices, and educating our team on the virus and new policies for safety and sanitation. All hourly employees and managers took part in COVID-19 trainings. We implemented mask-wearing for employees and guests as well as social distancing protocols. Our team started sanitizing high-touch surfaces at least every 30 minutes and began room delivery service for students who were in quarantine. 

Along with these precautions, we also wanted to continue offering a variety of options and services to those who returned for the 2020-21 school year. We launched mobile ordering with the GET app, through which students can order household items, produce, dairy, meat, and snacks twice a week in addition to our fresh, cooked-from-scratch meals. In October, through a special collaboration, students and staff helped us raise $800 for the Bay Area Cancer Connection by purchasing masks and select menu items. 

This past year has taught us resiliency and optimism in uncertain times.  We look forward to serving you next year! 

8. Shawn Calhoun

Interim Dean of Libraries

Like so many other USF divisions, departments, and offices, Gleeson had about 24 hours to move all of our staff and about a dozen student employees to remote work. One day, business as usual, then a leap into the unknown. Concerns about the virus were as palpable as the uncertainty. Yet I will always remember that everyone came together and worked incredibly hard. There was no roadmap, but in only a few hours we built a way to continue our work. 

While it was scary, we did it collectively. I am grateful to every person who made that happen a year ago and have continued to keep us running since then. Over the past year, we have managed the library in much the same way as we did before. While the building has been closed to students, library services — including research instruction, access to online resources, shipping books to students and faculty, and much more —remain 100% operational. 

I have learned so much in the last year, but two things, in particular, stand out.  First, when we put students and the University first, every decision is clearer and the best possible outcomes become more certain. Second, USF staff, librarians, and faculty are incredibly creative and resilient, even more so in the face of a pandemic.  Looking ahead, I plan to continue to innovate and evolve the library to better serve students, faculty, and staff. And of course, to get back to campus as soon as possible.

Headshots courtesy of contributors

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