Earlier this week, I started to suspect that Spain was going down the same path as China and Northern Italy. The daily numbers of new cases in Spain were becoming more alarming. On Monday night, March 9, as my Spanish friend, Inés, and I were in the car on the way back from the gym, an announcement came on the radio. The Community of Madrid would be closing schools from Wednesday, March 11 to Wednesday, March 25 to help contain the spread of the virus. No further information was given, so we prepared to go school Tuesday for one final day with the students. We hoped to get more details then. Most of the day was spent doing three things: wildly throwing assignments at the kids for them to do during the break (poor children), being confused about whether we would still be paid, and wondering if we would have to continue going to work without students. We were told to come to school at 10:00 am on Wednesday, March 11 for a meeting to discuss our responsibilities during the closure. In the meeting, our director told us that we would all work from home in what the Spanish call teletrabajo. For teachers, teletrabajo consists of sending assignments via blog or emails. It reminds me of my time teaching 4th grade in the USA when we'd have snow days. We'd throw together some work, send it to the parents, and the kids would do it from home. This way, the missed days wouldn't have to be made up at the end of the year. [Hallelujah, amen]
Originally, we were told that the Community of Madrid would give assistants like myself two options: to continue working for the school during the closure, or we could return to the USA until April 14 on unpaid leave and come back to Spain to resume our position for the rest of our contract. It was also a possibility to go back to the USA, and simply terminate our contracts for the remainder of the year. The next day, we were informed that the unpaid leave was not an option, and they had been misunderstood. So basically, we were left with the option of hunkering down and waiting it out, or quitting our job and going home with over three months left on our contracts. So obviously, throughout all of the back and forth, the most pressing decision for me was, "Do I stay here, or do I go back to the USA?" After weighing all the options, I decided to stay here and stick it out (more details on how I arrived at that decision coming soon!).
The response in Spain is probably less hysterical than in the US, but people are still buying in bulk. However, most of the Spanish people I know rarely buy more food than what will feed them for a couple days, so buying in bulk is not something they have much experience with. The stores were initially low on bread and toilet paper, but in one of my recent visits, they had both in stock. Additionally, we are being encouraged to minimize contact with the elderly population here in our town. Others who have the means to help are volunteering to run errands for those who are quarantined or at risk. The main place where hysteria and stress are more rampant is in the hospitals. Like Italy (but maybe a week or two behind their timeline), they are being flooded with patients with Covid-19, in addition to all the regular cases of daily life issues they regularly receive. There aren't enough places for people, and they don't have enough equipment to keep up with the huge influx of new cases coming in. Some of my friends have told me that people they know who are specialized doctors, such as gynecologists, are being utilized as general physicians to care for the sick. It's an all-hands-on-deck situation. This is why the recommendation to stay at home and cut out as much physical human contact is so important. By minimizing contact with others, we can greatly reduce the daily number of cases coming in. We're giving the hospitals a chance to care for everyone. We may never know how many lives we save simply by being overly cautious. It's not a time for panic, but it's a time to think less of ourselves, and more about those at risk.
I am so grateful for all of the doctors and nurses who are working insanely lucrative shifts, attending endless planning and prevention meetings, putting themselves in danger of contracting the virus, and having to isolate themselves from their families to prevent transmission. If you're a person in the medical field reading this, you are a hero, and there are no words to sufficiently say "thank you." Please accept our endless gratitude and a virtual, one-meter-distant non-hug followed by a thorough 30-second-hand-wash from us all.
Stay safe everyone, and remember that your decisions and social interactions can have a powerful ripple effect, so be kind and considerate. It's much better for you to be slightly inconvenienced at home for a couple weeks, than to potentially exacerbate the problem by going out and risking the well-being of others. Sending lots of love to wherever you are, and be looking for the next update soon! I've got quite a bit more time on my hands lately...