By Mathew Tomlinson

For students in academics, in Massachusetts, and the nation at large, class is officially underway. Primary and secondary institutions are offering virtual classes, in person classes, or hybridized classes, are trying to smoothly bring back education amidst health concerns brought out by the coronavirus pandemic. As a recent transplant to the Cape from Florida, and a new student at Cape Cod Community College, I was diagnosed with Covid-19 in late March. Returning to school is a moment worthy of reflection.

In the early months of 2020, I was already planning my move to the Cape from Miami. A few family members wanted to renovate the old family house, and I sought a change of scenery. Coronavirus, also referred to as Covid-19, was a steadily increasing concern among news outlets. In a short time, it went from a fringe news story in China to a quickly spreading infectious disease, crossing seas and borders.

It was in March that Covid-19 arrived in Miami, Florida. An initial cluster of cases associated with cruise ships entering Florida ports were quickly followed by a steep rise in cases statewide.

I had already informed my employer a few days earlier that I would not be coming to work as I entered quarantine. Throughout Miami, people rushed to stock up on essentials before they barricaded themselves at home. Like many others, my mother and I were apprehensive and nervous about the virus. Back then, Covid-19 and its effects were a topic of uncertainty. Up North, New York and Massachusetts were already being hit hard. In Florida, with a state government that seemed slow to react to the virus, it was anybody’s guess how many were infected. After making our runs to CVS, Publix, and other grocery stores, we settled in.

The first few weeks my mother and I stayed indoors, the only exceptions being bi-weekly trips for essentials that I would make alone. Everything that we could order online, we did. My siblings stayed away out of fear of infecting our mother, and my mother and I found diversions in television and multimedia when nightfall came. We were fatigued with the news coverage.  In those first few weeks we, like many, hoped it would all end quickly.

Three weeks in, tensions in our house rose higher. My mother awoke one morning with a light fever, and with a testing location opening at the nearby Hard Rock Stadium, we decided we would rather seek out testing than stay at home helplessly. Not long after we arrived at the stadium to long lines of cars, the national guard had set up numerous check points. The took down our contact information before guardsmen in hazmat suits came and swabbed the inside of our noses. They told us that we would have our results in a few days.

A week passed. During that time, I started to get headaches and stomach aches. One morning I awoke short of breath. We tried to assure ourselves that it might be phantom symptoms brought on by anxiety. On the 7th day, my mother received her test results.

Her results came in negative, and we both felt relief. If one of us was negative, we felt it was likely that we both were. The next day I called asking for my results. I was told by the operator that they would try to find my results in their calling lists. A few hours later they returned my call. My test results came in positive.

Finding out I was positive was a huge shock. I was upset with the operators, stressed as they likely were, for not getting the results to people testing positive before those who were negative. It had been eight days since we were tested. My mother, who had been so relieved the day before upon having a negative result, was in shock. When I told the operator I was feeling short of breathe, they told me to contact my primary care provider. My primary care provider, upon hearing the news and my symptoms, recommended I make my way to the hospital. Upon rushing to the ER, I was given a number of tests and X-Rays. After review, the doctors told me that I was doing well for being 8 days sick, and that in the next few days I would either see my symptoms worsen, or plateau. The only medicine they could prescribe was copious amounts of vitamin C and a recommendation that I acquire a pulse oximeter to measure my oxygen. I was ordered to quarantine in my room and avoid others for two weeks.

Over the next few days I was gifted a pulse oximeter and large amounts of vitamin C. I received messages from friends and family expressing concern. All I could do was sit in my room and try to pass the time to distract myself from anxiety. It was a surreal experience. In those days, bodies were being stacked in freezers outside New York hospitals. I didn’t dare leave my room out of fear of getting my mother sick. After a few days I decided to avoid the news entirely. They didn’t have news for those who were sick already. My conditions did worsen. Though the numbers on my oximeter, which I checked frequently, had not fallen to the numbers that my Doctors in the ER told me would necessitate a return, at times my breathing felt heavy. Other times my chest would sting.

I told myself over and over again to weather things and stay strong. Weeks later, I emerged from my room, and my mother and I again sought out testing. I tested negative, and so did she. I felt relief but I was told by the Department of Health to move forward as if I hadn’t gotten the virus, as there was and is uncertainty on whether people can catch Covid-19 a second time.

We continued to lay low at home until the end of May, when we could put off our move to Cape Cod no longer. The drive up felt surreal. We avoided the busy highways, and instead went through small towns, winding our way up through the south and into Virginia. Though I had “beaten” Covid-19, I still felt tired and breathless at times. I wondered if that would become my new normal.

It was a relief to finally arrive at the Cape. In June, cases in Cape Cod were declining, but back in Florida they were exploding, with thousands of new cases every day. At times, I felt guilt for leaving. My consolation was arriving in a place where I could leave the house without encountering crowds. Hikes in the woods and dinner outside in our garden was a world apart from our cramped experience in Miami. In Florida, many people, even those in government, hadn’t taken the virus seriously. In Cape Cod, everyone wore masks, and followed the safety rules. The differences in regards to the science among everyday people was a stark contrast to where I had been before. Even so, I grappled with bouts of short breathe and anxiety that seemed to be holdovers from my battle with Covid-19. It was months before I started to really feel like I was past it, and there remain few outlets for symptomatic coronavirus survivors to seek information as they recover from their battles.

Past summers here, I had seen more beach days with friends and more time at restaurants. This one was much quieter. I spent much of it getting ready for my classes, attending orientation, and applying for aid. As the summer continued, I found myself thinking of how great it would be to be in school and to have something to focus on. It made the boredom less crushing.

As this semester begins, it has been apparent what a challenge it is for many, including myself, to acclimate to virtual classrooms. It was certainly not the vision I had had when I decided last year to apply to 4C’s. To this day my only time on campus has been to get tested for Covid-19. Strangely enough, in spite of the unusual setting, I have not been so excited for a new semester in years. Seeing new faces, listening to lectures, and having goals and deadlines to meet has made life feel normal again. Compared to what I witnessed in Miami, there are few places I would rather have ended up.