As I was thinking about which historical place to write about this week, I realized that I should pause and write about a historically significant moment that is happening right now instead: the Coronavirus. Since this historic event is also causing a lot of museums and libraries to shut down, it is appropriate for me to put a pause on discussing them.
On Monday, March 9th, I went to the grocery store. It was uneventful. On Friday, March 13, I went to the grocery store. Everything was chaotic. As I was purchasing flowers for a friend’s birthday, everyone else around me was stuffing their shopping carts with bottled water, toilet paper, and canned food. Friday, March 13 was also the last day my public library would be open until another two weeks. Similar to the grocery store, people there were stuffing their bags with DVDs and books.
What caused all the panic shopping and library closures, in addition to the closures of many U.S. schools, universities, museums, stage theaters, and opera houses this week? On Wednesday, March 11, the World Health Organization declared the Coronavirus a pandemic. On Friday, March 13, President Trump declared that the United States is in a National Emergency. Although most of the panic shopping began this week, after the declarations mentioned above, for the past two weeks, I have been hearing people tell me that hand sanitizer is sold out.
I somehow make a lot of international friends, and also have relatives living in different countries. From them, I learned that this is far from being solely a U.S. phenomenon. Below is a summary of what friends and relatives have told me about other countries. However, Coronavirus news changes quickly, so what they told me below will probably be inaccurate very soon, if it is not so already. Additionally, the information is based on individuals, so is not necessarily representative of the entire country.
China – Obviously, this is where the most Coronavirus cases have occurred, since it is also where it was first discovered. A month ago, four people I know with connections to China told me how their relatives were okay, but that the country was basically quarantined, and that the people were sad that they were unable to celebrate the Chinese New Year. A friend recently told me that her son has been quarantined for two months now, and will continue to be quarantined until April 30th.
Iran – Some parts of Iran are more affected than others, but it is currently hit the third worst after China and Italy. Most people are staying home from work, bored, and sad that they cannot celebrate their new year, Nowruz, on March 21st. I cannot confirm if this is true everywhere in Iran, but I was told that there is not a lot of panic shopping there.
Israel – The airport essentially shut down, and all schools, restaurants, museums, and non-essential businesses have closed. The U.S. has not closed its restaurants and non-essential businesses yet, even though it has more Coronavirus cases than Israel. Like Iran, the panic shopping is allegedly not as bad in Israel.
Korea – Everything has shut down there for at least a month. People are working from home.
Nigeria – Nigeria had a Coronavirus patient, but he was an Italian who entered the country. Fortunately, the Coronavirus has not made a large presence in Africa so far.
Poland – Everything has shut down, and there are travel bans there. Like the United States, people were panic shopping and emptied shelves at the stores. Most of the people walking around in the city of Krakow this week were tourists, not native Poles.
Romania – Everything is shutting down there.
Slovakia – Slovakia took cautious measures earlier than other countries. They even started shutting down schools before the U.S. did. Last week, someone I know there had to be quarantined in the infectious diseases section of the hospital for a week, because he had fluid in his lungs. Whenever the doctors and nurses went to check on him, they wore masks. Fortunately, he did not end up having the Coronavirus. It was just bad timing for him to have fluid in his lungs.
Spain – Like the United States, everything has shut down in Spain during the middle of this past week. However, unlike the United States, even non-essential businesses and public parks are closed.
Syria – We do not know what the status of the Coronavirus is in Syria. Someone I know who used to live there said that if the country does have it, it will not release that information publicly.
This is a rare moment when completely different countries, some of which are even enemies with each other, are behaving exactly the same and fighting the same viral “enemy.” Perhaps the last great pandemic of this scope was in 1918 with the Spanish Flu, when the flu took a more deadly strain, and people were traveling a lot, because WWI was ending. At that time, 500 million people were infected, and 20 to 50 million died. My great-grandfather’s brother was one of them. Even if the Coronavirus never reaches those numbers, the historical significance of this event is in the fact that an unprecedented number of countries have quarantined themselves.
So, what I encourage you to do during this time is try to remember and record what is happening. You are a primary source for a historical event.
I am on an archives email group. In this week’s discussion, someone asked how the national and international responses to the Coronavirus are being preserved, since this “will surely be a history fair subject in the future!” From that list, I learned that the Internet Archive’s Archive-It site has created a Novel Coronavirus (Covid-19) digital collection: https://archive-it.org/collections/13529
If you have websites that should be added to the collection, here is the form to do so: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSc4jyson7OGxe8HWaAm2s5BWvAug8mgastWEtNxbFYQbZX62g/viewform
Additionally, someone from Stanford University has been collecting Twitter threads about archives conference cancellations due to the Coronavirus: https://twitter.com/anarchivist/status/1237786184593498112?s=20
In case you are interested, here is a map created by the World Health Organization, which regularly documents the number of Coronavirus cases in the world: https://experience.arcgis.com/experience/685d0ace521648f8a5beeeee1b9125cd
Finally, here is a link to museums that you can visit virtually during this unusual time: https://www.travelandleisure.com/attractions/museums-galleries/museums-with-virtual-tours