Time sure does fly

COVID-19 was a joke then, now it’s part of our lifestyle

Perris Larson, Staff Writer

Girl sits in a coffee shop with a latte
Perris Larson at Austin’s Coffee Crafters just before finding out that Seattle Pacific would by moving classes online for Spring quarter of 2020. (Courtesy of Perris Larson)

It’s not funny anymore. I remember when COVID-19 first started to pop up in conversations; almost every joke and class discussion involved it. Students pretended to cough, some students were racist toward the foreign exchange students, they laughed at the countries and states like Italy and New York who had it horrible at the beginning, and glorified the idea of school shutting down for a month.

It’s amazing how quickly things changed.

Back in Jan. 2020, no one, including me, seemed to be really concerned about COVID-19 reaching the United States; it seemed to be China’s problem and Italy’s problem at one point. At my old high school, one of the jokes that quickly sprang up revolved around an exchange student we had from China. Whenever a teacher mentioned Coronavirus, the boys in class would turn to face the exchange student and made the racist joke, “He’s going to give it to us.”

Seeing how hate crimes against Asian Americans have spiked over the past year, COVID-19 jokes targeting Asian Americans got real fast, too fast for people’s comfort.

Nothing, including a pandemic, gives anyone an excuse to be racist to someone and joke about people dying.

The jokes grew incredibly impertinent. In the beginning, the jokes toward Italy, New York, and Asian people were seen as harmless by the people who made them.  It was all a joke to them while it marginalized and dehumanized other human beings. People were getting carried away with something they had no idea would change their lives forever. 

One time I coughed and I, unfortunately, joked, “Oh no, I have COVID.” That was in Feb. 2020, where COVID-19 cases hadn’t even entered the thousands. Now the death toll is surpassing 500,000.

I don’t think any goodhearted person would make that kind of a joke right now. It’s embarrassing to think about. Looking back, the thought, “Wow, I can’t believe I did that,” enters my mind a lot these days.

China was far away; even when countries like Italy got affected, I still didn’t think it was a huge issue for me. It wasn’t my problem. Then New York got hit really hard; still didn’t think it was my problem. I just laughed at the way other states and countries were handling the outbreak.

Then, of course, lockdown officially happened in mid-March. In one day, the nature of the jokes at school was made clear. In the morning, colleges had shut down, that afternoon the public high school had shut down, and by that night we had all gotten an email verifying that we were shut down.

While people were merely shrugging off the idea of having a few weeks off of school, I knew it wasn’t a laughing matter. The virus had to be really bad for my school to shut down; the school didn’t even shut down for bad air quality during the 2018 California Wildfires.

I hated not being able to go anywhere, not being able to go to any sports games, or even sit in a coffee shop. People also joked that the year 2020 seemed cursed, which didn’t put a lot of people’s minds at ease. The videos on TikTok rarely showed the seriousness of the pandemic; it focused more on what the pandemic took from everyone.

The virus was funny until it showed up at our front doors.

High school seniors lost their prom and graduation, people couldn’t go to a salon unless they went in the back door where no one could see, going to the grocery store turned into a health risk,  and then there was the shortage of toilet paper in all the stores. Don’t get me wrong, that all sucked; it was horrible. But we had no idea that that was just the beginning.

It’s been a year of COVID-19, no one thought it was going to last this long. Now, wearing face masks is a part of our daily outfits. It is a treat if you’re able to eat indoors at a restaurant. The majority of college students either don’t have roommates or can’t live on campus, to begin with.

This has been our life for so long, it feels normal. At this point who knows when we’ll even see a new version of normal. COVID-19 gets more serious by the month. Funny TikTok videos and racist jokes weren’t at the top of everyone’s agenda; now people turn on the TV and see videos of hospitals struggling to make room for patients, people see businesses shutting down permanently, and they see the number of deaths continue to go up.

A pandemic should never have been the reason for people’s bad and racist humor, and people dying from it. People have been hurt from the pandemic in more ways than anyone can count; it just had to take a year for people to understand that.