Where were you when you found out we were going on lockdown in 2020, and what did you feel?
When COVID-19 was announced as a pandemic two years ago today, things irreparably changed. Globally, borders closed, hospitals became overwhelmed and countries locked down. Here at DePaul, students found themselves in the middle of finals week not knowing if it was safe to come home for Spring Break, if it was safe to take the CTA or if it was safe to even come to campus.
Many members of the 14 East staff who had been a part of the newsroom’s initial COVID-19 response and coverage have since graduated from DePaul through virtual celebrations, typically from their living rooms. When we got emails about COVID-19’s spread on campus, they were there, banding together to create our newsletter (still going strong!) and sustain coverage about COVID-19 and beyond for the DePaul community and Chicago at large. Some staff also launched Pueblo, 14 East’s bilingual Spanish-English sister publication, which helped to add to DePaul journalism students’ push for increased Spanish-language media in Chicago.
For our current 14 East and Pueblo staff members, the feeling of uncertainty and knowing COVID-19 would change the way we lived manifested differently. For 14 East’s COVID-19 issue, we asked our staff one question: Where were you when you found out we were going on lockdown in 2020, and what did you feel?
Cam Rodriguez, Managing Editor
Bridget Killian, Multimedia Editor
I was at a dress rehearsal for DePaul Dance Company’s winter show when I got the email. I just stared at my phone in disbelief before promptly hyperventilating. My entire family was out of the country in Uganda with little to no cell phone service at the time. My mind was jumping from how I was going to move all my things out of the dorms, how I would get home and what if my family got stuck overseas. All I could do was cry. I had been in denial about COVID-19 coming to the U.S., so when reality hit, it was like a crushing wave over me. I, like everyone else, would have to leave all the friends I had made and I had no idea how long I would be away from Chicago. Or how long it would be until my family could come home.
My Last Class
Monique Mulima, Associate Editor
I was sitting in class in the middle of a lecture when my university sent out an email saying we would be switching to remote learning effective immediately. My professor decided to finish the lecture and we all figured we would be back soon. I told my friends I’d see them in two weeks. But we never went back. It was my senior year of undergrad and I never got proper goodbyes or a graduation with people I had just spent the past four years of my life with.
Panic Sets In
Sadie Fisher, Social Media Editor
I was at my apartment after having classes all day, where talk of potential closures and lockdowns circulated campus. I was making myself lunch when I got the news that school was moving remotely for the time being and cities and states were implementing lockdowns. My family and I had heard rumors of them potentially shutting down state borders. Being from Wisconsin, I panicked trying to figure out how I was going to get home, if I needed to leave that night and how much I needed to pack. That week, I went home to Wisconsin and didn’t return to Chicago for almost a year.
One-Way Ticket to U of I
Maureen Dunne, Associate Editor
I was speeding home from college in Missouri with two random frat dudes who needed a ride in my direction right before the shutdown began. I’d packed nothing but my cello and a weekend bag for a St. Patrick’s Day bender back in Chicago. The announcement from Mizzou came halfway through my first gig of the weekend, so I spent the rest of it perched on the couch by the window, watching the world crawl by, instead of playing in a packed bar. I don’t know how those frat guys got back to Mizzou after their weekend at U of I.
Well, I Guess High School’s Over
Anna Retzlaff, Staff Writer
It was my senior year of high school and some friends and I were enjoying what we thought was our two weeks off. We were hanging out in our friend’s lakehouse when we got the email from our principal — we weren’t coming back to school at all. There were rumors that exactly this would happen, but reading terms like “lockdown” and “quarantine” felt strange and dramatic. After sitting in silence for a bit, we had so many questions. What is graduation going to look like? Is this how our senior year ends? When will this be over?
“It’s not a snow day.”
Richie Requena, Pueblo Managing Editor
I was in the John T. Richardson Library in Lincoln Park when the emails started to come in. Tension had been building — Illinois had reported a couple cases, the city canceled Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations and to top it all off, the library had been on edge from stress of regular final exams. Then it was quiet. Confusion spread, as we read emails from the university saying that this year’s finals week was going to be different. Someone clapped. Someone else said, “It’s not a snow day.”
Kitchen Counter Convos
Hailey Bosek, Staff Writer
I was sitting on my kitchen counter eating Chinese food with my dad when I received the news. Unlike many others, I was not alarmed or scared when I got the notification that my spring break had been extended by two weeks. My dad and I ate and talked about how nice a break was going to be if the whole city of St. Louis went on a lockdown. We both had no idea the severity of what was approaching us. This was when we all thought if we just stayed home for two weeks, we would go back to normal. The two weeks would later turn into two years and I cringe when I look back at this memory, thinking about how me and my dad laughed at what we thought was a non-issue.
Two Weeks Turned Two Months
Eiman Navaid, Senior Associate Editor
I was sitting in the lounge of the Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar, with my dad and siblings, talking to my mom over the phone who was already in Pakistan, where we were headed for two weeks for my cousin’s wedding. My mom was discussing how my cousin’s wedding venue shut down, so they were anxiously trying to figure out last-minute adjustments. While we were on the phone, my sisters and I received the email from our schools that they were shutting down for two weeks. We then went online and saw all the news we missed during our flight about America shutting down, and we pondered the possibility that we would be in Pakistan longer than two weeks. We were stuck for two months.
Gisselle Bahena, Social Media Editor for Pueblo at 14 East
It was my senior year of high school and all senior activities were going to be happening soon. Word got around that the COVID-19 virus was now in Chicago and was slowly spreading. However, no one thought it was that serious to the point we had to truly freak out. And so, I went out over the weekend to buy my prom dress that I was excited to wear around May/June of 2020. In the following days, cases started to increase and rumors spread that school will be closing. Well, these rumors turned into reality and we were told we had to pack our things from our lockers because school was closing for a week. Everyone was excited to not be in school for a week. School staff told us: “We will be back, don’t worry. 2020 graduates will walk the stage.” However, that was false hope as quarantine extended from one week to weeks, and then months. That is when I realized we won’t ever go back. And now, all I have is an unworn prom dress along with an unworn high school cap and gown in my closet, which will never see the light of day again.
Grace Del Vecchio, 14 East Editor-In-Chief
I knew that there was a possibility things would go virtual, but I didn’t want to believe it – I couldn’t believe it. Until I got the call. I was sitting on my couch in the apartment I had been living in for the past six months as a resident assistant when my dad called me. “You’re going to need to come home,” he said. My stomach dropped. For context: I am a proud Philly native, it’s not that I dislike where I’m from, it’s that I hadn’t lived with my parents since I left for DePaul in 2018. I had worked hard to build a life in Chicago, going back to Philly felt like starting over. I immediately called my aunt and uncle and said, “I know it’s not ideal, but can I stay with you?” A few days later, I was in their home in Chicago, crammed in with my cousins. I may have been in quarantine, but at least I was in quarantine in Chicago.
Japan’s Not That Far from the U.S. After All
Jessica Nalupta, Associate Editor
Gathered around snacks and friends at DePaul’s student center, chatting about the possibility of getting kicked out on campus because of this novel virus, only one of my friends/co-workers was hopeful. “Japan is so far from the U.S,” she said, referring to the Diamond Princess Cruise which broke the mainstream media as one of the first COVID-19 outbreaks. Later that week, we received an email from the university and our staff person that we were, in fact, transitioning remotely and indefinitely. In retrospect, the word “remotely” sounded so vague and didn’t give me much information of what was in store. Now, I use the word as if I coined it — experiencing firsthand what it’s like to do almost everything remotely.
The Beginning of the End
Ava O’Malley, Associate Editor
On March 15, I had just finished my first shift as a hostess at an Italian restaurant in Lincoln Park. I was allowed to order a free meal every time I worked and I was walking back towards campus to share my dinner with a friend. Right after I arrived at my friend’s apartment, I received an email from the university with the subject line “All-university details on significant changes to Winter final exams and Spring Quarter” My friend and I ate our dinner in anxious silence and scrolled through the email. The realization that I was going to have to move out of student housing began to dawn on me. Half of me felt like we had just been issued a large snow day. The other half felt like the life I had built for myself in Chicago had been marked for demolition. One week later, my parents drove from Ohio to pick me up and take me home. I didn’t return to Chicago until August.
Lily Lowndes, Director of Development
In December 2019, my friend was planning on studying abroad in a city very close to Wuhan, but something called “coronavirus” caused her to change her plans. When I reconnected with her over winter break, she told me about the horrible disease that was spreading in the Wuhan area. If I didn’t connect with that friend, COVID-19 probably would’ve taken me by surprise. But I wasn’t really surprised at all. When I first heard that cases were reported in the United States in early 2020, I knew it was over. I was doomsday prepping, ready for lockdown. As soon as my Winter Quarter classes wrapped, no one had to tell me to leave. I was ready. I packed all of my stuff, said goodbye to my freshman year roommates and lugged everything down the stairs of Seton Hall.
A Nonexistent Lockdown in Central Florida
Mariah Hernandez, Staff Writer
In March of 2020, I was living in Florida, so the reaction to COVID-19 was very delayed. We were told at one point to only go out if it was necessary. No one took it seriously and no real restrictions were made. I worked through most of the pandemic at Starbucks. We were given the option to use “catastrophe pay” which allowed us to take time off and still get paid for it. I regrettably decided to continue working. While working the drive-thru, I handed a drink to an older man and he decided to be a creep and caressed my hand. I was less concerned with the creepy aspect of it because all I could think about was the fact that he could have COVID-19 and he was giving me all his germs through one touch. After a small panic attack, I decided to also take the rest of the month off. That was my only experience with any sort of lockdown because in Florida, it did not really exist. My “lockdown” only lasted two weeks.
I Heard It At the Rink
Emily Soto, Associate Editor
I was at the skating rink where I worked and all of a sudden, there were kids running around screaming and cheering. No school! No school! I had no clue what they were talking about until I asked them — to which they promptly answered, “School is canceled because of coronavirus!” To that I replied, “You know you’re still going to have to do homework, right?” They weren’t too happy to hear that. I had just killed those poor kids’ dreams, but then I got a text saying there was a rumor that the state borders were closing that night. So before I could apologize, I had to leave, packed a bag and rushed home to my parents’ house in Wisconsin. I figured I would be there for just two weeks, but two weeks turned into a year.
50-Cent Wings and Moving Out
Kate Linderman, Assistant Managing Editor
I was sitting in a friend’s dorm room with everyone I had become friends with just a few months before. When the university-wide email came, the whole room went silent. We read every word so carefully: classes online, stay away from people and, worst of all, we would have to move out of the dorms. At first, it didn’t feel real. Leaving the friends I just made? No way. Going back to my hometown? Absolutely not. Later, a second email came, from housing this time. Then it felt real. In disbelief, we all shut our laptops and walked over to Kelly’s Pub, hoping that their 50-cent wings would make everything feel normal again.
The Dreaded Email
Grace Vaughn, Staff Writer
My friends & I were hanging out in the University Hall dorm lounge when our phones all buzzed in unison. It was a lengthy email from DePaul essentially telling us to pack our bags and head home for the year. Our freshman year was officially over. While some people instantly started to shed tears, others called their parents to share the news. Truthfully, I don’t think I fully processed the news until I was in an Uber the next day heading to the airport. It was almost impossible to find a face covering back then, so I sat on my empty flight home with no mask. My initial feelings at that time were selfishly filled with annoyance about having to move back to Florida. I had no idea how quickly the world would change just a few weeks later.
Elly Boes, Senior Associate Editor
As the city shut down, I arrived at a friend’s apartment to plan our Spring Quarter classes together. We read DePaul’s email out loud and frantically messaged professors to ask if our final exam would still be in person — it was. I didn’t study well that night. My dad called me a few days before to say his hospital rounds were longer than usual and traveling between state lines would soon be complicated. It was scary, realizing what he really meant. My roommates and I stayed in Chicago, baking banana bread and calling our moms every hour. I was grateful to have them around.
Another Pot of Coffee
Cam Rodriguez, Managing Editor
There was a specific sort of panic and awe that took over the 14 East staff when things really started to set in. I remember that night sitting at my kitchen table working on finals, then getting texts that we’d be on a call in 15 (minutes) to somehow pull together a slew of stories the night before publishing. After, I tossed on boots and jogged a few blocks over to another editor’s apartment and we, frenzied, called and interviewed friends, old camp buddies and other students, working until we fell asleep, the smell of burnt coffee hanging in the air. The next morning, I got to the newsroom, opened my laptop and started working, not realizing it would be the last time I’d ever see some staff in person. Things were quiet, tense and focused. Thoughts about the ethics of grabbing drinks after; thoughts about canceling the birthday party that weekend. People stepping away to call their parents. A joke. Nervous laughter. Voicing questions we weren’t sure we wanted the answers to; no time for grief, just more coffee.
Header image by Samarah Nasir