Home Posts My Country Is In A State Of Pandemic Emergency As The Rest Of The World Begins To Move On.
My Country Is In A State Of Pandemic Emergency As The Rest Of The World Begins To Move On.

My Country Is In A State Of Pandemic Emergency As The Rest Of The World Begins To Move On.

I'm terrified, rather than scared.

I can't help but check social media, and I see that a father and son have died from COVID-19 just hours apart. I pause a Zoom writing conference because a message has come through on my phone: the prime minister has declared a state of emergency.

Later that evening, I get word from some friends that someone we know has died, and I smile at the conference's eager attendees, despite my shaking hands.

My home is on an even smaller island, estimated by one guide to be about 300 acres, off the coast of Trinidad and Tobago.

I've been extremely fortunate in that I've only had to leave the island for groceries; I work from home as a freelancer and moved here when my lease on my studio apartment on the mainland expired, which happened to be just before quarantine.

I lived in Los Angeles before returning to Trinidad and Tobago, where I now live with my mother and stepfather in a small community of about 50 people, in a country-ish style that includes waking up to my mother arguing with a rogue band of chickens.

I communicate with my L.A. friends via Instagram and FaceTime. At the start of the year, the Los Angeles Times declared L.A. County a “national epicenter of COVID.” On Jan. 5, it reported an average of 183 COVID-19 deaths per day — “one every eight minutes.”

COVID-19 cases in California have since dropped dramatically, with only four cases per 100,000 people reported on a recent day.

I've been watching as my friends stroll through the lush gardens of the Huntington in Pasadena, or tell me that they're having a drink at a beer garden; there are other friends, too, elsewhere in the United States, fully vaccinated and free, the sun shining through their sparkling mimosas.

Something about this feels like a reckoning, but not one that Trinidad and Tobago fully deserves. During the pandemic, we were a model of public health, and last May, researchers at Oxford University's Blavatnik School of Government ranked us as the country best suited to roll back lockdown measures.

Our government was swift and decisive in its anti-coronavirus actions, implementing an international border closure more than a year ago that has yet to be lifted, and it was revealed that a parallel health-care system had been established so that COVID-positive patients would not affect other sick people.

Masks were made mandatory to wear, even in private vehicles occupied by more than one person; at first, these measures seemed overly strict, but they became habitual; my father kept extra masks in the car sealed in a plastic bag.

I felt safer at first because the borders were closed, even though Trinidad remained open for Venezuelan refugees. I wondered what it meant that we could be kept safe while others — nationals and non-nationals alike — were still trying to get in.

But the proof of their effectiveness was in the numbers, which rose in the months leading up to the holidays but remained low overall. I remember going to a small outdoor jazz concert last July during a brief period when restrictions were lifted, sitting while socially distanced, thinking that each of the singer's blue notes offered both a connection to the past and a connection to the future.

I didn't want to post a video of the show to Instagram with wine in my hand, knowing that my friends overseas were inside, their own countries barely dealing with a deluge of suffering, but I was so hopeful and happy. I should've known it was too soon, that it wouldn't last.

Our prime minister declared a state of emergency last weekend, prohibiting us from being on the streets from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m., restricting our gathering, and closing non-essential businesses.

Our caseload had increased from five cases per day on March 1 to 442 cases per day as of May 17. This wasn't surprising; when numbers were low, people were lax, and I was no exception.

When I spoke with neighbors, I'd sometimes forget to put on my mask, and it felt shameful to put one on in that orderly, Trinidadian way, as if you assumed they were dirty.

I'd go to family gatherings and feel uneasy about the number of people present; I'd drive down the Avenue, Port-of-Spain's main entertainment strip, and see people drinking in bars despite the fact that it wasn't legal; and I'd see my friends on Facebook pointing digital fingers, blaming these people for the mess we were in.

But I was always conflicted because we had been so good for so long. There had been no mass protests, as there had been in the United States, claiming that mask-wearing was infringing on our rights. We had contributed to those low numbers, we and our government, which had acted so quickly — our Black leadership even lobbied the World Health Organization for vaccine equity, against wealthier countries hoarding the sho.

But now, dozens of people die every day, and families are losing loved ones in pairs. Our health-care system has been so severely tested that the United States has been forced to donate field hospitals (basically, tents) to house the sick, just as we saw in other countries a year ago, when we were fine and the rest of the world was not.

Our health minister claimed on national television that he cried when he saw people congregating despite the warnings and regulations. We have gone back in time. What have we done?

People (including myself) have blamed the increase on ordinary citizens congregating over the Easter weekend; a lack of a government-led communications campaign; lax rules in business establishments; police not enforcing regulations; and letting our guard down, even as other countries were experiencing a second (or third) wave.

I can't help but wonder if our early actions triggered this insatiable desire to touch, congregate, and feel.

In a way, I was proud of us, even though I despised the fact that our border closure had come at the expense of others; that we, our small, majority Black and brown nation, had been at the forefront of something wealthier countries were still figuring out; but now we're back to square one, with the added complications of negotiating with wealthier countries for vaccines.

I cry for my friends who have been out of work for more than a year as a result of our entertainment industry's shutdown; for the people who play music to empty living rooms; for the people who can't keep stable jobs at restaurants that are constantly closing; for the refugees in Trinidad who can be easily fired and easily replaced; I am tired of it all.

I've been trying to help people with groceries that can be delivered, sitting and staring into space, thinking about reaching out to friends, and then deciding not to reach out to friends.

I've considered getting up early, like my mother, to argue with the chickens, in the hopes that they'll say something that will make everything make sense.

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